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?
At WMAC, just as an adult higher belt is expected to help with the training of lower belts, from early in their training children are given the opportunity to teach their peers. At last week’s Spring Break Camp I got to watch as the kids brought a high level of patience and focus to the task of sharing their knowledge.
Under the tutelage of Sabumnim, Bodan Instructor Lauren, and Assistant Instructor Ezeldine, our young warriors made rapid progress through their forms and techniques, especially “dragonchucks”, the Dragon Form/nunchuck hybrid, an advanced, kids-only form. Because if there’s one thing kids love even more than teaching each other, it’s knowing how to do something that the adults around them don’t.
by Bodan Danielle Uchitelle
When I extol the many benefits of WMAC’s Monday through Friday 7:00 AM classes, the response I hear most often is, “I’d love to train in the morning, but that’s just too early for me to wake up.” Now you can cross that excuse off your list, because we’ve recently added a 9:00 AM class two days a week, so you can get your day off to a Hapkido start and still get all the sleep you need.
Led by Black Belt Instructor Holger, and frequently assisted by Kyosanim Eva, the 9:00 AM class is ideal for WMAC warriors who have just dropped their kids off at school, late morning shift workers, freelancers, and anyone else who wants to begin their Monday and Wednesday with energy and Ki. Holger explained that the small size of a typical class allows him to focus on curriculum material and belt test prep. If you’re training for your next promotion test it’s the perfect way to make sure you have all the forms and techniques you need.
For all you late sleepers and schoolkid shuttlers: see you on the mat, 9:00 AM Monday and Wednesday.
By Bodan Danielle Uchitelle