Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha

Before you read about the history of the UKTA. I thought I’d share my story of Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha. When I first started training at Peckham Tae Kwon-Do with Mr Roy Bertrand we were members of the UKTA under Master Rhee. Master Rhee conducted all of our gradings, we found ourselves travelling all over the place to grade. Back then we had to do a seminar with Master Rhee before we graded so it was a long day unlike the gradings of today.

I took my black belt & 2nd Dan with Master Rhee so I will always hold him in high regard. To me, he always came across as a huge man his fist was as big as my head. Master Rhee used to punch the wall during the seminar and no joke, the building would shake, the sound was incredible. He usually performed this as the finale to my favourite of his stories.

It was the time he met Muhammad Ali, boxing heavyweight champion at the time. Master Rhee drew a circle with his finger on the wall and asked Muhammad Ali to punch the wall. Muhammad Ali thought he was crazy and when Master Rhee persisted with his request Muhammad Ali finally gave the wall a punch. As you would expect he pulled his hand back rubbing his knuckles in pain… Master Rhee asked him to step aside and demonstrated how it should be done… BOOM! BOOM! Muhammad Ali was amazed and as a youngster coming up through the ranks so was I.

The history of the United Kingdom Tae Kwon-Do Association

Tae Kwon-Do in this country first operated under the auspices of the United Kingdom Tae Kwon-Do Association (UKTA). The Association was formed in 1967 when Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha (then V Dan black belt) came to the UK from Korea. The UKTA is part of a larger group – The International Tae Kwon-Do federation (ITF) – which was founded by General Choi Hong Hi, IX Dan. It was General Choi who personally evolved and brought Tae Kwon-Do to fruition during the 1930’s and 1940’s, until it was officially named by the Korean Government on the 11th April, 1955.

2006 marks the 40th Anniversary of the foundation of the UKTA and the 10th Anniversary of our Grand Master holding the Grand Master title. He was the first Master to be award the title by the late General Choi

If it was not for the dedications and sacrifices of General Choi Hong Hi, the Founder of Tae Kwon-Do, we would not have been given the opportunity to practice this great art. He devoted his whole life to the invention, development of the art of Tae Kwon-Do and did his everything to give his legacies to the new generations to the end of his life.

Tae Kwon-Do is truely a Martial Art, having been used in the Korean War and is now a compulsory part of the training schedule of every Korean Solider. it was in this environment that Grand Master Rhee began his training and came to be regarded as the number one pioneer instructor – being the first instructor to leave Korea for the purpose of teaching Tae Kwon-Do.

He took the bold step of leaving his homeland and family to come halfway across the world to the UK in order to spread the art he loved. Then, in 1967, the teaching of Tae Kwon-Do in Britain began in earnest, initially with a military theme on bases across the country, eventually spreading to many non-military schools.

Using contacts made in Singapore while founding the Singapore Tae Kwon-Do Association, Mr. Rhee, then V Dan, started to earn his living doing what he did best – teaching Tae Kwon-Do! the Main stay of his operation was the Royal Air Force. Service men who had learned the Art in Singapore invited Mr. Rhee to teach the here in the UK and the classes proved to be very popular. They grew into what we call the United Kingdom Tae Kwon-Do Association.

Grand Master Rhee’s development went hand in hand with the formation of the UKTA. He recalls one particular memory – “We had no money for badges or stationary or peripheral items and I used an embroidery machine for embroidering the badges on to the suits which we used to use. I did three , I think. I kept one and gave the other two to students.”

There was no magic leap in Grand Master Rhee’s promotion. Soon after the formation of the UKTA, he was promoted to VI Dan and was then engaged in helping on an international scale – being honoured with inclusion into the ITF world Masters Demonstration Team, which frequently toured the world.

The mid-seventies was a boom time for all Martial Arts – a programme from that time showing Master Rhee’s promotion to VII Dan. This programme quotes the existence of 50 non-RAF schools of Tae Kwon-Do and over 20 RAF schools.

In 1981 Master Rhee was promoted to VIII Dan Black Belt by the ITF President and Founder, General Choi Hong Hi, making Master Rhee one of the very few to correctly and properly reach this goal – training, researching and teaching Tae Kwon-Do for the minimum period of seven years since his promotion to VII Dan. Master Rhee says that you can liken Martial Arts to flowers. It is a matter of preference. If you say the rose is the nicest flower and then destroy all others, then you have nothing to compare the rose to – and it loses it uniqueness. If there was only Tae Kwon-Do, you could not compare it to any other martial art and could not, therefore, appreciate its depth, power, grace, and scientific superiority.

In 1997 was probably one of the greatest year in the history of the UKTA, not only was it the year that the association celebrated its 30th anniversary but also its founder and president attain the highest accolade in Tae Kwon-Do. In July of the year, Master Rhee was promoted to IX Dan Black Belt, Grand Master, the first time a British citizen has gained such a grade.