Why Do I practice Tae Soo Do?? The story is a little long but please try and stay with me.
I am a 54 year old trial attorney. I have always loved sports and I played sports throughout high school and college. The sport I loved the most was wrestling. It was a true test of the individual spirit and the drive to succeed. I really believe the lessons I learned in wrestling through the great coaches I have been lucky to have had and the rewards from the hours and hours of hard work I had to put in helped me in all other aspects of my life.
I stopped wrestling over 30 years ago. But 15 years ago I had a son and I wanted to give to him the best education I could that would help him carve out his path in life and to help him to live his dreams. When he was growing up, whenever I did an activity I would take him. This was my wife’s gift to me, as she was not very interested in sweating or breathing hard or getting dirty or any of the other things I lived for. So she gave me a son who loved to go with his dad. He did all my activities with me. I taught him golf, bicycling, snowboarding, surfing, rollerblading, ice skating, rock climbing, baseball and even kayacking. He did ALL these activities, and did them well, before he was even 7. I have pictures of him doing many of these things at 3 and 4 years of age. However none of these sports HOOKED him. He just loved to have fun and would play with Dad, but never got passion for anything.
I would wish on Sat. Mornings he would get up and say, “Dad lets go hit some balls” or go for a blade or anything like that, but he was usually more interested in watching cartoons. He would always come with me though, with a little coaxing (as in bribery) and we always had a great time.
When he was about 9, my wife told me she had taken him to a Tae Kwon Do lesson and did I think she should sign him up. Of course my wife had the economic motive and said it’s a lot cheaper if he signs up for a belt program than paying month to month. I saw this as an opportunity for him get immersed in a sport that I did not really know anything about and that I did not have to teach him myself. At this time I still thought Martial Arts was a sport. Something to participate in for fitness. I did believe he would get life lessons and that it would help him get more independent and confident, not to mention stronger and more athletic/
Ever since my son was a little baby I sparred with him, I wrestled with him, I held him and made him try to escape or get control. I always stressed balance, both mentally and physically. I taught him to stay calm no matter what and to access his situation and then take action. He loved it and he was good at it. He could stand on my shoulders, could balance in the palm of my hand, he was a real amazing boy.
Then I started to go to his tae kwon do practices. I watched him spar. He was calm and cool and always smiling. I went to his belt testing. He was moving up the ranks and in a few years he was ready to test for his black belt. He was 11. One afternoon at a friends birthday party I met his friend’s brother and we talked a bit about martial arts and then about his injuries. I talked about mine and he told me about an acupuncturist that had cured a persistent foot problem he had (mine was my shoulder) so I went to see Mark Chang, an acupuncturist in Santa Monica. Besides helping my shoulder Mark told me about his interest in Martial Arts. I asked him, if he had a son where would he take him to train? He pointed to a stack of Master Lee’s business cards he had right in his office, next to the flyers about health and supplements. I took one and the beginning of my relationship with Tae Soo Do began.
I was not interested in martial arts. I did not want to take tests, I did not want to commit time to a sport I was for sure too old to take up and I had no idea what else they did , but I was not interested–It was for my son. I was already training in the gym 3-4 times a week and doing one or two other activities on the weekends. So I stopped by Master Lee’s school one Sat. after testing. We both went into his office and we talked about what the training was like and about what Master Lee expected from his students–and they would always be his students, no matter how long they studied and trained with him, never his buddies-but I came to learn that he expected much more than I could see at that moment. Also, strangely I became personally interested in Master Lee. He was a very passionate individual, uncompromising in what he expected from his students, as well as himself. I really liked that. So many people in the world would say things with no concern of whether they kept or broke their word. Master Lee was different. There was no getting off easy with him.
There was no hard sell–in fact I think he was somewhat uncomfortable with that part–what he loved was telling about the art and his family tradition and how he loved his students and how hard they worked. With Master Lee, what you saw was what you got. He is intelligent and interesting. And I figured he knew a thing or two about self defense and I was interested in that. He told me the school had recently modified the programs so that everyone would do sparring and grappling, as well as forms and self defense. So I agreed to take a private lesson.
At the lesson a few days later, Master Lee said he wanted to assess my physical abilities. I thought I was pretty limber and agile for my age and that I could handle the practice. But when he said he wanted to show me a simple wrist lock, in a second I was on the ground. I extended my hand to him and in the blink of an eye he had me in complete control–and he had only moved his arm. And he is strong. I was impressed. Maybe this was something I could do and get value out of. So I enrolled myself, as well as my son, in the black belt program.
Meanwhile my son took to it like a fish to water. He made new friends and I could tell he respected Master Lee in a way I had not seen with his interactions with his other martial arts instructor. He would look forward to practice. But there was still a lot of work to be done to balance Tae Soo Do with school.
There were periods where his grades went down and he was given a stern talking to by Master Lee. He switched schools. He was invited onto the TGT, he has been on 2 snowboard trips (as have I) and he is now a brown belt. He has participated in several tournaments and he has been doing very well. He no longer needs to be told to get ready for practice–he gets there early now. These are all the things I had hoped he would gain from this art but the things I think he is learning in terms of his mental outlook on life and activity go much further and will be the things that stay with him long after his body can’t do a perfect jump spin kick. The education he has and will get from Master Lee dwarf participation in flag football or little league. Not that those are bad–they just don’t have Master Lee.
Now back to me. I am still hoping to one day do a decent jump spin kick. I have been doing Tae Soo Do for over 2 years. I have had 2 injuries that required surgical repair (which I had never needed before) but the training I had that kept me from giving up had me do all the therapy I needed to recover completely from both. I love my fellow students and instructors and most of all I love Master Lee. In this world today it is hard to find someone who really loves what they do and loves to help others at the same time. Every practice I am excited and nervous at the same time. Excited because I feel energy going to an organized work out where you have to work very hard. Nervous because I am always the most spastic person in the room and there is no hiding out from the instructors, most of all, Master Lee.
In that regard, what I have learned is there is no way to improve unless you make mistakes. And as long as you keep trying you will get better and make fewer mistakes. But there is no place to coast in Tae Soo Do and Hwa Rang Do. Every belt involves more difficult and complicated moves which are disconcerting and require more focus and more practice. And as soon as I feel like I have the hang of a move, there is something more challenging to work on.
You fall down, you get up. That is what we stress. And after EVERY practice I am drained, having put everything I have into it, and always glad I came. This is not a sport, but a way of life. Sure there is an essential and rewarding fitness aspect to this art, but the energy and mental awareness I have gained since I began my studies are unmistakable. We begin and end each class with a few meditative minutes which takes me away from all the chatter going on in my head.
Thank you Master Lee for allowing me to train at your school and also thank you to Grandmaster for entrusting in you, the future of the warrior spirit.