I continued my training in Taekwondo and Hapkido, training on average five to six days per week. In the summer of my first year in the school, I began assisting my instructor in teaching classes. I rode my bike from my house to the next town over every day and would be at the dojang until it closed. On slower days, some classes would be completely empty, and no students would show up. Of course a disappointment to my instructor, it meant a private lesson for me.
I continued to help my instructor around the school, and never lost my love and passion for training. When I reached brown belt level, a fellow student of mine, Brian, contacted a Hapkido master by the name of J.R. West. As it turns out, this master is the president of a well-respected Korean martial arts organization called the United States Korean Martial Arts Federation (USKMAF) and hosts seminars twice per year at his school in Mississippi. Brian was interested in attending and I was not about to let the opportunity pass me by.
Nevertheless, I found myself on a plane as a seventeen year old brown belt travelling halfway across the country to train in martial arts. I was living the dream. Three full, eight hour days of intense Hapkido training encompassed all of my time that weekend and I came back to my school with a wealth of knowledge to pass along. This seminar was one of the best experiences I have had to date in my martial arts career and I attended another seminar hosted by Master West and the USKMAF in Maryland about a year later.
Fast-forward 9 months since the seminar and I was ready to test for black belt. Achieving my 1st Dan remains one of the most important accomplishments of my life. Unfortunately, soon after earning my black belt, I was leaving for college. At eighteen years old, I was in my prime, and more motivated than ever to continue my training.
I walked onto the mat and was greeted by an old, Japanese man with a worn out red and white paneled belt. His name was Ogasawara, Nagayasu Sensei. I did not realize that I would have the opportunity to learn Judo from a legend. I trained quite often, and focused more on my martial arts training than in my studies. Unfortunately, it showed. After only four months of training I decided to quit the Judo club. I had learned some great throws and grappling techniques, but I was not learning what I needed to know for school.
Although I wanted to continue training, I knew that my reason for being at school was for earning a degree, not another black belt. I left the Judo club, but continued refining my Judo techniques with the students of my Taekwondo school every time I had the opportunity to return home during a school break.
I continued my Taekwondo training at every opportunity. Thanksgiving break, winter break, spring break, summer break, etc. However, during my Junior year, I could not resist the craving I had to train again full time. Now having my vehicle at college, I looked around the area for martial arts schools. Right in town, I found a Taekwondo school. One afternoon while driving by I decided to stop in and talk to the instructor. His name was Master Jae Y. Lim, a 6th degree Taekwondo black belt. I introduced myself and told him I was interested in training. I informed him that I was a 1st Dan and due to my Kukkiwon credentials, he was happy to allow me to continue training at my current rank.
Training again full time was one of the most rewarding feelings in the world, although quite expensive, especially for a broke college kid. Luckily I had received a national scholarship through ROTC and the military paid me enough so that I was able to afford martial arts classes. After training with Master Lim and refining my skill, my original instructor, Sabumnim John, felt I was ready for my 2nd Dan promotion, which I received in the summer between my junior and senior year of college.
Besides earning my 2nd Dan that summer, I also travelled to Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington State for the Army's Leadership Development and Assessment Course (LDAC). After a month of rigorous military training, I began another month of training called Cadet Troop Leader Training (CTLT) at Camp Stanley, Republic of Korea. I was so excited because I was travelling to the homeland of Taekwondo.
Unfortunately, while I was in Korea I was mostly doing military training. Because of my short amount of time being there and not being accustomed to the country, I was not allowed to leave post alone. Therefore, whenever I was able to go and explore the country, I had to do so with other military officers. To further my bad luck, I was stationed at one of the smallest posts in Korea, which meant there was not a whole lot to do. Other military posts in the country offered Taekwondo classes to soldiers which were actually quite cheap too. But of course not mine...
A month of living in Korea and I never got to do anything Taekwondo-related. Although I was very disappointed, I still was very thankful I had the opportunity to travel to Korea and become immersed in their culture, even for only a short time. I absolutely plan on returning to the country, though not on the military's terms.
To be continued.