by Danielle Uchitelle
Some claim that there’s no true defense against a handgun in martial arts, but I’ve never believed this. I understand that defending against a gun is a deadly moment filled with risk, but if someone is pointing a gun at me I’m already at deadly risk. I know that by training in multiple approaches to disarming I have at least improved the odds of surviving an encounter with a gun-wielding attacker.
Gun disarm is part of our WMAC curriculum, and I’ve trained and practiced these techniques. But whenever I think about gun disarm, whenever I imagine myself in a situation where I might be confronted by an armed attacker at close range, I have a recurring fear, and it isn’t that I would fail in the attempt to disarm. Rather, my repeating nightmare is that I’d disarm my attacker and end up in possession of the gun, and my attacker would advance on me and try to recover it, and (in my nightmare) I’d have no choice left but to turn the gun on my lunging attacker...only, because I don’t know anything about real guns and have never held one, I’d pull the trigger and the gun wouldn’t respond, because the safety latch is on and I don’t know how to tell if it’s on or how to switch it, and in the split second I stand hesitating, the attacker will recover the weapon and I’d lose my moment of control.
Because I have been unable to rid myself of this recurring nightmare in any other way, I finally went to a gun range to learn how to shoot a handgun.
Gun ranges are rare in NYC, maybe they don’t exist at all. But in Florida it seems that they’re in almost every strip mall, and since I travel to Florida every few months to help care for my father, I took advantage of a recent visit to look up the closest gun range, which turned out to be a three-minute drive from my parent’s home: as I said, in every strip mall.
I signed up for the Basic Firearms Course, “designed for all levels of firearm owners or prospective owners.” The instructor was a cheerful woman sporting a holstered pistol tucked into the waistband of her jeans. She started by handing me a photocopied list of Ten Rules of Firearms Safety (#3: Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. #5: Be aware of what is in front of and behind your target at all times). After reviewing the rules, she produced a 9mm handgun and proceeded to show me how to disassemble it, how to tell whether there was a cartridge in the chamber, how to load. Much to my surprise, she told me that many handguns don’t have a safety switch; so much for my recurring nightmare. Then she lead me through a door in the back of the shop and onto the shooting range.
After donning ear protectors and a final review of the gun parts, my instructor handed me the gun and talked me through loading it. Then it was time to face the target and fire.
First impressions: the gun was lighter than I expected (“they’re mostly made of plastic,” my instructor informed me). And, when I pulled the trigger, that thing really kicked in my hand. I fired round after round, and each time the recoil seemed to come as a surprise. I definitely see how people can end up shooting each other unintentionally, because unless you keep the gun under control it’s going to point pretty much wherever it wants to, which may not be where you want it to point.
While I was taking my lesson on the shooting range, other gun owners were arriving for their own range time. “Some people come in every day,” my instructor noted. I saw two elderly couples, one young man (light skinned) and a second young man (dark skinned). Each arrived with their own weapons, handguns of various types, and boxes of ammunition.
The etiquette of the gun range appeared to be, “shoot in silence, stay focused,” so I never had a chance to speak to my fellow shooters. But they were clearly following some form of their own personal practice.
My lesson ended with the instructor congratulating me on my target accuracy. She told me that I was a natural, but perhaps she said that to every student. I do have proof that I hit the center of the paper target quite a lot. I now knew how to load, clear, and fire a handgun, and how to tell if there was a safety switch and whether it was on or off. I had demonstrated proficiency in the Ten Rules of Firearms Safety. And I now knew what it felt like to hold and fire a handgun.
There were over 400 photos taken of the event, so make sure you check out multiple blog posts! Photos by Laura Bang
by Danielle Uchitelle
In advance of the historic HwanGap celebration honoring Sabumnim’s 60th birthday (more on that in a separate post), WMAC welcomed back many who trained in years past, and some from the not-so-distant past. One of these was Chungsanim Jill Burdick, who traveled from upstate New York to attend the celebration, and also to catch up on some WMAC classes.
The Chungsanims are among our most senior martial arts instructors, deeply experienced and highly trained leaders of the WMAC family. They are few in number and highly respected, and when a Chungsanim travels from afar to return to the dojang it is a special moment.
Chungsanim Jill attended multiple classes during her brief visit to Brooklyn, and I had the opportunity to train with her early on Saturday. Her energy and knowledge of the curriculum made this a morning on the mat that I won’t soon forget. But this memorable morning left behind a tinge of sadness for me. The Chungsanims are more than just senior instructors; they’re a vital part of the living fabric of our WMAC family, and when one of them is no longer around to train with us, it feels like a phantom limb, a presence I can vividly sense, yet when I look, it isn’t there.
Life takes us in all directions, white belts and Chungsanims alike; arrivals and departures are part of the natural order of the universe. But we miss you, Jill, and I hope that the future somehow holds more Chungsanim Jill sessions for all of us.
On Friday night I witnessed an exceptional display of warrior fortitude and determination during this month’s belt promotion test. A belt test is always an opportunity to show what you’ve learned in your martial arts study and to demonstrate your mastery of the WMAC curriculum. But sometimes it becomes more than that, and in those moments the true warrior spirit shines forth.
Late in Friday’s test, after hours of running through our forms and techniques under Chungsanim Dominick’s appraising eye, she cleared the mat and requested that red belt Kat (later joined by red belt Lamyae) stand before her. Then she said, simply, “Show me all your mat skills.” At first both seemed confused by the request; you expect to be asked to demonstrate a specific form or technique, not “show me everything you’ve got.” But once they realized what was expected, they threw themselves - literally - into it.
I know from my own experience that front falls, back falls, and side falls will rapidly drain you of energy if continued for very long, and it was clear to all of us watching when Kat and Lamyae had exhausted their reserve of falls. But then they did something that was truly amazing: each reached somewhere inside herself and, without a hesitation, began to repeat the mat fall sequences over and over again. We could all see and feel how exhausted they were, and that’s why everyone spontaneously began to cheer and clap as the minutes stretched on and Kat and Lamyae threw themselves onto the mat again and again.
I’ve seen many astonishing things happen in belt tests: forms executed with breathtaking precision, techniques applied with power, focus, and efficiency. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a demonstration of simple, unquestioning heart and determination as we witnessed that night. When Kat and Lamyae received their new Hubai belts from Chungsanim, everyone knew that these two had truly earned their rank by demonstrating a part of the warrior spirit that is beyond skill and strength. Congratulations, Kat and Lamyae, warriors.
by Bodan Danielle Uchitelle
I used to experience dreadful anxiety before each one of my WMAC belt promotion tests. Would I remember all 15 parts of cross hand technique? Would I get confused between the 6 sections of Han Su? What if Sabumnim asked me to demonstrate a weapons form that I hadn’t yet fully learned? Would my endurance carry me through the entire test, or would I run out of energy and end up too exhausted to continue? My anxiety prevented me from performing as well as I knew I could, much less actually enjoying the test.
I have, however, come up with a strategy that guarantees in advance that each of my promotion tests will be a success, and knowing that I’m certain to succeed allows me to relax more and actually enjoy testing.
What’s my strategy to guaranteed success? I base it on some wise advice shared by Kristin Walsh, 2nd dan Black Belt and yogi, who came to WMAC a few years ago to speak about spiritual approaches to training. In addition to other wisdom, some (much) beyond what I could grasp at that time, Kristin spoke of the importance of approaching all aspects of life with generosity and gratitude. Focusing on actual approaches for incorporating gratitude into our lives, Kristin emphasized the importance of simple acts such as helping those in need and being generous with our time and our money.
While this initially sounded to me like a well-worn platitude about helping others, as I thought about her comments over the following months (OK, I’m a slow thinker!) I became aware of a way I could take two seemingly separate questions - how do I express generosity and gratitude in my life? How can I be less stressed at belt promotion tests? - and combine them into single solution.
Here’s how I do it: a week or so before each belt test, I chose some charity organization to donate money to. It can be anything at all, as long as it feels like a cause that supports my own belief systems. Once I’ve identified the group, I go online and donate. It’s that simple. The amounts I give aren’t huge, because I don’t have that kind of money, but it’s a large enough amount that when I click the “donate now” button, I know I’ve made a committed transfer from my fortunate life into the lives of others who need my help. And all the while, I’m thinking to myself, “this is for next month’s belt test.”
How did this help relieve my test anxiety? Because I know that no matter what happens on the test floor, somebody is going to get some real benefit and have a better life because they needed my help and I helped them. It doesn’t matter whether I can’t remember the difference between knife technique number 26 and number 28. Doesn’t matter if I trip and fall on my face during Han Su. The person I’ve helped isn’t stressing out about whether I’ve misremembered the sequence of a martial arts form, and if they’re not worrying about it, why should I?