"He Brings Out the Giving in You"
By Daniel J. Johnson
Daily Herald Correspondent
Posted Thursday, November 23, 2006
After 37 years of study, dedication and perseverance, Grand Master Yong Mok Lee is a 7th-degree black belt.
He began learning tae kwon do at the age of 5 with a private instructor in his native Kyong Ju, South Korea. Kyong Ju (pronounced “Kwong Joo”) is considered to be the site of authentic Korean culture and, according to one travel guide, is known as “a museum without walls.”
Lee became a black belt five years later at age 10. But his personal triumphs coincided with tragedy. His father died when he was 6 years old, and four years later his mother died of cancer, having suffered at home without adequate care.
“We had no money and so could not go to the hospital,” Lee said.
His parents’ death separated him from his brother and sister, and Lee ended up living in a room at the middle school he attended. It was there that at 14 years old Lee became a martial arts instructor to support himself.
As a young man he also began studying “acupuncture, chiropractic, sports medicine, sports massage, and sports therapy. When I started practicing 20 people came with neck problems, back problems, knee problems, and I helped them,” he said.
“I did it because I was heartbroken,” Lee said. “My mother had died and I had no one’s help.”
The experience of watching his mother suffer and not being able to help stirred in Lee what has become a lifelong passion to help people and alleviate suffering wherever he can.
In 1996, Lee immigrated to the United States. He took up residence in the Round Lake area and became an instructor at a local martial arts school. In December of that same year he opened his first center in Round Lake Beach. Immediately he began establishing the community service projects that have become the hallmark of his schools and part of the charisma that has attracted his faculty and 250 students.
“By example, more than anything else, he’s probably one of the most generous persons I ever met in my life,” said veteran tae kwon do instructor Doug Hensel. “Whether it’s to my family or other people, he’s always giving. He never asks for much, other than ‘You just try hard.’ He brings the giving out in you.”
Continuing a personal and professional tradition now going into its 11th year, on Monday Lee, his faculty, and students donated two truckloads of turkeys for the Thanksgiving meal at Kids Hope United, a children’s home, in Lake Villa.
Other charities that the centers and Lee personally support include World Vision Chicago; Big Brothers, Big Sisters; Nicasa; Avon Township Food Pantry; GI Jill Boot Camp; Somebody Cares; A Safe Place; and Adopt-a-Highway.
Also, each year the centers sponsor a local family in need. This year they will help a single mother with five children. For two years the single-mother help program has had Abbot Laboratories as a co-sponsor.
One initiative that is the unique creation of the Yong Taekwondo Centers is Black Belts Against Drugs (B-BAD).
Lisa Hartman-Stackhouse is a certified substance abuse counselor at South Campus Therapeutic Day School in Palatine. She and her husband Rod Stackhouse together head the Black Belts Against Drugs Demonstration Team. Hartman-Stackhouse said that Lee encourages everyone in the school to support the local community with service projects.
“He really supported and spearheaded us developing the Black Belts Against Drugs team. Rod is the coordinator of the team, and I, as a substance abuse counselor, have kind of helped in developing the program,” she said. “The idea is not just to help the young people in our school, but as a community service we go out and do free demonstrations. Could be to schools … could be to churches … could be to a community organization in order to promote a positive drug-free message.”
Rod Stackhouse said that the B-BAD demonstration team has performed at the Lake County Fair, Gurnee Mills, the Grayslake Park District, as well as at area schools and festivals. B-BAD also raises money for the Avon Township food pantry. He said their goal is, “Just to send out the message that drugs don’t work. It doesn’t do you any good.”
At demonstrations while the team performs, the instructors speak to the audience, drawing analogies between mastering martial arts skills and the stark challenges of everyday life. Stackhouse said they tell their audience, “‘You can’t do this if you’re on drugs.’"
“We want to break down the myth that you have to be in a gang. We want to break down the myth that violence is the way to solve things. We want to break down the myth of doing drugs. We send a message out while we’re doing our demonstration,” he said.
“It’s a forum to get kids’ attention,” Hartman-Stackhouse said. “When you think of kids sitting in the bleachers watching a school assembly, you often see kids kind of spaced out or playing with their Game Boys, or shirts or whatever. But when a bunch of black belts come in and they see this dynamic break or an amazing spinning kick — all of a sudden it gets their attention. And it’s a way to talk about the topic and hold their attention while we’re doing it.”
“We’ve had parents come up to us after a demonstration and talk to Lisa about, ‘I think I have someone who has a problem, how do I get them help?’ and she can refer them to some different resources,” Stackhouse said. “We’ve had some children who’ve actually come or joined the school, and we see them after school and (they say), you know, “I don’t want the gangs. I don’t want the drugs. This is a great place for me to go where I don’t have to be with the gangs or drugs.’ We see some results from it.”
“A lot of people view martial arts as fighting. And, yes, there’s that piece of it,” Hartman-Stackhouse said. “We do sparring, we do tournaments, and we do breaking. But the idea behind martial arts has to do with the spirit of it, and the spirit has to do with helping other people. Because Master (Lee) really promotes that, it carries over to everybody in the school. You can see it through Marissa (Turturro) and all the kids that are involved, even at young ages.”
Marissa Turturro, 13, a student at Palombi Middle School in Lake Villa, who in addition to her dance class, is a member of the B-BAD demonstration team and participates in the Yong Taekwondo Centers’ other charitable efforts.
“Somebody once asked why we do what we do,” Stackhouse said. “I just said, ‘Because we should. We should.’”