It was the middle of October 2000. I had just returned from Little Rock, Arkansas having attended the funeral of my longtime friend and mentor, Grand Master H.U. Lee.
I had met Grand Master Lee at his first school in Omaha back in 1968. Soon after meeting him, he had told me, “you’re going to be one of my instructors”. His words turned out to be prophetic
and, for over thirty years, I had worked diligently alongside him, growing one of the biggest and most respected martial arts organizations in the world.
While I believed we had done much together, I knew there was so much left to be done. Before this passing, we had talked about many different options, Now he was gone.
As I sat remembering our time together, I began to think about all the plans we had made. Plans that he would now never be part of. Many of these plans had been only talk, things we would get to “someday”.
Grand Master Lee’s passing had a huge impact on me. In addition to being my friend and mentor, he was one of the most outstanding human beings I have ever met.
He was a martial arts pioneer, one of the first instructors to bring Taekwondo to America. He founded the American Taekwondo Association, the World Traditional Taekwondo Union and
Songahm Taekwondo Federation. At his passing, these organizations had over 300,000 members on their rosters worldwide.
Not long before discovering he had cancer, Grand Master Lee and I had met and talked about what we might do to expand our organization so we could share the benefits of Taekwondo
training with even more people around the world. After our visit, I went back to Jacksonville. It wasn’t long until I got the news that Grand Master Lee had contracted cancer. I was shocked.
He was only 64 years old, young by standards today. He had practiced martial arts his whole life. How could this happen?
Even though his diagnosis was grim, as the days passed, Grand Master Lee remained in great spirits, refusing right up until the end to believe that he was going to die. His belief was so great
and his mind so strong, that I guess all of us thought he would somehow defy the odds. When the news came that he had actually passed away it was still something of a shock to all of us who knew him.
All the plans and dreams we had of building our organization together would never happen. He left the world leaving a great legacy but with so much work left to be done. I silently wondered
how our organization would continue to thrive without his passion and hard work.
While I knew we had accomplished a great deal, there was so much more we could have done. Thinking we had many more years together we had put off things that he wouldn’t have the
opportunity to be part of.
He had been fairly young, in great shape and he didn’t drink or smoke. He had every reason in the world to believe that time was on his side. Only it didn’t work out that way for Grand Master
Lee. He had run out of time way too early.
We found ourselves facing the daunting task of leading 300,000 students and our 10,000 Blackbelt Instructors. Being well aware of the tendency for businesses and organizations to
break apart at the passing of the founder, we set out to change that trend.
First decision, did we the leaders want to stay together without H.U. Lee to lead us. The answer, we realized that nobody could replace this visionary that had led us for the last 40 years.
Just maybe if we all made a pledge to stay together, that we as a group could. More important we realized that we really cared about our instructors who were more like family than members of the American Taekwondo Association.
We realized that we needed Grand Master type leadership to continue and outlined what that leadership should be.
- Step one, commit to the purpose and to each other.
- Step two, have a vision and continue. Any and all disagreements being handled in private and not in the public eye or social media. Lead by example, keep everything in place with no drastic changes without buy in from the Masters and Instructors.
- Step three, by keeping the same leadership that the people expected the show of solidarity would give confidence to the organization.
- Step four, all decisions would be based on what was good for the instructors, as they are the real holders of the future. All of them, from a tiny school to giant multiple school
owners would be equal in the organization’s eyes.
- Step five, Vision. Evolve with caution but stay current and relevant with the industry. The organization would lead with martial arts as the main driving force, not the whims of
the stockholders, based on the set standards for rank testing and expansion.
- Step six, for me, I had to work from my principles and goals. They were simple and repeatable goals for student and staff – All curriculum was designed to reach these priorities
- Emotionally powerful citizens
- Physically strong individuals
- Technically fearless in the face of adversity.
- Air – Decide to be happy always, using thought replacement every time I slip.
- Sun – Be free in all areas of life; physically, emotionally and financially. Reject the PC culture.
- Earth – Be Young forever. Move every day with martial arts. You will never be this young again.
- Water – Help someone everyday – with thought of numeration or your history with them.
- Fire – Be willing to fall in love with everything you do and the people close to you. Only a burning passion brings excellence in your life.
Final three thoughts on Grand Master Leadership
- Make your principles and then they will make you
- Set goals for life and let everyone in on them
- Decide to stay the course – Don’t give up! Adapt.