Lee Noh Hoon’s journey from Seoul, South Korea, to establishing himself as Great Grandmaster Lee in Eugene has spanned 55 years and involved more than 20,000 students.
Last month Master Lee, as he is known, celebrated his 60th birthday, and this month he celebrates his 30th anniversary as a taekwondo instructor in Eugene.
His first class, in October 1963, was “painful,” he says. “Our traditional studio had a wood floor, not in good shape. Splinters were everywhere.”
Despite the splinters, blisters and pain, Lee was impressed by the physical demonstrations he saw from other students. He knew, even then, that this was how he would spend the rest of his life.
When he was in his twenties, Lee was the head hand-to-hand combat instructor for the South Korean Army, later serving as personal bodyguard for President Chun Doo-hwan before coming to America.
The military and physical training shines through as soon as you meet Lee. His hands are rough and the large knuckles exude power. Every step he takes — even the friendly ones — are made with purpose, an exacting, measured movement that wastes no energy.
All Lee’s accolades and physical prowess aside, he believes the philosophical and spiritual aspects of martial arts are what have made him successful.
“Those kinds of conversations are garbage level,” Lee says about the striving to see who is the biggest, baddest and fastest fighter. Instead, Lee focuses on a “big bowl” philosophy. He asks students, “Who has the better peaceful mind? Who has more happiness?”
His own bowl has to be large enough to fit all of the students he has taught, equaling tens of thousands over the years. This month, U.S. TaeKwonDo College is celebrating its 30-year anniversary alongside Lee’s 60th birthday — two spiritual numbers in Asia, he says.
Lee explains that because of how the Zodiac is divided, 60 is a milestone, meaning 30 is similarly important.
The reunion and celebration will include a video reflecting on moments the studio has celebrated, a special demonstration of skills not normally showcased, and a recognition award for Lee from his students.
Lee’s goal is that this celebration will bring current and former students together, filling the bowls and cups of generations of students.
Unlike other sports, martial arts have a special relation to spiritual and philosophical matters, Lee says, noting that the spiritual angle is important for today’s world.
“Positive energy, self improvement, peaceful mind, happiness — all collect together,” he says. “So many things are right now, right now, temporary, instant. If people can’t get it right away, they get very frustrated and upset.”
“I don’t think of it as teaching,” he continues. “I like to share with people what I’ve learned. What I got from my ancestors. This is why people like it.”
Find out more about Lee and U.S TaeKwonDo College at 451 West 11th Avenue, 541-344-2715, ustaekwondocollege.net.