Derby School of Taekwon-Do Stamp Image

Forty years of Taekwon-Do in the UK

Grand Master Ki Ha Rhee IX Dan, has given so much devotion to the art of Taekwon-Do, the man and his work are one. Through long years of perseverance and determination he has founded and established the then little known art of Taekwon-Do throughout the United Kingdom.

Grand Master Rhee was born on 20th March 1938 in Seoul, South Korea under the repression of the Japanese government. As a proud and noble Korean he was educated to a high standard. At 9 years old his immense size and power were already evident when he was already wearing adult size shoes! The years 1947-1955 were spent in education. However, these were not years of just academic study. Ki-Ha Rhee spent these years toughening and conditioning the body for later years!

1955 signalled the technical beginning and on the 11th April 1955, Taekwon-Do was given its official name.

In 1956 Ki Ha Rhee, aged 18, joined the 35th Infantry Division of the Korean Army and soon after became the official Instructor to the Special Forces.

By 1963 the Taekwon-Do Association of Malaysia was formed and in 1964 Ki-Ha Rhee was invited to Instruct in Malaysia as one of the Association Instructors.

In February 1964 Ki-Ha Rhee established a Taekwon-Do Association in Singapore. Aswell as Instructing in Singapore Ki-Ha Rhee was one of the founding members of the International Taekwon-Do Federation (ITF) when it was officially formed on 22nd March 1966. From 1964-1967 Ki-Ha Rhee instructed hundreds of students including Royal Airforce Force (RAF) servicemen posted there. Numerous servicemen, upon returning to the United Kingdon from Singapore, expressed a desire to continue their Taekwon-Do training. On Sunday July 2nd 1967, the then Mr Ki-Ha Rhee V Dan Taekwon-Do Black Belt arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport. The foundations of Taekwon-Do in Great Britain were laid!

September 1967 saw the opening of Taekwon-Do schools in Coventry, Derby and Oxford.

In 1968 General Choi Hong Hi IX Dan (Founder of Taekwon-Do) visited the United Kingdom and promoted Mr Rhee to VI Dan.

Through the early 70s Taekwon-Do flourished, expanding to over 50 civilian schools and at least 20 RAF schools. Demonstrations, tuition and gradings continued throughout the UK by Mr Rhee and the first generation of Black Belts were promoted.

During 1973 General Choi Hong Hi and a specially selected ITF demonstration team toured the Middle East, Africa and the Far East. The team consisted of:

  • Kong Young Il
  • Park Joong Soo
  • Rhee Ki-Ha
  • Park Sun Jae
  • Choi Chang Keun

In 1974 Mr Rhee was promoted to VII Dan, making him the first resident Taekwon-Do Master to teach in Britain. At this point the UKTA was divided into twelve areas, each being represented by a senior instructor of the committee. In this eventful year Master Rhee opened the first Academy on Renfrew Street in Glasgow. As a former YMCA. building it was converted into the exclusive Rhee Ki-Ha Taekwon-Do Academy (RTA) and with the academy registered with ITF, the No.6 plaque was issued. As a founding member of ITF Master Rhee is featured as one of the performing figures on the plaque.

On March 9th 1975, Kelvin Halls, Glasgow, saw the U.K. Open Championships and demonstration by world Masters. The demonstration team comprised:

  • K.H. Rhee, VII Dan
  • C.K. Choi, VII Dan
  • S.J. Park, VII Dan
  • J.S. Park, VII Dan
  • Y.I. Kong, VII Dan
  • J.T. Park, VI Dan
  • K.I. Kim, VI Dan

This demonstration was a show of excellence allowing other organisations to see the skill of ITF Taekwon-Do Masters.

Unfortunately, during the late 1970s several senior instructors resigned from UKTA, but continued to teach under their own banners. Undeterred by these minor tremors, Master Rhee continued his work. In 1978, the All Europe Taekwon-Do Federation (AETF) was formed with the help of Master Rhee allowing Eastern & Western Europe to compete together in Taekwon-Do. As President (and a founding member), Master Rhee hosted the first AETF Championships in 1980 at Crystal Palace. For political and financial gain Instructors continued to leave. Master Rhee continued his work and undeterred took the UKTA forward into the 80s

1981 saw the BTA (British Taekwon-Do Association) formed, following Americanised training of WTF (World Taekwon-Do Federation formed in 1973). 1981 also saw the promotion of Master Rhee to VIII Dan. UKTA schools had grown to over 200 and well over 3000 students.

1983 saw big tremors in the the UKTA. A large group of senior Instructors left the UKTA and formed the Taekwon-Do Association of Great Britain (TAGB). However, they had no resident Master and decided to use a former ITF V Dan from America as their Examiner whilst the UKTA continued to build on their resources and with the loyal Instructors remaining within the Association.

Over four days in April, 20th-24th, 1984, the UKTA with Master Rhee at the helm hosted the 4th ITF World Championships at Kelvin Halls, Glasgow. In the programme was a personal message from General Choi Hong Hi: ”Master Rhee is one of the original Masters of Taekwon-Do and is recognised worldwide as the top exponent of Taekwon-Do. Over many years he has willingly imparted his knowledge and demonstrated his skills in promoting Taekwon-Do with no motive of self gain. By his selfless dedication he ensures that Taekwon-Do will progress as will those who are fortunate enough to come under his supervision and guidance. The spirit for which I developed Taekwon-Do is carried on by Master Rhee, and I am certain that his lead will be followed by his students throughout Great Britain and the rest of Europe…” This helped re-establish the UKTA and create strong foundations for the future.

In 1985 the UKTA Head Office moved from Glasgow to London, and from its new premises continued to flourish. The next few years were ones of re-growth. Until 1987…

1987 saw another “splinter” group form. The United Kingdom Taekwon-Do Federation (UKTF) followed by the British United Taekwon-Do Federation (BUTF) in 1988. In that same year the Head Office was relocated to Reading.

Since the late 1980’s UKTA has been in a period of expansion. The national squad is back with a desire for success and beating the top ITF teams on the continent. National tournaments have enough numbers to run six rings at the same time. The UKTA is back, it never disappeared. We have survived slanderous rumours to emerge as the association with principles (the most important one being Taekwon-Do). Whilst other groups and associations are recognised by the ITF, only the UKTA has a resident Pioneer Grand Master as its Chief Examiner in the UK. Grand Master Rhee and the UKTA have had a turbulent past, but some instructors have come back to the UKTA after many years away because they have become disillusioned by “splinter groups”.

Over the last 10-15 years, the enormous popularity of Taekwon-Do has created imitators, and whilst at times imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, in the case of Taekwon-Do this is definitely not true. To imitate without full knowledge of the original is dangerous. It is like allowing a child to play with a toy gun, giving him a real one and expecting him to understand the difference without giving him the knowledge of the effects of a real gun.

As we moved forward into our third decade, the UKTA was proud to have the founders “Best student ever of Taekwon-Do”, as its Master Instructor and Chief Examiner, still teaching with enthusiasm and pride, promoting Taekwon-Do in the UK.

Taekwon-Do is enormously popular which has created imitators. The terminology, technique, theories, systems, method, rules, practice suit and spiritual foundation were scientifically developed, systemised and named by General Choi Hong Hi, IX Dan. It is wrong to assume that all self-defence movements with the hands and feet can be called Taekwon-Do. Only those who practice the techniques based on General Choi’s theories, philosophies and principles are considered students of genuine Taekwon-Do.

When General Choi Hong Hi passed away on June 11th 2002, this left Grand Master Rhee Ki-Ha as the most senior within the ITF As the first person the founder promoted to Grand Master in 1997 he had the most senior rank within ITF Taekwon-Do. Grand Master Rhee is inextricably associated back throughout the history of the ITF and the only pioneer to be loyal to General Choi without ever leaving the ITF. Many others left for financial gain but not Grand Master Rhee Ki-Ha. The future of ITF Taekwon-Do is with the best ever student, the most powerful of all the pioneers. No-one else has the history and honours within Taekwon-Do. With the fortieth aniversary approaching, please spare a thought for Grand Master Rhee Ki-Ha, a founding member of the ITF, the most senior Grand Master in ITF, founder of AETF & Founder of UKTA.

However, there is a huge amount of knowledge to be passed down. If you get the opportunity, train with Grand Master Rhee or if you are fortunate to be invited for a meal, please attend. There is a moral culture along with many rules of etiquette that are best learnt from experiences outside of the training hall with senior Taekwon-Do practitioners.

As Taekwon-Do grows further, much more responsibility is placed on the current Masters and senior instructors. Without these skillful, sincere and loyal teachers, the true spirit in which Taekwon-Do was brought here, shall be lost.

The Masters Council was established to conduct seminar and grading examinations on behalf of Grand Master Rhee. These gentlemen, guided by Grand Master Rhee, are the future of UKTA. They all have a tremendous amount of experience and if you care to glance back at their history, you will find many of them with international honours including gold medals from ITF World Championships. Behind the current set of Masters are senior ranking instructors battling for the prestigious title of Master. However, to gain your rightful place on the Masters Council, it is by personal invitation from Grand Master Rhee and only nine Masters can have a position at any one time.

This article is a brief summary of some of the events that have shaped our past forty years. No other Taekwon-Do association can celebrate forty years of history. The UKTA was the first established and many have not and will not stand the test of time. Let us celebrate with the founder of UKTA in this eventful year of 2007.

Some of the photographs featured in the booklet to mark 40 years of Taekwon-Do in the U.K. have been chosen to show that even now the UKTA are second to none.

This is an article written by Derby School of Taekwon-Do instructor, Master Knighton, in 2007 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the UKTA. All rights to the contents of this article remain with Derby School of Taekwon-Do, this article cannot be reproduced in full, or in part, without the express permission of the author.