HOW I SURVIVED THE DEATH OF MY BELOVED KWAN JANG NIM
THE AMERICAN TRADITION PRESERVED: The United States Taekwondo Won (U.S.T.W.) now seeks to preserve the important American legacy of promoting traditional martial arts values to improve our human society. Finally, a National Dan Certifying Authority for the future generations of American traditional martial artists has been created, by the passing generation of Korean W.T.F. Grand Masters, for the surviving generation of U.S.T.W. American Masters.
As time continues to move forward into the 21st century, more and more American Black Belts and Masters will be forced to face the reality of the retirement, relocation or even the death of their local or regional traditional Martial Arts Instructor. When this occurs, does this also mark the end of their Instructor’s traditional martial arts legacy? Thankfully, the story of the second American Black Belt Master ever to be test graded and promoted by the newly formed U.S.T.W. demonstrates that the answer to this very timely and troubling question is "...absolutely not..."!
FAIRVIEW PARK, OHIO. On April 26, 2002, in Southern Ohio, I had the honor and privilege to successfully appear before a United States Taekwondo Won (U.S.T.W.) Special Examination Board, seeking promotion to, and national certification at, the rank of Sixth Degree Black Belt (6th Dan). I was there as the sole testing candidate, and I had never trained directly under any of the U.S.T.W. Examiners who had been appointed to conduct my Sixth Degree (6th Dan) Black Belt test.
The U.S.T.W. Special Promotion Board included a group of distinguished Grand Masters who once served as officers in the United States Taekwondo Union (U.S.T.U.), particularly: Sok Ho Kang of Charleston, West Virginia (W.T.F. 9th Dan and U.S.T.W. Board of Directors); Kyongwon Ahn of Cincinnati, Ohio (W.T.F. 9th Dan and U.S.T.W. President); and, Kyu Young Chai, Ph.D. of Lafayette, Indiana (W.T.F. 8th Dan and U.S.T.W. Education Committee Chair). See: Taekwondo Times: January, 2000, "The United States Taekwondo Won. Last Hope For Unity?" with Carol Hart @ http://ustw.org/images/ustw/tkdt_article_1-5.jpg.
I was appearing there for my sixth Black Belt test, which was (finally) occurring:
My physical and philosophical tests were completed in about ninety (90) minutes. With nearly thirty (30) of my students from Northern, Central and Southern Ohio (including my wonderful wife, Cheryl) anxiously looking on, the Examination Board announced: that this would be only the second time that the U.S.T.W. has both test graded and nationally certified an American Black Belt to the rank of Sixth Degree (6th Dan); and, that I had fully passed the U.S.T.W. Sixth Degree (6th Dan) test!
I later learned, from Grand Master Ahn, that the very first U.S.T.W. nationally certified Sixth Degree Black Belt (6th Dan) was test graded in April, 2001. He was a U.S.T.U. Olympian who won a Bronze Medal as a member of the United States Olympic Team in the Taekwondo competition held at the 1988 Summer Olympic games held in Seoul, South Korea. His name is Master Greg Baker.
Suddenly, I wondered by what twist of fate I ever came to be a part of this distinguished group of internationally known martial artists. Then, I remembered hearing one of the lessons that I learned from my early training with the late Master Kim: "the value is not in the destination, but in the journey". Looking back over my twenty-seven (27)—and counting—years of traditional martial arts training, I can now realize how prophetic that early lesson, with the late Master Kim, truly was.
IN THE BEGINNING
It was the summer of 1974, and Master Myung (John) H. Kim (W.T.F. 8th Dan; Korean Judo Champion; and, Korean Hapkido Master) came to America to live with his elder brother, Master Moo H. Kim, in Cleveland, Ohio. The Kim brothers began to develop a unified system of traditional martial arts training involving skills from three (3) Korean Martial Arts: Taekwondo, Judo, and Hapkido—originally called the U.S.A. Martial Arts Black Belt Association (n.k.a. the United Martial Arts Black Belt Association, hereinafter "U.M.B.A.").
In early 1975, I began my U.M.B.A. training under the Kim brothers at the same location. Over the next few years, Master Moo H. Kim moved to the East Side of Cleveland, and left the West Side of Cleveland to be developed by his younger brother, Master Myung (John) H. Kim.
The Kim brothers continued to collaborate in the development of their traditional U.M.B.A. martial arts schools. They eventually began to promote Black Belt students, all of whom were test graded and certified under a unified system of traditional Taekwondo, Judo, and Hapkido martial arts skills.
THE "SECOND" U.M.B.A. CHO DAN
In December 1976, Mr. Wayne C. Hodgins and I tested together for Cho Dan (1st Degree Black Belt), and were certified at that rank, by the Kim brothers. We were, however, the first White Belt students to do so that had started their traditional martial arts training under Master Myung (John) H. Kim. As Mr. Hodgins was senior to me in age, he would also be considered my senior in rank—even though we tested for the same rank at the same time. This is the high level of respect and discipline that is required in a traditional martial arts training program.
By the time I was tested by Master Kim at my first U.M.B.A. Black Belt test, as a High School senior, I had lost nearly 100 pounds and almost twenty (20) inches from my waist. While I had been a participant in conventional organized sports in school (e.g. baseball, football, wrestling) it was the discipline of my traditional martial arts training that enabled me to finally gain control over my weight.
My traditional martial arts training had, thus, succeeded in completely changing my physique; and, in improving both my self-esteem and personal confidence; all by the time that I had graduated, with High Honors, from High School. This clearly opened the doors for my successful entry into, and completion of, both: the Bachelor of Arts program at Miami University in Oxford; and, later, the Juris Doctor program at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.
In the fall of 1979, I founded the first Southern Ohio U.M.B.A. program of traditional martial arts training at Miami University, originally named the Red Dragons (n.k.a. the Korean Martial Arts Society, hereinafter "K.M.A.S."). In 1983, I assisted in the development of another U.M.B.A. program at Case Western Reserve University, during my law school years.
THE "FIRST" U.M.B.A. YUK DANS
In December 1994, Mr. Wayne C. Hodgins and I tested together for the rank of U.M.B.A. O Dan (5th Degree Black Belt), and were test graded and certified at that rank, by Master Myung (John) H. Kim.
Our lives, since our Cho Dan test, had taken us on different paths, and to different locations. One constant throughout both of our lives, however, was many years of consistent and vigorous U.M.B.A. traditional martial arts training. We both were also test graded and certified through the U.M.B.A. ranks of E Dan, Sam Dan and Sa Dan (2nd, 3rd and 4th Degree); and, thereafter, recognized as the first two (2) Assistant Master Instructors; under Grand Master Myung H. Kim.
Grand Master Kim had previously, and quite miraculously, survived a near fatal motor vehicle accident in February 1988, with resulting severe and permanent personal injuries. His physicians and his family reportedly attributed his survival to his many years of consistent and vigorous traditional martial arts training. See: The Plain Dealer: Sunday, September 18, 1988, "A Master’s Deliverance", p. 1-A, (Cleveland, Ohio); and: Taekwondo World Journal: January, 2000, "Taekwondo and My Life", by Mary Jo Daley featuring Grandmaster John H. Kim, vol. II, no. 12 (Vairico, Florida).
UNFINISHED U.M.B.A. BUSINESS
In January 1998, Master Myung H. Kim began publicly announcing—with obvious and great personal delight—that his first two (2) Assistant Masters would be testing under him, to become his first two (2) Full Masters as Yuk Dan (6th Degree Black Belts), under the U.M.B.A. traditional martial arts system.
In January 2000, Master Kim began to personally focus and direct the training of Master Hodgins and I, in order to complete our preparation for the U.M.B.A. Yuk Dan test that he had planned to conduct for us in December 2000.
On May 22, 2000, Master Myung Hwan Kim, the Korean-American Grand Master in Northern Ohio under whom Master Hodgins and I had trained in the U.M.B.A. traditional martial arts system for over twenty five (25) years, tragically and unexpectedly died. See: The Plain Dealer: Saturday, May 27, 2000, "Myung Hwan Kim, 56, was martial arts instructor", p. 11-B, (Cleveland, Ohio).
A NEW U.M.B.A. AMERICAN TRADITION
Afterwards, Master Hodgins and I decided that we should open our own U.M.B.A. program to preserve, refine, and promote the vision of traditional martial arts skills and philosophies that our beloved Kwan Jang Nim had taught to us, over the last twenty-five (25) years of his life. Indeed, we knew that, as the oldest and highest-ranking students of the late Grand Master Myung Hwan Kim, it was our obligation and duty to do so, in his honor, as his senior surviving students and as traditional martial artists.
As an attorney, I searched the status of Trade Name rights, through the Office of the Secretary of State of Ohio; and, lawfully registered my ownership of: "United Martial Arts Black Belt Association"; "U.M.B.A."; "Korean Martial Arts Society"; and, "K.M.A.S.". We then decided to contact and organize the other students and programs that we had helped to develop and supported over the years. We also decided to continue conducting U.M.B.A. test grading and rank certification, for the students and programs that joined us, after the death of our beloved Kwan Jang Nim.
In October 2000, Master Hodgins was able to find us space, at a local Kenpo school (d.b.a. All American Karate), in which to open our own U.M.B.A Headquarters Chapter, the Korean Martial Arts Society (K.M.A.S.), in Northern Ohio. At the same time, we have organized U.M.B.A. and K.M.A.S. affiliated programs in Central Ohio (Columbus and Hilliard) and Southern Ohio (Fairfield, Hamilton, Miami University at Oxford and the School of Medicine at the University of Cincinnati).
We have successfully conducted U.M.B.A. Black Belt Tests, and U.M.B.A. Instructors Seminars, in our new Headquarters School. We also review, certify, and issue below black belt U.M.B.A. ranks for the tests conducted at K.M.A.S. and our affiliated schools throughout the State of Ohio. We are, thus, continuing the American tradition of "making U.M.B.A. Black Belts" first started by the late Grand Master Kim in December 1974.
The American tradition of "founding K.M.A.S. affiliate programs" that I first started at Miami University in the fall of 1979 also continues. Our organization successfully established our newest program in Southern Ohio at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine, in the Fall of 2001. This was accomplished by the efforts of a first year medical student there, who is also a graduate from our Miami University K.M.A.S. program, Mrs. Krista Birkemeier (U.M.B.A. 1st Dan); and, the Southern Ohio U.M.B.A. leadership.
Furthermore, a new American tradition of "conducting U.M.B.A. founder’s memorial K.M.A.S. internal tournaments" was first undertaken in 2001 by the Southern Ohio U.M.B.A. Chapters, under the leadership of Master David R. Fiedeldey (U.M.B.A. 4th Dan), our Southern Ohio U.M.B.A. Regional Director. This new American tradition was next undertaken in 2002 by the Central Ohio U.M.B.A. Chapters, under the leadership of Master John A. Hartshorne (U.M.B.A. 4th Dan), our Central Ohio U.M.B.A. Regional Director.
BACK TO THE FUTURE
As set forth above, my traditional U.M.B.A. martial arts training under the late Master Kim ran throughout the significant academic and professional accomplishments of my life, from 1975 to the year 2000. Furthermore, I attribute my ability to successfully achieve those accomplishments to my many years of consistent and vigorous traditional martial arts training. Indeed, when I began my training under Master Kim, as a High School sophomore, I was fifteen (15) years old, weighed nearly 300 pounds, and sported a fifty six (56) inch waist.
Master Kim administered my second U.M.B.A. Black Belt test during my junior year at Miami University; and, my third U.M.B.A. Black Belt test between my completion of Law School and my passing of the Ohio Bar Exam. It was in this time period that Master Kim had consulted with some of the officers from the United States Taekwondo Union (U.S.T.U.), which was newly formed as the national governing body for sport Taekwondo in the United States. He would often discuss the development of Taekwondo, through the U.S.T.U., with the officers at various martial arts events he attended in America.
During this time, the Kim brothers were still traveling to Tournaments and Exhibitions around the country. They performed demonstrations of the broad scope of skills contained within their unified system of traditional martial arts training that involved skills from three (3) Korean Martial Arts: Taekwondo; Judo; and, Hapkido; which I personally observed (and performed) in the presence of thousands of thrilled spectators. See: Westlife: February 4, 1981, "Kim’s Martial Arts Show delights 1500", p. 26 (Westlake, Ohio); and: The Free Lance-Star: Tuesday, September 29, 1981, "Getting to the point", staff photos by Norm Shafer (Fredericksburg, Virginia).
I vividly remember Master Kim telling me, during a warm summer afternoon workout shared between only the two of us, some twenty years ago, that he had been greatly troubled by his meetings with the U.S.T.U. officers. He told me that the U.S.T.U. was planning to have Taekwondo accepted into the Olympics, and he was concerned that the traditional martial art of Taekwondo was going to become the Olympic sport of Taekwondo—just like Judo. If that occurred, he told me, he was going to open a Hapkido school, because he was a traditional martial artist who was concerned with his students becoming successful human beings, and not simply winning sport players.
Master Kim would often say: "as a martial artist, you must be concerned about how badly you will hurt your attacker; as a sport player, you must be concerned with how badly your opponent will hurt you".
Master Kim told me that he was a Judo champion who left Judo, and pursued Taekwondo, when Judo sensei became Judo coaches, and the martial art of Judo became the sport of Judo. He said that when Judo was accepted into the Olympics, Judo lost its martial arts spirit. Then, he came to America, and opened a Taekwondo school.
Indeed, Master Kim often told me that his goal for the U.M.B.A. was to make a traditional martial arts program nationally available to the 97% of the American population that was not athletically gifted. He urged that such an influence would serve to raise human existence to a higher level.
Master Kim would tell me: "if the world was filled with Black Belts, then the world would be a better place". In other words, to teach traditional martial arts values to the members of society would serve to make better people; and, thus, a better society. He felt that the U.S.T.U. was taking American Taekwondo in the wrong direction. See: The Plain Dealer: Sunday, September 18, 1988, "A Master’s Deliverance", p. 1-A, (Cleveland, Ohio). He fiercely pursued this vision, until his death.
THE U.S.T.W. APPEARS
The late Master Kim had a subscription to the Korean-American TAEKWONDO WORLD JOURNAL. In the summer of 1999, I noticed (with great interest) an article with a photo of a group of Korean W.T.F. Grand Masters who had met in Tampa, Florida to establish a new organization called the "...U. S. Taekwondo Moo Do Won...", who stated that their mission was "...to raise better students." Included in the photo were Master Kang and Master Ahn, who would ultimately conduct my Sixth Degree Black Belt test. See: Taekwondo World Journal: July 1999, "U.S. Taekwondo MOODOWON Established", vol. II, no. 9 (Vairico, Florida).
Then, in the early part of 2000, just months before the tragic and untimely death of the late Master Kim, I noticed another very exciting article in the Korean-American TAEKWONDO WORLD JOURNAL. There, it was reported that, in Huntsville, Alabama, "...six leading Taekwondo practitioners in the United States...shared among themselves the necessity to reestablish Taekwondo as a martial art and...they could not allow themselves to do nothing while Taekwondo goes off track..." The article reported that the six Taekwondo leaders were establishing a not for profit organization called the "...American Taekwondo Moodowon Foundation...[that would]...open its door to all the Taekwondo practitioners regardless of their denominations or regions..." (Emphasis added) See: Taekwondo World Journal: January, 2000, " ‘Taekwondo Revival’ Campaign Spreading in U.S.", vol. II, no. 12 (Vairico, Florida).
Within four (4) months of that last article, my beloved Kwan Jang Nim would be dead. We never discussed, face to face, the new organization, or the organizers, or their mission, all as reported in the Korean-American TAEKWONDO WORLD JOURNAL articles noted above. He was an avid reader, and I must presume that he had read both of those articles. He was also a traditional martial artist whom I knew agreed with the opinion that Taekwondo (via the U.S.T.U.) was going "...off track..." See: Taekwondo World Journal: January, 2000, " ‘Taekwondo Revival’ Campaign Spreading in U.S.", vol. II, no. 12 (Vairico, Florida).
Fifteen (15) months after we buried him, however, I came to learn that the late Master Kim wanted our American legacy of U.M.B.A. and K.M.A.S. traditional martial arts training to walk through the "...open...door..." of the organization that had been reported in the Korean-American TAEKWONDO WORLD JOURNAL articles. Indeed, through a series of meaningful coincidences, one of the six leading Taekwondo practitioners reported as founding that new organization would personally (and unexpectedly) lead me, as the late Master Kim’s senior surviving student, to the very threshold of that open doorway. In doing so, that same Taekwondo leader has graciously bestowed upon me both the honor of completing the unfinished business of my late instructor, and the hope that I can continue to successfully and significantly contribute to achieving the goals of our traditional martial arts vision. His name is Grand Master Kyongwon Ahn of Cincinnati, Ohio (W.T.F. 9th Dan and U.S.T.W. President).
THE MEANINGFUL COINCIDENCES
In the year after the death of our beloved Kwan Jang Nim, Master David R. Fiedeldey (U.M.B.A. 4th Dan), our Southern Ohio U.M.B.A. Regional Director, happened to independently (and personally) hear Master Ahn speak of the U.S.T.W. and its mission. Master Fiedeldey (with his Korean born fiancée) was attending the same Korean Catholic Church as Master Ahn, and they would occasionally speak about martial arts issues.
Master Fiedeldey is also a graduate and U.M.B.A. Black Belt of the K.M.A.S. program at Miami University. Ever since I founded that organization, it has been in some level of "competition" with another Taekwondo club at Miami University that was founded by a Taekwondo instructor in Southern Ohio. His name is Grand Master Kyongwon Ahn of Cincinnati, Ohio (W.T.F. 9th Dan and U.S.T.W. President).
Having personal knowledge, while at Miami University, of this history of (sometimes strained) competition, Master Fiedeldey first approached me about speaking with Master Ahn. I asked him to advise Master Ahn about the unfinished business of our late Master Kim, and to address the possibility of conducting a Sixth Degree Black Belt test for Master Hodgins and I, in order to complete the U.M.B.A. business that had been left undone.
On August 21, 2001, and as the result of Master Fiedeldey’s efforts on my behalf, I began a series of correspondence, telephone calls and/or personal meetings with Master Ahn. Master Ahn thoroughly evaluated my U.M.B.A. Rank Certification and training. He also, thereafter, personally sponsored my participation in a "special" U.S.T.W. Sixth (6th) Dan Promotion Examination.
As set forth above, that "special" test ultimately occurred in Southern Ohio on April 26, 2002—some eight (8) months after my first personal contact with Master Ahn; and, some twenty (20) years after I graduated from Miami University, where I first founded the K.M.A.S. program that has been "in competition" with Master Ahn.
Furthermore, our newest K.M.A.S. program at the University of Cincinnati School of Medicine is also in a level of competition with another Taekwondo club at the University of Cincinnati that was founded by a Taekwondo instructor in Southern Ohio. His name (of course) is Grand Master Kyongwon Ahn of Cincinnati, Ohio (W.T.F. 9th Dan and U.S.T.W. President).
One of the U.M.B.A. Black Belts, who assisted me with the physical portion of my U.S.T.W. test, was also a testing candidate at the last Promotion Test that I conducted as the on-campus instructor at Miami University some twenty (20) years ago. His name is Christopher A. Myers, Ph.D. (U.M.B.A. 2nd Dan and K.M.A.S. Program Director), who left as a student, and returned to become a tenured professor, at Miami University.
The other U.M.B.A. Black Belts who assisted me with the physical portion of my U.S.T.W. test included my students from Southern Ohio: Master David Fiedeldey (U.M.B.A. 4th Dan) and his younger brother, Mr. Tim Fiedeldey (U.M.B.A. 1st Dan); from Central Ohio: Master John Hartshorne (U.M.B.A. 4th Dan); and, from Northern Ohio: Mr. Vincent Gambino (U.M.B.A. 3rd Dan).
Together, they offered me no less than forty-six (46) years of combined training and experience as Black Belts in U.M.B.A. traditional martial arts. Together with my twenty five (25) years of U.M.B.A. Black Belt training and experience, we offered the U.S.T.W. Promotion Board a performance by a total of seventy one (71) years of combined training and experience as Black Belts in U.M.B.A. traditional martial arts. Apparently, our performance met with the Board’s approval, given that I passed the test!
During the test, one of the U.S.T.W. Examination Board members (after seeing the technical performance of my U.M.B.A. techniques) announced that he had personally known and worked with the late Master Kim. He said that they were in the South Korean military together, where they both were teaching hand to hand combat to American soldiers.
His name is Sok Ho Kang of Charleston, West Virginia (W.T.F. 9th Dan and U.S.T.W. Board of Directors).
After the test, all the U.S.T.W. Examination Board Members and I had retired to Master Ahn’s office. There, one of the U.S.T.W. Examination Board members announced that he had personally known and gone to school with Master Moo H. Kim, elder brother of the late Master Kim, while they were all in South Korea.
His name is Kyu Young Chai, Ph.D. of Lafayette, Indiana (W.T.F. 8th Dan and U.S.T.W. Education Committee Chair).
After Master Chai’s revelation, I announced to the U.S.T.W. Examination Board Members that present as a spectator during my test was one of my U.M.B.A. Black Belt students from Northern Ohio. That student had written a testimonial about the late Master Kim, during his lifetime, which appeared in the very same Korean-American TAEKWONDO WORLD JOURNAL edition that contained the announcement of the meeting in Huntsville, Alabama attended by both Master Kang and Master Ahn, who had tested me.
Master Ahn seemed to know what I was talking about, and jumped right into his file cabinet, from which he pulled the January 2000 edition of that periodical. The Board Members asked me to call this student into the office, while Master Ahn flipped through the pages and found her article about the late Master Kim, which included a picture of him from his early days in America. Her name is Mary Jo Daley (U.M.B.A. 1st Dan).
Present there before me, in Master Ahn’s office, was: the image of my late Master Kim, looking out from the pages of the Korean-American TAEKWONDO WORLD JOURNAL; the three (3) Korean W.T.F. Grand Masters who had finished his plans for my Sixth Dan test; and, the U.M.B.A. student whose article was published in a single issue of that periodical which simultaneously reported about Master Kang and Master Ahn (who had just tested me), and the late Master Kim (which included a photo of him). See: Taekwondo World Journal: January, 2000, "Taekwondo and My Life", by Mary Jo Daley featuring Grandmaster John H. Kim, vol. II, no. 12 (Vairico, Florida).
HIS FINAL MESSAGE
I stood there awestruck, in Master Ahn’s office, trying to comprehend the incredible set of coincidences that served to bring us all together at that point in space and time. Suddenly, I understood by what twist of fate I came to be a part of this distinguished group of internationally known martial artists.
It was the common relationship that all present had shared, either directly or indirectly, and either in America or in South Korea. It was the single reason that we had all there and then come to be assembled. It was the reason why I had become only the second American Master to be nationally certified and test graded as a U.S.T.W. Sixth Degree Black Belt, by the passing generation of Korean American W.T.F. Grand Masters.
That twist of fate was, of course, my beloved Kwan Jang Nim. He was, I believe, telling us that the U.S.T.W. was where we could all find our future national identity for the important American legacy of promoting traditional martial artists. I also believe that he was there with us, in spirit, to let us know he could now rest in peace, since his final plans had now been completed. I truly felt that his energy was filling the room during my U.S.T.W. Sixth Degree Black Belt test.
Rest easy, my beloved Kwan Jang Nim. Once again, you have pointed me in the right direction. Your second U.M.B.A. Cho (1st) Dan has now become the second U.S.T.W. Yuk (6th) Dan. We will see each other again, some day, so that I can (finally) thank you, face to face.
Without the love and support of his parents, Nick and Florence Wukovich, he would never have had the opportunity to meet and train under the late Master Kim.
Without the love and traditional martial arts training of his late Master Myung Hwan Kim, he would never have had the opportunity to become only the second nationally certified Sixth (6th) Degree Black Belt to be test graded by the U.S.T.W. Board of Examiners.
Without the love and support of his U.M.B.A. students throughout the State of Ohio, he would never have had the opportunity to prepare for his successful U.S.T.W. Sixth (6th) Degree Black Belt test performance.
Without the love and patience of his wife, Cheryl, he would never have had the opportunity to pursue his goals in U.M.B.A. martial arts, or to write this article.
Finally, without the kind guidance and gracious support of the U.S.T.W. and Grand Master Kyongwon Ahn, it is likely that the American U.M.B.A. tradition would not have been able to survive the death of our beloved Kwan Jang Nim.