About Dr. Tae Yun Kim
Dr. Tae Yun 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, she 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.
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 Tae Yun 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 Tae Yun would face in her life.
Abandoned at Five
When the Korean War came, Tae Yun, 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. She 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 she 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, Tae Yun’s uncles relented to her persistence, expecting her to quit immediately. To their surprise, she trained hard and progressed quickly.
Dumped Tea on the Marriage Matchmaker
Her grandparents found this unacceptable and brought her to a matchmaker to set her path straight. Tae Yun 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, Tae Yun’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. Tae Yun devoted all of her energy to her training and became skilled enough to start teaching it herself.
Moving to America with $300
After the death of her brother, Tae Yun Kim and her family sought a fresh start in Burlington, Vermont, in 1968. With just $300 to the family’s name, 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. Tae Yun’s vision of success in America was far from what she was experiencing. She worked odd jobs and struggled for many years.
Tae Yun soon found she could not go on living like this. Even her strong belief in God couldn’t quell her desire to die. One day, she climbed to the top of a mountain and fasted and prayed for two weeks, hoping God would let her die. God did not. He instead sent her a vision of starting a computer company to help make a safer world.
Tae Yun dismissed this far-fetched vision as just a hallucination. After all, she knew nothing about computers. She came down from the mountain, however, and continued with her life. Two months later, she had the vision again. This time she knew it wasn’t a hallucination—she knew she had to follow this vision.
Launched Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions
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. Tae Yun 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. She 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 Tae Yun 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. Tae Yun decided to move her company to the heart of the Silicon Valley, where it gained more traction.
Recognized for Her Achievements
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” for her life’s achievements. In 2003 she was awarded an honorary doctorate in business administration from Sook Myung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea. She 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.
Tae Yun Kim is a recognized martial arts great grandmaster and has founded her own school of martial arts, Jung SuWon, aimed at overcoming limitations in every area of life. Her Jung SuWon Martial Art Academy is still going strong. Meanwhile, Lighthouse Worldwide Solutions has gained a reputation as a leading custom engineering solutions provider, working with Lockheed, FMC, Intuit, McAfee, IBM, Texas Instruments, and other top organizations. Its projects include developing and innovating real-time monitoring for clean air and water. Today it stands as the world’s leading supplier of real-time contamination monitoring systems and airborne particle counters.
Dr. Tae Yun 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, one mantra has guided her through it all: “He can do, she can do, why not me!” It has served her well.