Reprinted from the feature article in the Daily Breeze Newspaper
Monday July 19, 1999
My goal was and is to be the best teacher in the world...
South Korean martial artist who has achieved the highest Tae Kwon Do title expands his teaching to new school in Torrance
By Christine Frey
Growing up in South Korea, Young Yee was a weakling. When he was 7, his uncle, a Korean middleweight boxing national champion, began instructing him in the art of Tae Kwon Do do he could protect himself from neighborhood gangs.
Forty-five years later, Yee is one of the most respected men in martial arts.
He recently obtained his ninth-degree black belt - the highest level in Tae Kwon Do - and is one of a small, elite group of martial artists to hold the title.
Nearly a month ago, the so-called grandmaster opened a martial arts studio on Hawthorne Boulevard in Torrance, at a site where, according to one of his students, karate champion and actor Chuck Norris once had a studio.
After spending almost nine years training for his ninth-degree tests, Yee is now preparing his students, both children and adults, to surpass his own achievements.
"My goal was and is to be the best teacher in the world," he said. "Once you had a championship, later on you're not going to be a champion."
Yee is a commanding presence in the studio, his students answering in a chorus of "yes sir" and "no sir" to his questions. His concern for them is obvious as he positions a 5-year old's arms properly or repeatedly practices a difficult technique.
"I don't care how old you are - 5, 6 or 10," Yee told the seven boys in his class on Friday.
"Or 200!" 6 year old Marko Marelaro interrupted.
"You must always act like a black belt," Yee finished, looking into the face of each of his students.
Teaching the troops
Yee began teaching Tae Kwon Do and Hap Ki Do in Korea in 1969 and instructed Korean and American soldiers stationed there. He moved to the United Stated with his wife and two children in 1981, eventually opening two marital arts studios in Torrance.
"There's no one that's superior," said Gary Clausen, who now owns Yee's two former studios on Hawthorne Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway and who has studied with him for more than 10 years. "There's no one. That's why I wound up with him in the first place."
Yee returned to Korea in March to test for his ninth-degree black bent and got it on his first try, a rare feat. Most grandmasters make several attempts before passing the oral, written, and physical exams that test their knowledge of the philosophy, history and practice of the art.
"The ninth degree is basically as high as a person can get while they are alive," said Cecil Bleiker, a spokesman for the United States Tae Kwon Do Union. "They're very reserved in promoting people to that level. It is an extreme honor for people to reach the ninth degree."
Though he has the strength, agility, and skill to defeat nearly any opponent, Yee said the purpose of Tae Kwon Do "is not to kill the enemy but to make a friend." When translated, the Chinese characters for "martial arts" mean "stop spear," or to stop fighting.
In high school, Yee began to form his own personal beliefs of Tae Kwon Do, what he calls the "million-dollar words of true philosophy." He handed down his teachings to both his daughter and son, who are first- and second-degree black belts respectively, and now passes it on to his students.
"Martial arts and love are the same," he said. "Because if you do not love yourself, you cannot practice diligently. If you do not love your family, you are not going to protect them. If you do not have patriotism, you're not going to fight to die to protect your nation."
Such convictions are evident in his studio. Posted on the walls are Seven Home Rules for Children, instruction his students to be kind to their brothers and sisters, respect their elders and keep their homes clean. School-age children must maintain at least a B average in order to stay in his studio.
"Even at home I've noticed a difference," said Elodia Plom, whose three sons - ages 10, 9 and 5 - began lessons with Yee about two weeks ago.
Lessons for adults
Yee's adult students have also been affected by his instruction. Clausen changed careers and became a professional Tae Kwon Do instructor after taking lessons with him, and Gred Donnan, a former student of Norris and Yee's brother; recently joined Yee's studio after leaving the sport for several years.
"He has a willing spirit to serve the community and to help the people," said a translator for Senior Pastor Pil Jae Lee of the Torrance First Presbyterian Chusch, where Yee is a deacon. "I think it's a wholesome approach - body, the mental ability and his spiritual influence also."
As part of his ninth-degree preparation, Yee studied Oriental medicine and acupuncture to learn the workings of the human body. A licensed acupuncturist, he ran a clinic in Thousand Oaks and is opening a new one behind his martial arts studio in a few weeks.
"He has the energy of four people," Clausen said. "I think that the one thing I learned; Whenever I'm going to bed I'm sure he's still up with the candle on."
Despite his accomplishments, Yee is modest about his successes.
"Still there's a lot of room to learn," he said.