Who's That Gal: Dr. Tae Yun Kim, author of 'The Seven Steps to Inner Power'
Name: Tae Yun Kim
Occupation: Founder, Jung SuWon Martial Art Academy; Founder & CEO, Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions, Author, Motivational Speaker, Life Coach
Hometown: Born in small village near the city of Kimcheon, South Korea
Current ‘hood: I live in 2 valleys… Silicon Valley in California and Applegate Valley in Oregon
Tell us a little bit about your background. What inspired you to start training in martial arts?
When I was born in South Korea in 1946, my family was very disappointed that I wasn’t a boy. From that moment, I was seen as a curse to my family. My parents blamed me for their problems and I endured unbearable physical and emotional abuse throughout my childhood.
The Korean War broke out when I was 5 years old. My family abandoned me and ran away to escape the bombing. Since I was an extra mouth to feed, they just left me screaming in the house. An old man heard my cries and yelled at me to run. He grabbed me and dragged me through the streets, but my small legs couldn’t keep up and I had to stop. Then the sweetest voice spoke to me. A village girl, older than me, said to me, “let’s race!” I didn’t hear the bombs or the screaming or the chaos of the war. I was used to hearing people curse at me and yell at me, so the sweetness of her voice melted my heart. I started to run with her as fast as I could. I just wanted to be with her. Then suddenly, a huge explosion threw me off my feet. Smoke and dust filled the air. When I woke up, I wasn’t looking for my mother or my father. I wanted to find my new friend whose name I never knew.
When I finally found her, I felt that it was my fault because I didn’t run fast enough. I was crying and shaking her, telling her that I would run faster. Then I saw that her arm was missing and there was blood all over. At age 5, this was my first experience with death.
All of these experiences taught me how much I wanted to make a difference in people’s lives like she did for me. At the time, I didn’t know what was happening, but looking back, 69 years later, I see how precious that lesson was and how much strength it gave me.
After the war, I was reunited with my grandparents and it wasn't long before I begged my uncles to teach me martial arts, but they refused as it was forbidden for girls to learn martial arts. But, I was persistent until one of my uncles relented and agreed to show me a few things. He figured that I would give up once I experienced the bruises and pains of training, but he was wrong.
This was disturbing to my grandparents, so my grandfather tried to marry me off by bringing a matchmaker to the house to meet me. But I figured out his plan and had a plan of my own. I purposely spilled hot tea in the matchmaker’s lap so that she would see how clumsy I was. She was so incredibly furious that she refused to find me a husband. Yippee! Mission accomplished!
My grandfather’s last resort was to send me to a monastery to become a monk. He invited a famous Buddhist monk to meet me and take me away, but something happened during that meeting that would change the course of my life forever.
The monk, who was also a famous martial art master, saw something different in me. He asked me what I wanted to do in my life and when I said I wanted to teach the martial arts, he stared deeply into my eyes and told me, “yes, you will become a teacher.” It was the first time anyone had ever acknowledged my dream.
He broke 5000 years of tradition and took me, a tiny 8-year-old girl, as his student.
How did you find the strength to defy the cultural expectations of young girls in South Korea?
Well, I didn’t have a choice. I needed to find positive energy somewhere.
In my new book, “Seven Steps to Inner Power: How to Break Through to Awesome”, I explain that no matter what happens in our lives, whatever the situations may be, the most important thing is how we deal with those situations.
We all face challenges in our lives. If you expect your life to be problem free, challenge free and obstacle-free, then you are on the wrong planet!
Why did you decide to move to the United States?
I had been training with my master for many years in South Korea and had no desire to do anything but continue to train with him. At the same time, I was still suffering abuse at home.
One day, my father got really drunk and was hitting me hard. My brother couldn’t take it anymore and he jumped in between me and my father to block the hits. And then he did something unthinkable in my culture. He hit my father back.
In my culture, it is taboo for a child to strike back at his parents. But he did it for me.
The next day, I was looking for him and I couldn’t find him. I searched everywhere and then I found a note that he had written to me. He told me to be strong. He apologized to me and said goodbye. I felt something was wrong, so I ran outside and found him lying among the daisies. In his shame, he had taken his own life.
After that incident, which my family never talked about because of the shame they felt, my master told me that I needed to start a new life in America. He told me that it was my destiny to go there and to teach. I didn’t want to leave him, and I thought of any possible way to not go, but he insisted, and I honored his request.
With only about $300, my family and I packed up and moved to a small city in rural Vermont.
You later went on to found your own tech company. What was it like getting started in Silicon Valley?
Moving to rural Vermont was hard. The language was new to me and though I joined the community and started teaching martial arts, I faced a lot of prejudice. I did a lot of soul searching during this time and new I needed to do something more with my life.
I approached one of my students, Scott Salton, who was an electrical engineer at IBM and told him about my budding interest in the computer tech industry.
His immediate response was, “You’re crazy! You are a martial artist! What do you know about tech and business?”
Soon, Scott and a few other of my students helped me start Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions. We grew quickly and it wasn't long before we relocated to Silicon Valley.
I came from a small village in South Korea that didn’t even have electricity. Then I moved to rural Vermont that was mostly mountains and pastures, so Silicon Valley was a serious culture shock
Silicon Valley was hustling, bustling, filled with engineers, and had a worldwide reputation for high tech. For the first time in a long time, I really began to thrive and feel comfortable.
You’ve accomplished so much! What’s next for you?
For the rest of my life, I want to share all my experiences, all my wisdom, all my knowledge and pass on to those who are willing to listen. I really want to become the GPS for those who are lost.
I just finished my book “Seven Steps to Inner Power: How to Break Through to Awesome” and I’m starting my next book with several more on the way.
I am also working on a new startup venture called Happy Healing Farms as well as continuing with TYK Vineyard where we are producing our 2nd year of Pinot Noir wines and our first Rose wines and a Cabernet Sauvignon. I have many lectures lined up and continue to teach and share what I have learned over the years of my life to help others become the best they can be in their lives.
My high-tech company, Lighthouse, continues to grow and we are currently developing a new instrument that will be introduced to the commercial retail market that is focused on improving people’s health - so stay tuned on that!
How did your career as a martial arts teacher affect your outlook on business and the tech industry?
I do not separate martial arts from everything else in my life. Most people don’t understand the martial arts. They think the martial arts is like tennis, baseball or basketball. They are so wrong. The martial arts is a way of life, not a sport.
Business isn’t any different. To me, they are the same. I’m only wearing a different uniform.
I approach business ventures and dealings in the way I learned to think in martial arts, with awareness and focus.
Your latest venture is publishing a book. Tell us a little bit about it and the inspiration behind it.
To many, it might just look like a book, but to me, this is my voice, my tears, my loneliness, my abandonment, my hunger for food, my need for sleep, my hunger for love, my sheer joy, my overwhelming happiness, my love for life.
In “Seven Steps to Inner Power: How to Break Through to Awesome”, in every line, I am communicating to those who take time for themselves, ways that they can transform their lives for the better.
If you are suffering from fear or loneliness, or abandonment or self-destructive energy, if you feel lost like you are standing in quicksand, hungering for your dreams and goals, or feeling stuck in your life, I am reaching out to you. Hear my voice. Feel my heart. This is my recipe. In this book are the ingredients to success.
I’m 74 years old. Guess what? I’m still kicking and punching! I’m very proud of myself, of my achievements and my physical condition. Looking back, I know where I was, a starving little girl in Korea and I shed so many tears. Now, I have tears of joy. It would be a shame if I died without sharing my voice.
You can find the book here. If you can’t afford to pay for the book, then contact me and I will help you to pay for it so that you can read it!
Let’s breakthrough to AWESOME!
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