I’m a little embarrassed to say…

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.

John, “ki training”

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.

Like father, like son

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.

Not Embarrassed

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.

Point, Counterpoint, but a good points

I’m sure the CrossFit world is in a tizzy over Mark Rippetoe’s latest:

For casual exercisers, CrossFit-types and the like, the calculation is a bit different. The vomit I see on the internet – complete lumbar flexion, everything pressed out, everything intentionally rebounded from the floor, all done under the watchful eye of some moron saying “Nice!” – makes me of two minds.

Part of me hopes the fools hurt themselves badly (after all, orthopedic surgeons gotta eat too), and part of me hopes their incompetent, stupid-ass coaches all die in a great Job-like mass of infection (boils, abscessed hemorrhoids, lungs full of fluid, etc.).

It’s both an embarrassment to watch and a testament to the fact that apparently tens of thousands of people don’t know what the fuck they are doing, and have no apparent desire to learn.

But before you get too upset, consider Paul Carter’s recent comments. I don’t know if these are directly in response to Rip’s statements, but the timing was good:

Ok, I can’t stand the crossfit hate. I can’t. I’m so tired of seeing people bitch about it.

Crossfit has tons and tons and eons of women that ended up with hot asses from it. That alone means it has value. Lots of value. An overwhelming amount of value. Value for days. DAT VALUE!

Ok, that’s all. I think this Monster kicked in.


Frankly, they’re both right. And I think it’s worth looking deeper at Rip’s commentary before getting too upset about it.

But the real question here is this: what do you hope to accomplish by doing high-rep snatches, done either correctly or incorrectly? And in either case, is there a better alternative, and why?

His point is one of “why are you doing what you are doing”? What are you hoping to accomplish?

If you are just trying to exercise, fine. For most people, that’s enough. Part of the reason I quit studying Kuk Sool was because it was not taking me towards what I wanted to accomplish (self-defense). But I cannot deny the camaraderie/family was wonderful, nor that it helped me really get in good shape; my physical conditioning was the best it ever was. If you want social aspects, if you want just general better health, sure this is great stuff and thus good for a number of people. But if you want to know better self-defense, try something else.

So it really comes down to what do you want. Why are you doing what you are doing.

If you want a hot ass, then by all means keep CrossFitting. 🙂

If you want to get strong, if you want to get conditioned, Rip’s point is there are better means to accomplish that end.

I follow a Facebook page called “Awkward Gym Moments“. There’s often video posted of people performing activities at the gym that just make you wonder what they are doing. Some of these people are great, because they know what they are doing and don’t care what you think. But certainly there are enough activities going on that do make you scratch your head and wonder what’s going on. It makes you wonder, what are you trying to accomplish? What is your goal, and how is this going to get you there? It doesn’t have to be obvious to the dude surreptitiously videoing you, just so long as you are actually doing something positive towards accomplishing your goals.

This isn’t to put anything nor anyone down. This is about ensuring you have a goal and are working to meet it.

Contrasts, in martial arts

I was flipping through a bunch of pictures on the Mu Sool Won of South Austin Facebook page. It was a few hundred pictures from “seminar”. But there was something different about this seminar. Something about Byung In Lee. It’s too much for  a “comment”, so here I write.

Let me back up and give a little history.

I have a black belt in a martial art known as Kuk Sool. When I received it, I was part of an organization known as the World Kuk Sool Association, which is the original/founding organization of the art, created and run by Kuk Sool’s creator, In Hyuk Suh. In my time in the organization I found the art itself to be a wonderful and practical art, but I grew to discover the art was not for me. I think there was too much “art” and not enough “martial” and I struggled to find people I could work with that wanted more “martial”… demos, spin kicks, acrobatics, all nice, but I’m more concerned with fighting and self-defense. I think Kuk Sool can be very solid in this area, it’s just not really stressed because… there’s not as much money in it. And that’s what ultimately drove me away from Kuk Sool, was the business practices and how so much was kinda cult-like-driven towards isolation and feeding of the parent organization. I’m not saying Kuk Sool nor WKSA are a cult — it’s not; just that things were so driven towards feeding the parent organization, especially money-wise. The last “seminar” I attended was particularly bothersome because they spent every moment they could pimping merch and not really teaching anything of value (exception, the segment with Master Sung Jin on dan bong was worthwhile).

And you see, whenever we had seminars, In Hyuk Suh never taught. He’d come out and speak for a little bit, which sometimes was useful, many times not, and frequently arrogant, then go back and sit in the office and let everyone else teach, like his sons Sung Jin and Alex, or  Barry Harmon. Now, Masters Sung Jin, Alex, and Barry are fantastic teachers and people to learn from, don’t get me wrong there either. But come on… why can’t the founder teach us something? Some say it’s his age, but geez… if all the stuff spouted about the age-defying effects of martial arts practice are to be true, then he should be able to show us just fine. I’ve seen older men and women throwing around 20-somethings — hell, Keiko Fukuda is older and in arguably worse health than In Hyuk Suh but she still gets on the mat!

Anyways, a couple of years ago there was yet another schism within WKSA and many people broke off because of a b.s. “franchise” agreement. WKSA lost a lot of good people, including Byung In Lee. But frankly, WKSA’s loss is the gain for the rest of the world because now Master Lee can do as he wishes, and we’ll all be better off for it.

This is what struck me about those photos.

What do I see in the photos? Well, of course I see Master Lee, with his big smile. The first time I met the man he was smiling and joking with me. In fact, now that I think about it, the very first time I met him I came to visit his school when I lived in north Austin to research it. I recall some other student was warming up the class, but only because he was taking care of business including talking to me. Then he got out on the floor, limbered up a bit, then went right into teaching the class. I’m not sure what his rank was at the time, probably 8th degree? And many times people of such high rank don’t teach the colored belts but have their lower-ranked black belts do so. But not Master Lee.

And so that remains.

What was in the pictures? Master Lee out on the mat. He’s doing everything with the students. He’s directly teaching the students, be it some 3rd degree school owner or some white belt child. Doesn’t matter to him, he’s teaching those who wish to learn.

It was such a study in contrasts to look at how Master Lee carries himself vs. how others carry themselves. I have the highest respect for Master Lee because of the person he is. He’s fun loving, a family man, a bad-ass martial artist, humble, always smiling and joking. If there’s any ego about this man, I’ve never seen it. He’s a good man, in every true sense of the word.

Looking at those pictures just spoke so well about the sort of man he is. I don’t see myself going back to Kuk Sool, but so long as he’s teaching the art and producing good students willing to carry on, the art will recover and do alright.

What to do… what to do….

This is one of those times where the blog is more for me… where I want to write something to help me think through it, to help me remember what I’m thinking. But if someone wants to comment, great.

I’ve got some things rolling around in my head. Trying to think about what to do.

Guns, specifically reloading

One gun thing that I’m not waffling about… I need to step back on my formal working and step up my informal working. That is, be it teaching classes or taking classes, I have to be selective and moderate here. I’ve been really diving into this because there’s so much I want to do, but it’s consuming too much time and I have to pull back. Because the flip side is, I have to get to the range more regularly. The trouble is going to the range is a massive time sink for me but you know… if the ONLY thing I can do is go to the local indoor range and do “abridged” work (e.g. can’t practice draw from concealment, but I can practice press-outs, I can practice 25 yard groups) well, so be it. Some live fire is better than none, and if my only recourse is the local indoor range well, so be it.

On the reloading front…. as you can see, I’m getting back on the ball with .38 Special. If I keep up with it, even if I slack off a day or two here and there, it should be done by the end of the month. So… rifle time. But, what? .223? 6.8? .308?

I recall when I did rifle last time (which was my first time ever with rifle reloading), I had a dog of a time and it just wasn’t happening. Why? Potentially numerous factors, but too difficult and costly (time and money) to nail down. But my thinking then was to just load cheap 55 grain .223 FMJ’s using well-establish recipes and see how that did. Work out any bugs in technique or gun issues or whatever, then go back to serious loads (e.g. hunting stuff). Since that time I’ve gotten into 6.8 SPC and really want to reload for that… but the main reason there? Because I want to use those Barnes 6.8 SPC 95 grain TTSX’s, which you can’t get in a factory load. The thing is tho, reloading 6.8 is just costly, period. Even trying to do “cheap plinking loads” isn’t cheap. And for whatever reason, a few days ago I got some itch to do .308.

Yes. My present leaning is to do .308 Win. Why? I’m not really sure, but I think it’s because .308 is such a great caliber and well.. it’d be cool to do something beefy. 🙂  It’s kinda hard to do .308 wrong… so many people just say “yeah… 45 grains of Varget or 4895 and you’re good to go”. I’ve got a bunch of 147 grain FMJBT’s from Dock, I’ve got powder, I’ve got primers, I’ve got cases, I’ve got dies and shell holders and everything you need. Why not? My thinking? The new range up north has really long yardage. I’ve been toying with the idea of an elk hunt with my Dad. If I want to do that? I probably should be able to ring the gong on demand out to 500 yards. So… working up a .308 plinking load would be in my best interest. And once I can ring the gong like that, then get some Barnes 168 grain TTSX (or maybe 180 grain, if my rifle can handle it) and make a hunting load.

So I don’t know. I may well change my mind again. But I picked up 1000 CCI #200 large rifle primers today, and my present leaning is .308 Win, just cuz. 🙂

Empty Hand Martial Arts

I stopped Kuk Sool practice for 2 main reasons: tired of the political bullshit and greed, tired of the lame-ass training approach. The art is sound, and while it has things I don’t care about (e.g. sword), it’s rather solid in its foundations so long as it’s taught and trained in a practical way.

That’s part of why I went to Kali, Silat, Muay Thai, JKD, boxing: practicalness. I wanted to focus (thus why I didn’t add BJJ to the mix), I wanted more practical, where people did spar and go to town. Where a takedown was performed and you went to the mat because you were put there, not because you said “ok, and now I cooperatively fall to the ground”. The only real reason I stopped this was a practical one: just couldn’t make classes.

So I’ve been out of the formal mix for some months and want to get back to it. I have been thinking about Aikido and even paid a brief visit to a local dojo. Been talking to an old friend about it, reading up. And while there’s something about Aikido that interests me, for some reason I just can’t pull the trigger on it. Yes the philosophical notions are interesting to me to explore, but they conflict with my own philosophy. Furthermore, let’s just be frank — I like hitting things. 🙂  There’s really no striking in Aikido (yes there is atemi, but certainly nothing like say Muay Thai). Plus you have to find the right school, because Aikido spans so much and risks being watered down and too new-agey-touchy-feely; old-school Aikido I could be cool with.

So I found this one school, “Martial Arts Center of Austin“. I know the location and well, while the website doesn’t strictly say, I know that was Brian Duffy‘s place. Brian Duffy’s a legit guy in the world of Ed Parker’s American Kenpo. I even recall my old Kuk Sool teacher, Dewain Perry, telling me how he and guys from Duffy’s school would get together and full-contact spar all the time, only having to stop because they were getting too hurt from going too rough (they liked to “go”). 🙂 Thing is, last few times I drove by that place I don’t think I saw Duffy’s name on it. And if you look at this MACA website, they are really devoid of any idea of who is running the place… no instructor names, no instructor bios. But I do see Kenpo on the schedule. The schedule tho… it’s got a ton of stuff, seems an eclectic place. Not 100% sure what to make of it. Then over here, this guy reviews all the Aikido-related places around Austin and spoke highly of MACA. I’m not sure what to make of the place

But the real kicker? Watching the videos of that school rekindled a desire for particular training. Yeah, I kinda like traditional arts, formal but not uptight. In the end, the body only moves in so many ways, and heck, if we want to talk about Aikijujitsu lineages then Kuk Sool eventually falls from that tree (look at the Hapkido bridge). So really, what’s the difference?  I have had thoughts about rejoining Kuk Sool, because I didn’t get to leave it under the circumstances I wanted to. Especially now that Master Lee has broken off from WKSA gosh… he’s a great guy, worthy of respect because of who he is, not what he is. I know if I joined up that way, there’d be no real political b.s. to have to deal with. But what about training? As much as I love Master Les and know HE can be a pretty hardcore guy, the way he runs his school is very family oriented and NOT hardcore at all.

While out shopping I ran into an old training buddy, Ricky. We got our 1st degree black belts together, and were testing together for 2nd, so we were “classmates”. Of course, I left, but he stayed on because it’s been his dream to have his own school. Well, when Master Lee broke off, he did too, and started his own school. Running into him today was purely by chance, but it was really cool to see him and his wife and talk about things. He extended an open invitation for me to work out at his school any time and I may just take him up on it…. dust off the dobok and see how much I’ve forgotten. 😉  The cool thing? Talking to Ricky about how they train there. They are of similar philosophy to me, which is good. But also slightly different, for Ricky and the old school stable of friends well… they’re all at least 10 years younger and me and with slightly different motivations and goals than I have (e.g. I just can’t do the gymnastics they like doing). Will it mesh? Will it work? I’m not sure. Plus, could I have the long-term growth that I want? The freedom to explore and work “outside the box”? I’m not sure. But that this happened is good as it gives me more options.

So I don’t know. There’s a lot swirling around and perhaps there’s a reason I haven’t been able to pull the trigger on things. That I bumped into Ricky was odd, but perhaps part of the bigger picture. Don’t know, we’ll see.

But I think I might dust off my dobok and see how much I remember. 🙂

Advanced (Kuk Sool) Kick Routine

I’m cleaning up some files on my computer and I came across a file that contained an advanced kick routine that KJN Dewain Perry had us do from time to time. I don’t know if this is a wider Kuk Sool kick routine or just something Dewain came up with, but it’s certainly a challenging kick sequence.

You start in defensive stance (Bahng Uh Jah Sae)

  • Rear leg inside kick
    • You’ll end up in offensive stance
  • High 360º spin kick
  • Low 360º spin kick
  • Jump 360º spin kick
    • End up in offensive stance
  • Switch your stance (back to defensive)
  • Popup (front leg) outside kick
  • Rear leg roundhouse kick
    • Now in offensive stance
  • 360º spin kick
  • Rear leg inside kick
  • Jump inside kick
    • End in defensive stance
  • Popup side kick
  • Popup hook kick
  • Spin back kick
    • Now in offensive stance
  • Jump spin back kick
    • Now in defensive stance
  • Step through/across 360º spin kick
  • Double front kick
  • Split kick
  • Scissors kick

Don’t ask me to demo it. 🙂

Kuk Sool Cane – He-Young Kimm

Cool video of Dr. He-Young Kimm. This was back when he was in the World Kuk Sool Association (WKSA). Demonstration of cane technique. Thing is, these aren’t the rote 10 Ji Pang Ee techniques. You can see the fundamentals are all there, but it’s more.

Improvised Weapons – Magazine

While we all would prefer to have the right tool for the job, sometimes you just have to roll with what’s available to you. Improvised tools and weaponry is better than nothing.

A rolled up magazine? Yes, you could use that as an improvised weapon. A lot of dan bong techniques can be applied using a rolled up magazine.

But really… the best thing about using a magazine as a weapon? The comedy gold:

Updated: hrm. Seems the video changed to private after I posted it. Updated with new link.

Dewain Perry – Black Belt Magazine

Black Belt Magazine has made much of their archives available via Google Books.

The March 1993 issue contains some mentions of my former Kuk Sool teacher, Dewain Perry.

The article is coverage of a WKSA tournament. I actually recall seeing these pictures and article snippets in a framed “collage” in my old dojang.

And although sparring is not heavily emphasized in the kuk sool system, you would never have known it by the tournament’s strident matches. In the men’s first-degree black belt middle-weight final, Richard Brown’s power proved too much for Dewain Perry’s finesse. The men’s second-degree black belt heavy-weight final was a war of titans, as Darren Hart defeated Daniel Vincent Jolly for the title.

(above image is a screen-capture from the Black Belt Magazine online archive, preserved here in a local image in case the BB Mag version ever goes away).

The same article mentions Dewain taking 1st place in sword form (1st degree, 14-34) and techniques (1st degree men). Frankly neither of those surprise me as Dewain was always excellent with sword and technique work.

Another cool thing about the article was seeing all the people that were 1st and 2nd degree winners, and seeing how many of those people are now 5th or 6th degree Masters, school owners, and other such things. Sometimes it’s hard to believe they ever were white belts.

Interview with Dr. He-Young Kimm

Interview with Dr. He-Young Kimm, founder of Han Mu Do.

Provides an explanation of Han Mu Do, what it is, where it came from, philosophy, with lots of display.

I did find it interesting that in the discussion of his background he didn’t mention his connection with Kuk Sool. Might not be anything significant (it’s an interview, only so much detail can be said) but still a lot of HMD’s technique work comes from Hapkido and Kuk Sool.

Cane Trials – Update

James over at hellinahandbasket just posted his investigations into cane durability. This was something spurred by one of my postings, and it’s great that he sought to check this stuff out. Thanx, James!

It should be noted that James was looking at general durability for whacking someone with a cane. For many people, this is probably all they would do with a cane, using it to strike people in an untrained manner. Don’t get me wrong, there’s certainly nothing wrong with this. My personal goals are slightly different, being able to use a cane for locking, throwing, trapping, and other such things in addition to striking (my background in Kuk Sool and Kali give me many options). Nevertheless, if a cane can’t take a good whack against a tree, it’s doubtful it would be useful in any other way.

If you are going for a cane to just strike someone about the head and shoulders with, I would recommend a lighter cane. Yes more mass (at the same velocity) would yield more force upon impact, but more mass also means more momentum to have to bring to a stop, which you may well need to do to strike again especially if your first one missed. But exactly how heavy the cane should be depends 100% upon you, the way you’ll use the cane, and your strength and ability. Make sure you check this out and don’t settle on a cane until you find one that you can properly wield to suit your goals.

The lucite cane surprised me. But if it works, it works. I would want to feel it for heft and grip before I bought and/or settled on it, but the durability was nice to see. I wonder how easily you can trim the cane for a walking fit, or if it can be ordered to size.

On the other hand, the lack of durability in the rattan cane surprised me. I’ve used rattan staffs in Kuk Sool and we’ve struck each other at full force, no harm. I use rattan sticks in my kali practice, and we strike full force, no harm. I’ve struck the trees in my yard with these sticks, no harm. So I can only assume that it’s not rattan, but perhaps the construction of that particular cane.

In the end, James is right: some cane is better than no cane. Even those purely medical canes are better than nothing (tho they are certainly bottom of the list). But do you need to go out and spend big bucks on some specialty martial arts cane? Probably not. There is advantage there as they are certainly purpose-built (especially when looking at a training cane to ensure the “mouth” of the crook is wide enough to minimize chances of injury to a training partner), but they certainly aren’t a hard-fast requirement. I would also encourage anyone that opts to use a cane for self-defense to get some sort of training with it and to practice with it.

Thanx again, James!