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.

In 2009, the $6 million H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden was established beside the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. ATA opened its nearly 46,000-square-foot international headquarters building on Little Rock’s Riverfront Drive in 2016.

By 2019, ATA had over 900 licensed locations in twenty-five countries; by 2024, that number had increased to 1,100 licensed locations. 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.

ATA hosted its ATA World Expo event in Little Rock, which was the largest annual convention for the city. According to the ATA, the week-long event had an economic impact of nearly $4 million. The last event in Little Rock was in 2019; the event’s name was changed to the ATA Worlds and it was moved to Phoenix, Arizona.

ATA is involved in numerous charities. The organization’s H. U. Lee Memorial 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. In 2022, the fifth Presiding Grand Master, M. K. Lee, was inducted. The founder’s son, Taekwon Lee, became CEO in 2023.

For additional information:
ATA Martial Arts. (accessed on January 24, 2024).

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


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