First Degree Black Belt, 46 Years Old

My journey to black belt has been an interesting one at least for me. A journey filled with extended rest stops, detours and even changes in destination. To best understand the journey we need to take a trip in time. Back to the prehistoric ages. Back to the time of pre-Google, pre-Internet, pre-home computer or as my oldest son once asked…Dad did you have color TV back in the day?

I was 10 years old. I loved Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Kung Fu movies. After all, what kid doesn’t want to be a martial arts hero and I was fully committed to the 1 month of training necessary to get my black belt.

So my mother signed me up and took me to the only show in town. A Karate studio. I remember being intimidated. I was one of the youngest there and everyone seemed very serious.

To appreciate my story I need to explain a little about my original Karate Instructor. At that time my instructor held 5th degree black belt in two different style of Karate (Now he is a 9th in both styles) a 4th degree in Tae Kwon Do and a first degree in Kung Fu. He was a professional Karate fighter ranked as the number one light heavyweight in the US by one Karate Association. He had fought in 300 fights, winning or placing in every one and he preferred bare knuckle fighting.

So back to the story. After a couple of private lessons to learn the basics I was ready to learn the super duper tremendous jump flying inverted spinning kick that I had seen on a recent Kung Fu movie.

Unfortunately things didn’t go quite as planned. During one of my first classes the instructor had all of the students form a circle about 15 feet across. In the middle, he placed his star black belt student on the outside edge of the circle he placed three other students. He then explained that we were going to play a game.

The game worked with the three non-black belts on the edge, walking across the circle. If they encountered the black belt in the middle they had to fight.

The instructor then turned off the lights and said “go”. I took the instructors command of “go” to heart and that was the end of my martial arts experience….at least for the time being.

Fast forward to three days before my 15th birthday. My fear had subsided helped along with movies about ninjas, David Carradine and re-runs of Kung Fu. I was ready to try again.

I returned to the same studio and fortunately, the big scary instructor had opened up satellite studios and was running one about 40 miles away. He would come to our studio about once or twice a month to fight, as our focus was still full contact fighting.

Not long after beginning I realized a really cool thing…I loved Karate. My passions forms and self defense moves but I was pretty good with fighting as well. After all, at 15 years old the word sore and bruised is not in your vocabulary.

Over time I began to improve, the insulation that had accumulated around my waist when I hit my teen years melted away, and I had fun.

Fighting was not my passion but I found out that long legs and quickness went a long way, even when fighting adults that didn’t hold back. As the years passed I improved. Although I never found a true love of fighting, I got pretty good at it. I was only knocked out once, one broken foot and a nose bleed that didn’t stop for three hours, but I still gave more than I received.

I kept my eye on the prize… a black belt.  Unfortunately, I learned that only 4 had been given in 17 years and I could expect 5 to 6 years for my chance, but that was OK with me…I was having fun.

Years passed, I was now 19 years old and a 3rd degree Brown belt, only a year and a half to go for black belt. Then things changed…I moved. The style of Karate I was taking was unique, and I couldn’t find any studios that taught my style.

I tried different martial arts but I only knew one way to practice, the exact way I had been practicing.

Most of the studios I went to were so different from my old school. I had been practicing longer than a lot of the black belts, was better at fighting than most and this was the stick that I had been taught to measure with. So I stopped looking.

Time passed…more time passed,  Oh My Gosh…is that a grey hair??? Fast forward a couple of decades and now I am a dad. Pretty cool. Martial Arts was the best thing I ever did as a kid and I wanted my children to have the same experience but without my mistakes.

So, I went to google to find a place that met my demanding list. As my wife says “I’m not picky, I just know what I want”.

I wanted a style of martial arts that my kids and I could practice anywhere in the US if we ever moved, a lot of classes so I could go as much as I wanted. Also, a place where my kids and I could take the same classes, and a studio that was very organized.

After searching, I took the advice of one of my patients, I’m a chiropractor, and I checked out Sun Soo.

My first introduction was great, Mr Dickinson was very cool and I found that I remembered a lot from years past.

So, I started. I’ll let you in on a little known secret… muscles really tighten over time. And what’s with this back soreness and popping in my hip…. I’ve never had hip popping????? Nevertheless, I was very pleased, I still had speed and my technique wasn’t too bad. Slowly, my flexibility improved, soreness went away and no more hip popping….cool.

One of the first things I noticed about Sun Soo, was that the sparring was more relaxed, which was great, but it took a little time to acclimate. My only reference was to be aggressive. But being in my 40’s I found that aggression on my part resulted in increased bruising, swelling and overall soreness.

The next thing I noticed was the diversity of students, young, old, excuse me, that’s me so lets say medium. Men, women, children. Wow!! Everyone was having a great time. And the workouts were awesome.

Then, I made yellow belt and was invited to the black belt club. I tend to be a little cynical and my past experiences had been with schools that were more interested in the bottom line…money. So I immediately thought that this invitation must be the financial hook. I actually read the invitation letter three times because I was so convinced that things here were too good to be true…but there was no catch. I couldn’t believe that Sun Soo was doing so much…organized, tons of classes, tournaments, guest instructors, Black Belt club classes and no catches. I was committed.

As time passed I met more people, made friends and began learning about people and how they had grown through Tae Kwon Do. I took time to compare Sun Soo with my prior Karate experiences.  I saw merits in both, but the biggest thing I learned is that when you practice the way I did as a kid is you are eliminating about 90% of the population as potential students.

A few years ago when my oldest son was 18, he told me that he had been thinking about the purpose of life. He said he had narrowed it down to three things;

  1. To have fun
  2. To experience things
  3. To help other people

Martial Arts accomplishes all three. Sun Soo is a place where everyone can find a home. Kids, teenagers, male, female, old, young. Someone that is looking to get into shape, lose weight, meet friends, gain confidence or become a great fighter and compete at whatever level you want. If you want no contact sparring, lite contact or full contact it is up to you. Just this past weekend we had a two hour sparring (tournament fighting) class hosted by a US Olympic Tae Kwon Do Coach and former US heavyweight champion. What an experience and a privilege. Ultimately, Sun Soo provides choices so you can find the fit that is right for you, and I certainly have done that for myself. I have referred many patients from my practice here because the road to health is not found on the couch at home.

My view of martial arts has evolved, now I try to improve myself not only physically, but as a person.  I am working on the tenets of Sun Soo Tae Kwon Do: Courtesy, Integrity, perseverance, indomitable spirit and self control as well as personal goals of humility and patience.

I think we all fall short in some of these areas. So this gives me a goal for the present and the future.

I want to thank Master Morris, all of the instructors and students at Sun Soo Tae Kwon Do for making this wonderful place a reality and I look forward to the future.