The Jhoon Rhee Story
Part 8: International Influence (1980 - 2000)
In 1980, Rhee retired from instructing in order to devote his time to expanding his schools and traveling the world to deliver presentations on his Tae Kwon Do philosophy. His first trip, later that year, was a return to South Korea, where Rhee was among the dinner guests for the Presidential inauguration of Chun, Doo-Hwan. As the first person to sign the Blue House guest book, Rhee felt especially honored.
The human Stars & Stripes formation that Rhee created for the 1982 July Fourth event on the Mall.
As he spent more time abroad, Rhee’s influence in the States continued to grow, as well. In 1982, he was requested to serve as the Chairman of our Nation’s Fourth of July Birthday Celebration. With the friendships he had made through his U.S. Congressional Tae Kwon Do Club, Rhee was able to organize a prestigious advisory committee consisting of members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. Rhee’s signature event for the Celebration was a huge human Stars & Stripes formation, made up of Tae Kwon Do students wearing red, white, and blue uniforms. In the formation, 229 students represented America’s population of 229 million; an additional 206 students stood for the 206th Independence Day. The whole group led the Celebration’s parade march and later performed “God Bless America” as a martial arts ballet.
Although Rhee’s personal prominence had reached new heights in America and around the world, the 80s were a time of declining popularity for martial arts in general, at least in the U.S. To counter this, Rhee began a series of martial arts business seminars in 1985 to help struggling school owners across the country, and conducted these monthly seminars for several years.
As Rhee spread his Tae Kwon Do philosophy during this period, he in particular wanted to emphasize the educational benefits of his approach, especially for elementary school children. In the early 80s, with the support of William Bennett, U.S. Secretary of Education during President Reagan’s first term, Rhee introduced his “Joy of Discipline” character education program into a couple of DC-area elementary schools, and with the help of Rhee’s former student Ken Carlson, later expanded the program into public schools in Virginia. Rhee also took the program to Moscow and the Ukraine, leading a delegation consisting of eight principals of the DC public school system. While in Moscow, the delegation was joined by 80 Moscow principals for a two-day “Joy of Discipline” program conducted by Rhee.
Rhee’s “Joy of Discipline” delegation in Moscow.
This turned out to be only the first of several trips to Russia for Rhee. In 1989, he returned to Moscow with several of his students to perform martial arts ballets at an event for both Russian and American dignitaries. During the visit, Rhee also conducted a martial arts philosophy seminar at Moscow University and afterward met with officials of the State Sports Committee to discuss the possible legalization of martial arts as an official Soviet sport. Soon after Rhee’s visit, the Committee passed a law legalizing all Asian martial arts activities in the Soviet Union.
Rhee returned to Moscow again in 1991 to conduct an 11-day seminar on martial arts philosophy and business practices. At the end of the seminar, 65 of the attending school owners decided to join the Jhoon Rhee system of schools.
The 1991 trip led to Rhee’s influence in Russia expanding in a completely unexpected way. At a concert held to conclude and celebrate his seminar, Rhee met the publisher of International Affairs, the official journal of the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, who asked Rhee to write an article for the publication about his philosophy. In the article, Rhee not only discussed his ideas about martial arts and education, but also his views on the flaws of Soviet communism. After the article’s publication, Alexander Potemkin, the Cultural Attaché of the former USSR Embassy in Washington, said: “If you ask me who has now the most influence over the Soviet foreign policies today, I will say, it is Master Jhoon Rhee. This editorial article was just published in the Soviet magazine, and read by Soviet diplomats, politicians, and high-level officials. This article consists of guiding principles, the philosophy of Master Rhee, which applies even to relationships between nations and between the Soviet Union and the United States.”
Since then, the respect that Rhee is afforded in Russia has only increased; he even received the Russian International Peace Award at a ceremony in Moscow on April 26, 2007.
Rhee and Bob Hope.
The international appeal of Rhee’s philosophy and success was not limited to Russia. For example, Rhee visited Morocco at the invitation of the government, giving speeches for government agencies, media outlets, and universities. And when Bob Hope retired, Rhee was invited to take over the comedian’s famous USO Show in Korea. For two years, in 1999 and 2000, Rhee assembled teams to perform Tae Kwon Do shows for troops in Yongsan and Ohsan.
Of course, Rhee continued to spread his message in America throughout the 80s and 90s, as well. One of his proudest achievements during this time was National Teacher Appreciation Day. As part of Rhee’s commitment to academic and character education for elementary school students, Rhee lobbied 218 lawmakers, most of whom he had met through his Tae Kwon Do classes on the Hill, to establish an official day honoring our nation's teachers. The Honorable E. Clay Shaw of Florida agreed to sponsor the National Teacher Appreciation Day Bill in the U.S. Congress, and on January 28, 1986, it was passed by the House and the Senate. President Reagan signed the bill into law on October 16, 1986.
Rhee on the March 16, 1997 cover of Parade magazine.
As the end of the century approached, Rhee had accomplished more than he had ever hoped, garnering awards and recognitions almost too numerous to count. He had been named one of President George Bush’s Daily Points of Light. His black belt students included not only Members of Congress, but notable figures like Tony Robbins, Jack Valenti, and Jack Anderson. He had appeared on the cover of Parade magazine with Cheryl Tiegs. And he had been named by Black Belt magazine as one of the top two living martial artists of the 20th Century.