Master Lee was born and raised in Pusan, Korea in the late 1950’s. It seems that the growth of Kuk Sool Won, Korea and Master Lee were tied together. Pusan, Korea in the late 50’s and early 60’s was a very turbulent and dangerous place. As Master Lee was growing up, the Korean Conflict had just recently ended and Korea was going through very difficult times as it sought to become one of the industrial giants of Asia. Korea at this time seemed to have an identity crisis in coming to terms with the split of North and South Korea. South Korea was just beginning to struggle out of the ruins of war and getting on its feet economically. The country as a whole was struggling and so were its people. This struggle made its way onto the streets, so the young men who survived in Pusan were generally the toughest in the neighborhood. Master Lee was constantly being tormented by bullies who wanted whatever it was he had. It was after a scuffle with one of these neighborhood bullies that Master Lee began his training as a martial artist.
Master Lee joined Kuk Sool during this time. Although he would have to put his skills to work from time to time, Master Lee learned quickly that perseverance and hard work were far more important than who was the toughest bully in the neighborhood.
Prior to beginning his training, Master Lee had to overcome another obstacle. As a youngster he had developed such terrible joint pain that he considered having his legs amputated below the knee simply to avoid the pain. Shortly after he began his Kuk Sool Won training, the leg pain vanished. He credits his training in Kuk Sool and his willingness to work hard with saving his legs. Because of his experience with his joints, Master Lee devoted his life to the study of Kuk Sool Won and spent countless hours perfecting his techniques.
Even as a young man, you could see the drive and determination that would make him a top martial artist. He lived and worked at the Do Jang (martial arts studio) where he would spend time after classes kicking and punching until he was bleeding. He would also spend his time perfecting his forms and techniques. It was during this period that he began to understand that hard work and the determination to stick to his task would allow him to go very far, not only in Kuk Sool Won, but in his life as well. He also served in the Korean military in a branch similar to the United States Army. His drive and determination paid off well. By 1975, he was the chief instructor at the Kuk Sool Won Korean headquarters school in Pusan. He was also an instructor for the Korean Police Academy. It was during his time that he became one of the best in the world at breaking techniques and earned the title of “World Kuk Sool Won Breaking Champion.”
Coming to America
In the early 70’s, Kuk Sool Won Grand Master In Hyuk Suh began preparations to move the world headquarters for Kuk Sool Won to the United States. When the world headquarters moved to California in 1982, the Grand Master asked Master Lee to accompany him and establish a school in the United States. Master Lee had little money and even less of an idea how to succeed in America, but with a burning desire to succeed; and succeed he did!
Master Lee, with little or no skills in English, established a school in Berkley, California. The school and his time in California brought many changes to Master Lee’s life. During this time he met his future wife, Tina Shim. From their first date, Tina was very impressed with Byung In Lee and they were married on November 24, 1985 Master Lee was impressed with her devotion to her family and how important it was to her to maintain family relationships. Master Lee has often explained the importance of family to his students this way. “You will have many friends, but its Gods plan that you have one mother and one father, This will never change.” He knew that he wanted to marry her right away. This was a Kuk Sool Marriage from the beginning. They even exited the chapel beneath a line of Kuk Sool Swords. She now runs all the business affairs of the school as the Sa Mo Nim.
During this period Master Lee became the first Kuk Sool master (5th Dan) promoted in the United States as well as the youngest person ever to be promoted to 7th Dan. Master Lee also began to develop more fully his own teaching style as a “family oriented martial art.” As he has often said, “without etiquette a marital artist is just a gangster.” Master Lee’s style is focused on being more family oriented and emphasizes building good character traits (responsibility, self-control, respect for others, etc.) of the martial arts integrated with the devastating nature of the Kuk Sool Won techniques.
The Move to Texas
In the late 1980’s Kuk Sool Won moved the world headquarters to Houston, Texas. Master Lee was invited to move and opened a school in nearby Austin, TX. He moved his wife and then two children in 1992 and opened a brand new school. Later Master Lee and Tina added two more children to his family. Soon he once again had one of Kuk Sool’s most successful schools. By now his idea of a family martial arts school was fully developed and he opened his school with the idea of helping students become not only excellent martial artists, but the best people they could be. His idea of a family martial arts school has paid off well. With one of the largest schools in the World Kuk Sool Association Master Lee became not only a martial artist, but a businessman. The large school combined with his insistence on teaching all the classes keeps his entire family and him very busy. His concept of a family marital art means that the whole family is involved in running the business, with Sa Mo Nim supervising the business, Master Lee teaching the classes and his children assisting.
A Family Martial Art
A family marital art is not just a clever marketing idea. Master Lee’s style of teaching martial arts as a family affair is deeply rooted in the tenets of Korean martial arts, namely, Yu Won Hwa. Master Lee’s teaching of martial arts is based on Korean martial arts traditions that date from antiquity and is based on three foundations: Family Martial Arts (Sado Moo Sool), the Buddhist martial arts (Bulkyo Moo Sool) and the royal court/military martial arts. (Koong Joong Moo Sool). While many of the devastating techniques and weapons come from the Buddhist and royal court martial arts traditions, Master Lee keeps the family traditions alive in his special brand of teaching.
Above all in the teaching of a family martial art is respect for yourself and those around you. While many in the United States will look upon respect as a sign of weakness or simply a power game played by those in a position of authority, in his school respect is a two-way street. The respect flows down from Master to student and then back. Particularly in the U.S., respect is a concept that has to be taught. He develops these habits from the first day of training where each student is expected to address everyone in the school as “sir” or “ma’am.” The idea or respect and etiquette help bring students to Master Lee’s school. Often he will have entire families train together. In addition to developing respect in his students, his method of teaching a complex martial art in a way that is easy to understand appeals to all types of persons regardless of age and ability. He can take someone with little or no natural ability and develop them into a true martial artist. His enthusiasm for his work is easy to see when he works with a new student or with a difficult student as he lovingly, yet firmly, instructs them.
To develop this approach to teaching the martial arts Master Lee relied heavily on the Kuk Sool Won concept of Yu Won Hwa (Soft, Circular, and Harmonious). He uses the discipline of Yu Won Hwa to give his students a sense of accomplishment and self-worth that will translate into the students becoming better people. He has honed his concept to such a degree that it works with not only the model student but students of all levels.
A New Phase
In February of 2010 to further his idea of a family martial art, Master Lee is founding his own martial arts association – Mu Sool Won. This new name and organization will allow him to more easily promote the idea that martial arts are for the entire family and to promote the family values that he strives to live by in his everyday life.