Five Basic Exercises for Martial Artists to Build Strength

Kuk Sool Won of Muncie team at a Kuk Sool Won workshop in Dayton, Ohio.

There are several components essential for fitness in general and self-defense specifically. Those are:

  • Strength
  • Flexibility/Mobility
  • Speed
  • Knowledge/Understanding

This article, like our classes recently, will focus on Strength. As we move through the year, our focus will shift, and I’ll post articles on the other components.

In the Classroom

For those of you who aren’t currently students, here’s a brief overview of the way our school runs. Class begins with a formal bowing-in ceremony wherein we give respect to our country, our martial art association, and all of our instructors. After that, we warm-up.

The length and composition of the warm-up phase depend on the class and the weather. During very cold weather, I never skip the group warm-up. In the summer, if I have an advanced class, I might have them skip the formal warm-up and just begin training slowly until they break a light sweat. The warm-up isn’t about stretching, it’s about moving the body, and raising the temperature to make injury less likely.

Next, we work on a fundamental skill: likely one of the components listed above. I won’t go into it too deeply in this article, but we don’t do flexibility work at this point unless that’s the subject of the entire class. So, it will either be strength, speed, or fundamental martial art technique like kicking, punching or falling.

After that, we work on material specific to the student’s rank. It could be forms, techniques, or more fundamentals (we don’t teach every kick or hand technique at the same level.)

The end of the class is the time when we might focus on flexibility, but we could just as easily work on strength. And, you know, the two aren’t mutually exclusive. At any rate, the point of this part of the class is to cool down a little, reinforce what we’ve been working on, and answer questions.

So, all of this is to say that the exercises we’re talking about could be part of your warm-up, or they could be part of your skill-building or even your cool-down. However you use them, the important thing is to work on the exercises as if they were a martial art technique. Pay attention to geometry (the shape your joints and limbs make, arms relative to spine, spine relative to floor, etc.) Pay attention to the tension that you’re holding, whether you’re relaxed or tense where appropriate. Can you do the exercise slowly, or are you forced to finish quickly to avoid losing balance?

Strength

For martial artists, building strength is not about building muscle mass. I mean, if you want to, I can show you how, but strictly speaking about martial art activities, extra muscle mass just gets in the way. And, it turns out, it’s not necessary unless you’re very out of shape. If that’s you, then yeah, you’ll build some muscle, but mostly they’ll change shape, get rounder and be more noticeable. What we’re looking for when it comes to strength is the way our brain and muscles work together, and believe it or not, that changes with practice. Strength is a skill that you need to practice as sure as a spin kick is.

So, how do we practice to improve strength without inducing hypertrophy (the overgrowth of muscle tissue)? Work really hard, but keep your repetitions low. That’s basically it. Work hard, but don’t kill yourself. Sets of three to five are enough to enhance neuro-muscular coordination, but not enough to trigger hypertrophy. If you do three sets of these exercises and in each set do them three to five times, you’ll be set. And the sets don’t have to be consecutive. You can do one set with breakfast, another with lunch and the last before dinner, and you’ll get just as much benefit as if you did them back to back. More probably, because the more you allow your nervous system to recover between sets, the better. You don’t want to start your next set if you’re out of breath or shaky from the previous set.

The Exercises

The exercises themselves are pretty simple. There are three basic chains that we, as humans, need to exercise regularly to be healthy: a push, a pull, and a squat. We’re using Dancer Push-Ups, Slo-Mo Squats, and Let-Me-Ups.

Dancer Push-Ups

These are done very slowly on the hands and feet, but the feet may be separated by a foot or two, if you wish, for stability. After completing the push part of the push-up, raise your left hand and gently turn and point to the

Dancer Push-Ups
Dancer Push-Ups

ceiling, keeping your eyes on your hand. Hold for a moment, then slowly bring your hand back down to the floor. Do a push-up and then do the same with your right hand, again, keeping your eyes on your hand all the way. That’s one repetition.

If doing three of these (that’s six slow-motion push-ups) is too much for you, then skip the push-up between the two hand raises so that you’re only doing one push-up, left hand, right hand, etc.

If your push-ups from the floor aren’t up to speed, don’t worry about it. Elevate your hands rather than dropping to your knees. Use a countertop or the back of a sofa if you need to (or even a wall). If you have a stairway in your house, that’s a good place to practice push-ups. Pick the step that is high enough that you can do three solid push-ups, then practice there until you can do five with no problem, then move down a step, etc.

Slo-Mo Squats

These are pretty easy unless you have knee problems or ankle restrictions. Knee issues aren’t uncommon, while ankle restrictions are rampant in our culture (due to wearing shoes all of the time, I’m sure.) If your hips aren’t free,

Slo-Mo Squat
Slo-Mo Squat

you’ll also have trouble. That’s why we’re doing them. Feel free to use support in the beginning.

Start with your feet about shoulder width, reach your hands out in front of you for balance, then drop your hips straight toward the floor. Your knees may move forward, but don’t let them move past your toes. Speaking of your toes, they may want to splay out to the sides. You can let them, but eventually, you’ll want to work on keeping them pointing straight forward (practice). Your shoulders will drift forward. Don’t let them. Think about keeping your spine vertical throughout the exercise (it won’t happen at first, but practice). Try to drop so deep that your hips sit down between your ankles, but don’t be surprised if they won’t even make it to knee-high.

Take about three seconds on the way down, pause for a beat or two, and then three seconds on the way up. You’re only starting with three repetitions. Take long enough that you can enjoy them.

Let-Me-Ups

These might be a little harder for you if you’re playing along at home. This is a pull-up variation that we do in the school with two partners. Your partners will hold a hardwood staff about waist high. You bend your knees and grasp the staff and pull your chest to it. There are a lot of ways to cheat on this, which is good because most people can’t do regular pull-ups. Having your knees bent allows you to use your legs as much as you need to allow the exercise to succeed. The trick is in not using too much help from your legs.

Let-Me-Up
Let-Me-Up

If your partners are strong, you can begin to raise the staff higher, changing the angle of the exercise to that of a more traditional pull-up, but don’t do this until you can do the exercise with your knees extended and your feet elevated.
At home, you might be able to use a broom handle supported between two chairs, or at the corner of the kitchen counter. Use your imagination. Pull-up bars are widely available and you could begin with one of those and a tall chair or step ladder. If you have a good idea to modify this so that you don’t need partners or other equipment, feel free to share it in the comment section.

Martial Artists

The two strength exercises that martial artists need to add are Kicho Cha Ki and Slo-Mo Side Kicks.

Kicho Cha Ki

Hand strength, in my opinion, is the single quality that could have the most impact on surviving a self-defense situation. Doing Kicho Cha Ki slowly will help condition the muscles of the hand and forearm to work properly throughout their full range of motion. It also balances the strength between

Kicho Cha Ki
Kicho Cha Ki

the flexors and extensors, rendering the wrist more stable and the fingers less vulnerable.

Doing the exercise quickly isn’t so much about strength as speed, but I do it for five seconds anyway because it makes them feel better after the Slo-Mo crunches and extensions. (When I’m talking about Kicho Cha Ki here, it’s just the clenching of fists and extension of fingers to the splayed position, not the six stances.)

Slo-Mo Side Kick

We work on the side kick for a couple of reasons. Most people who come to me have tight hips and groin muscles. Tightness is your body’s way of protecting joints whose muscles are weak. If you strengthen the muscles, you can work out the tightness. Trying to banish tightness without increasing strength is a losing battle.

Slo-Mo Side Kick
Slo-Mo Side Kick

On the Slo-Mo Side Kick, start in horse stance and chamber one leg, extend as high as possible, then rechamber, and rebalance, and then work the other side. If you alternate sides each time, like with the Dancer Push-Ups, it allows the muscles on that side to recover a bit. Recovery is good. You want to practice perfect repetitions, not mindless number games.

Only kick as high as you can control. Keep your eyes on your kick, not the opposite wall. Blade your kick properly, position the opposite foot so that the heel is pointing to the target. When you chamber and re-chamber the kick, think of touching your knee to the opposite shoulder (it probably won’t, but that will get it moving in the right direction.) If you need to use support in the beginning, that’s fine. Touch a wall, a chair, whatever. Just don’t clutch it, and wean yourself away quickly.

In all of these exercises, quality is vastly more important than quantity. Master Suh sometimes talks about how 1>1000: this is what he’s talking about. Be conscious of every repetition so that each one is worth more than a thousand mindless kicks or push-ups.

Routine

Kicho Cha Ki  3-5x slow closing then opening followed by 5 seconds opening and closing as fast and as big as possible

Dancer Push-Ups 3-5x – alternate sides

Slo-Mo Squats 3-5x

Let-Me-Ups 3-5x

Slo-Mo Side Kicks 3-5x – alternate sides

I like to do two sets for a warm-up, and then one set for a cool-down at the end of class.


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Dojahng Protocol and Ancient Lessons

2016 Kuk Sool Won of Muncie team at Super Seminar

This article was originally published in our June 2007 newsletter. 

Dojahng Protocol is confusing for many students and parents. Why? Simply put it is all foreign to them. The art we teach and all of what we do is related to Eastern philosophy. A person who has never studied these concepts will have a difficult time understanding them. Many who have studied Eastern philosophy still have a hard time with some of it. The fact is it takes years of study actually to get it. It is simply a different way of thought.

Here are a few examples of how a martial artist friend of mine made a fool of himself because he didn’t understand Eastern culture:

During my first trip to Japan in 1992, I ordered soda from a fast food joint. When I received my order, the cup was not entirely filled to the rim. I thought I was being ripped off and asked for it to be filled up. I was very adamant about it, border lining being rude. The locals would accommodate by filling it up. Later I found that it was tradition, stemming from the tea cup. The tea cup was never filled due to the heat of the cup as well as the nature of the tea ceremony. My actions were going against tradition.

Another time I was on a train and was being shoved back and forth and treated rudely according to American Standards. When I was about to lash out, my teacher said, this is common here. It is not entirely good manners but is an everyday occurrence. People don’t take offense to it as they do in the States. I immediately calmed down and found humor in it.

How do these stories relate to martial art training? If you think about it, the word “martial” means military. Military Art is what my students practice. The simple fact is this: it is not only about battle and fighting. What we learn are life-skills. The lessons learned in martial art reach deeply into all aspects of a student’s life. Martial art is adapted for use in many ordinary situations, much more so than other sports or activities that a person could be involved in.

Think about someone who has a hard time at work or school. If they know from Kuk Sool that resistance meeting resistance is a waste of energy, then they might understand that they need to flow and adapt. This can turn a bad day into a good one! Life is not as difficult when seen through “martial” eyes. I don’t think any other activity quite compares. I believe martial art will be beneficial to all students young and old.

My goal as a teacher or the Head Instructor of Kuk Sool Won™ of Muncie is to help each student maximize their potential whether they are young or old. Through the virtues of the martial arts, I am positive that my students will find benefits beyond their wildest dreams. The real lesson is to understand that your teacher (whether myself or any of our instructors, Kuk Sa Nim, or the masters) has a great deal to share with you. If you trust in them, then you should take the lessons to heart and adapt them to your life. Do not second guess them, trust them to help mold your future. Steven Seagal once said, “Take ten years to find the right sensei (teacher) and follow them till death, rather than finding a sensei and training with them for ten years and finding out they are not right for you.”

Since we are going to be seeing Kuk Sa Nim and other masters this month, I want to introduce some Protocol Lessons for you to integrate into your training. You might be surprised at some of them. Some of them might make you laugh, but remember that they are from a culture that is based on rules of conduct between people that was designed to reduce friction and increase harmony. We can take these lessons and, again, integrate them into our lives and become stronger and better able to handle challenging situations as they arise.

Protocol Lesson #1

Never call your instructor by their first name. Always call them by their title or Mr. or Miss. no matter where you are. Once you respect your instructor call them by their title now and forever.

Protocol Lesson #2

It is considered very impolite to touch your instructor unless asked to do so. This would include patting on the back, shaking hands or a high five. Now, I don’t have a problem with this behavior. It is very gratifying when my students come up and hug me after class (which happens surprisingly often.) But, unless Kuk Sa Nim reaches out for a handshake, a bow will suffice.

Protocol Lesson #3

Service is a part of your training. Just like doing community service for a charity, it is important to give back a bit above and beyond. You should engage in random acts of kindness that incorporate your dojahng. Help clean, paint, advertise, and refer new members. These are all parts of keeping the dojahng alive and well. Without it, the dojahng is non-existent.

Protocol Lesson #4

Don’t request promotion. Wait patiently. If you are discouraged, speak to your teacher, but do not pressure them. When the time is right, belts are awarded. Remember the promotion is an honor and privilege, not a right. There are many reasons a student may or may not receive a promotion. It is up to the instructor to decide on that individual’s time and merit.

Protocol Lesson #5

Always, show up to class prepared. Be up to date on all your gear. Have a complete uniform, cleaned and ready to go. Excuses are a sign of weakness. When you become a martial artist, it is time to step up and be responsible. As Uncle Ben said in the movie Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” You need to be responsible. By the way, parents can’t take the blame for a student not being prepared. This is not a good lesson to teach. I often hear parents say, “It is my fault he is not prepared.” Think about the lesson: try always to be prepared. Kids emulate what they see and hear.


These lessons are meant to enhance your appreciation for and enjoyment of the martial arts. I’m not some control freak that HAS to be called “Sir” for my day to be complete. My nature is to be fairly laid back and comfortable in my day-to-day interaction with people. But that’s not how we do things in Kuk Sool. We are fairly formal with each other. If you follow these rules (and even use them in your life outside the dojahng), you will enjoy your training more and get more benefit from it.

St. Louis Tournament and Testing Recap

As usual, the competition in St. Louis this year was intense. Lots of tough competitors attend this tournament. Also as usual, even though we had few competitors, we acquitted ourselves well.

For our school, the weekend began with Blackbelt Testing on Friday evening. We had three students testing, JKN Anna Dodd, began testing for Second Degree Blackbelt, and DBNs Pam and Katie Turner logged another test towards their First Degree Blackbelt. The test was just about two hours and was a little different from previous headquarters tests. Still, it was both physically and mentally challenging and gave everyone involved a good sense of where they stand and how much more practice they still need.

The next day, Saturday, was the tournament itself. Team KSWoM came away with a very respectable 12 medals collectively! JKN Anna Dodd received third place in Staff Form. DBN Pam Turner received first place in Forms, Techniques, Staff Spinning, and Breaking, and fourth place in Sparring. DBN Katie Turner received third place in Techniques and Staff Spinning, and fourth place in Sparring. Blue Belt David Spell received second place in Forms, third place in Techniques, and fourth in Sparring.

I did a little math, and if you extrapolate the points per person that we accumulated, we would have done very well with the numbers of competitors that other schools took with them (fifty competitors at that rate would have put us in third place overall in the school rankings.)

I’m not ruling out attending the Midwest Tournament next year, but we are definitely planning to attend the East Coast tournament in early April. It will be held in (or near) Washington, D.C. Shil Jang Nim Krystal is already planning the trip. If anyone is interested in doing a D.C. sightseeing trip with us, please contact her. I would rather do the sightseeing after the tournament so that we don’t miss valuable training time, but we’ll see what she comes up with.

Was: Cleaning Day, Now: A New Day

This is a strange post to be writing.

Initially, I was going to request everyone’s help next month to spruce up the school. I wanted to take a Saturday afternoon in the middle of May and do some painting, plant some flowers, etc. Here’s the email that I sent to the Senior Center.

Hi Judy,

Thank you for getting the floor cleaned so quickly last week. I don’t like to complain. The floor is usually bad after the weekend, but it was particularly awful that day.

I want to ask about something I talked to Bruce about a couple of years ago but never received an answer. I would like to have my students do a “Cleaning Day.” We are preparing for a tournament the last weekend in April, so ideally it would be after that.

I would like to focus on our room and entryway, but if there were other projects, I would be willing to consider them as well. We could do things like:

  • Finish painting the large wall.
  • Clean and refinish the wooden counter-top.
  • Mend the cabinets.
  • Scrub the tables and chairs.
  • Paint with new (muted) colors.
  • Plant flowers.

Of course, we would pay for whatever materials were needed.

On another topic, we need better mats for the floor and are preparing to do a fund-raiser to purchase them. The mats I have in mind would be wall-to-wall (or nearly so), and like now, we would put them down and pick them up every night. I would be willing to allow the yoga class to use them as well since they seem to have problems with their mats going missing.

The reason I’m mentioning this to you is that they would need to be stored in the storage room and would be somewhat bulky. I didn’t want to add anything else back there without talking to you first.

Let me know what you think.

Sincerely,

I didn’t receive a response for a long time, but finally, in response to an unrelated email, I was asked to contact the board president. I waited a few days since I was sick and could barely talk without coughing. When I did speak with him, he asked to meet me the following Friday, presumably to discuss plans for cleaning and sprucing up the room. I rearranged my schedule so that I would have plenty of time to talk with him.

He never showed for the meeting.

I texted, and the only response I got is that the board was meeting to discuss matters and that they would call afterward. I never received a call but found a letter taped to the wall when I arrived for class. There was a letter inside that stated that the Center was terminating our agreement on the first of May.

Their reasons? Budgetary mostly. They have seen massive cuts to their budget over the past few years. Our rent, due to some challenges the past few months, has been a little slow, but we were catching up quickly. Considering that the previous two years we had the rent paid six months or more in advance, I wouldn’t expect that to be a major reason for giving us the boot. Well, their reasons are their own. I have a good idea what caused the unceremonious severing of our relationship, and it has nothing to do with us.

What does this mean for us as a school?

Having been given only two weeks to find a new home for the school, I think we should expect some downtime. I have a good place for us in mind, but it is nowhere near being a done deal. There is still a chance that we can accomplish the move and be up and running by the first of the month. Things are, of course, complicated by the fact of the Midwest Tournament next weekend. We will be out of town from Wednesday through Sunday.

Students can expect a phone call as soon as I have a deal hammered out somewhere. Since we have students planning to promote to Blackbelt in June, it is imperative to me to restart classes as quickly as possible.

I feel something like a teenager being thrust out on my own. The Senior Center was always meant to be a short-term location for us. We’ve been here too long. It’s time to take our chances out in the world…again.

United Outrage

I’m going to assume that you’ve seen the images and read the stories of the man dragged forcibly from the United flight in Chicago. The story has gone viral via several recordings of the incident that were widely shared on news and social media.
I usually avoid watching the news. I like to feel good, and it makes me feel bad. I looked at this story though because I was curious what the rationale of the airline would be. Once I watched the videos and read the story, I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Now, I feel sure we don’t have the whole story about this man. His extreme reaction, not only to being “reaccommodated,” but when he escaped police and returned to the plane, was bizarre. More information will come out soon.
The thing that compelled me to write was the other passengers’ reactions to this man’s mistreatment. Many of them were angry; some were offended. A few were voicing their displeasure with the ham-fisted tactics of the police. But nobody was outraged enough to stand up and defend him.

Why?

Were they afraid of the airline, worried that they would lose their seats if they stood up? Were they scared of being arrested if they defied the police?
I’m not sure. I would guess that they were in shock. Brutality, if you’re not used to it, is always shocking.

Thugs, abusers, and manipulators of all kinds know this well. They prey on people unused to their particular brand of brutality and take advantage of the ignorant selfishness of innocence. People like Ted Bundy, the serial killer, fake injury or helplessness to gain their victim’s trust. Sometimes, a thug will simply sucker punch his target, relying on the physical shock and confusion to allow them to have their way.
Of course, it’s not only physical brutality that we’re talking about here. There are people in our society that rely on nonphysical attacks to surprise, shock, and disorient their victims. We’ve all become familiar with the term “gaslighting” over the past few months. People who use this tactic are no less brutal than physical abusers.

I don’t want to spend a long time talking about abuse and brutality here. I just want you to think about it. I want my students, and everyone reading this blog, to be aware. Watch the things going on around you. Be involved.
I can’t say that I would have confronted those airport police had I been on that plane. The truth is, I might have been as hypnotized by the situation as everyone else.

But not anymore.

I’ll recognize those actions if I see them again. I’ve already decided that I’m not happy sitting by while people are abused by those in authority. If I can make a difference by interfering, then that’s what I’ll do. I hope you will too.

Local Events

As part of my ongoing mission to help make Muncie a better place through the practice of martial art, I’ve committed to being involved in more community events this year. Since we participated in precisely one event last year, that won’t be a hard goal to reach.
We’re participating in the 18th Annual Children’s Health Fair at the Muncie Children’s Museum this Saturday.

Still, I want to do a lot more. If you know of (or learn of) an event that might benefit from our participation, please let me know. I’m thinking of things like health/wellness fairs (both for children and adults), festivals, open houses, women’s events, safety meetings, church functions, etc.

In the past, I’ve done self-defense seminars for seniors where we talked not only about physical self-defense, but life-hacks to ensure safety. I’ve done workplace seminars on the health benefits of martial art. I’ve done demonstrations for disabled services, schools, festivals, etc. We used to do demonstrations during Ribfest in the children’s area but grew tired of fighting to be heard over the drunk rednecks. That’s not a great venue for us.
I’ll take photos and post them here with a little write-up whenever we do an event this year.
Again, keep us in mind for your church, school, or business. We’d love to spread the word about Kuk Sool Won and the physical, mental, social, and spiritual benefits that our members share.

A Look Back at Twelve Years

Tomorrow Kuk Sool Won of Muncie will officially celebrate its twelfth anniversary! We had our first class on April first, 2005. We didn’t have any regular students yet, we hadn’t finished painting, and we didn’t have the carpet down.

My little sister, Trinity was there in her new uniform, along with my kids and my wife, Shil Jang Nim Krystal.
We worked on stances and kicks if I remember correctly. There were no mirrors and no board to write on. We had managed to change most of the burned out lights (which were all of them,) and cleaned out the trash that the previous tenants had left. I think I had a desk that someone had thrown out, and a chair that I found abandoned in a hallway of the building.

We eventually bought some chairs and a round table from the Chinese junk seller in another store in our building. For some reason, our landlord hated that we put them in the hallway during classes for parents and other observers to sit. It worked well for us since the school floor was barely 400 square feet.

Carpet

I advertised in the local paper, and we got a few students. We didn’t have a large budget for opening, and I spent an enormous amount of what we did have on the floor. I bought natural rubber padding that was about two inches thick and a commercial grade carpet remnant to put over it. Aside from a couple of places, it worked very well. A “friend” of mine from the school in Richmond helped me put the carpet down. I say “friend” because one day when we were training together, he argued that there was no way one of our techniques (ki bohn soo #7) would work if the person resisted. I took the opposite view, and during a friendly, if vigorous, exploration of the technique, his elbow made an awful noise, and he had to go to the hospital. Nothing broke, thank goodness, but his arm was in a sling for a while. He was always a little combative after that, but he offered to help put the carpet down in the new school since he had, supposedly, done that professionally in the past.

I rented a tool that was supposed to heat the seams and with a special tape on the back, hold the carpet together. The first thing Dave did was use the iron to burn a hole in the carpet. It turns out he had never used one of them before. I bought him a sandwich and sent him home. I did the best I could with it, but for the next four years, the seams on that carpet were held together with duct tape. We just taped over the old tape every few months as it disintegrated.
In 2009, in preparation for Kuk Sa Nim’s visit, I bought new carpet and paid for installation. That was the best decision I think I have ever made.

2006 Testing

Warrior’s Heart

During the process of exploring the idea of moving back to Muncie and opening the school, I was receiving mixed messages from my instructor and Headquarters. The bottom line was that I wasn’t at all sure if I would be accepted as an official World Kuk Sool Association (WKSA) school. I suspect that I was misinformed, but essentially, I had to open my school (secure premises, buy insurance, etc.) before I would be approved. This, as you might suspect, was very stressful. I dearly love Kuk Sool Won, and desperately wanted to remain in the association, but I was being asked to open the school without the assurance of being an approved WKSA school. So, everything I did, all the legal stuff to open a business, I did under the name of The Warrior’s Heart Family Martial Art Center. I researched other associations, but couldn’t see myself leaving.

Of course, the World Kuk Sool Association approved our school. All of the worries had been for nothing. There was confusion for a while about the two different names. My students really liked the “Warrior’s Heart” name and identified with it more than Kuk Sool Won of Muncie (KSWoM). I tried to do both for a while but finally decided that I had to take the initiative to stop using Warrior’s Heart, and stick with KSWoM.

I started researching web domains in December the year before I opened. WarriorsHeart.com was available at that time. By the time I got around to registering it, maybe two weeks later, it had already been registered. The domain has bounced around from owner to owner in the years since (a book, a video game, something else, and now a veteran’s group.) I ended up going with WarriorsHeartMA.com as our URL, (MA for Martial Art.) I was never thrilled with that, and I don’t think people got it. I still own that domain and use it as a redirect to this site.

MuncieKarate.com

My personal philosophy is that I am not competing with the other martial art schools in the area. I wanted to work together with them to improve the perception of martial art schools and students. I tried networking with the other martial art schools in town when I first opened. There were something like twelve schools in Muncie at that time. Of course, some were big, some small. Some were just guys teaching out of their garage.

I put together a website, MuncieKarate.com, and had listings for all of the schools that I could find anything about. I listed their strengths, what I knew about their costs, and what kind of people the schools appealed to. I tried getting this information directly from the schools, but with only three exceptions, I never heard a single word from another local school. One of the ones I heard from is no longer in Muncie, and we’re still Facebook friends. Another old Karate guy visited me, more to see what we were doing than anything else, I think. His school closed very soon after. The other was a fascinating gentleman who only took students who were already blackbelts. He had no interest in running a traditional school, but only wanted to teach the cool, internal stuff. As a member of WKSA, I was unable to train with him, and I lost track of him, but he was very welcoming and cordial with me. He stopped by several times to chat and see how we were doing.

I ended up killing that website after fighting with it for several years. Ironically, Mr. Sheridan emailed me the day after. He had just retired as sheriff and was going to be doing his school full-time and wanted to participate. I explained that I had given up on it and set it to redirect, again, to this site.

Instructor

Fairly soon after I opened my school, I made the uncomfortable decision to make a break with my old instructor. The reasons don’t matter, except that they were there. I spent several years, seven maybe, without an instructor. Thinking that it was the right thing to do, etiquette-wise, I asked headquarters to assign me a new one. Nothing happened for a long time.

I was never a great tournament competitor. One thing that Muncie has a reputation for in the martial art community is producing great “fighters.” Since I didn’t have an instructor, I was hoping to get a student who had trained in one of those old-school schools, someone who was good at tournament fighting and could help me improve my sparring.
Tournament point-sparring, even in closed WKSA tournaments, is pretty much the same from one martial art to another. There will be slight differences, but most of them are light-touch games of tag. I wanted someone who was good at that game who could help me get better.

That person came early-on in the person of Chris Low. He was a Tae Kwon Do blackbelt who wanted to learn something new. He was a Ball State student, recently married. He spent a lot of time practicing and inspired me to practice more.

And Chris did help us get better at sparring. I still use some of his lessons when I teach sparring. His style was way different from mine, being a completely different body type, but the lessons were good. He helped everyone at the school a lot.

Chris was studying Japanese at BSU and eventually moved to Japan (twice!) to teach English. He became a certified teacher and moved to Fort Wayne, where he briefly had a Kuk Sool Won club. He reached Second Degree before moving on to a different style with some friends of his.

After spending several years as a First Degree Blackbelt without an instructor. I finally put myself in for a promotion when my kids were getting ready to catch up to me in rank. I thought that Kuk Sa Nim and the Headquarters masters on seminar tour would see my test and how much I didn’t know, and they would find me an instructor.

No.

Instead of testing, my Second Degree test was an amazing two-and-a-half hour private lesson for my son Chip and me with Master Sung Jin Suh, learning Yuk Gum Hyung (Reverse Sword Form.) Master Suh was very impressed with Chip and said that I should send him to headquarters for a while for training. But, Chip was a teenager with a girlfriend, and that never happened. Still, he and I wpromoted to Second Degree, Kathryn and Kristofer promoted to First Degree Blackbelt, and our school was going pretty strong.

Change

Lots of things changed around that time. I don’t remember the dates, but somewhere in there was when the franchising went through. When the school opened, there was only a small, yearly, licensing fee charged to the schools. Kuk Sa Nim decided that for things to move forward, the association needed to go to a more formally organized structure. People had advised him to make this change decades before, but he had held out.

I, frankly, was surprised at how low the licensing fee was when I opened my school. I’m still surprised how low the franchise fee is, even though it’s quite a bit more.

Since I owned my school before the franchising took place, I receive a few perks. I remember when I turned in my franchise agreement to Kuk Sa Nim, he said, “Good. Good. Make you like Master, eh?”
A lot of school owners at that time though didn’t feel that way. I’m not sure why.

Several instructors contacted me and tried to convince me to question the Association. They were more concerned about their bottom line, I think than about what was best for the WKSA. One of them called several times and wrote long emails detailing his issues. I remember he worried about the “authorized supplier” clause, where we would only be able to purchase uniforms and belts from certain vendors. He told me that he had a source for white belt uniforms for less than $5. I said that I wouldn’t want my students to be seen in $5 uniforms.

He, and a lot of much better instructors and martial artists, decided to leave the association. They all had their reasons, I’m sure. I wish the best for them, but I can tell you that the World Kuk Sool Association is populated with the best people who I know of on the planet. I’m continually amazed and grateful whenever I’m with them.

Instructor Again

Several years after my promotion to second degree, I took the issue of having no instructor into my own hands. I had met Sabum Nim (now Kwan Jang Nim) Ben Mitchell several times over the years. He owns the school in Peoria, Illinois. Since he was so far ahead of me in rank, we had never trained together at headquarters, but he always made a point to come and say hello, or welcome me when I arrived at events. In case you don’t know me, it would be fair to say that I’m not exactly a social butterfly. To have someone come and break the ice, to welcome me when I felt alone, was incredibly powerful to me.

I happened to be assisting him in judging one time at the St. Louis tournament when he observed a problem in another ring and mentioned it to me. It triggered a conversation that led me to ask if he would consider taking me as his student. We talked, I assume he talked to headquarters, and eventually, it was settled.

I started making trips to Peoria every month or so, sometimes more often, sometimes much less. I became friends with the people in the Peoria and Pekin, Illinois schools. They are a great bunch of people and have made me a better instructor and martial artist. Our school, my students, are better because of our association with Peoria.

Location

Around the same time I started making trips to Peoria, we had a radical shift in our facilities. I already mentioned our landlord not liking our tables and chairs, but he also didn’t like other things about us. There were little things that we complained about, like our ceiling collapsing. He didn’t like that. And he didn’t like us constantly asking to have the air conditioning fixed. He didn’t like our students using the restrooms.

He rented the spot across the hall from us to a call center. Almost immediately, someone (probably from the call center) broke the door glass leading into our hallway. It was safety glass, so it didn’t fall out, but he didn’t have it fixed right away either. Long story short, I refused to pay rent until it was fixed, and he refused to fix it until I “addressed other concerns.”

It wasn’t just the landlord. When the call center moved in, people started having things stolen from their cars. There were apparently drug deals going down in the parking lot. Cars were driving through the lot way too fast. We needed to go.

So we left.

We talked to the Senior Center, just a few blocks from our location, and temporarily moved there. It was nothing like our own, warm little space we had carved out before, but it was much safer, fairly well maintained, and friendly.

Temporary became several years. In fact, we’re still there. Even though we share the Small Meeting Room with Yoga, Euchre, and Neighborhood Meetings, among others, we’ve made it our own. Our flags and picture of Kuk Sa Nim are hanging, along with my school license.

Not having a sign has hurt us. We’re kind of invisible, and even if we had a sign, we’re tucked away in a neighborhood with very little traffic. We lost some students when we moved, and growth, never fast, slowed way down.

So, twelve years have come and gone. I was nervous the first few years. It felt like we had to fight for our place in the association, and once won, we had to defend it. By 2009 we had enough students to get Kuk Sa Nim to add us to the Seminar Tour, but right after that, things took a severe downward turn. We’ve spent years fighting our way back, and maybe we’re finally getting there.

We have two students getting ready to test for Blackbelt who never set foot in the old school. We have two more who were there testing for Second Degree. Last summer I promoted to Third Degree and my two youngest, who don’t remember a time in their lives when they didn’t practice Kuk Sool, promoted to Second Degree.

Progress.

What will the next twelve years bring?

I have a lot of ideas. Goals. Maybe I’ll write about them later, but they would just sound crazy at this point. I just wrote a letter to the school board offering to teach all the teachers in Muncie at no charge. I don’t know if they’ll broadcast that or not. It will take serious logistics work if any number of them want to participate; and I really, REALLY hope they do.

There’s a lot more work to do before I can say we’ve achieved our mission of making Muncie a better place. But I’m pretty sure that we’re getting there.

Sparring Workshop

I want to host a sparring workshop in early April. This workshop would mainly be for those interested in attending the tournament at the end of the month but will be open to all students.

We currently have testing scheduled for April 1st, so I think the following weekend, April 8th would be better. I’ve sent an email to the Senior Center requesting the Large Meeting Room for both of those days. If we don’t get it, we can make do with our normal one.

How do you prepare?

Get your sparring gear.

Purchasing your gear well before the workshop will allow you to take that day to get used to wearing it. For the competition, all students are required to have:

  • Headgear (Helmet)

    Sparring Competition
  • Handgear
  • Footgear
  • Mouthpiece

Additionally, males are required to wear groin protection of some sort.

Optional equipment:

  • Shin guards
  • Knee pads
  • Elbow pads
  • Chest protectors
  • Female groin protection

Where can you buy sparring gear?

The easiest place is in the school store here. I won’t tell you that you can’t buy it somewhere else, but it makes sense to help support your school. I charge only the manufacturer’s suggested retail, and I cover shipping costs. Can you find gear cheaper online? Probably.

Practice Kicking

  • Front leg kicks
  • Hook kicks
  • Round kicks
  • Side kicks
  • Kicking speed from a dead stop

What will we practice in the workshop?

We’ll start with warm-up drills then we’ll work some bag drills with full gear, and we’ll do some partner drills to get used to ranging.
After that, we’ll spar. We’ll mix things up, men, women, kids, all belts, and everyone will spar everyone else several times. By the end of the day, you’ll be used to your gear, be used to sparring, and you’ll be ready to start digging deep and learning what it’s all about.

What will it cost?

I usually charge around $30 for workshops like this, but we haven’t done one in a while, so I’m offering this first one for free. No charge at all, even if you buy your gear from someone else.

So, bring plenty of water. If you do Gatorade or other sports drinks, that’s fine, but please don’t bring or buy soda. Have a little more respect for your body. I’ll make Chia Fresca, and you can try that if you want a more natural “sports drink.”

Martial Arts and Muncie Community Schools

There are no two ways about it: Muncie Community Schools are in trouble. I won’t go into my personal opinions, but the bottom line is that teachers and students are going to suffer through no fault of their own.
People are trying to get to the bottom of the financial situation, and people are working to move forward in some fashion, figuring out ways to keep the system afloat and working through the next school year. As a martial art school owner, I don’t have much to offer any of those people, but I may have something for the teachers and students who are affected the most in this crisis.
I’ve been reading news stories and editorials for several days, and I imagine that teacher morale is very low. I want to show my support for teachers especially, but for the students too. I hope this article find its way to teachers, parents, and administrators who can introduce me to the right people to develop a program.

Most people know that traditional martial art instruction has a lot to do with self-discipline, focus, and respect for elders/authority. Those values are built-in to Asian culture. They used to be, at least. From what I understand, as Asia becomes more “Western,” they are losing some of those traditions.
At any rate, they are still critical in traditional martial art schools like ours. Students learn to focus on tasks and to set and achieve goals. They learn to practice by themselves. And, like anything, some people learn these lessons quicker than others.
Learning martial art in a traditional school like mine is a gift that many students never get the chance to experience. I am committed to exploring ways to bring that gift to the local education system. I want to donate my time and my equipment so that teachers, students, and even administrators can benefit from the lessons that I have learned and regularly teach to my students. I want to donate my time to work with teachers and students. I will arrange workshops and introduce these values to students. My thought is that by teaching a short martial art lesson or two, I can share some of the methods that we use to affect positive change in the lives of our students.

If you are someone who can help me with this idea, feel free to email me or get in touch via the comment section.