The ‘best student of TAEKWON-DO’ was born on the 20th of March 1938 in Seoul, what is now known as the capital of South Korea. Growing up, Rhee Ki Ha knew only one Korea, an experience that has continued to inform his thinking to this day. The honour of being named the 'best student of TAEKWON-DO' was bestowed upon him many years later by the Founder of TAEKWON-DO himself, General Choi Hong Hi, but Rhee Ki Ha's beginnings were humble and unassuming. At the time, TAEKWON-DO as we now know it didn't exist and his martial arts experience began at the tender age of 7, Judo training with his father Rhee Yung Ei, who had achieved awards for both Judo and Sumo during the Japanese occupation of Korea. Excellence was in his blood.
At the age of 9, Rhee Ki Ha saw one of his school teachers practicing a martial art (Tang Su Do). Inquisitive about how he could also become muscular and strong like his teacher, he learned to make his own equipment and conditioned his body through daily practice at home. In 1957 he began his National Service in the South Korean Army and progressed to the 35th Infantry Division under Captain Nam Tae Hi and Master Sergeant Kim Bok Man. It was then that he came in contact with General Choi Hong Hi and TAEKWON-DO. Little did he know that this would be the beginning of a long journey and career as an Instructor of General Choi’s famous Art.
Following the completion of his National Service, Rhee Ki Ha began to Instruct TAEKWON-DO full time at the request of General Choi. He taught the US 8th Army before being sent to Singapore in 1964 becoming the first to leave Korea with ‘TAEKWON-DO Instructor’ as an official profession. He took over the Singapore TAEKWON-DO Association and also began teaching British Royal Air Force Personnel at RAF Changi. On the 22nd of March 1966, the International TAEKWON-DO Federation (ITF) was formed, Rhee Ki Ha was Chief Instructor in Singapore, which was one of the 9 original founding member countries.
In 1967 Rhee Ki Ha traveled to the UK at the invitation of the RAF Personnel who had trained under him in Singapore. Many of these British Servicemen had returned home to discover that TAEKWON-DO didn’t exist in the UK. He was 29, and ranked 5th Degree at the time. Once in the UK, he quickly established the United Kingdom TAEKWON-DO Association (UKTA).
Rhee Ki Ha went on to establish the Republic of Ireland TAEKWON-DO Association (RITA) in 1972. In between his teaching in the UK and Ireland he was a key member of General Choi Hong Hi’s famous Demonstration Teams during their 1970’s and 80’s World tours where he was known for his incredible power and phenomenal athleticism. Due to the success of these pioneering tours, TAEKWON-DO had grown in popularity throughout Europe. To bring all of these European countries together during what was the divisive period of the Cold War, Rhee Ki Ha founded the All Europe TAEKWON-DO Federation (AETF) in 1979, and was unanimously voted as its first President at the inauguration meeting in Oslo, Norway. He was promoted to 7th Degree in 1974 and 8th Degree in January of 1981 for his continued work in promoting TAEKWON-DO throughout Europe.
On the 2nd of July, 1997, at the ITF World Congress in St Petersburg Russia, General Choi made TAEKWON-DO history when he announced that Rhee Ki Ha was to be the first ever student promoted to 9th Degree and Grand Master, in recognition of his tireless efforts to promote the art throughout the world, his dedication and unswerving loyalty. He therefore became known as First Grand Master Rhee (FGMR). He had never asked for this honour and insisted that he could not be the same rank as General Choi and therefore suggested that General Choi be known from then on, as ‘The Founder’ in deference to him.
More than all of the honours bestowed upon him by General Choi, or the many TAEKWON-DO practitioners whose lives he has touched throughout the years, or even his undeniable physical prowess as a martial artist, Rhee Ki Ha stands foremost as a testament to the tenets of TAEKWON-DO. For him, adherence to the tenets and pursuing General Choi’s dream of a united TAEKWON-DO are more important than anything else. He therefore made the difficult decision in 2011 to step out of the ITF Vienna, to further this dream. As one of the original Pioneer's of TAEKWON-DO he has seen it grow from a small seedling into the many branched tree of the present. But like a tree with one trunk he understands that all TAEKWON-DO is essentially one and all who practice share a common root which is the love of their art.
First Grand Master Rhee Ki Ha has spent a lifetime in love with TAEKWON-DO. A love that remains as strong today as it did when he first put on a dobok and stepped into the dojang. In this project, he teaches TAEKWON-DO as he knows best – not as a means of differentiating what he does from others, but in the spirit of sharing knowledge and experience built up from a lifetime of loving TAEKWON-DO.
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