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My OMAC Profile

omacWCLogoA little over a year ago I was going to take over management of the website for the Oriental Martial Arts College (Master Kim’s OMAC).  Several issues, including my long-term relocation to Japan, aborted that.  However I am thrilled to be back with OMAC now, as a Senior Instructor and not as a webmaster.  This week I was honoured when the webmaster, Mr. Al Poulis, added my profile to the new site, which has now been renamed OMAC World Class Martial Arts.  MY profile can be seen here.

I want to commend Mr. Poulis, who has done a much better job of redesigning the website than I ever could have!

Respect the Belt… Respect the Art.


Kyokushinkai (Photo credit: kamorphus)

I mentioned in conversation a couple of days ago that I was going to be starting to learn Kyokushin Karate in Japan and that I was very excited.  One of the people involved in the discussion mentioned that the first few months of any martial art is going to be less interesting, but if I stuck with it I would probably start to enjoy it.  I told him that I was not new to martial arts, only to Karate, and that I was a Second Dan Black Belt in Taekwondo.  He then went off on a tangent telling me how Taekwondo is not a serious martial art, and it’s only about kicking, and how real martial artists (like the ones in the UFC) study Muay Thai, BJJ, and other serious arts.

Now here’s the thing… he was very clear that he is not a martial artist, but he is a big fan, and he continued insulting Taekwondo as being inferior and useless as compared to other martial arts.  He talked about the Monk Tournament, UFC, and seemed to know a lot of the plusses and minuses of many different martial arts.

The problem was he had never learned about respect, one of the key tenets of every martial art.  He did not realize and would not listen when told by me and by others that he was being offensive, insulting, and disrespectful.  He kept trying to prove that his book knowledge made him an authority.  I told him that I would gladly invite him to my dojang in Mississauga to learn Taekwondo, and see if he might learn a new respect for it.  One way or another, until he earned a Black Belt I was not willing to listen to him insult me, my Master, my GrandMaster, and my art.

Here’s the thing.  I know that different martial arts have their strengths and their weaknesses, and frankly I am quite cognizant of these.  However if someone is going to tell me how much they dislike my primary martial art, they had better have a Black Belt of their own, otherwise they cannot have any credibility.  The Black Belt can be in any art, from Karate to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to whatever, but to come at me with pure theory and telling me that my art isn’t very good is a very strong insult from someone with absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

The person continued talking about ‘pure martial artists’… people who strictly learn a single art.  In my experience, there is no one perfect martial art, and any practitioner who is serious will have a base in one art but a lot of knowledge of others – for example, my Taekwondo school (Oriental Martial Arts College) does teach Taekwondo, but we also integrate a lot of Hapkido into the curriculum from the very early belts.  The Hapkido complements Taekwondo and closes some of the potential shortcomings.  As my Master once told me, there is no pure martial art because all martial arts borrow from each other and evolve.  The fans of UFC may prefer watching certain forms, but even the UFC fighters use different styles… hence the name Mixed Martial Arts.

I  had visited the Kyokushin dojo once before to watch a class before returning to join.  I had not told the Sensei anything about my previous martial arts experience… I wanted to (out of respect for both him and for GrandMaster Kim), and had even arranged to bring a friend to translate for me.  It fell through, so I had to do my best… I told him I wanted to learn from him, he told me what the rates were, and that was essentially the end of the conversation.  clip12.288115402_stdWhen I returned Monday evening he told me to change at the back of the room.  As I pulled my workout kit out (I don’t have a gi yet, but it is on order) the Sensei saw my Black Belt pop out.  He immediately had his entire class turn and bow to me.  They may practice a different art from me, but a Black Belt is a Black Belt.

When my gi does come in, for the first time in several years, I will be wearing a White Belt.  I will not ask the Sensei for any special considerations for me based on my pre-existing Black Belt – I am a Black Belt already, and that does not change by donning a white one for a new art.  Even in Taekwondo one of our words of wisdom that we repeat after class is Cho Shim… Beginner’s Mind.  I am looking forward to starting from the beginning again though… it is really exciting!  More on that later.

Wish me luck… it’s the morning after, and my body is aching just like I hoped.  I kept up just fine, but am really looking forward to sparring… Sensei won’t let me spar until I have the protective equipment.  Look forward to a bunch of articles about my new martial art in the next few weeks!

The One Inch Punch

As many of you know I have been forced to take a break from Taekwondo since my auto accident in December.  That does not mean that when asked I cannot suit up to help the judging at the Colour Belt Grading Tests.  I did that this Wednesday, and afterwards some of us were hanging out chatting.  I decided to try something I had never done before… although I have thought about it for years.  I wanted to try the “One Inch Punch” as made famous by the Dragon Bruce Lee (see article).

Of course my left shoulder is still wrecked, but my right side is mostly fine.  I gave it a shot, and although it hurt a bit it worked!  Master David Kim held a very knotty board for me while Instructor Peter Wolchak filmed it for us.  The board was much harder than most boards we use, but I figured I would try anyways.  Here it is!

Thanks to Master David Kim for holding and Instructor Peter Wolchak for filming!

Visiting With The Dragon

BLeeGr25 (800x600)Most of you know by now that I am a martial artist.  I have written enough about Tae Kwon Do over the years that even if you only visit my blog occasionally you are likely to have come across something about TKD.  For all of these years that I have been going to Seattle I never realized that Bruce Lee’s grave was there.  When I found that out a few months ago I vowed to make it a point of visiting it on my next trip… and I did. 

Saturday was a cloudy but dry day, and I met a friend for breakfast.  I told him about my plans for the afternoon, and he was happy to join me.  While not a martial artist himself, he has a great deal of respect for the arts, and like many people of our generation is a fan of Bruce Lee’s movies.  So together we looked it up on the map and figured out where we were headed, and after picking up my uniform at my hotel we headed out to the Lakeview Cemetery, a few miles north of downtown.

As we pulled into the cemetery we realized that it was too big to just look aimlessly, so we asked a couple of people if they knew where it was.  ‘Over that way… just look for the crowd of people – you won’t be the only ones today!’  So we followed the directions, and sure enough there was a crowd there.  We got out of the car, I handed Jared my camera and donned my uniform.  I tied my Black Belt with the solemnity that such an occasion deserves, and straightened my uniform before walking over.

There were several people there milling about, taking pictures, and talking about their favorite Bruce Lee movie, move, or whatever.  Some of the visitors were Caucasian, some Asian, and a few African and Middle-Eastern; it depended on the minute, because most of them came, saw, took a picture, and left.  That was not what I had in mind.

I have been to many solemn places throughout my travels, and I can honestly say that this was among those that touched me the most.  I do not know if it is because of my love of martial arts and Bruce Lee’s contributions to them, or the fact that it was his movies that first got me excited about martial arts (as well as my fascination with nunchuks) when I was hardly ten years old.  I do know that I was moved just being there… and the fact that his son Brandon is buried next to him sent shivers down my spine.

BLeeGr04 (800x600)Visitors came and went, but I was not there for a photo op or ‘to say that I had done it.’ Frankly I was not really sure what I was going to do when I got there… I only knew that it was something that I had to do – a pilgrimage if you like.  I suppose a lot of people go to a lot of places ‘not knowing’ and figure it out when they get there.

The first thing I did when I walked over was exactly what I do when I face my GrandMaster in a class; I got onto my knees, put my hands to my head, and bowed down.  In many Oriental cultures bowing is a show of respect, and the lower you bow the more respect you show.  Bruce Lee deserves as much respect as anyone in the martial arts – dead or alive.  I was the only person in a dobok (Tae Kwon Do uniform) – or any other martial arts uniform for that matter – and the people there seemed to understand that I was not only there as a tourist, but to pay my respects.  They made place for me, and as I got to my knees to bow all of the chatter stopped.  Maybe it was simply that I tuned it all out, but I heard the birds chirping, I heard the leaves on the nearby trees moving with the wind – I heard and felt the world at peace.  This is the state that we try to achieve when we meditate before our classes, and how it should be when experiencing a private moment alone while you are surrounded by people.

BLeeGr19 (800x600)When I said I did not know what I was going to do when I got there I am not kidding, but when I was there I had so many things that I wanted to do… I bowed several times, I tied my belt around his headstone hoping that his wisdom and ability might be mystically transferred to me, and in keeping with my roots I left a stone on both his and Brandon’s graves as a reminder that I was there.  While most people leave flowers, the Jewish custom is to leave a stone, because flowers wilt but the stone never does.  I was surprised later, when I was checking the pictures that Jared had taken, that he took a picture of these stones.  I was glad for that, because I likely would not have remembered.  However I think knowing Bruce Lee’s teachings he would appreciate the stone – he taught us about the different components of rocks and water, and how two rocks might collide, but the flowing water can move and shape mountains, so we should be like water.  I looked around for several minutes until I found the most perfect stone that I could find, and I cleaned it off before leaving it for him.

Empty your mind. Become formless and shapeless like water. When water is poured into a cup, it becomes the cup. When water is poured into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Be water, my friend.

As I said there was a nearly constant flow of people, but I was thrilled that for several minutes I was able to be alone with my thoughts.  I sat on the bench that faces the graves, I put my hands in my lap, and I guess I had a conversation with Bruce Lee.  I thanked him for his contributions to the martial arts – while he was not alone, he was among the first oriental instructors who agreed to teach martial arts to guay-loh (non-Chinese).  Without his push many Westerners who have studied and practiced and fallen in love with the beauty of Chinese and Oriental culture over the past fifty years probably would not have had the opportunity to do so.  As I sat there with my Black Belt I meditated on that thought, and wondered what I would have done in a western world bereft of martial arts.  Even if the credit for that were to go to someone else, I was never inspired by David Carradine.  After Bruce Lee there was Sho Kosugi, and later Jackie Chan… but it was Bruce Lee who started it all for us… it was he who introduced the western world to the beauty of Kung Fu.

BLeeGr15 (800x600) BLeeGr14 (800x600)

BLeeGr16I do not know how long I sat there, but the pictures show that many people came and went as I had my conversation (in my mind) with The Dragon.  I asked him for wisdom, and while that may sound silly, in preparing this piece I stumbled across a page of his quotes, and feel that I am wiser for having read them.  They also reminded me that no matter how great we may get, the ultimate goal must always be humility.  We cannot do what we do for grandeur, only for self-awareness and self-improvement.  “I am not in this world to live up to your expectations and you are not in this world to live up to mine.’  ‘You know what I want to think of myself? As a human being.’ ‘The word “star” is an illusion… it’s something that the public calls you.  You should look upon oneself as an actor.’  All of these and a hundred more remind me that the greatest icon in the history of martial arts movies was the humblest of men, aspiring only to live, to share life’s beauty.  He was a teacher, an innovator, and an incredible influence on untold thousands like myself who likely never would have enrolled in a karate class had it not been for him.

Bruce Lee was taken from us far too soon – he died on July 20th, 1973 – two weeks after my first birthday.  He was a few months shy of his 33rd birthday, and yet look at the impression he left on so many of us… on the world, really.  dozens of good and thousands of bad martial arts movies all stemmed from his movies – they were big in the Orient before him, but he introduced the world to Kung Fu – and the martial arts.  His son Brandon Bruce Lee also died at a very young age – he was twenty-eight when an accident on the set of the movie The Crow took him from us.  It is a sad legacy… but he is still survived by Shannon Lee, his daughter.

Everyone knows the name Bruce Lee, and his face adorns posters and t-shirts all over the world, nearly forty years after his death.  Had he not died of a brain edema in 1973 he would be seventy-two years old today; like many of the greats who died too soon during that period (Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, etc…) his contributions to culture would be impossible for most people who lived three times as long… we will remember him forever.

Thank you, Sifu! -M


Taekwondo: Care to comment?

Black belt, 2nd dan

Black belt, 2nd dan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to preface this post by saying that I don’t get it.  I have been in Taekwondo for four and a half years, and have in that time achieved my 2nd Dan Black Belt… but even before I started I am reasonably sure that I would not have gotten it.

A commentator on Australian TV watched the competition at the recent Olympic Games and said that it didn’t look like a very hard sport, and the competitors just seemed to be dancing around and waving their legs at one another.  This obviously upset a few people… it doesn’t necessarily offend me per se, but it leaves me wondering how someone can have so little respect for a sport, a martial art, and athletes, and to say it in a public forum is just stupid.

I did not hear the original rant, but I can imagine it contained comments about how much protective gear the competitors wear… and it is true, we do.  I own one of those chest protectors, and have sparred with a lot of people who were wearing them.  I know for a fact that getting hit on the protector can hurt like hell… I have unfortunately broken an opponent’s ribs through one.

Now, if someone says on TV that they think a sport – baseball, basketball, soccer, or whatever – is stupid and not really a sport, there isn’t a whole lot of repercussions that can be meted out.  It can be debated of course, but that’s about it.  Martial arts, on the other hand, is based on an activity that we all start doing very early on… so when The Footy Show invited him on to spar with the Australian Taekwondo competitors, he had the opportunity to put his money where is mouth was.  Here is the video of what happened:

In this video we see that the commentator (whose name is not mentioned) has a big mouth, and makes a big show of dancing around (and to any experience martial artist looking stupid)… until Safwan Khalil (who lost his Bronze Medal match in the 58kg division) lands his first naduban kick, which is essentially a spinning roundhouse kick, and one of my favourites.  The commentator goes down in a shock… but does get up for more of a beating.  As he gets up he is swearing and clearly in shock as to how hard the kick (which was clean) really was, and how far it sent him reeling.  When he is back up a double roundhouse kick combination doesn’t actually knock him down… he backs away quickly, and then drops to the ground holding his stomach (through the padding).  He spends a few seconds on the matt before getting up.

The host at this point feels that Mr. Khalil needs a bit of a rest, and brings his fiancé, Carmen Marton, in to take his place.  Ms. Marton also represented Australia in London, and her first spinning jump-back kick knocks the commentator flat on his back.

True to the tenets of Taekwondo that we are all taught, each time they knock the competitor down, they help him to get back up.  Their sportsmanship is apparent throughout, even to this <word removed by censors> who was so disrespectful toward them.

At this point the host put an end to the bout, and asked the commentator if he had anything to say to the athletes.  Unable to stand, he apologizes.  I am sure he now has a much better respect for the ‘sport’ than he did before.

For the record, I have never been faced by anyone (outside of the ring) who knew that I was a Black Belt and still wanted to fight me.  To the credit of most, the Black Belt is a very widely respected symbol, and while it means so much more to those of us who wear (or aspire to) it, to much of the world it is the international ‘don’t mess with me’ symbol.

I want to express my respect for Mr. Khalil and Ms. Marton for their achievements, as well as for the commentator, who did have the nerve to get into the ring… and after being hit a couple of times, still got up again.  He has courage, and I would love to invite him into the sport… I know that any dojang in the world would love to invite him in to help guide him on the path to Black Belt excellence!

(For the record: I consider myself to be a better fighter than a lot of the higher belts that I train with… that does not mean I wouldn’t get my @ss handed to me in a proper sparring match… I have never been much for sparring because my previous fighting styles go against the tenets of TKD… and I would never want to hurt anyone in a sparring match!)

Calgary Taekwondo Academy

Black belt, 2nd dan

Black belt, 2nd dan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I found myself in Calgary this week with a free evening, so in the afternoon I typed a few keywords into my favorite search engine to see what I could find.

Dojang Calgary Taekwondo

I got several hits, but the most promising of these (apart from the proximity to my hotel, I liked what I saw on their website) was the Calgary Taekwondo Academy.  I was glad that their website had their class schedule, and that they had an Open class listed from 6:30 to 7:30, which meant I could be back at my hotel and showered in time for our dinner reservations.  I called but got the voicemail, and decided to take a chance.  I packed up my uniform and got a taxi.

The dojang is in an unassuming strip mall across from a soccer pitch.  It was different from most that I had visited in that the waiting/observation room was walled off from the actual gym area.  Instead of a locker room there were changing booths reminiscent of a clothing store.  The children’s class was still going on (behind a closed door, visible through a window) so I knew I was on time.  I changed into my dobok and waited patiently for the class to be dismissed.

When the door finally opened I met Senior Instructor Kim.  As I always do I bowed, introduced myself, and told her my story.  ‘I have the honour of training under GrandMaster Hyung Chul Kim in Mississauga, Ontario.  I am visiting Calgary for three days and would be honoured if you would allow me to join your class.’

The Instructor was very friendly, and told me that of course I could.  There was one more thing I had to tell her.  In martial arts it is extremely important to be up front and transparent, especially when your belt misrepresents your rank.  I explained to her that I earned my Second Dan Black Belt the previous Saturday, and that the actual belt had not been ready in time.  She thanked me for my honesty, and asked me what poomsaes I had learned for my last test.

The warm up drills are different and the same in every dojang, and because this was an Open class (all levels welcome) they were light to moderate in intensity.  We jogged around the gym for ten minutes, incorporating some kicks then lined up for ten minutes of stretching.

We then ran several minutes of back-and-forth drills, assuming stances, throwing punches and blocks as we walked (in our stance) from one side of the floor to the other.  Finally we lined up for Poomsaes.

While each style of Taekwondo will have a variety of different poomsaes, within the Kukkiwon (World Taekwondo Federation) Kwans there are several patterns that all students will know (depending on their level).  As we would do in an Open Class at OMAC, the Master started the group off with Tae Guk 1, then Tae Guk 2, 3, and 4.  As we completed each pattern she would excuse the lower belts to practice their own patterns.

Once all of the junior belts were gone, we proceeded to Koryo – a pattern which our system learns to test for the Second Junior Black Belt (Black with a red stripe), and then has to perform again for the First Dan.  While I was solid on the Tae Guks I was surprised that I took a misstep during Koryo, which was once my favorite poomsae.  The Instructor noticed this of course, and helped me with it.  She then asked me to work alone for a few minutes while she helped the junior students.

I noted to Theresa the night before that it had been a long time since I had gone more than a day without running through all of the Second Dan poomsaes that I needed for my test, so after I ran through Koryo again I did just that – I was working on Ship Su when the Instructor came back and asked me about it.

There are literally hundreds of poomsaes in Taekwondo, and not all schools learn the same ones – even within the same system.  I showed her what I was doing, and apologized that my side kicks were not very solid.  She understood my reasons, and asked if I would like to work on kicking drills.  I was delighted, and the rest of the class was spent doing just that.

I got a great workout, but more than that I am happy that I discovered a dojang that shares and teaches the same principles as OMAC, and in a city that I visit several times per year.  I spoke with the Instructor after class and asked if it would be alright for me to come back when I am in town, and she was pleased to welcome me back.  The next time I am in Calgary I know where I will be spending my free evenings!

Mitch Breaking Bricks!

Black belt, 2nd dan

Black belt, 2nd dan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As part of my requirements for my Second Dan Black Belt test, I was required to break two 1.5″ slabs of concrete. Damn does it feel good… now that it’s behind me!

I spent so much time talking about it, here is the video! -M

Mitch Breaking Bricks!
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