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Life Story: About Dr. Tae Yun Kim

Tae Yun Kim as a young woman.

Tae Yun Kim as a young woman.

 

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. Born in a shack in a tiny Korean village and ostracized from birth, Tae Yun Kim has built herself up from nothing to an inspiring female businesswoman in America.

She was born on February 2nd, 1946, the South Korean Lunar New Year of that year. It was considered a disappointment that her family’s firstborn child was a daughter and not a son. So, from the moment Tae Yun was born, she was seen as a curse on her family. Her father beat her, and she was neglected, starved, and blamed for all her family’s hardships. She grew up being taught that she was unwanted. This would be the first of many obstacles Tae Yun would face in her life.

 

 

Abandoned During the War

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 and embrace her worth. 

Tae Yun Kim studying martial arts at 13

Tae Yun Kim at 13.

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.

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 her energy to her training and became skilled enough to start teaching it herself.

A Fresh Start in America

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 she immediately struggled. 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 Kim, the only woman in this photograph of Great Grandmasters.

Tae Yun Kim, the only woman in this photograph of Great Grandmasters.

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 told her to start a computer company.

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.

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.

Launching a Computer Company

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.

Dr. Kim with employees of Lighthouse

Dr. Kim with employees of Lighthouse

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.

Tae Yun Kim eventually returned to Korea to get her business degree, and in 2003 she earned an honorary doctorate from the University of 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. South Korea named her “The Hope of the Country, the Face of the Country and the Pride of the Country” for her life achievements.

Recognized Martial Arts Grand Master

Tae Yun Kim is a recognized martial arts master. Her school, 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 more. Its other 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

Today, Dr. Tae Yun Kim is 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?” Now, she dedicates her time to inspiring others to follow that mantra to reach their dreams, too.

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