Grandmaster Kim’s life is the quintessential rags-to-riches American success story—and like many of these stories, it does not begin in America. She was born in a shack in a tiny Korean village and ostracized from birth. She was expected, like the other girls in her village, to raise many sons. Nevertheless, from the time she was a child, Grandmaster Kim broke with tradition. Through hard work and despite unthinkable obstacles and challenges, she became not only the first female grandmaster in the history of Korean martial arts but also one of the most successful female businesswomen in America today.
Grandmaster Tae Yun Kim was born on February 2, 1946, the South Korean Lunar New Year. Her family considered it catastrophic that their firstborn child was a daughter and not a son. So from the moment Grandmaster Kim was born, she was seen as a curse. Her father beat her. She was neglected, starved, and blamed for all of her family’s hardships. She grew up feeling unwanted. This would be the first of many obstacles Grandmaster Kim would face in her life.
When the Korean War came, Grandmaster Kim then just five years old, was abandoned while her family fled their village. She narrowly survived a bomb raid. This was a turning point for her. She had always been told she was cursed and unlucky—but there she was, alive. Grandmaster Kim decided from that point forward that she would fight for her life. She also embraced her worth. After the war, Tae Yun reunited with her family. Like all Korean girls, she was expected to marry, have children, and be a housewife. But one morning she witnessed her uncles practicing Tae Kwon Do. All thoughts of a traditional future left her mind. Although Grandmaster Kim didn’t know what Tae Kwon Do was, she was entranced and begged her uncles to teach it to her.
Despite tradition barring women from practicing the martial art, Grandmaster Kim’s uncles relented to her persistence, expecting her to quit immediately. To their surprise, she trained hard and progressed quickly.
Her grandparents found this unacceptable and brought her to a matchmaker to set her path straight. Grandmaster Kim would not sit there and be married off like property, however. She dumped tea on the matchmaker, ruining her grandparents’ plan to find her a husband.
At his wits’ end, Grandmaster Kim’s grandfather arranged for her to meet a Buddhist master in the hopes that he could change her. The Master saw something special in her, though. He became her mentor and martial arts teacher. Grandmaster Kim devoted all of her energy to her training and became skilled enough to start teaching it herself.
After the death of her brother, Grandmaster Kim and her family sought a fresh start in Burlington, Vermont, in 1968. With just $300 to the family’s name, she got her first jobs pumping gas and cleaning toilets at Howard Johnson motel. She was in heaven because in America, she worked & cleaned and was paid! Back in her village, she worked & cleaned and was beaten by her parents because she was considered to be a Curse & Bad Luck to her family.
She set out to open her own martial arts school but faced immediate challenges. The language barrier, cultural barrier, and prejudice were constant obstacles. Few people would rent her a space for her school, and when she finally got one, it was burned to the ground by an arsonist. Grandmaster Kim’s vision of success in America was far from what she was experiencing. She worked odd jobs and struggled for many years.
Grandmaster Kim soon found she could not go on living like this. She had faced so much prejudice and discrimination every day that she began to give up. One day, she climbed to the top of a mountain and fasted and prayed for two weeks, hoping God would take her. God did not. He instead sent her a vision of starting a computer company to help make a safer world.
Grandmaster Kim dismissed this far-fetched vision as just a hallucination. After all, she knew nothing about computers. Grandmaster Kim came down from the mountain, however, and continued with her life. Two months later, she had the vision again. This time Grandmaster Kim knew it wasn’t a hallucination—she knew she had to follow this vision.
Together with some of her Tae Kwon Do students, she founded Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions in 1982. The mission of Lighthouse would be to use science and technology for the betterment of mankind.
As with everything else, this too was a struggle. Grandmaster Kim had sold her house to fund her company, but she quickly lost everything again. She had hit rock bottom before, though, and knew what it was like. She did not give up. Grandmaster Kim moved into a small apartment with little else to eat except bone broth and herbs.
Meanwhile, she continued teaching martial arts. One day she noticed some of her students had blisters on their hands from their excessive video game use. This gave Grandmaster Kim the idea to make Bible-based video games to counter the excessive number of violent video games on the market. Games based on the Story of Moses and Samson and Delilah were some of the first they made.
Lighthouse continued to develop custom software applications for businesses, but demand was low in the small city of Burlington. Grandmaster Kim decided to move her company to the heart of the Silicon Valley, where it gained more traction.
In 2023, Grandmaster Tae Yun Kim was selected as one of the Top 10 Heroes of the 120 Years of Korean Immigration because of her lifetime of achievements as a businesswoman & entrepreneur. She immigrated to the U.S. in 1969 with nothing but the burning desire to achieve the American Dream. She faced countless obstacles & challenges throughout her life but never gave up. Today, she runs a conglomerate of businesses including an international high tech corporation, a wellness supplement company, a vineyard, an executive coaching company, a martial art school and more.
In 2021, Grandmaster Kim received an appointment as the Global Ambassador for the Kukkiwon World Taekwondo Headquarters in Seoul, S. Korea. This was a phenomenal honor as historically, taekwondo has always been a male-dominated sport that was forbidden for girls to participate in. She is the only Grandmaster to receive her own monument at the Kukkiwon Headquarters building.
In 2004, Grandmaster Kim was awarded the Grand prize in the California Chamber of Commerce’s Simply Success Story Challenge for the innovative way she led Lighthouse through the economic downturn.
In 2002, she was named Woman of the Year for the State of California.
In 2001, the President of South Korea named her “The Hope of the Country, the Face of the Country and the Pride of the Country” when, during the IMF Crisis in Korea, she traveled throughout Korea giving motivating & inspiring lectures to raise the spirits of the Korean people who were suffering from severe financial losses.
In 2003 she was awarded an honorary doctorate in business administration from Sook Myung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea.
Grandmaster Kim is now perched firmly on the “riches” end of “rags to riches.” From her rough upbringing to her countless years of struggling in the United States to her company’s climb to the top of the market, her personal motto has guided her through it all: “He Can Do, She Can Do, Why Not Me!”
Dr. Tae Yun Kim founded and currently serves as the Chairman of the Board for Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions, the leader in cleanroom monitoring technology for many industries including Semiconductor, Electronics, Life Sciences, Pharmaceutical, Biotech, Aerospace, Automotive and more. She is also the highest ranked female martial artist, a Great Grandmaster and founder of the martial art called Jung SuWon.
Dr. Tae Yun Kim offers warm, straightforward life teachings from her own experience, having transformed herself from being abandoned during the Korean War to becoming a Great Grandmaster in the Martial arts and founding a successful Silicon Valley high-tech international company. She always says: He Can Do, She Can Do, Why Not Me!
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