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History of ATA International

Formerly the American Taekwondo Association



Eternal Grand Master Haeng Ung Lee



  • 1936 Born in Manchuria, China

  • 1953 Began training in martial arts

  • 1954 Received 1st Degree

  • 1955 Began teaching Taekwondo

  • 1956 Trained Korean military

  • 1959 Opened Taekwondo school in Korea

  • 1961 Met Master Richard Reed

  • 1962 Arrived in U.S. and started teaching in Omaha, NE
    Nebraska Karate Association


  • 1969 Founded ATA

  • 1970 Received 7th Degree

  • 1973 Became U.S. citizen

  • 1975 Married Mrs. Sun C. Lee

  • 1977 Relocated ATA Headquarters to Little Rock, AR

  • 1978 Received 8th Degree

  • 1978 Began hosting Grand Nationals Tournament

  • 1980 Computerized ATA

  • 1983 Created Songahm style

  • 1983 Started Taekwondo World magazine

  • 1983 Founded Songahm Taekwondo Federation (STF)

  • 1990 Hosted first World Championships

  • 1990 Inaugurated to 9th Degree and received title of Grand Master

  • 1990 Founded World Traditional Taekwondo Union (WTTU)

  • 1991 Established Master H.U. Lee Foundation

  • 1992 ATA Day: March 22, 1992 Congressional Record

  • 1992 Introduced The Way of Traditional Taekwondo book series

  • 1993 Arkansas Business of the Year award

  • 1994 Presented with ATA patch taken into space by space shuttle

  • 1997 Created The Way of Traditional Taekwondo video series

  • 1998 Established Black Belt Academy program, created Songahm Systems International

  • 2000 Grand Opening of new Songahm Headquarters

  • 2000 Passed away in Little Rock, AR; posthumously awarded title of Eternal Grand Master

The organization is internationally headquartered in Little Rock and has called the state capital home since 1977. With active membership exceeding 300,000 worldwide, ATA is one of the world’s largest martial arts organization dedicated to the discipline of Taekwondo. 

ATA is a pioneer in the martial arts industry because of its unique style and high quality of curriculum and instructors.

Eternal Grand Master Haeng Ung Lee’s martial arts training began in 1953 and he received his black belt in 1954. In 1962, he moved from South Korea to the United States and opened a Taekwondo school in Nebraska. In 1968, Korean General Hong Hi Choi (the man responsible for originally standardizing Taekwondo in 1955) met with then Master Haeng Ung Lee (now Eternal Grand Master), who at the time was teaching Taekwondo-Japanese mixed martial arts to his organization of followers. General Choi quickly taught Eternal Grand Master Lee the first 16 Cheon-jee forms of Taekwondo in only 4 days and three nights (this system of forms was the first set of forms developed under the new Taekwondo of Korea). Seven years later, he formed the American Taekwondo Association (ATA), which quickly become the largest martial arts organization in America, boasting approximately 120,000 members and 800 schools. In 1983, Lee copyrighted Songahm Taekwondo.


From this first meeting almost half a century ago, the stage was set for the founding of The American Taekwondo Association (ATA) in 1969 in Omaha, Nebraska by Eternal Grand Master Lee.

Eternal Grand Master Lee began his martial arts training in 1954 as a teenager. He taught martial arts to Republic of Korea military intelligence personnel from 1956 to 1959, opening his first commercial school in Osan, Korea after leaving the military. Eternal Grand Master then opened several "branches" to his commercial school, including one at a U.S. Air Force base. This is where Master Richard Reed began training with Eternal Grand Master, and the two forged a friendship that would ultimately result in the ATA.

When Reed returned to the United States in 1962, Eternal Grand Master joined him on a "visitor" visa, and began teaching in Omaha. Although he had to return to Korea in December, 1963 while awaiting a "resident" status visa, he returned to the U.S. in 1965 and began working toward a national Taekwondo organization that would be based on good martial arts and sound business practices. As it grew from a regional organization to one of national -- and ultimately international -- scope, the ATA began to establish standards that would ensure consistent curriculum.

The ATA held "closed" tournaments -- you had to be a member to compete. Instructors had to undergo a rigorous trainee period to become a certified instructor, and the only way to receive certification was to come to Little Rock for a week in August and participate in a Trainee Instructor Camp, complete with physical and written exams.

From the beginning, Eternal Grand Master Lee was determined to establish the most professional martial arts organization possible. In 1973, he introduced the first instructor manual, which provided information and procedures to standardize the operation of all ATA curriculum. In 1976, he hosted the first Grand National tournament, which was the predecessor for the Songahm Taekwondo World Championships now held annually. A year later, he re-located the ATA headquarters from Omaha, Nebraska to Little Rock, Arkansas, where he soon had 200 black belts earning instructor certification each year.

In 1980, the ATA became the first martial arts organization to introduce a centralized computer record keeping system. This innovation enabled the ATA to maintain rank histories and other important information about the thousands of ATA members. The same year, the ATA began publishing a tabloid entitled "ATA News" which has evolved into the international magazine The Way of Taekwondo, now published quarterly to keep Songahm Taekwondo students informed about upcoming events, appraised of new programs, and knowledgeable about the physical and mental aspects of Songahm Taekwondo.

The history of the ATA was set on a new and unique course in 1983 when, at a Certified Instructor Camp in Little Rock, Eternal Grand Master introduced the Songahm system of Taekwondo. The Songahm system represented the culmination of years of study by Eternal Grand Master Lee. The ATA had used the Chang Hun Taekwondo forms since 1969 -- and the "Pinan" forms prior to that -- but he had noticed something missing in the forms.

With the assistance of senior instructors including Robert Allemier, Bill Clark, In Ho Lee and Jee Ho Lee, Eternal Grand Master developed a unified teaching system in which, for the first time, White Belts learned kicks in their Taekwondo forms and one-step sparring was closely integrated with the forms to aid in student development by establishing a more logical system for beginners. But even more than that the entire system of Songahm forms worked together with balance and harmony, reflecting the essence of the art.

In 1984, the Songahm Taekwondo Federation (STF) was founded by Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee and Master Cezar Ozuna to help spread Songahm Taekwondo outside of the United States. In the fall of 1990, the World Traditional Taekwondo Union (WTTU) was formed. While the ATA encompasses licensed locations in the United States and Canada, the STF includes licensed locations in South America and the WTTU covered the remaining portion of the world. In 2014 all three international branches were brought together under the ATA name. The acronym's meaning was changed to Always Take Action and a new patch was designed incorporating parts of the design from all 3 patches. Students around the world now all belong to ATA.

With the passing of Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee in October 2000, ATA leadership took up the torch of his inspirational guidance and leadership and ensured the values the ATA were founded upon remain our focus for today and into the future.

Grand Master Soon Ho Lee, after many trials and tests for the Grand Master title, was elevated to be our leader in Taekwondo in 2001. Upon his retirement, his brother Grand Master In Ho Lee became the next Presiding Grand Master in 2011, followed by his brother and current presiding Grand Master G. K. Lee in 2019.


Mrs. Sun C. Lee, wife of the late Eternal Grand Master H.U. Lee and the ATA's Chairman of the Board, continues the legacy of her husband by helping the youth of Songahm Taekwondo through her philanthropic efforts and devotion. Our leadership ensures that the ATA will continue to be one of the most innovative, effective, and widespread organizations in martial arts worldwide.

From its humble beginnings, today the ATA and its affiliated organizations is beginning to register over 300,000 members worldwide, including 53,000 black belts and 3,000 certified instructors.

In many ways, this is still just the beginning. We know the ATA has many wonderful surprises in store for Taekwondo in the United States and across the world. We hope you will journey with us as Songahm Taekwondo continues to evolve and improve to help students and masters do the same.


Within the Songahm system of taekwondo, there has been traditionally one 9th Degree Black Belt within the organization at a time. This individual held the title of Grand Master and was considered to be the leader of Songahm Taekwondo.

After 2015, with the promotion of a second concurrent 9th Degree (Richard Reed), the title Presiding Grand Master is now used to indicate the Grand Master chosen from among the group of 9th degrees to be in charge of the ATA.

Past and present Grand Masters include:

  • Eternal Grand Master Haeng Ung Lee (Presided 1990–2000) (officially promoted to Eternal Grand Master in 2003)

  • Grand Master Emeritus Soon Ho Lee (Presided 2001–2011) (2021-2022)

  • Grand Master Emeritus In Ho Lee (Presided 2011–2019)

  • Grand Master G.K. Lee (Presided 2019-2021)

  • Presiding Grand Master M.K. Lee (Presiding 2022–present)

  • Grand Master Richard Reed (2015–2016)

  • Grand Master Robert Allemier (2016–present)

  • Grand Master William Clark (2016–present)

  • Grand Master Robert Jager (2019–present)

  • Grand Master Michael Caruso (2019–present)

  • Grand Master Cesar Ozuna (2019–2020)

History of Taekwondo


Although its roots can be somewhat traced back to ancient Korea, it is a historic fact that Taekwondo as an organized art is relatively modern. In fact, the only documented history begins in the mid 1900's.

The actual beginnings of Taekwondo are obscured by time, yet many historians believe it originated from a Korean martial arts form known as t'aekyon practiced over 1,300 years ago.

In the early 1900's, the art evolved with the introduction of Chinese and Japanese techniques, a practice which concerned some because these influences did not demonstrate the incredible kicking power of the art nor its traditional values or philosophy.

The actual name (and art) of Taekwondo wasn't official until 1955. At that time, Korean General Hong Hi Choi organized a movement to unify Korea's various martial arts styles (called Kwans) and presented the name "Taekwondo" to a committee specially formed to select a name for the new art. On April 11, 1955, Taekwondo was recognized as the name for the newly unified, officially recognized Korean martial art.

As an interesting side note, the word Taekwondo itself is made up of three Chinese/Korean words: Tae, meaning to kick or jump; Kwon, meaning fist or hand; and Do, which means "the way." Loosely (if not literally), it can be thought of as "The Way of the Hand and Foot."

In the 1960's, Taekwondo began to spread internationally and evolved throughout the late 1900's (along with most martial arts) into primarily a combat sport, although self-defense, fitness, and the philosophy of the practice (including self-discipline and self-knowledge) are still crucial elements of Songahm Taekwondo, the style of Taekwondo developed and supported by the ATA.

Taekwondo is currently the most popular martial art in Korea, and ranks among America's and the world's most popular martial arts.

Read more about ATA Taekwondo on

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