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Jhoon Rhee: Why Martial Arts Discipline May Be the Key to Happiness

Jhoon Rhee: Why Martial Arts Discipline May Be the Key to Happiness

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in the March 2004 issue of Black Belt magazine. The time and age references have been left intact for this posting.


Violence lives in our schools and on our streets. Divorce rates are soaring, and literacy rates are plunging. Everywhere you look, it’s racism, politics as usual and corruption. Even worse, everybody talks about America’s problems, but no one seems to do anything about them.

For taekwondo grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, the time to do something is now, and he’s the man to get the ball rolling.

“Something is wrong with our society, and some institution must lead the reaction,” says Jhoon Rhee, the father of American taekwondo. “I have volunteered to do that — to mobilize all martial artists in one direction, to make this human society one where everybody is happy every day of their lives.”


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Achieving universal human happiness may seem like a tall order, but Jhoon Rhee is an ambitious man with a far-reaching plan. To him, the dissemination of martial arts training and philosophy — from the public-school system to the hallowed halls of Congress and the White House — is the surest way to achieve health, wealth and happiness on a national scale.

Jhoon Rhee contends that the best place to begin is at the beginning, and that means instituting dojang values into public schools. “People are a product of education,” he says. “If you are taught communism, you become a communist. If you are taught capitalism, you become a capitalist. If you are taught liberalism, you become a liberal, and if you are taught conservatism, you become a conservative. If you are taught to be honest, you will become an honest person. If you are taught to lie, then you will be a liar. Whatever we teach our children, they become. So why not teach them discipline?”

He has already taken the first step toward realizing his dream of disciplining millions of American youths via the introduction of his Joy of Discipline program in Washington, D.C.-area schools. Under the direction of Ken Carson, the program provides in-school martial arts training for students. It teaches them the three basic philosophical principles of Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do: knowledge in the mind, honesty in the heart and strength in the body. Ken Carson and his instructors seek to exemplify what their grandmaster defines as the very essence of the martial arts: the lead-by-example action philosophy.

To Jhoon Rhee, discipline lies at the heart of achieving a happy life. Knowledge and strength obviously require discipline to be achieved, but honesty also comes from a kind of personal discipline. “Every one of us is created to pursue happiness, yet no one is happy,” he says. “Our only problem, ultimately, is dishonesty.

“What do I mean by honesty?” the 70-year-old asks. “To me, honesty is synonymous with philosophy. We should teach our children with martial arts philosophy, and martial arts philosophy is, at its best, no different from the best political philosophy, business philosophy or whatever philosophy there may be. When a student is honest, he is responsible to himself first. When you are responsible to yourself, how can you be lazy developing your knowledge? How can you be lazy giving up on your muscles?”

Whenever he’s met by a perplexed gaze from a listener, Jhoon Rhee shifts his philosophizing back into a lower gear. “The three basic human values are love, beauty and truth,” he explains. “When you are truthful, you are beautiful in the heart. When you are beautiful in the heart, everybody loves you. When everybody loves you, you are happy. On the other hand, when you lie, you become ugly in the heart. When you are ugly in the heart, everybody hates you. When everybody hates you, there’s no way you can lead a happy life.”

Lest the public-school indoctrination of Jhoon Rhee’s core values seem too small a task for a man with his drive and enthusiasm, his plan to bring them to the rest of America is even more ambitious. He’s confident the arts can offer a perfect blend of physical and mental training to teach students the virtues of hard work, honest living and honest expression. As behavioral psychologists have come to realize in recent years, the body and mind are inexorably linked, and students cannot hope to make significant improvements to one while neglecting the other. “Physiology dictates human emotion as much as emotion dictates human action,” he explains. “In other words, motion triggers emotion as much as emotion triggers motion.”

Jhoon Rhee is clearly a man on a mission. He’s determined to offer his unique vision of the martial arts as a panacea for society’s ills. “Throughout history, every significant change or contribution has been created by one man,” he says. “Then, our race expands upon it throughout the ages.”

Obviously, Jhoon Rhee believes he is that man. Judging by all he’s accomplished thus far, it’s possible he’s right.

For more information about Jhoon Rhee, visit his official website at jhoonrhee.com.


About the author:
Jason William McNeil is a freelance writer and martial artist based in Roanoke, Virginia.

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3 Responses

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  1. George C says

    I applaud Mr Rhee’s noble thoughts and efforts, however even the martial arts world has become devoid of morals and ethics. I have been to many tournaments and seen many martial arts schools that do not seem to embrace the ideas of honor and humblness. Martial arts in America has become, “I am better than you and I can kick your butt!” The “Black Belt” has lost the sense of honor and nobleness it once had, too many black belts given out too easily with no moral teaching as a part of earning it. So before martial arts can be used to achieve health, wealth, and happiness, the martial arts have to return to its true meaning “too overcome the self, and foster honor, morality, and a sense of humbleness!”

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  2. alan says

    George is correct. The martial arts are no longer the place of hone and discipline. The rise of MMA, has fundamentally lessened the level of honor and sense of humbleness that once was martial discipline. I wish Grandmaster Rhee good luck in his quest for honor in the martial arts.

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  3. Heath says

    I agree with the above comments. Unfortunately, most true martial arts programs have become overshadowed by the MMA craze that is so flamboyant. Don’t get me wrong, those practitioners are amazing athletes but do not represent the ages old morals of a true martial artist.

    I was once a part of an TKD organization that had become seemingly more concerned with dragging out rank progression simply to make more money. If you were an instructor, you were EXPECTED to attend every training event that lasted for days and was crazy expensive, as well . Never had the time or money to go to all of the events. Especially considering my entire family of 4 were all participating. The focus became more about money and less about the sport. We chose to walk away.

    I am a descendant of GM Rhee through my instructor, GM J. Pat Burleson and his Christian Soldiers Karate program. We focus not only on the physical and mental side of the sport but also the spiritual side. The part that is SEVERELY lacking in most schools. I try to prepare my students for both the physical and spiritual battles that they will face in life.

    I guarantee you, we DO NOT give any belt away. I take a lot of pride in how I worked hard to earn my Black Belt and I pass that on to my students. Hopefully, we can help to bring more understanding and honor back to the sport that means so much to me and my students.

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