ATA Martial Arts

ATA Martial Arts, previously known as the American Taekwondo Association, was founded in 1969 by Haeng Ung Lee and is headquartered in Little Rock (Pulaski County). ATA has over 300,000 members worldwide, making it the largest organization in North America dedicated to the discipline of taekwondo. The organization maintains that its instructors and students live by its founder’s philosophy: “Today not possible, tomorrow possible.”

After teaching taekwondo for several years at the U.S. Air Force base at Osan in South Korea, Haeng Ung Lee immigrated to the United States in 1962 at the invitation of Richard Reed, an American military officer and one of Lee’s top students. Frustrated by the inconsistent quality of taekwondo instruction in the United States, Lee founded the American Taekwondo Association in 1969 in Omaha, Nebraska. He moved the headquarters to Little Rock in 1977, stating that the hills of central Arkansas reminded him of his Korean homeland. Throughout the development of the organization, Lee introduced “Songahm Taekwondo,” a style specific to ATA that emphasizes the beauty of the kicks. He also established the groundwork for curriculum and instruction. Upon Lee’s death in 2000, the founder’s brother Soon Ho Lee assumed leadership of the ATA. In 2011, his youngest brother, In Ho Lee, took on the presiding Grand Master role.

By 2019, ATA had over 900 licensed locations in twenty-five countries. In addition to the United States, ATA schools and clubs can be found in South America, South Africa, Australia, and Europe. Programs are offered to the smallest “ATA Tigers” course for preschoolers to its several advanced courses for adults. ATA maintains a complex belt ranking system, beginning with white belts all the way up to a ninth-degree black belt. Each rank requires a certain level of mastery of forms, weapons, sparring, and board breaks.

Each year, ATA hosts its ATA World Expo event in Little Rock, which is the largest annual convention for the city. According to the ATA, the week-long event has an economic impact of nearly $4 million, which has created a committed relationship between ATA and the city of Little Rock. In fact, in 2009, the $6 million H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden was established beside the Statehouse Convention Center. ATA officially opened its nearly 46,000-square-foot international headquarters building on Little Rock’s Riverfront Drive in 2016.

ATA is involved in numerous charities. The organization’s H.U. Lee Scholarship Foundation awards college scholarship to deserving ATA students. The ATA has also supported the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Arkansas Special Olympics, the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, and Arkansas Children’s Hospital.

The year 2019 marked ATA’s fiftieth anniversary. It was announced that, during the World Expo event, G. K. Lee of Little Rock would become the organization’s fourth Presiding Grand Master. It was announced in October 2019 that the next year’s Expo event would be the last held in Little Rock.

For additional information:
ATA Martial Arts. (accessed on January 20, 2022).

Cook, Doug. Taekwondo: Ancient Wisdom for the Modern Warrior. Wolfeboro, NH: YMAA Publication Center, 2001.

Gillis, Alex. A Killing Art: The Untold Story of Tae Kwon Do. Toronto: ECW Press, 2008.

Lee, Haeng Ung. The Way of Traditional Taekwondo. 11 vols. Little Rock: American Taekwondo Association, 1993–1997.

Park, Yeon Hee, Yeon Hwan Park, and Jon Gerrard. Tae Kwon Do: The Ultimate Reference Guide to the World’s Most Popular Martial Art. New York: Facts on File, 1989.

Williams, Helaine R. “In Ho Lee.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, June 14, 2015, pp. 1D, 5D.

Aaron D. Horton
Alabama State University

Jenny Wolff
ATA Martial Arts


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