Although I had first learned of Taekwondo while reading an online forum, I was not initially interested at all. In fact, Taekwondo did not seem to have a very good reputation on the internet. However, I had read about a martial art called Hapkido that really sparked my interest.
After watching demonstrations of the art by masters well into their 70's, throwing attackers left and right with ease, I began wondering where my martial arts training would take me. Analyzing my training, which was mostly Muay Thai based, I realized that I probably would not have the physical ability to perform these techniques at an old age. Seeing this old man on Youtube defend himself with ease made me question my training. I knew I was getting good, quality training, but I wondered how I could possibly keep training to old age in what I was currently doing.
Now that I have matured, it is obvious to me that there was plenty to learn at my school beyond the beginners class I was attending, which mostly focused on the fundamentals of striking. However, being young and naïve, I wanted to learn this new martial art of Hapkido that I had discovered, which I would be able to use to throw people around with ease well into old age. Another thing that I craved, that my Jeet Kune Do school didn't offer me, was a gi and belt. I thought the gi was so cool but in Jeet Kune Do we simply wore a pair of black gi bottoms and a t-shirt. I knew I was learning martial arts, but I wanted to wear the cool martial arts uniform. As silly as it sounds, this was another thing that drew me to Hapkido.
I did a quick search on the internet and to my delight, there was a school in the next town over. I told my mom that I was displeased with where I was currently training and wanted to try this new school out. She called the place and the instructor invited me to come try out a class.
When I arrived, I felt like I was in a real martial arts school. It was a very nice school and had only been open for a few months. Everyone was in a traditional uniform, which I later discovered was called a dobak. Everybody bowed to one another and answered, "Yes, Sir!" when the instructor gave a command. I loved it.
My first class I remember beginning by bowing to the American and Korean flags, to which there was a large, hand-painted Moo Duk Kwan mural in between. The students, of which there were only around four or five at that point, then bowed to their teacher. We began by stretching for about ten minutes, followed by 100 pushups and 100 situps. Then we went into horse stance, which was very new to me coming from a JKD school, and began our basic striking and blocking techniques. All of these were new to me, as I had never learned any sort of traditional block before.
After practicing the basics, the instructor had us practicing breakfalls and rolls, which once again were completely foreign to me. I was absolutely horrible at rolling. After some time practicing these techniques we moved to weapons disarms. I remember learning how to disarm a person attacking with a baseball bat, and a gun disarm as well. We practiced these until the end of class.
When class ended, I knew this was the school I wanted to train at. I told the instructor I wanted to train very bad, but I still had 2 months remaining on my 6-month contract at my other school, and that I would start right away once that expired. He understood, and my mother and I went on our way. The next day, the Hapkido instructor, named John Mattheos, called my home and talked to my mother. He said he felt bad that I was stuck at my old school due to a contract and offered me free classes for the remaining 2 months of my contract at the JKD school. I was very happy and went in to train that very evening.
My mother and I showed up early and signed some paperwork. Sabumnim John then handed me my new uniform. He gave me a patch which was a mix between the Moo Duk Kwan emblem and the Hapkido eagle perched on the arrow. He explained the meaning of the patch to me and told me to go change.
From then on, this is where my love was. I later found out that Hapkido was only a small part of what we did, but we were actually a Taekwondo school that also taught Hapkido. I was very surprised because I remember what I had read and seen on the internet about Taekwondo, and the school I was now training at seemed very different. My instructor told me that this was because we practiced a traditional form of Taekwondo called Taekwondo Moo Duk Kwan. He explained to me that this was one of the first schools of Taekwondo and predated the new Olympic style of Taekwondo, which came around later and took over the TKD world.
At the time all of this meant very little to me, and all I cared about was training. I didn't care what style it was or what organization we belonged to or what rank my teacher was. All I wanted to do was practice and be the best I could be.
My journey will continue in another blog.