I’m a little embarrassed to say what I’m about to say, but I need to say it so that I can be a little less embarrassed about saying it.
I am a 1st degree black belt in the martial art of Kuk Sool. More strictly, Kul Sool Won via World Kul Sool Association under SUH In Hyuk.
There, I said it. And I didn’t die (yet…). 😄
I don’t have a Masters degree. I spent 2 years at Texas A&M in a graduate program, and while I did my thesis proposal, I never wrote nor defended it. I don’t have the degree because life took off – married, job, kid, etc.. I came to peace with it long ago, and part of that coming to peace involved this black belt.
I had a history of not finishing stuff. In Boy Scouts I got to Life rank, got stuck on the Personal Management merit badge (foreshadowing!) and didn’t get my Eagle. I didn’t get my Masters. I failed to complete some important shit in life. I wanted to complete some important shit in life.
Monday afternoon February 17, 2003 I took my first Kuk Sool Won class at South Austin Kuk Sool Won with Sa Bum Num Dewain Perry. I was doing it with my oldest, who was of elementary school age at the time. I needed exercise. I wanted to get better at self defense. I’ve always wanted to study martial arts since I was a kid watching Bruce Lee movies and Saturday morning Kung Fu Action Theater. My 삼촌 (“samchon” – Uncle) was all into it too, and impressionable youth me looked up to him. Part of my choice of Kuk Sool is unquestionably my desire to kinda sorta connect with my Korean heritage a bit more. I know there’s a white dude teaching it, but that doesn’t matter (e.g. in a way, Barry & Choon-Ok Harmon remind me of my father and mother). There’s the language, the history (even as bullshit as a lot of KMA history is), and yes some cultural aspects get brought in. Cannot lie that it got me reading Hangul pretty well, and I think it also helped my daughter connect some too because it brought “Korean stuff” into the household. It was all good.
I was determined to get the black belt because I was going to complete something.
February 18, 2007 – coincidentally exactly 4 years after I started – I earned my 1st degree black belt from the WKSA in Kuk Sool Won. I stayed another couple of years, as the South Austin school closed and Oak Hill opened. Despite beginning testing for my 2nd degree, in 2009 I left because I just didn’t jive with the WKSA business practices. I’m here to practice a martial art, not do drama. I mean, drama happens, but this wasn’t my drama so I changed the channel. It’s all good, no hard feelings. In life’s journey, paths converge and diverge.
Yes, in time I came to see how McDojo things were because WKSA is a business and of a particular era in martial arts history. I mean, as long as my credit card kept processing and I kept showing up, I’d get the black belt. And that I did. But in some regard, that was part of it: to keep showing up. And from showing up, I actually got in pretty good shape. It provided a good cardio and bodyweight workout. You had to move your body, and that’s important for good health. The art being of a hapkido lineage, it traces back to similar if not same roots as BJJ in Japanese jiu jitsu. I mean, there’s only so many ways to lock joints and throw people, so that knowledge is solid. Plus, Dewain was good to throw down, which was cool.
I know today it’s all about the BJJ/MMA. I’m down with it. I don’t practice martial arts much any more beyond occasional seminars because much of the injury, wear-and-tear on my body I earned through martial arts practice. At this point in my life, I’m not interested in more of that. Just my personal choice that I know will eventually get me kilt on the street. I’m ok with it. Meantime, I will just keep lifting things up and putting them down.
I learned a lot. The joint locks and throws were pretty cool (the knife defense, not so much). I enjoyed connecting with my heritage in an oblique way.
And I completed something.
I kept showing up.
I got there.
And I will not be embarrassed about that.