Returning to school for my senior year, I was no longer training with Master Lim. I had left his school after my six month contract was up, simply for monetary reasons. To add to my misfortune, my original school closed at the beginning of the school year as well, due to some personal hardships in my instructors life. However, a fellow black belt of mine, the same one who I went to Mississippi with back in 2008, decided he would run the school.
Although he had little experience as an instructor, he kept the school alive. I hated being away at college because I wanted to help him with the school. I felt helpless. However, I was at the dojang every time I had a break from school, just like I had always done. The school hung on for survival for another year, but ultimately, was forced to close.
I was extremely disappointed and I wish I could have done more for my school. I was one of the senior black belts and I was unable to help. This was a very low point for me because the dojang had been my home away from home since I was a young teenager. The people there had become my family. I lost my mother to cancer during my sophomore year of college and my dojang was my biggest source of support for me during that difficult time. And now they were gone...
Finishing up my senior year, I had continued to practice Taekwondo on my own, especially my poomsae. While poomsae training was not at the forefront of my interest while I was in the dojang, it became something I loved to do while I was at college my senior year. I would drive to the park during my free time and climb through the woods to a clearing I had learned about during some of my ROTC training, and I would practice my poomsae there. I began to research and read a lot about poomsae, and today I am fascinated by it. Even though I was not able to train at a Taekwondo school during this time of my life, I feel as though I became a better Taekwondo practitioner because I was forced to look at some of the aspects of my training I had somewhat neglected, or at least misunderstood, all the years I was in the dojang.
In addition, I once again furthered my martial arts knowledge though my friend Brian. He became interested in Silat and came into contact with Maul Mornie, a well-respected and outstanding practitioner of Silat Suffian Bela Diri. Thanks to Brian, I was able to attend two seminars in Silat. One was hosted by one of Maul's students, and the other by Maul himself. The art of Silat is absolutely fascinating and extremely different from Taekwondo. I loved it and would definitely seize the opportunity to train with Maul if I ever have another chance.
Only a short time after training with Maul, I found an opportunity to train under the head Grandmaster of the Taekwondo association I belong to, Grandmaster Rhin Moon Richard Chun. Being in possession of all of his book and longing to train with him, this was an opportunity I was not going to pass up. The event was held at Warwick Town Hall in Warwick, NY by the Chosun Taekwondo Academy, led by Master Doug Cook. The seminar was outstanding and I was honored to finally meet a Taekwondo legend in Grandmaster Chun, and one of his senior students and very well-respected master, especially in the traditional Taekwondo community, Doug Cook, of whom I own many of his books as well.
This gym was not just a Taekwondo school. In fact, they specialized in Muay Thai, a martial art I had some experience with from when I was younger. That summer I spent eight hours per day, six days per week at the gym. I opened the gym, cleaned the gym, did all of the administrative work, answered the phones, signed up prospective students, taught three to four classes per day, and then trained in Muay Thai after I was done teaching. This was the life! Or so I thought...
While I did enjoy teaching Taekwondo, I was forced to teach it in a way I did not want to. Taekwondo was mostly for the kids, while the vast majority of adult students trained in Muay Thai instead. I was teaching under the guidance of a 5th degree black belt, and another instructor who was a competitor for the Egyptian national team. As you can probably guess, the Taekwondo training was very sport-oriented. Not something I was used to.
I did not completely agree with the way I had to train my students, but it wasn't my school, and therefor not up to me. I did my job the best I could and tried to keep an open mind. Another instructor, also an Egyptian competitor, who I came to like, even offered to train me. So whenever he came in, instead of doing Muay Thai, I would train Taekwondo with him. And although it was not the Taekwondo I was used to, I certainly learned a lot from him and my kicking skills improved a lot.
In addition to my kicking skills improving, my overall ability as a martial artist was improving. I was teaching and training at one of New Yorks premier gyms, Sitan Gym. The head instructor of the Long Island branch, Eddie Cuello, where I trained and taught, was an outstanding trainer. The head instructor of the school in Astoria is simply a legend. His name is Aziz Nabih and in addition to being a 5th degree Taekwondo black belt, he is one of the most well-respected Muay Thai trainers in the country. He and Eddie offered me an opportunity to work for them doing something I love, and they trained me as well, making me a much more well rounded martial artist. In fact, Sitan Gym is so well-respected, one of the most famous Thai trainers, Monlit Sitpodang, travelled from Thailand to train our students, including me. It is not every day that you get to train with people of this caliber. I am extremely thankful for Eddie and Aziz being so kind to me and I wish them all the best with their gyms.
Being in the gym eight hours per day, I certainly had plenty of free time to myself. I was constantly practicing my poomsae and working on the heavy bags. After the seminar held by Grandmaster Chun, I had remained in touch with him and eventually spoke to him of my concerns about my martial arts future. It still amazes me at how accommodating Grandmaster Chun is and how willing he is to make time for and help every single one of his students. I have his number in my phone and he has told me time and time again that I can call him whenever I want, if I ever have a question about anything or simply to talk. This is why I love being a part of his association; because he is a true example about what it means to be a Grandmaster. For his help and the time he has taken to help me, I am very grateful.
He had heard that the school I started my training in had closed, but he was pleased that I was continuing to train and now even teach Taekwondo. Listening to my story, and hearing that I was still very active in Taekwondo, receiving instruction by numerous well-respected Taekwondo practitioners, Grandmaster Chun, under the recommendation of my original instructor, promoted me to 3rd degree black belt. Although there was no physical test for this rank, I was honored to accept it.
At the conclusion of the summer, I moved back upstate to my old college town. Unfortunately this meant leaving my job as an instructor and forcing me to put my training on hold once again. However, by chance, I came into contact with a college friend who was interested in starting a Krav Maga club. She was in contact with the owners of Kelevra Krav Maga, Marc Delnicki and Marc Messare, a new and upcoming Krav Maga school in New York. Because of my previous martial arts experience, I was welcome to attend an intensive sixteen hour instructor certification course. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity and travelled to the headquarters school in Saratoga Springs, NY. The course was expremely well put together and even included realistic hijacking scenario training on a real airplane. At the completion of the course I became certified as an associate instructor in Krav Maga.
I am now back on Long Island, but will soon be off to Fort Sill, Oklahoma for the Army Field Artillery Basic Officer Leaders Course (FABOLC) until December of this year. Although this is even more time that I will not be able to train, I am looking forward to getting it out of the way, as this is the last obstacle before I can settle down again without having to constantly be on the move. This means I will once again be able to train full time again, and for this I simply cannot wait!
As of now, this is where I am in my martial arts career.