Grandmaster Ki Whang Kim was born in Seoul, South Korea in 1920. He was the son of wealthy parents, who were actively involved in the shipping industry. As a child, Grandmaster was often subjected to harassment from his peers because of his family’s wealth, and this caused him to become obsessed with learning how to defend himself, at a very young age.
During his teen years, Grandmaster moved to Japan, where he studied Judo and eventually attained the rank of black belt. While studying at the Nihon University in Japan, Grandmaster began studying Shudokan Karate, under the instruction of Kanken Toyama. After graduation, Grandmaster continued his studies of the martial arts by traveling to China where he studied Kenpo, and Shaolin Kung Fu.
In 1964, Grandmaster emigrated to the United States, where he opened his first Karate schools in Silver Spring, Maryland, and at the YMCA in downtown Washington, D.C. At that time, Grandmaster was affiliated with the Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan Association, serving as its ambassador in the United States. In later years, Grandmaster devoted much of his efforts toward unifying several Korean fighting arts under the name Tae Kwon Do.
While Grandmaster was a very accomplished tournament organizer, he believed that tournament competition was only a small part of being a martial artist. Indeed, in his promotion of tournament competition, he was not one to seek the limelight for his own purposes, but only to the extent that it promoted the best interest of martial arts. His way was to emphasize the spiritual aspects of karate-do, the development of good moral character, and thus well rounded human beings. Grandmaster placed great emphasis on racial and cultural harmony, and his student body reflected those values at all times.
In addition to a black belt in Judo and Tae Kwon Do, Grandmaster held 8th Dan in Tang Soo Do, and a black belt in Aikido. He taught for over thirty years, and was inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame in 1979. That same year, he was selected as Co-Instructor of the Year. In 1971, Grandmaster was promoted to 9th Dan by the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association. In 1993, while hospitalized with terminal liver cancer, Grandmaster was received his 10th Dan from the Korean Tae Kwon Do Association, as a symbol of his lifelong dedication to martial arts and to Tae Kwon Do in particular. He passed away on September 16, 1993.