Feb 2, 2022
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Jhoon Rhee

It probably could be a pretty soft life in the foam-rubber world of Jhoon Rhee, the man who invented Safe-T-Punch, Kick, Chop, Face, Rib, Shin, Target and many more to come. Why not just sit back, relax and watch the money bounce all the way to the bank? Well, first of all, the fortune to be made in protective karate gear is not quite as great as most people think. Like everything else, the price of foam rubber has shot out of sight; that is, when there’s any of the stuff available.
And Jhoon Rhee never intended to become the most important thing to hands since fingernails in the first place. He was doing very nicely as the “father” of American tae kwon do, and he dreamed up Safe-T-Punch only because nobody else did. But Rhee is a man of boundless energy, and once he started innovating, he couldn’t stop. His system of tae kwon do had given the karate world some of its very best fighters in Jeff Smith, Jim Butin, Ramon Smith, Skipper Mullins, Fred Wren, Pat Burleson, Allen Steen, Demetrius Havanas, Pat and John Worley, Gordon Franks, Wayne Van Buren, Wayne Booth and on and on. There were things about what he was teaching, about traditional tae kwon do, that needed changing. He just couldn’t see the sense of training from a horse stance if a horse stance wasn’t any good for fighting. And, of course, that was only one of the things that didn’t hold up. So, the enthusiastic Korean who once promoted the cause of tae kwon do to the point of distraction, took the calligraphy off the wall and informed his staff they would henceforth teach the “Jhoon Rhee System,” including combination techniques, mixed patterns of movement and forms set to music.

Jhoon Rhee

It hasn’t been very long since he made the change; in fact, this Interview may be big news to many of our readers. And while both employees and students of the Jhoon Rhee Institute in Washington, D.C. were delighted with the “new way,” there undoubtedly will be many members of the tae kwon do and classical karate communities who will be dismayed. The ever-polite Rhee regrets this possibility, but as you’ll see, he’s not about to turn back now.

When you’re tied by tradition, there is no improvement.

PK: Is il true that. you’r not teaching tae kwon do anymore?

RHEE: I was born (as u martial artist) in tae kwon do, so I can not say that I’m completely out of tae kwon do. But I’m keeping all the good parts of traditional tae kwon do and changing a lot of impractical things. Something that I feel is really a waste of time I am changing.

PK: What things are you changing, and what things are you keeping?

RHEE: Mostly the rigid forms, which are so much away from the practical point of view that I feel that students arc really wasting a lot of time on learning directions and patterns, whereas they could spend that time on realistic kicking and punching.

PK: What are some of the specific things that you’re changing? Are you not teaching form anymore?

RHEE: I am going to teach form, but I’m going to teach form to advanced students only when they become brown belts. I’m going to teach the new form that is choreographed with classical music. This Is my new venture that I’m going into. We already did this with Exodus, and we did one with Beethoven No. 5 and Granada. They are very Inspiring music, more or less classical music. I would like to stay with the area of classical music. I think this way we can really give the image of the artistic part. You’re not just showing movements, but you have a coinciding with the strength of the music, you coincide with the strength of the punches and kicks. When the music is soft, you can have dynamic tension movement. If it’s synchronized like that, it can really become very, very dynamic.

PK: Is the benefit of the music mostly for the spectator watching somebody do the form? Or is there also a benefit for the person who is actually practicing the form?

RHEE: Both. When you do forms with music, you don’t want to stop in the middle of the form. And usually, music forms are very long, whereas without music, the forms that they are practicing right now take about 30 seconds. Usually a music form will take two and one-half to three minutes. When you do one form, you really get a lot of exercise done. Sometimes, when you finish one form, you are almost out of breath, it makes you so tired. When I first started with Exodus, if you do it one time, you’re almost exhausted. And as you do many, many times – I do maybe five times in a row – then you don’t get as exhausted. You get trained so much better with music that you have some incentive to keep it up.

PK: So you’re not teaching any forms until brown belt level?

RHEE: Actually, what is form? Form is actually a collection of each single movement. I am teaching all the hasic movements . We’re going to teach a lot of blocking, reverse punches, sidekicks, roundhouse kicks, back kicks, a lot of combination exercise, basic exercises. But I don’t like to teach anymore the pattern of the form.

PK: If a student came into your school today, what could he expect in the first six months as compared to what a student coming into your school five or six years ago could expect?

Tae kwon do dobok

RHEE: Actually, until December 31 of last year, they learned all the traditional way of down block, crossing arm first and straight punch with a front stance, very formal stance. But I’m going to go away from that. What I’m going to do is practicing everything from a starting stance; we can make forms from that and have the right posture. In other words for years und years, everybody was brainwashed into thinking that we had to have square shoulders and all of that. But I feel that it’s not really necessity. I have been following with half, maybe less, the wav it should be, but still in my mind I thought maybe we should revolutionize it. But then I still was in a position to follow the International Tae Kwon Do Federation and the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association – you know, we have two big tae kwon do associations. I’ve been really getting tired of this situation breaking up Korean tae kwon do into two big parts like that. I am really kind of in-between. I don’t know which side I should bend to. If I try to be on one side, then the other side is unhappy, so I said I’m just going to completely do my own things and have some new system of teaching the practical way . I feel this way when l do the Jhoon Rhee system that l teach, I think It would be unfair for me to soy that I’m teaching tae kwon do when I’m teaching something else .

PK: Physically speaking. what are the weaknesses, the drawbacks of the traditional system, and when did you first become cognizant of them and feel that they should be changed?

RHEE: I think to a slight degree, when I first joined in Seoul, Korea when l was young. It’s really strange; they have to do tae kwon do a different way than when they do the fighting. They do two different things. But I was not in a position to say myself at that time because there wore so many people who knew a lot more than I did. Now I’m maturing and I’m getting older and older and I guess I am opening my eyes more as I get old. I expect that I will be really criticized by a lot of tae kwon do people, but when you make a new history you always have that kind of position. I feel that in the old times our grandfather used to take advantage of only certain ways. That doesn’t mean because it is tradition we can not ride in jet airplanes. Everything is available, today. We are not really abolishing the tradition. But based on that knowledge you are more fulfilling really. As I said in the beginning, I’m going to remember everything that I learned in tae kwon do. And everything that is valuable, I will keep. But everything that I feel is a waste of time for my students, I think I’m obligated to change it.

PK: You mentioned that you expect to get a certain amount of criticism for changing the system. Have you gotten any criticism so far?

RHEE: Nobody knows about it yet.

PK: When did you make the decision to change? As you said, you thought about it a long time and it wasn’t an easy choice to make.

RHEE: I made the decision about the middle of last year. I’ve been talking to all my staff and they cannot be more happier than this. My black belts are unanimously for it.

PK: How many black belts is that?

RHEE: About 25 black belts In Washington on my staff. And I never made my decision alone. I called my black belts: “I like to get really objective criticism from you If you feeI that I’m wrong.” And everybody said,: “I think this is the best thing that ever happened for the martial arts.” Unanimously. So I knew that I’m right. There are many, many tae kwon do people in the U.S. and a lot in Korea. But there are so many bad tae kwon do people at the same time. They also got the black belts in six months or nine months, and eight or nine year-old Children black belts.

PK: And those who are fifth degree when they took off on the plane and seventh degree when they landed in the United States?

RHEE: There’s quite a few of them like that, too. My black beIts are really frustrated. They are really the ones who don’t want. to be identified with tae knwon do anymore. Until three or four years ago, it was great pride to be called tae kwon do. You remember that. I did tae kwon do with pride. Now, the past three years, it has changed so bad.

PK: Not much longer than a year ago Jhoon Rhee was saying: “I wish you’d call tae kwon do ‘tae kwon do’ instead of ‘karate.'”

RHEE: That’s right. Even in commercials, I even planned not to call it karate, but call it tae kwon do. This kind of slogan. I really thought of those kinds of things. The way things are going is really frustrating, you know – two big organizations having conflict with each other. I invented my safety equipment (Safe-T-Punch and Safe-T-Kick), and ninety percent is bought by Americans. There are very, very few Korean instructors using it.

PK: They haven’t supported you at all?

RHEE: No, not at all. I feel that I have earned something for tae kwon do, but I’m not getting my support from tae kwon do, and this is really frustrating to me. I don’t blame anybody. Somehow the trend went that way. So I’m not blaming anybody, but I’m doing what my heart says I should do.

PK: What do you call what you teach now?

RHEE: I’m calling it the “Jhoon Rhee System.” On the one hand, it’s very sad that tae kwon do was really my sole love. I worked so hard for tae kwon do, tae kwon do, tae kwon do.

PK: Even the movie.

RHEE: That’s right. When TaeKwonDo Strikes- that’s my suggestion. That was my suggestion, then when they came here the distributor changed it to Sting of the Dragon Masters, which, I wasn’t too happy with the result. Somehow, I’m getting not what I’m working for. The kickback is not too good for me. I’ve been working so hard for tae kwon do. So I’m going to work for myself now.

PK: Is it true that 20 years or so ago that the term “tae kwon do” did not exist, that it was just different systems of karate, then they tacked on the term?

RHEE: Well, tae kyun, that is the very old system of Korean martial art. It’s pretty similar, so they said tae kwon and adopted that. But the association was 1955, I think, that they first formed. No, 1965 was when the first tae kwon do association was really formed. But tae kwon do was existing since 1955 when General Choi (Choi Hong Hi) really made that name, invented the word “tae kwon do.” So now I’m not with the International Tae Kwon Do Federation or the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association.

PK: So you’re not with either one of them now?

RHEE: I never really was.

PK: With neither organization?

RHEE: In a way, I supported General Choi. I did his form and all that. But I never really signed up with the organization.

PK: Will the students under your new system be fighting right off the bat?

RHEE: No, I’m going to teach a lot of basics and combination movements so they develop the proper muscles to be able to perform the combinations.

PK: Will they be sparring any sooner than under the old system?

RHEE: In my new system I think the sparring time will be the same, but they will be a lot better prepared, really fully prepared, to go into free sparring by that time.

PK: How soon is that?

RHEE: About six months.

PK: You mentioned learning the combinations and everything. That’s really a radical change from the old single-technique-at-a-time method.

RHEE: I have done it in the past – my book already shows about twelve combination exercises, the gold belt book. But I am changing some things around a little more. I have new ideas in the past three years.

PK: The combinations and the different techniques that comprise the new system, are these all new Jhoon Rhee originals that you’ve created and invented, or are these things that you’ve borrowed from here and there?

RHEE: The basics have always been there. But the execution of each kick and punch – I have my unique way of teaching. It’s not the way I learned. l have studied engineering at the University of Texas for four and-a-half years, and really concentrated a lot on my mechanics course: speed and power, statics and, dynamics. And I really applied a lot of these concepts to my performance of teaching each execution of the power. It
has been working, and my students have really been performing.

PK: Have you borrowed any of your new concepts from other styles or other arts?

RHEE: I don’t know whether you can say “borrow.” I just experimented all possible different ways. Even something that I didn’t see anywhere except from my own son, I would ask, “Hey, what’s that?” And if it works, why not apply it? Why not adopt it? There’s an old Korean saying: When you come to learning, you learn from your own grandson. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.

PK: When did you first come to the United States?

RHEE: In 1956.

PK: And where did you first come to?

RHEE: San Marcos, Texas.

PK: And you stayed there until 1962?

RHEE: 1960. Actually, I went back to Korea for one more year. I was in the Army Officer Training Program and I had one more year to serve in the Korean Army. I came back at the end of 1957. I started my freshman year in college at an San Marco Southwest Texas State College on February 1, 1958. I stayed until the summer of 1960. That fall, in September of 1960, I went to the University of Texas for my engineering study and I stayed there for three years. In summer 1962, l went to Washington, D.C. for a summer job. I was suppose to have a summer job in a karate school that was existing in the Washington area. I went there and it had only six students. They wanted to hire me and they couldn’t pay my way, so I just left and opened my own school right away. I never thought that the response was going t be that strong.

PK: You weren’t teaching, until you got to Washington?

RHEE: No, I was teaching at the San Marcos club then at the University of Texas, that’s where I met Allen Steen. When I came to Washington D.C. at the end of three months I had over a hundred students. I couldn’t just drop and go back to school, so I just stayed there ever since then.

PK: You came initially in 1956 right? Which would put you about the same time as Tsutomu Ohshima and a couple of other people. So you were at the very beginning of karate thing in this country.

RHEE: Tae kwon do wise, I’m the first, really.

PK: What karate was then and what it is now reflect a lot of changes. Did you expect it to happen like this?

RHEE: I never thought it would be like this. Really, the martial arts whirlwind is blowing all around the globe right now. I appreciate this landslide, and I attribute it to Bruce Lee. He has done a great deal for this phenomenon of today, because from 1965 to 1966 he did the Green Hornet, and that really gave the initial popularity for the martial art. Then, later, a lot of karate championships and karate schools sprang up in all the cities. And from there, all the movies came out. It’s really not the movies alone; it’s that all the martial art lovers had put up schools in all these different cities, when the movie came along there was already a built-in audience. So everybody really contributed in that respect. But Bruce Lee has done the most.

PK: And it seems he a1so had an influence of another kind on the martial art. The essence of the Bruce Lee philosophy was the abandoning of the classical way of doing things. Now Jhoon Rhee, among others, is abandoning some of the classical, traditional thing of tae kwon do, or at least some of them. Did Bruce Lee have any influence on you in this regard, or is something you discovered on your own?

RHEE: Well, you know, Bruce Lee really tried to convince me to change: then he and I had known each other 10 years. I didn’t change because I wasn’t in the position then. I told him, “Well, Bruce, I agree with you. But in order to have an organization you have to have form.” It was okay for Bruce because he had a personalized thing. So I am making form still, even though I am finally changing somewhat from the classical. I am still going to have some form, some identity of my style. In other words, I agree with everything that he said, but then I disagree that if you don’t have some organization how can you have any structure. That’s the difference. There is no way now to identify the Bruce Lee style. There is no way an organization will grow without some system and form. As I told you before, I found that when I was of young age, it seemed kind of funny. Compared to a long time ago right now I feel I have an organization to really change to what I think is really close to the truth. In the past, I was told, “You have to do it this way and this way and this way.”

PK: Now you’ve established new methods and a new system. But while it’s new and unconventional and innovative, it’s still a system. And that system itself may eventually become old rr establishment or obsolete in the eyes of orthers. If student of yours, say Pat Worley or anyone else, was to do the same thing that Jhoon Rhee has d done to say, “Well, I’m not too hot on this anymore; I am going to change it and do this., this and this” – how would you feel about that?

RHEE: I told Gary Hestilow, who is the partner of Pat and John Worley, “I’d like you to make one form to music according to your own idea. u So they made a form with Beethoven No. 5, and when they came to Washingtn, D.C. to perform it was beautiful! I liked it and I said “It’s formally accepted!” In other words, I’m not the only brain. There are a lot of other brains smarter than me. This way we will continually advance. When you’re tied by tradition, there is no improvement.

Rhee and students

Jhoon Rhee tought tae kwon do to many political figures. From left to right: Rep. James Symington, Rep. Floyd Spence, Rep. Tom Bevill, Sen Quentin Burdick, Rep. Richard Ichord, Sen. Ted Stevens, Rep. Ed Roybal.

PK: Makes sense.

RHEE: The funny thing is, it used to be that way with tae kwon do. I’d never seen a wheel kick until I came to the United States.

PK: You never saw a wheel kick in Korea?

RHEE: Never.

PK: Well, then, where did you see it?

RHEE: From the people who came from Korea.

PK: You mean it was part of the Korean system, or at least one of the Korean systems, but you just never had seen it?

RHEE: That’s right. And it came from Koreans who had developed it in contact tournaments in Korea; they fight contact there, you know. When the wheel kick first came here, there was no defense against it; nobody had ever seen it. And then, a year later, everybody knew how to block it. In those days, you see, the Korean styles were advancing. Now they’re not. The Japanese styles also are not advancing, in the practical point of view, because they are so tied to tradition, bound by that tradition. Tae kwon do is still pretty liberated compared to Japanese karate. Even then, I’m … well, I’m not leaving tae kwon do, actually; I’m just trying to keep the good part that I learned and add a lot of new concepts that I feel are productive.

PK: Because of this new type of thinking that you and others are doing, do you think the days of the large organizations, the Korean organizations and the Japanese organizations, are numbered? That there will no longer be big, traditional, unchanging organizations because of the individuality that is popping up?

RHEE: I’m really not in a position to say, one way or the other. I know I’m going to be doing my thing, for sure. But I don’t know what they’re going to be doing. You see, from 1964 to 1970, I put on the National Karate Championships, and every year, when I had the tournament, I invited all the Korean instructors to my house for a big dinner and to form some kind of tae kwon do organization. I did it for six years in a row. They’d say, “Oh, good. Let’s do it.” And then they’d go back, and never, never could we work together. In other words, I hope nobody blames me for what I’m doing, because I tried six years in a row to organize tae kwon do. And it was just impossible. I spent a lot of effort and money and time. Well, I don’t blame anybody, because when you have an organization, you have to have some benefit for them to join. I didn’t have much to offer, except that if we worked together everyone would benefit. It was something very intangible at the time.

PK: You mentioned your National Karate Championships, which you used to hold. That was an open tournament, wasn’t it?

RHEE: Yes.

PK: Is it true that now your tournaments are all closed?

RHEE: Yes. I give it in three areas, and it is limited to Jhoon Rhee Institute students. I have all trained judges; there’s not a single argument. I can’t be happier than that. I come as a spectator. and my head instructor runs the whole thing. I just enjoy the tournament.

PK: Why did you change it from open to closed?

RHEE: Because every tournament was so nerve-racking. I was so nervous, because the judges would just come in from out of town and not know the rules, and they would be explained to them so they make a lot of mistakes, and so – there are very, very many unhappy competitors. Constantly. I always had so many complainers that it just didn’t pay off. I mean, the effort. Every tournament¬∑ you give is money-losing.

PK: You’re saying that your reasons for having closed tournaments now are different from the reasons of those tae kwon do people who throw the closed tournaments open only to members of the same style?

RHEE: Yes . I don’t know what their motivation is, but my motivation is that I cannot enforce the rules in open tournaments, and I’m making all the competitors very, very unhappy.

PK: But as far as your students participating in other competitions . . .

RHEE: Oh, they can go. I never boycott any tournament.

PK: Let’s talk about your equipment for a minute. When did you first get the idea
for Safe-T-Punch?

RHEE: It was 1969. First I tried a chest vest and face mask, but nobody liked it because it was so bulky.

PK: What were they made of?

RHEE: It was that kind of foam rubber that’s sandwiched around hard plastic. Nobody liked it because it was a hindrance. So I said one day, “Gee, why worry about covering all of the target as long as we cover the four weapons (hands and feet)?” And so I looked for all different kinds of material. I tried foam rubber covered with leather, and I tried many, many different things before I just came up with this. One day, I went to a sporting goods store and saw a water-ski jacket. This was perfect, just like human flesh. I said, “This couldn’t hurt anybody.” It would still knock somebody unconscious with a strong blow, but it wouldn’t break any bones. And this is what I was most concerned about.
Temporary hurting is okay, as long as you can get up again in five minutes and be okay. I figured as long as I could cover the four weapons, we could have exciting tournaments. That’s how we started. Then in 1971 in St. Louis at Mike Anderson’s tournament, Mike Stone , Chuck Norris and Allen Steen and everybody came. Mike Stone said he was working on some things to cover the hands so that people can get knocked out without getting hurt. I had already been working on that for over a year. And when Mike said this, I said, “Really?” I was glad. I had never thought of making money out of safety equipment at that time. I just wanted to use them for my league thing. That’s the only thing that I had in my mind. I said, “Mike, I am so busy with my school, I have so many things to do, so you do it.” I had been working on this project and I had already done quite a bit. But as long as somebody did it, though, all I wanted was some safety equipment available for my championships: “I’m having the tournament next June. Can you come up with something by then?” He said sure, that he was having some made in Mexico City or someplace. One month before the tournament, I asked Mike, “How’s your punching equipment coming along?” He said that the cost was so expensive that he had tried but couldn’t come up with anything. So I asked him if he minded if I went back to my project to pursue this thing. He said he didn’t mind and said to go ahead. So I just started again.

PK: When did the equipment first appear on the market?

RHEE: In 1973 at Mike Anderson’s tournament.

PK: How quickly did it catch on?

RHEE: When you do something and you’re really excited and you really believe in it, you expect so much. And this is more than I expected.

PK: Do you have any idea how many pairs of Safe-T Punch that you’ve sold so far?

RHEE: Well, let’s see. In 1974, from January to December, we must have averaged at least 2,000 pairs a month.

PK: Has it been increasing all the time?

RHEE: Of course. In January (1974) we did only something like 400 pairs.

PK: You’ve had complaints about the pads tearing?

RHEE: I’ve had some complaints here and there. The tearing comes when you don’t have your own pairs. Most schools buy 10 pairs for the whole school. Just big foot and small foot, and if it’s not available they just force a big foot into a small Safe-T Kick. Then when they put it on – and because of the strap and they’re in a big hurry – they just don’t undo the strap properly. Because the foam rubber stretches, they just force their foot into it and that’s the way it tears. It has tremendous resistance against beating, but it doesn’t have any resistance against stretching. And also, this equipment was originally designed for control fighting in case you miss. But then when you have this professionalism, it’s still pretty safe for one big tournament. If it tears, it’s not going to tear in one match anyway. But I have a lot of black belts who have their own. In fact, Jose Jones, he got one pair when it first came out and he still uses it. And he said, “What are they complaining about that it’s tearing? I still have mine and it’s in good shape.” If everybody buys their own size and takes care of it, it should last long. After all, this product is only a year-and-a-half old. So I’m changing a lot of things through experience. If a complaint comes in, we just correct them.

PK: What are some of the modifications that you’ve made?

RHEE: Well, Punches eventually should be discontinued – all except the children – because everybody likes Chop. Chop is going to be the standard equipment for karate. And Chop looks prettier and it’s more open so it’s more identified with karate. The Safe-T-Kick I’m changing. It’s very comfortable now; it comes all the way up to the ankle and it will never come off during the fight. It fits really tight.

PK: You had a problem for awhile?

RHEE: Not that much problem. Once in awhile because we had the shoe lace, you would step on the lace and it would undo. With the new strap that we started using it’s not going to happen.

PK: Was there any problem with the protruding straps cutting at all?

RHEE: A long time ago when we used the strap there was. Now we use the shoe lace as a safety feature. I would like to ask all the Safe-T equipment users to give me a little time to perfect it. I’m doing the best I can with the intentions that I have. A lot of people think that I’m making a lot of money out of this, but I’m not making that much money out of this yet. I think it’s going to be a few more years before I can get my investment back, because this item is very high labor item. Every seam they can see is all glued by hand. When they are dipped, the person who puts it in by hand puts it in six times. Each one of them dries for 15 minutes. There’s a lot of human hands going. And that’s why everyone of them is not really perfect shape. Pretty similar, very close, but not exactly like perfection. And this foam rubber is not available. You cannot buy this foam rubber. The only way I can get this is because I have a friend who is making a lot of other stuff who is only using 10 percent of his stock material for my purpose. Other foam rubber manufacturing companies’ orders are so way behind they cannot sell to new customers. That’s the reason they’re not going to be able to copy this readily. And I didn’t realize how much money it cost for national marketing. I really didn’t realize it. Professional Karate Magazine and Black Belt Magazine have really been supporting this thing. That’s the way it got kicked off. Otherwise, it’d never be on the market now.

PK: The Safe-T equipment has turned out to be an instrumental factor in the professional karate full-contact movement. How do you feel about full-contact karate?

RHEE: I really feel I’ve reached my dream world. In other words, I don’t want anybody to get hurt, but I want to have realistic fights. That’s what happened at the last tournament (the World Professional Karate Championships); nobody got hurt. It’s a new breed of television show. When I compare ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment show to the Muhammad Ali fight, the Ali fight was exciting only because of who was fighting. Other than that, we have a more exciting product.

Jhoon Rhee

The leading magazines at that time, Black Belt and Professional Karate inducted Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee into their Hall of Fame.

PK: Do you think that by taking out the takedowns that it will make it even better?

RHEE: I am so glad the rules have been changed, that the takedown has been taken out. I am a kick fighter, and not because I teach kicking more than other people but because that’s what ,the audience likes to see. I told Jeff Smith before the tournament that the name of the game was don’t kick. I told him, “Don’t kick because they’re going to grab your leg. Don’t kick. Just punch.” He wasn’t kicking much, so he looked sloppy. I mean he has beautiful technique in kicking, but he couldn’t do it. Bill Wallace was lucky because his opponent, Daniel Richer from Canada, is also a kicker and he’s not in the habit of doing that (grabbing). If Wallace had fought Slocki, Slocki would have thrown him a million times.

PK: Jhoon Rhee came to this country as a strict tae kwon do man. Now he’s reached a point where he’s no longer teaching tae kwon do per se. He’s introduced Safe-T equipment, he’s a proponent of professional karate and full-contact karate. How does this measure up for the father of American tae kwon do?

RHEE: Well, let’s say this. I’m really in favor of full-contact, but not for amateur students. They will still have to apply the controlled fight with Safe-T equipment. Safe-T equipment is more or less to prevent injury if you miss: Actually, I’m not really leaving tae kwon do. As I said, I’m preserving all the good parts that I
learned in tae kwon do, and I’m making a new training form to adopt. It’s more practical for free-fighting. The father of American tae kwon do, I didn’t claim myself. This was Black Belt Magazine when they did a feature story on me. They gave that title to me.

PK: How did you feel about that title at the time, and how do you feel about it now?

RHEE: I felt honored. A lot of karate people didn’t complain much about it. I felt that everybody silently recognized it.

PK: Do you still feel like you’re the father of tae kwon do since you’ve changed?

RHEE: Well, I really don’t know what is a really accurate definition of a father of tae kwon do. If it is the first who introduced tae kwon do in this country, yes, I am.

PK: With the status you’ve reached through the Safe-T equipment, and through being a noted instructor and an author, some people picture Jhoon Rhee as a kind of karate entrepreneur – rich and famous. How do you see Jhoon Rhee? What kind of a person is he?

RHEE: I feel that I am a very simple person who eats three meals a day just like anybody else, and who laughs when something is funny, who expresses sad when it is sad. I’m a no different man from when I was young, except I’m a little bit wiser. When you get older, you lose physical strength, but you get wiser. I feel I have been very fortunate that I have this influence in American martial arts. I have contributed in the past, and I would like to do a lot more if I can.

Professional Karate

This interview was publishing inside Professional Karate’s April 1975 issue leading up to the Battle of Atlanta with Joe Corley challenging Bill Wallace in the first professional style fullcontact karate/kickboxing title fight that was fought with Jhoon Rhee equipment.

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