|Updated: 6/24/2012 9:35 am
||Published: 6/23/2012 6:03 pm
NOTH LITTLE ROCK, AR - "I want to walk the way she walks, I want to kick the way she kicks, everything she does in her professional and personal life I want to mimic," said Lee's student Master Sean Smith.
She's the second-highest ranking female in all of the American Taekwondo Association but judging by the way Kathy Lee whips her nunchucks, you'd never guess that fear and insecurity were the driving forces behind her discovery of the sport.
"When I was a young elementary school girl I was being picked on," said Lee. "I constantly had to worry about when she was going to tell me that she was going to beat me up or when she was going to pick on me after school."
Bullied for years, Lee enrolled in her local Taekwondo school to learn how to fight back. But what she really found through her training was much more important.
"Right away I just said, 'I want to go ahead and let you know I actually took Taekwondo and I'm a yellow belt with three stripes,'" recalls Lee of her first day back at school after starting her training. "And from that moment on she never ever tried it again. I didn't even realize what I was saying was confidence. I didn't even realize that was going to turn out to have the great, wonderful ending that it did but it was just that level of complete surprise of confidence that really changed everything."
Ever since, Taekwondo has been Lee's lifestyle. Decades of training all leading up to this moment. Saturday night, Lee graduates to Chief Master - the highest possible rank an athlete can currently achieve in all of the ATA.
"It inspires me so much to be able to watch it and to realize that she's showing me how I can do it," said Smith.
And believe it or not, she says she has her elementary school bully to thank.
"I can't even imagine life without all of that. It's just very special. It's very meaningful, and I appreciate it way more than I ever thought I would."
The only higher rank in the ATA is Grand Master. That position is held by one single person leading the entire association. Currently, it is held by one of the founding members of the ATA.