Master aiming to shape young lives

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By Shawn Skager

The Courier-Herald

Prospective martial arts students in Enumclaw will have a new place to hone and develop their self-confidence, physical and mental well being and health this winter with the opening of Master Yi's Olympic Tae Kwon Do Academy.

Occupying the former More Pennies From Heaven store at a busy downtown intersection, Master Yi's studio will feature instruction from Master Henry Young Yi - a three time tae kwon do world champion and a ninth-degree black belt.

For 30 years, Yi, 56, has been instructing both experienced and novice martial artists.

“I've been teaching since 1972 in the United States,” the Korean-born Yi said. “Ten years in Long Beach, Calif., and the rest in this area, like Kent, Covington and Gig Harbor. I have a few other branches, but now I'm going to teach in Enumclaw.”

According to Yi, he decided to open an academy in Enumclaw to fill a void.

“There were no professional martial arts school here,” he said. “A couple of my old students, they teach up here, but they're not really professional. It's a little town and nice and quiet. I found a nice location, like this.”

Although Yi has tasted his fair share of success in martial arts, including a film career in the late 1970s, he continues to teach both for his own health as well as to share the health benefits of his art.

“Nowadays, I teach because it's good for my health first, honestly,” he said. “Then I teach other people and I give them health, too. You can see nowadays all over the western countries, greasy food is (making people) overweight. I've been teaching a long time and I'm really happy to see my students get into shape and get a happy life. Number one is being happy and healthy. And when you're healthy you can enjoy your life more.”

Yi said in his 30-plus years of instructing he has seen many examples of the success bred by a lifetime of dedication to tae kwon do.

“I've had more than 500 black-belt students,” he said. “And I'd say 80 to 90 percent of them succeed at life. You begin with the white belt, and if you want to get to black belt, you have to have good patience and work hard.”

Although Yi teaches all ages, one of the cornerstones of his academy is the instruction of youth.

Yi said not only does tae kwon do help his young students remain healthy, but it also helps them in their social and family lives as well.

“You're not teaching self-defense only, the rules are very important. Martial arts, like Asian customs, teach you to respect people. Respect grandpa and grandma, school teachers,” he said. “We learn like that in Korea, we obey the school teachers 100 percent. One example is that after six months, when they get orange belt, they have to bow to their parents, just like Asian customs. Then when they come home they bow to parents, that kind of stuff. Plus they always have to say, ‘yes mom, no mom,' not yeah, yuh, anymore. After six months, I don't even have to teach this anymore. They just do it, they're used to it.”

For his younger students, Yi has home rules that include respect for parents, teachers and peers, as well as taking responsibility for chores, homework and their actions.

“I really enjoy teaching to young people,” Yi said. “I try to change their life in a good way.”

In addition to his competitive and teaching experience, Yi has starred in martial arts movies with international martial arts actor Jackie Chan.

According to Yi, the film industry was so enamored of his kick that he was offered the opportunity to star in movies.

“My kick was very beautiful,” he said.

Yi starred in his own movie “Death Fist” and also as a bad guy in a the Chan vehicle, “Snake and the Crane Arts of Shaolin.”

He said his notoriety can be a benefit for his business, but has it's drawbacks as well.

“Once I had a student who wouldn't speak to me,” Yi said. “I didn't know what was wrong, but his parent said he had seen the movie ('Snake and the Crane Arts of Shaolin') on TV. He wouldn't talk to me, he just said, ‘Master Yi, I don't like you anymore, you're a bad guy.'”

Master Yi's Olympic Tae Kwon Do Academy offers a full range of classes, including Tae Kwon Do, Hap Ki Do, martial arts weapon training and self defense classes, for men, women and children.

More information is available by calling 360-802-6500 or by visiting the academy at 1362 Cole St.

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