FALLS CHURCH, Va. — If you grew up in the Washington, D.C. area in the 1980s and early 1990s there's no doubt you recall the Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do TV commercials with the familiar refrain, "nobody bothers me."
Jhoon Rhee is widely known as the father of Tae Kwon Do in the United States and one of the most influential Korean-Americans who ever lived.
Rhee passed away in 2018 at 86 years old, but the school that he founded in Falls Church, Virginia in 1962 continues to thrive nearly 60 years later under the leadership of his son, Chun Rhee.
Chun Rhee, 54, became a popular face at just five years old when he appeared at the end of the karate school's famous commercials saying the line, "nobody bothers me either," as he gives a wink to the camera.
Starring in that television commercial and growing up with a karate legend he seemed destined to follow in his father's footsteps.
"In the beginning, I embraced it," said Rhee. "But as I got older, I did repel it a little bit. The family business was not really something I wanted to do."
Things changed after college when Rhee had an opportunity to run his first school in Annandale that, at the time, was owned by his brother.
"I learned to love it," he said.
Jhoon Rhee is a larger-than-life figure. His photos adorn the walls around the karate school. Chun Rhee passes down to his instructors and students the wisdom he learned many years ago.
"My father was the first to incorporate; we say knowledge in the mind, honesty in the heart and strength in the body. So that’s true confidence when you gain all those three," Rhee said.
Most importantly, Rhee sees his job as not just teaching karate but imparting valuable life lessons to impressionable youngsters.
"It's about teaching the kids life skills and making sure they understand the discipline they practice here -- that it's more important they carry it with them in school and at home," Rhee said.
Helping the students understand life beyond the martial arts is a big focus for Rhee. He says their school was the first to institute students needing to have all A’s and B’s in order to earn a black belt. Rhee and his instructors will actually check their students' report cards when they test for their belts.
"I have parents tell me, 'my child was never this disciplined and he loves coming to your school and now he’s saying yes sir, yes mam and his grades are improving in school,'" said Rhee.
I was curious what differences and similarities we would find between the father and son Tae Kwon Do masters.
"I think I am a lot like my father. He was very strict in the beginning but then he opened up a little bit," said Rhee. "He understood the culture as a Korean- American. He loved this country. I think his success was because he was able to adapt to the way things are."
Managing a sixty-year-old family business could present a daunting challenge, especially in the age of Covid-19 where many businesses have been forced to close up shop.
It doesn't seem to phase Rhee who says he embraces the reward of teaching kids and watching them mature from beginners into black belts.
“If you love your job you don’t really think about legacy,” said Rhee. “I’m fortunate I’m Jhoon Rhee’s son and I think that helps me, but I just strive to be myself.”
During our visit, Rhee took me through a few exercises to earn my Tae Kwon Do white belt. I broke a board. Despite it being on video, my kids (11, 9 & 7) were unimpressed. They more thoroughly enjoyed the elementary school-age children sparring with me and taking me down to the mat (see the video.)
The Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do Karate School was founded in 1962. Discover more about them HERE.