PORT HAWKESBURY: Though he lived in Montreal, no one would say that Grand Master Chong Lee didn’t have a major impact on Tae Kwon Do in the local area. Lee, who introduced the martial art to Canada in 1965, passed away on July 5 of this year.
“He was the man who brought it to Canada, but he has schools all over the United States and Mexico – all over,” said Master Kempie Larade, who teaches the martial art at Larade Tae Kwon Do. Larade teaches the Lee brand of Tae Kwon Do, and he hosted the Grand Master for several black belt exams and seminars over the years.
“He trained the Korean national team. They’ve been getting him there for the last few years because Canada is way ahead of Korea as far as sports science goes,” Larade said.
“I heard it said that he was the most successful national coach in Canadian Tae Kwon Do history.
“There was just something about him. He didn’t command respect; you just gave him respect. When he talked to you, he was always genuinely interested in you.”
Lee was waging a private battle against colonrectal cancer during the last months of his life. No one outside his family knew much about what exactly was ailing him, though weight loss and an inability to eat certain foods was a warning sign noticed by many.
Lee’s right hand man in the Maritimes is Master Bob White, who teaches Tae Kwon Do in Dartmouth. It was White who let Larade know Lee had passed away.
“He was sicker than he let on, and that was his way,” Larade said. “He didn’t want anyone to worry about him.”
Even White was unaware of the severity of Lee’s condition. White had been coaxing the Grand Master to go to a hospital to be checked out, but eventually Lee broke off contact with White. In retrospect, Larade said, it was possibly at that point that Lee was hospitalized.
Always welcoming, it was unlike Lee to break off contact like that.
“He was our Grand Master and you look up to him as a mentor, but he’d always check up on you and see how everything was going,” Larade said. “He could be hard on you, but he really just wanted the best for you.”
As an example of Lee’s desire to be close to his students and those teaching the Lee brand, Larade remembers a time when, at Junior Nationals, Lee asked Larade to join him.
“He asked if I was coaching, and I told him that I didn’t have any fighters, so he told me to come and sit with him,” Larade said. “They had Lee’s area all ribboned off, and I didn’t have a pass. I didn’t get my leg over the rope, and a security guard stopped me. Master Lee said ‘he’s with me,’ and the guard said ‘no problem, sir’.”
At that event, Lee chatted with Larade and entertained others at the same time. It was English that Lee spoke to Larade, but he spoke French and Korean to the others visiting him – all at the same time. He also knew how to speak Spanish.
Larade also reminisced about Lee’s first visit to the area.
“I had him down for a black belt exam, and I put them up at the Bras d’Or Lakes Inn,” Larade said. “On Saturday morning [after the exam] he said ‘I have one favour to ask. Next year, do you think I could stay with you and your family’?”
Having Lee stay with him, Larade said, is one of the memories he values most.
Larade said he was also touched by the message Lee left him and all others in the Lee martial arts family. It read as follows:
“The Tae Kwon Do way of life made me travel from the love of power to the power of love. My wish is for this divine gift to find each of you. Thank you for each of your contributions to my life. I am leaving, but I am not leaving you.”