I boarded a plane and left South Korea January 6, 1986 heading to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. While my training with Master Yun ended, my martial arts journey had just begun. Many begin with obtaining a black belt as their ultimate goal. A black belt only means that the basics of the art were mastered. The black belt is the starting point, not the final destination.
One thing I could count on in the Army, was moving to a new duty station every two years or so. The first thing I did everywhere I went was look for a martial arts school or class. I would grab the yellow pages book (no internet yet!) and scan for martial arts schools. Usually there was little to choose from, but every base had a class of some sort. I always looked for a Tang Soo Do school first, but there were never any around the places I was stationed. If there wasn’t a Tang Soo Do school I looked for a system that would compliment the skills learned from Master Yun.
At Fort Devens I searched and found Fred Villari’s school of kempo. Problem was that it was too far and I did not have a car. The base recreation center had a Tae Kwon Do class, so I went there to check it out. The instructor was a female black belt who taught a children’s class with one teenager as her assistant. I spoke with her and agreed to help instruct the class and she would teach me Tae Kwon Do. She also asked if I was interested in learning any weapons, to which I answered the sai. I like the sai ever since seeing the ninja guy use them in Chuck Norris’ movie, The Octagon.
I helped teach the class for a year and a half and the only thing I learned was that I did not like Tae Kwon Do. No offense to any Tae Kwon Do practitioners out there, but it was all competition oriented. The only thing she showed me with the sai was a basic flip……which I had already figured out on my own. I eventually stopped attending and trained Tang Soo Do on my own. After two years, getting married and starting a family, I received orders for Germany. My Tae Kwon Do days were over and I wanted nothing to do with the art again. Grafenwoehr, Germany here I come!
In Germany there were no martial arts schools in the small towns around the base. There were however, martial artists on base that I was able to train with and learn from. One very surprising fact, was that the MP Station Commander, Cpt. Rick Bell, was a former student of Master Yun!! I couldn’t believe it! The Captain and I talked about it more than once and I asked to train with him, but he never took me up on it. I believe because of the rank difference, who knows.
One day, while stretching before the Physical Fitness Test, a soldier came up to me and asked “Where did you train?” I looked up and said “Excuse me? What are you talking about?” “Martial arts” he said, “No one stretches like that if they weren’t in the martial arts.” I told him Korea, in the art of Tang Soo Do. His name was Dwight Pharr, a black belt in traditional Hapkido. He invited me to the base gym that evening where a Shotokan black belt taught a kids class. He said they worked out together afterwards, exchanging techniques and ideas. I agreed, excited to have found not only one style to learn, but two!
That evening I met Sensei Skip, a 2nd Degree black belt in the art of Shotokan karate. We spoke, exchanging info on training and our backgrounds, and then I fell into the back of the kids class. We began performing basics, which were the same for pretty much all karate styles, but then we began forms. With the exception of some stance differences, the forms were the exact same thing I learned from Master Yun!! What the? How could this be? I told Skip and he just shrugged it off saying he didn’t know.
After that class I returned back to my room and looked at every martial arts book I had, searching for the history of Tang Soo Do, looking for a connection between the two arts. The only thing I had found was that GM Hwang Kee stated that he learned the Shotokan forms from a book he had found by Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi, and incorporated them into his style. WHAT?!!! The founder of the Moo Duk Kwan learned the art from a book? It made no sense then, and there was no internet to search for answers, so my quest came to an abrupt halt. I just went with the popular Tang Soo Do history of it being over a thousand years old, coming from Taekyon and Soo Bahk, and ignored the fact that Master Yun’s teacher learned from a book.
I was stationed in Germany for 3 1/2 years, and during that time I learned Shotokan karate and some Hapkido. The Shotokan training, along with my Tang Soo Do training kept me up to speed and
advancing in knowledge due to the similarity of the systems. I learned circular movements, locks and throws from Dwight and his Hapkido training. Together, the three of us formed a martial arts exchange, where we traded techniques, philosophies and defenses, analyzing and adapting what worked. It was a great time and great way to learn!
We performed public demonstrations at the festivals that were held locally and on base. I taught self defense to the Military Police Investigators in my office, and even competed in my first ever point fighting tournament. Being a black belt, I was used to judge the colored belts at the tournament all day, and when it came time for me to fight 8 hours later, I just wanted to go home.
Never the less I fought and hated it! Not because I lost, but because it was like a game of tag to me, and did not prove who the better fighter was. Whoever was quicker on the draw would win, with the fight being stopped every time someone looked like they touched their opponent. A big difference from fighting for two, three minute rounds, full contact like in Korea. That was the end of my point fighting career.
I never tested for rank in Shotokan or Hapkido, just learned all I could and implemented those techniques that worked well with my Tang Soo Do training. The similarities between Tang Soo Do and Shotokan and why they were so similar, would stick in my mind for years though, and I swore I would find answers when I could.
After leaving Germany, I was stationed at Fort Ritchie, Maryland and this time there was no martial arts schools in town and none on the small base that was Fort Ritchie. During this time I trained all I was taught and forms were the foundation of my training. I would most often train in the racquetball courts and at home in my back yard. This was my last assignment in the military.
After getting out of the Army I settled with my family just outside of Buffalo, NY. The town I was born in, North Tonawanda, to be exact. I was talking with my older brother about wanting to start training again, and he said he found an 8 Step Preying Mantis Kung Fu school. The instructor, Sifu Dean Economos, was the heir to the system headed by Master James Shyun.
We observed a class and found it to be a very effective system. Sifu Economos taught the classes himself, which was definitely a plus. Our training began but only lasted a a few months before Sifu Economos left out of the blue, with no notice. After his departure the school was thrown into disarray and we left. I took a couple of great blocks and strikes from that system, as well as a throw or two. It was back to training on my own.
A few months later we learned of a Tracy Kenpo school nearby, and after watching the movie Perfect Weapon with Jeff Speakman, we decided to check it out. Our instructor was Sifu Joe Wagner, a very competent kenpo stylist and instructor.
Sifu Wagner was strictly self defense oriented and did not go easy on us in class. We studied for about 5 months and once again, Sifu Wagner left the school with no warning. We stayed on, but the class times changed and due to work conflicts we were unable to continue.
Oddly enough, I received a call from Sifu Wagner and he agreed to teach my brother and I privately at my home for the same cost we were paying at the school. What luck! One on one private kenpo instruction!
We continued to train with Sifu Wagner, reaching the grade of Purple belt and then he suddenly stopped coming and I could not contact him. Once again, we lost an instructor and I was back to training alone, but with additional skills to practice.
After having two instructors in a row disappear into thin air, I was skeptical about going to any school! Eventually I did find a Tang Soo Do school that had just opened up nearby, which also taught Chun Kuk Do, Chuck Norris’ system. I called and was invited to try classes for a week (two days) for free.
Arriving at the class, I was immediately turned off when the head instructor could not even pronounce Tang Soo Do correctly. I was not even sure if he really studied Tang Soo Do, but he was trying to combine Chun Kuk Do with Tang Soo Do, and the way it was done was a mess. After finishing the trial week I checked out a Soo Bahk Do class at Niagara University. The class was more interested in traditions, rank and going through the motions, looking pretty, than they were effectiveness. It felt more like a social club than a karate school. My solo training in Tang Soo Do continued.
Some time later my brother called me about an Aikido class at Kin Tora Judo Club, which everyone in the Buffalo martial arts scene had heard of. Kin Tora produces champion judoka in the Pan Am games and other championships. They are a top notch school and worth checking out, so we went to watch the Aikido class. We showed up just after class had started and sat in some bleachers off to the side of the mat.
We watched as they performed techniques, and it looked like people were falling on purpose, not because they were being made to. I began to get a bit skeptical as to its effectiveness, because it looked a bit fake to me.
After the class we introduced ourselves to Shihan Michael Hawley, who explained the style of Suenaka Ha Tetsugaku Ho Aikido under Sensei Roy Suenaka. Sensei Suenaka was a direct student of Aikido founder Morihei Ueshiba and Aikido master Koichi Tohei. We asked about the things we saw in the class and then I said it looked like the attackers were falling on purpose. Shihan Hawley smiled and nicely explained that they are, but it is to save their joint from being injured during the throw. Maybe he saw the skepticism on my face, but he continued to explain, demonstrating the wrist lock nikkyo……..on me! He did not apply it quickly, nor completely, but I felt more pain in the shortest time than I had ever felt before! Once he released it, it was gone, like that.
I was a believer after that and made a mental note not to ask stupid questions or make stupid comments in class. My brother and I studied under Shihan Hawley for 3+ years, with my brother studying longer than I did, because my work schedule reduced the amount of times I could go. Due to there being a time requirement for testing that you had to complete a specific amount of training hours between tests, I was unable to test after reaching purple belt, or Yonkyu, before leaving Buffalo.
My passion for the at of Aikido grew, especially the way Shihan Hawley taught it, which was for effectiveness. Even though I only reached Yonkyu in that dojo, I found that the technique I had learned was superior to higher ranking Aikido students and Hapkido instructors I came across once I moved from Buffalo. I continue to practice the Aikido I was taught, training privately, sticking to the Suenaka system of Shihan Hawley and the Buffalo Aiki dojo. I implement it into my Tang Soo Do/Karate training and teach techniques in self defense seminars. He will always be my Aikido instructor and friend and I am indebted to him for passing on the knowledge he did to me.
In 2008 I moved to Florida with my wife, settling in the Tampa area. At this point I had been training on my own keeping up the skills I had learned and combining the different arts that I studied into my own personal self defense method. I did not come up with any new style, I just combined all I had learned into a method I alone would use to defend myself.
One of the first things we did after arriving in Tampa was look for a church, and the one we decided to attend happened to have a martial arts ministry teaching Chung Do Kwan Tae Kwon Do! While I was excited to learn there was such a thing as martial arts in church, the fact that it was Tae Kwon Do was an immediate turn off……at first. The instructor and leader of the ministry was Master Richard Dixon, 4th Dan in the Chung Do Kwan system under Grand Master Edward B. Sell. I was introduced to Master Dixon after a church service and we spoke about the ministry and our martial backgrounds. I agreed to come check out their next class.
Attending a class as an observer, the first thing I noticed was that it was a more complete Tae Kwon Do class than what I had dealt with in Massachusetts. They did not focus solely on competition, but basics, forms, one steps and sparring, similar to the way Master Yun ran his classes in Korea. I liked this aspect of the class and the fact that the sparring was not the point fighting, game of tag type, but continuous rounds. The students were mostly youth from the church with a few adults. After the class, I agreed to join and even assist in teaching the basics and sparring as I learned the Tae Kwon Do Poomse forms.
Whenever I study a system, I want to know all there is about it, especially the history and lineage. I have always been blessed to have been taught by instructors who were only two to four generations away from the system’s founder. As I began to study the history of Chung Do Kwan and it’s founder, Won Kuk Lee, I was amazed to find that GM Lee was a student of Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi during WWII, was the highest ranking Korean to receive a black belt in Shotokan at the time, and returned to Korea after the war to teach……Shotokan karate. The kicker was when I found that GM Lee did not use the term Shotokan (Written “China Hand” at that time) due to harsh feelings after Japan’s occupation of Korea, but chose to use the Korean equivalent for karate or China hand…..Tang Soo Do!!!
My head spun realizing that GM Lee was the first ever to use the term Tang Soo Do for his system in Korea, NOT Hwang Kee. The idea that Tang Soo Do was not originally an ancient Korean art thousands of years old, but Shotokan karate brought from Japan to Korea made my head spin! I was in shock and scoured the internet for Tang Soo Do history and details on Hwang Kee’s lineage and martial background.
There was nothing but the original story of it being thousands of years old, Hwang Kee learning from a book and being taught by a Master Yang in China which no one can identify. There isn’t even video footage or photos of Hwang Kee performing any techniques or forms from back then or ever! This solidified what I believe is the true history and lineage of the Tang Soo Do that I was taught by Master Yun, but that will be another article.
I had read an article by Tang Soo Do master Karen Eden in Colorado, who had started a martial arts program through the Salvation Army called the Red Shield Warriors. Reading the article I realized that this was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do myself. I emailed Master Eden asking her how she had gone about setting up the program and what my goals were.
She replied asking if I would like to start a branch of the Red Shield Warriors here in Tampa and that she would contact the director here about it. I agreed enthusiastically, met with the leaders here in Tampa, and held my first Red Shield Warrior program a month and a half later!
To make an already long story shorter, it was a huge success, starting out with 50 students and having a waiting list until I was able to handle more. We were the first and only program of its kind in the state of Florida and had kids from the Tampa area who were bullied, could not afford lessons, being raised in single parent homes or by their grandparents, and they all were great kids, hungry to learn.
The program continued for a year and a half, with the kids doing charity kick- a-thons to raise money for others in need and performing demonstrations for the public. Due to a change in job and hours, I eventually had to stop teaching the program and the program in general has been dropped by the Salvation Army nationwide.
Once the Red Shield Warrior program ended, I taught locally in the parks on Saturday mornings as Trinity Christian Martial Arts. We had a group of around 8 students, most of which came from Master Dixon’s former Tae Kwon Do class. This program eventually dropped off due to kids and families not wanting to train on Saturday mornings. I used this banner however to teach self defense seminars as a community outreach in Tampa and West Virginia on missions trips, helping those less fortunate and in need.
In December 2013 I had a bad work accident, tearing up the ligaments and rotator cuff of my left shoulder. I had two surgeries to repair the damage in 2014 and was unable to train again until August of 2015. It was a long, slow road back and after six months I began to have issues with my left knee, having pain and being unable to straighten my leg. After getting an MRI it was found I tore my meniscus and needed surgery. Surgery was in March of 2016, and it will never be the same again.
While recovering from my knee surgery, I decided to start again from the beginning. I will begin my Tang Soo Do training from step one, making adjustments that need to be made in my form and techniques based on my knee limitations, and I would also start digging into the true history and lineage of Master Yun’s Tang Soo Do. I started this website and social media pages to share this journey and all I learn along the way in hopes of helping others on their martial journey as well.
Whether it is Tang Soo Do Korean Karate, Shotokan, Uechi Ryu, or whatever, it is all Karate. It is all one art, with many facets and they all share a very rich lineage and history. I do not believe that the Tang Soo Do I learned came from a book and a mysterious master in China. It too, follows the history of Karate from Korea to Japan, Okinawa and China and I intend on taking that journey through all of the masters that I believe, brought it all the way to Master Yun.
I invite you to join me on this journey through my Tang Soo Do lineage, coming back after surgeries at 50+ years old, and making karate a way of life, not just a sport or defensive tool. Day by day I will share the journey through this site and blog, as well as my social media pages.
Karate is for a lifetime and for those who dare to question and seek answers, there are many treasures to be found that will positively affect your life.
So that lays the groundwork for this site and how it got here. Let the journey begin!
Kubotan Self Defense Seminar
Hello, I have been a student of the martial arts since 1985 and have studied various styles, always focusing on the self defense aspects of the arts. I have taught in the military, privately and publicly and have been a certified personal trainer. I believe that everyone should know how to defend themselves and that this can be learned from home through videos and written material. I am dedicated to you, the reader, in helping you learn self defense so that you are able to handle an attack on the street.