Korean Martial Arts Flourish in New York and across the United States

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by Yeseul Oh
The taekwondo class in Northeast Taekwondo studio has seen a recent influx in teenage attendees. (Image : Northeast Taekwondo academy facebook)

Korean martial arts are flourishing in Saranac Lake, New York. Jon O’Kelly and his wife Lidia opened the Northeast Taekwondo studio there two years ago. These days, classes at the studio are almost full. Classes are being held for kids, teenagers, and adults, with the added benefit of exposing attendees to a new language and culture.

Taekwondo, the official sport of South Korea, originated on the Korean peninsula. The sport is a martial art with a focus on high kicks and leg work. The International Olympic Committee recognized the sport in 1988 and made it a medal sport eight years later. 

Taekwondo is the most practiced martial art in the United States. It is estimated that there are at least 3,500 taekwondo clubs and approximately 7 million people practicing taekwondo throughout the United States. The American Taekwondo Association (ATA) is regarded as the largest martial arts organization in the United States with more than 120,000 members training at over 800 schools. ATA has provided students with good quality martial arts instruction in a safe learning environment, and is now headquartered in Little Rock, Arkansas. The ATA World Championship event is expected to bring an estimated $6 million to the local economy. Over 30 years, the ATA has brought over $100 million to Little Rock.

Grandmaster Jhoon Rhee, considered the Father of American Taekwondo, is a representative of the Maryland Korean Sister City Committee. In 1965, he brought taekwondo to America as a form of US-South Korea cultural exchange, and in 2016, the state of Maryland declared April 5 Taekwondo Day. There are over 80 universities and colleges across the United States in the National Collegiate Taekwondo Associations (NCTA). The 43rd NCTA championships will be held on April 7-8, 2018 at American University in Washington, DC. On January 12, the US Taekwondo and Martial Arts Grandmasters Federation and the Korea Congress Taekwondo Federation signed a business agreement for the development of taekwondo.

Yeseul Oh is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington D.C. and an Asan Wahshington Young fellow with the Asan Academy in Seoul. She is a student of Kyunghee university in South Korea