How Moonies cult helped TKD

How Moonies cult helped TKD

Excerpt from chapter 8 of A Killing Art: How Reverend Sun-Myung Moon and the Moonies helped to start Tae Kwon Do in the US

By Alex Gillis

From 1963 to 1971, Mickey Kim [the Korean secret-service name of Kim Un-Young, the soon-to-be leader of the World Taekwondo Federation] worked on various KCIA [Korean Central Intelligence Agency] operations in the United States and Asia, including, in 1964, working with a group in Washington called the Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation, a “Moonie” organization. The group organized high-profile events and, beginning in 1970, became part of a Korean network to bribe and seduce U.S. Congressmen. Jhoon Rhee [a pioneer of US Korean Karate and Tae Kwon Do] was a Moonie at the time and had helped to set up the Foundation, but he did not know that the KCIA and illegal activity was involved, he told me. The Washington embassy had two important missions in those days: receiving U.S. economic and military aid and improving Korea’s image. The Foundation helped with the image part even after the KCIA infiltrated it and Tae Kwon Do became entangled.

Rhee had helped one of Kim’s secret-service colleagues to establish the bizarre Foundation on behalf of Reverend Sun-Myung Moon, leader of the Holy Spirit Association for the Unification of World Christianity. Many called the followers of this church “Moonies” and considered the church itself a cult. Moon’s followers, however, thought that Moon was the second coming of Jesus Christ and that the Foundation would help to further his work. That Kim, Rhee, the KCIA, and Tae Kwon Do became involved is a surreal part of history that deserves attention, because Kim and Rhee would go on to become leaders in global Tae Kwon Do.

Kim’s secret-service colleague was Rhee’s cousin and Reverend Moon’s right-hand man, Pak Bo-Hi, who helped Rhee to open one of the first Tae Kwon Do gyms in the United States — Rhee’s Karate Institute in Washington, DC. Both Rhee and Pak were committed to Moon, and they invited Rhee’s martial arts students to religious services. Rhee joined the board of trustees of Moon’s church and the board for Moon’s Radio of Free America, a radio station that broadcast anti-communist propaganda and, unknown to Rhee, raised money for intelligence activities. Rhee denied that he was a secret-service agent and, in fact, had been surprised to learn that Mickey Kim was co-operating with the foundation and the radio station. Rhee was an ardent follower of Moon until 1965 — when he was confronted with the movement’s limitations, one of which involved restrictions on marriage. “I married in 1966,” he told me. “You know, if I had remained in there, I could not have married; I would have had to wait for their blessings.” He began to fade away from the organization, but, as his Tae Kwon Do became successful, he donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Moon’s followers in the 1960s. He finally quit when all hell broke loose among the Moonies, the KCIA, and the American government in the 1970s.

Meanwhile, Mickey Kim, who would soon become president of the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association, was powerful at the South Korean embassy, talented at organizing people and large sums of money for complicated projects. Besides helping with the Moonie radio station and Foundation (hosting a meeting at his house for example), he lent a hand with two other Moon initiatives: the Little Angels, a group of Korean children whom people thought were orphans and who travelled the world singing for heads of state; and the Asian Peoples’ Anti-Communist League’s Freedom Centre, which distributed propaganda about South Korea.

The powerful American celebrities and politicians who lent their names to these Korean projects — supporters such as former presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman — did not know that KCIA agents had infiltrated the projects, that Moon was heading them, and that the initiatives were raising money for covert operations.

In spite of the intrigue — or perhaps because of it — Tae Kwon Do continued to do well, and in the mid-1960s Rhee’s Karate Institute became the hottest thing since Seven Samurai. He had started the institute in 1962 after a martial arts open house, during which he jumped eight feet in the air and broke three wooden boards. Within three months, he had 125 students…

Within two years, in 1964, Rhee’s first black belt in Washington, Pat Burleson, won Rhee’s First National Karate Championship in the United States. Rhee knew powerful people in Washington: the Moon foundation’s vice-president sent a note to the South Korean ambassador reminding him of the championship. Rhee’s sparring was extremely tough, as if the military mindset had parachuted from Asia to the United States. All the Karate sparring on the open circuit in those days was tough. Burleson, for example, had studied Shotokan Karate in 1957 while stationed with the American military in Japan and was already a strong fighter when he met Rhee and Rhee’s star pupil, Allen Steen. “We got the fundamentals from Rhee, and he improved my kicks 500 per cent,” Burleson said. “The Japanese had poor kicks compared to the Koreans. We kicked to hurt: short, sharp kicks.” The kicking was the main reason for the Korean art’s rising popularity. “We called it Karate,” Burleson said. “I coined it ‘American Karate,’ because Tae Kwon Do was the least known martial art in the United States. Chuck Norris called it Tang Soo Do.” Only later would Choi Hong-Hi convince Rhee and others to rename it Tae Kwon Do…

Long before the martial arts craze, Rhee, a good businessman, had predicted the high entertainment value of his competitions and had persuaded nbc’s Sports in Action to cover his second national championship in April 1965, the first tournament to receive national television coverage. In the semi-final, Burleson lost to Mike Stone in what Burleson described as a “grudge fight.” “I had beaten his teacher in 1964. It was a tough fight. Afterwards, Mike and I remained good friends.” No one was hurt badly, but Stone, who had learned Karate when he was a soldier in the United States, knocked out Burleson with a ridge-hand to the head. nbc’s producers, surprised by the aggression, especially the tournament’s final, bloody showdown between Stone and Walt Worthy, broadcast only excerpts. Sitting in the audience were the Korean ambassador, the U.S. White House chief of secret police, leaders from the kcia-infiltrated foundation, and Reverend Sun-Myung Moon himself.


The point of exposing Sun Myung Moon’s, GM Jhoon Rhee’s and Kim Un-Young’s bizarre espionage links is that many martial arts instructors in the 1960s and 1970s — most of them still alive in the ITF, WTF, GTF and other associations — told the world about the gangsters, godfathers, violent KCIA freaks and Moonies involved in Tae Kwon Do, and those instructors were laughed at, threatened or bribed to keep quiet. These brave instructors are now masters and grandmasters (such as Grandmaster C. K. Choi) and they need our support.


Some of my sources for the excerpt:

1) My interview with Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee on Jan. 16, 2008.

2) One of Kim Un-Young’s memoirs (in Korean): Challenging the World. Seoul: Yunsei University Publishing, 2002.

3) Letter from the Vice President of Moon’s Korean Cultural and Freedom Foundation (dated Mar. 13, 1964), which I found in US documents about South Korean illegal activities called “Koreagate.” The letter is on page 271 of Investigation of Korean-American Relations, Supplement to Part 4, from the Hearings before the Subcommittee on International Organzations, Committee on International Relations, US House of Representatives. Washington DC: US Government Printing Office, June 22, 1977. I found many other classified documents in these reports.

4) Robert B. Boettcher (who directed the US Congressional investigations into Koreagate, Moon and the KCIA) presents a concise history of the Foundation, of two of its projects (the Little Angles and Radio of Free Asia) and of Grandmaster Jhoon’s Rhee involvement on pages 40–53 of Boettcher’s Gifts of Deceit: Sun Myung Moon, Tongsun Park, and the Korean Scandal. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1980.

5) According to Lee Jai-Hyon, a former South Korean embassy official in Washington, the Moonie Foundation had a cable channel to the KCIA, which also helped to staff the Foundation. Lee’s testimony is in a document from the Investigation of Korean-American Relations, Part 4 (p. 52) and the Report for the Investigation (p. 312).

Leave a reply