Feet to the Fire: Instructors Training at UMAC by Hak Seng
When I first heard about the Instructors Training being held at United Martial Arts Center (UMAC), I imagined it would be similar to past instructors seminars I had attended at the dojang: a combination of lecture, application exercises, and lots of writing in my notebook. They were always eye-opening and informative, and definitely helped when teaching a student, as well as for my own learning (of how to be a better student).
What I didn’t expect: to be exhausted by the end of what was almost 15 straight hours of training, and to learn way more than “how to be an instructor.” My notebook remained blank the entire time; no time to write. Our feet were thrown into the fire!
Here are my six key learnings (all of which are cultivated in our dojang):
1. GO WITH THE FLOW I quickly let go of the expectation of doing a lot of sitting, listening, and writing notes when I saw different stations set up: calisthenics, sparring, and self-defense techniques. There were upwards of 60 students ranging in ages from likely 4 to 65 years, and ranks ranging from Master to white belt. No time to ask questions; the WMAC crew just dove in. After we moved from station to station, everyone came together to learn the rope stick form—even the children! From there, we had a session with Grandmaster Ciarfella of UMAC, who led a reflection exercise on personal development. We ended sometime after midnight and started the next day with sitting meditation at 6am, followed by more rope stick form and several defense applications. The beauty of not having any structured ‘breaks’ is that one really has no time to ‘think’ about what one is doing; we just go with the flow.
2. HAVE AN OPEN MIND Knowing that Sabumnim had provided a lot of support to UMAC, including curriculum and seminars, I expected that there would be some similarities. I also expected differences, e.g. the different environments (small town v. urban); each school is primarily based on distinct traditions (TaeKwonDo and HapKiDo), etc. The practice of an “open mind” (“beginner’s mind”) which is a critical part of our school—as cultivated by January White Belt Month—served me well by enabling me to observe, practice, and reflect on certain aspects of UMAC that differ from ours. In particular, during the session on personal development, I appreciated this new framework for developing personal goals. I was reminded of Sabumnim’s seminars—different styles, but ultimately the same outcome. Both Sabumnim and Grandmaster Ciarfella clearly understand the importance of internal transformation and having a sense of purpose in our martial arts training and in our overall lives. And both are indisputably invested in their students and creating optimal conditions so that each one of us can realize our fullest potential and power.
3. JUST DO IT How many of us have been on the mat and heard Sabumnim say “Just do what I say”? Don’t think. Don’t talk about it. Just do it. 24 hours before the training, I was told to bring my rope stick. I hadn’t practiced the form for a while, and didn’t have time to drill it. Despite some quick tips from the WMAC group before the training started, it was not enough to build my confidence but I figured I would be re-learning the form with the rest of UMAC students. To my surprise, I (and the rest of the WMAC crew) would be leading groups to drill the form. My group happened to be some of UMAC’s Black Belts and Masters…no time to think or have anxieties. I needed to lean in and just do it.
4. REPRESENT Though I had been to a past Warrior Weekend where we did some seminars with UMAC students, this was the first time that I really felt that I was ‘representing’ WMAC, Sabumnim, and my rank. I felt proud of the tremendous respect that UMAC showed Sabumnim, Kyosanims Betty and Jonathan, and the rest of us. There was a strong sense of fellowship. Whether it was when we were doing an insane number of various push-ups, delving into our personal goals until after midnight, rolling out of sleep to meditate at 6 am, or being called up to do rope stick form while UMAC students watched, we, WMAC students, represented our school and Sabumnim at every moment with mudo spirit! And the act of “representing” makes me feel more committed to WMAC and to my fellow students and instructors. My personal confidence also grew because Sabumnim trusted his students to lead these groups. His faith in me/us was a critical confidence boost.
5. LEARNING THROUGH DOING As is described in our student handbook, there are many ways of learning and many ways of teaching. To me, this training was an excellent model for learning to teach through ‘doing.’ Watching Sabumnim lead the full group in defense techniques or rope stick form, I was learning not only for my own training but also paying attention to ‘how’ he was teaching. When I was in my small group, I had the opportunity to apply immediately what I had learned. There’s an art and science to how Sabumnim teaches and this training gave me more focused time to practice.
6. THE POWER OF LOVE AND FAITH Another unexpected learning was witnessing the incredible power of love and faith in action. At the end of the training, Sabumnim called up Caleb, a young child who is physically challenged; he doesn’t have any arms. Pretending to be a schoolyard bully, Sabumnim began taunting Caleb who then knocked Sabumnim down by using his body and energy. And if that wasn’t convincing enough, Caleb did it a couple of more times! What struck me is that (a) Caleb embodies an incredible energy of love and light; you see it in his face, you feel it from his presence. This makes me think that he is being raised with a lot of love and care, and that UMAC is a loving and caring community; and (b) as we have heard Sabumnim say when he puts the yellow tip on a white belt, we have within us all the DNA that it takes to be a great martial artist. When watching Caleb, I saw (yet again) how Sabumnim is masterful in creating conditions to bring forth our inner power.
My gratitude for being part of WMAC deepened through this unique experience. Both on and off the mat, being with Sabumnim, Kyosanims Betty and Jonathan, and fellow practitioners reaffirmed that our dojang and UMAC are indeed extraordinary, and Sabumnim is a priceless gift.