The Jhoon Rhee Story

Part 10: Death and Memorial Service (2018)

Known as “the Father of American Tae Kwon Do,” Jhoon Rhee was the first to teach Tae Kwon Do in the United States, beginning his legendary career here more than 50 years ago. A 1oth-degree Black Belt, Grandmaster Rhee was trained directly by Choi Hong Hi, the South Korean army general who originally developed this modern martial art.

After coming to America in the 1950s, Grandmaster Rhee befriended Bruce Lee and introduced the celebrated martial artist to Tae Kwon Do. Since then, Rhee has also taught Muhammed Ali, Jack Anderson, George Allen, Sr., Bob Livingston, Tony Robbins, Jack Valenti, and more than 300 U.S. Senators and House Representatives.

Today, hundreds of Tae Kwon Do studios in the U.S. and around the world use the Jhoon Rhee curriculum. Listed below are just a few of his many other accomplishments.


Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee passed away on April 30, 2018. He had suffered years of pain from neuralgia due to the shingles virus. He was 86 years old. At his memorial service, hundreds of martial artists gathered in their martial arts uniforms to pay their respects to the man who brought Tae Kwon Do to the United States, championed knowledge, honesty and strength, and always led by example.

Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee

Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee

Also in attendance were politicians Toby Roth, Connie Morella, Jesse Jackson, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and others. Speaking or providing video tributes were politicians, actors and other dignitaries such as Linda Lee Cadwell (the widow of Bruce Lee), Chuck Norris, Allen Steen (his first student), Tony Robbins (student), Iain Armitage (student), former Speaker of the House Bob Livingston, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, former Virginia Governor George Allen, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, and other notables.

Click here for the memorial program
Click here for a video of the Memorial Service

It was estimated that over the 50 years that Grandmaster Rhee headed the Jhoon Rhee Institute he or his instructors promoted over 100,000 Black Belts. This is an incredible legacy. As his son, Chun Rhee, stated in closing the Memorial Service: “In 50 years just imagine what one person did… just imagine what 100,000 could do in the next 50. So when you leave here today, love what you do, and know that your job as a martial arts instructor is important. So I ask that we all stand, for one last bow…’Class, Charyot, Kyong ye!'”

◀ Part 9