Q&A with Han Lee Taekwondo Academy
Why did I start teaching Taekwondo?
At the beginning, I didn’t think that teaching Taekwondo professionally was in my future. I had started competing early on in my Taekwondo career and I had enjoyed success. Competing was just what I did and I had only one goal, competing at the Olympic Games and nothing else. I never had a thought of teaching for living. I had always thought I would do something else for my career.
After competing in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, my only thought was competing again in 1992. After competing in the 1992 Olympic Games, I found myself contemplating retirement. I was in shock and didn’t know what to do. I know now that lots of elite athletes go through that. All I had been doing for the past 10 years was train and compete, then all sudden that came to an end. I realize that for most people that doesn’t make sense; how could you not know; how could you not prepare for after the competition? It is not that easy when you have been training for 8 hours a day 6 days a week for more than ten years.
In July of 1993, the US Taekwondo Union hired me as the Olympic Coach and Head Coach at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I took the job because I thought I could make a difference with the national team at the world stage. While coaching, I realized that there was no real job security; administrators could fire me at any time. If I didn’t produce medals at the World championships, or at the Olympic Games, I could be let go at any time. I had a family to support, I had to do something in case that were to ever happen. I could have opened a Taekwondo school in Colorado Springs near the Olympic Training Center but I wanted to respect my 1988 Olympic coach who already had a school in Colorado Springs. I was young and naive perhaps, but I wanted to do the right thing.
After 10 years of teaching and coaching the world’s elite athletes, my children were getting older and when coaching for a living on the international stage, it is very difficult to have much family time. I was working 12-15 hours a day and traveling every weekend for competitions. One weekend, a very rare weekend when I was at home, my daughter who was 5 years old at the time asked me “how come you are at home?” That hit me like a ton of bricks. I realized that I had been selfish and neglected the most important part of my life. That is the reason I quit coaching and changed my focus to teaching.
What’s your favorite thing about running your business?
Several years ago, young boy name Beau came into my school with his father (Bruce) and his sister (Campbell). He was so shy when I spoke to him. He hid behind his dad and couldn’t even look at me. It took him a few weeks just get out on the floor. Every time I approached him, he hid behind his father’s legs, he was so shy.
Four and a half years later, the father and sister tested for their black belt. Beau was scheduled to test with them, but he got sick with an asthma attack and was hospitalized and couldn’t test. Six months later he tested for his black belt by himself and became one of our leadership team members; he had the confidence to go in front of 50 students and start the class. The confidence he has now in everything he does is just remarkable. I love watching the young children in our regular classes and in our Little Dragons classes. Watching them grow in confidence and skills as they learn Taekwondo. This is the reason I do what I do.
What has surprised you the most about your business?
Two things. One, the popularity of our form of martial arts. When I started practicing back in the seventies, people didn’t know what Taekwondo was but, now everyone knows about it and it is much more popular than karate. Back then I had to tell people I did Karate and explain that it was the art of Taekwondo.
Two, parents surprise me. They tell me how wonderful our program is, and what a wonderful effect it has on their children, and how they can’t imagine their children without Taekwondo. However, sometimes, when it is time to renew they allow their children to quit. So many parents these days want to be friends with their children. I wish they acted like parents, and not as a friend.
What do you find most challenging about your business?
Meeting parent’s expectations. Sometimes parents think we can do magic with their kids, they think I should be able to change their kid’s behavior in matter of weeks, or months. It is challenging to make parents understand it takes time. Change comes one step at a time, one punch, and one kick at a time.
It is challenging when parents are not doing the things we do at the Taekwondo School. When children get two different messages it is difficult for them. We want to partner with parents to support their children. As a team, we are far more effective in helping their children grow and develop.
What do you wish other people knew about your business?
Taekwondo is great for all ages, not only for kids. We have a very robust program for families. Families that learn Taekwondo together have a very special bond. They are closer and more respectful and I think have more fun. We have many adults who begin studying Taekwondo for their own reasons, to lose weight, gain confidence and focus, or to relieve stress. It’s for themselves and not because they might have children in our program.
What do you love about being a Castle Rock-based business?
Castle Rock is family oriented and is a nice town to raise your children. People are friendly and want to help. My most popular classes are our family classes. Colorado is a wonderful place to raise a family. I have made so many friends over the years and have been able to help so many students and families.
What do you do when you’re not running your business?
I am an avid golfer and that is my sanctuary. That is where I take my mini vacations a couple times a week. In my spare time I volunteer, I teach Taekwondo for free in the Aurora school district. I teach in a very poor neighborhood where they can’t afford most after school activities. I have been teaching Taekwondo in PE classes at Paris Elementary and Laredo Elementary every Tuesday and Thursday from 9 am till 1 PM. The biggest joy I get is seeing the smiling faces of these children who don’t have much and when they graduate from the program I get lots and lots of hugs. I love seeing the kids who had graduated from previous years when I am there. I know that I can truly help these children and that inspires me every day.
Visit hanleetaekwondoacademy.com to find out how you and your family can benefit from Grandmaster Han Lee’s experience in Taekwondo, mentorship, and more.