As Virginia enters Phase 2 of reopening, many Lee Highway businesses are beginning to open their doors to the public. However, some businesses (gyms, studios, etc) are not yet there. Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do, Lee Highway's premier Tae Kwon Do studio, may not be opening its doors quite yet, but they are reinventing how students can continue to study the martial art from the comfort of their homes.
LHA's Communications Manager spoke with Barry Shakelford, one of the school's owners, about the history of Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do, what COVID-19 has been like for them, and how the community can lend their support.
Rhee was trained directly by Choi Hong Hi, the South Korean army general who originally developed this modern martial art. After coming to America in the 1950s, Grandmaster Rhee befriended Bruce Lee and introduced the celebrated martial artist to Tae Kwon Do. Rhee also taught Muhammed Ali, Jack Anderson, George Allen, Sr., Bob Livingston, Tony Robbins, Jack Valenti, and more than 300 U.S. Senators and House Representatives. Additionally, he was the creator of martial arts "safety gear" for sparring. He was instrumental in revolutionizing the martial arts industry so that everyone could enjoy its benefits. He made the art form available to individuals of all ages - from 4 to 84 - not just "tough guys" in their twenties who want to learn how to "fight."
MPH: And how did you get involved in the martial art and in Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do?
Licensed Professional Counselor) for about a dozen years before I decided to open the school, and while I felt I was doing helpful work in that field, I feel I make more of an impact now; providing a sort of "preventative" mental health training... teaching kids discipline, confidence, respect, etc. Our Mission Statement is "Teaching Life Skills through Martial Arts."
MPH: How has the COVID-19 shutdown impacted Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do?
BS: We have always adhered to stringent cleaning protocols, but in early March we increased their frequency, etc. We also made adjustments to some of our class protocols such as no longer shaking hands or giving high fives. As things progressed, it became clear that we would most likely be required to close our doors. When Arlington made the announcement to cancel the public schools, we closed immediately, although it was not necessarily a "requirement" at that time. It was simply the right thing to do. Our last day of "in-studio classes" was March 13. By the middle of that following week, we had created tons of training videos and uploaded them to our website so that students could continue to practice their skills. Within a few days, the videos had been watched over 300 times, and currently have over 2,000 view, with approximately 200 hours of "watch time." Although the videos were a big success, we knew we had to offer more. The very next week (on March 23) we began offering live-stream classes through Zoom for all of our ranks and ages. We currently have over 300 students attending online each week. We are conducting our stripe testing (small step progression) and full Rank Testing online. We also mail or deliver stripes and new belts to students' homes so they receive a tangible rewards for their hard work!
MPH: That's amazing! What has it been like for you and your business parter to make the switch to an online platform?
BS: Like everyone else who has made the switch, we've had to make lots of adjustments! We've not only had to become experts in Tae Kwon Do, but experts in technology too. We have our lead instructor of course, but then also utilize instructors in the "background" providing "tech support" (i.e., helping students login, entering attendance and checking for stripe progression, creating "break out" rooms on Zoom to provide students more individual attention, etc.) Also, finding the room in our homes to fully demonstrate techniques has been challenging! But there have definitely been benefits too. With the success of our online classes, we see this as an opportunity to reach students who may never have been able to attend our classes, i.e. students who are out of the area, students who are immunocompromised, etc.
MPH: Speaking of your students....what has this transition been like for them? How have they taken it?
greater Arlington and Lee Highway community can support the school?
BS: Although the "Jhoon Rhee" name is known internationally in martial arts circles, we are individually owned and therefore are one of the many small businesses being negatively impacted by this crisis. We would like the community to know that if they are interested in our martial arts classes, they do not have to wait until we resume our in-studio classes to start. We offer a complementary week of virtual classes to all ages (4 and up) in hopes that students will engage with us now!
MPH: What's your vision for the future of Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do, after the pandemic has passed?
BS: I know that with the strength and support of our amazing community, we will continue to be able to offer the unique brand of martial arts training that Jhoon Rhee started all those years ago. In fact, with the ability to provide classes, training, and belt progression virtually, we will be able to offer our services to individuals who we wouldn't normally be able to reach. Grand Master Rhee's son, Master Chun Rhee, owns and operates the Jhoon Rhee school in Falls Church and is having the same sort of success we are with his virtual classes. We plan to discuss how we can continue to branch out and reach even more students with this new way of virtual teaching.
MPH: One final question. What is your favorite part of working at and owning Jhoon Rhee Tae Kwon Do?