Ghostwood Farm

Up the hill backwards.
April 5, 2022, 8:48 pm
Filed under: Martial Arts

This is the essay I wrote for my 1st dan black belt in hapkido.


My first class at Lee’s, my trial class, was in hapkido. It was the only class I ever had with Master Price, and Mr. Bradley was there as well. I was really looking for a school for my son at the time, not for myself. I was so impressed with the generosity and welcome in that small class that I signed my son up the following week. I started taekwondo a few months later, but didn’t start hapkido for probably a year.

I do not feel like a black belt in hapkido.

I feel like a black belt in taekwondo. Taekwondo techniques are clear-cut and I have progressed regularly through the years in terms of not only my execution of techniques, but also my understanding of them. In hapkido, I recognize that I know more, and have internalized more, than I realize. I know that there are approaches and techniques that I can help my classmates with every time we work together. I know that I find myself integrating techniques, concepts, and approaches that I have picked up from the other arts I practice (modern arnis and Muay Thai). Indeed, the eclectic nature of hapkido, the way it borrows from so many different arts to produce a fighting style that each practitioner can tailor to their own needs, preferences, and abilities, is one of its main positives in my mind. However, the defining factor of hapkido is flow, and that is an area where I feel weak.

The vast array of techniques and approaches integral to hapkido is dizzying and can be overwhelming. I am trying to think in terms of concepts and approaches, rather than collecting individual techniques. I have not been good at it, but I am getting better. Thinking through how different individual techniques tie together in a particular application (such as punch defense) has helped in this. One of my goals is to be able to derive the techniques from the concept, rather than vice versa.

In the end, hapkido has become the place where I combine the pieces from all the arts I study and refine them into my own style. Techniques from taekwondo, traditional hapkido, Muay Thai, boxing, and arnis (itself made up of jeet kune do, kali, and others) are finding their way into my style. None of it is in opposition to hapkido: the flow of self-defense is integral to all of them. Finding their similarities of approach has been eye-opening. It has helped me to really see that all of these arts have similar roots. There are only so many ways a body can move, and so of course there are similarities. The joy of studying multiple arts is finding those convergences that work for me. I am starting to do that, and I find the possibilities tremendously exciting.

I recognize how important teaching is for a black belt. I get nervous teaching hapkido in a way that I do not when I teach taekwondo. I have impostor syndrome teaching hapkido and I do not feel like I belong there. However, teaching is extremely important to me, and I hope to continue to improve.

It is critical that I remember and truly internalize that black belt simply marks where one is ready to begin learning. I am looking forward to taking the techniques I know and learn to put them together. I am looking forward to internalizing the style such that the flow comes without thought. I am honestly having a hard time seeing when that will come (or at least, when it will come to my satisfaction). And I am looking forward to helping others find that flow.

There is a certain camaraderie that we experience in hapkido that comes from the contact and discomfort we experience together. I consider all of the hapkido students at Lee’s my friends and am proud to be the first student to test for black belt here since I began. I am excited to begin this part of my journey. A black belt must be a leader, a teacher, and a role model. I am humbled to be offered the opportunity to take on those roles in a second art, under the guidance of my mentors and friends at Lee’s.