God, I am not worthy!

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In the recent days, I have been confronted with the realities of existence and once again forced me to look critically into the meaning of life and death. It has been resting heavily on my heart and for the last week there has been something weighing me down, slowly as I step, wearily as I work through the day, somberly as I ponder looking into the gray sky; why, why them and not me?

As I finished teaching my class last Monday, I checked my phone as I always do to see if there are any texts from my absent students, any word from my family in the States, and Lord behold, I was floored to read a text from my sister that one of my students whom I have taught since he was 5 or 6 passed away at a young age of 39. Kris Camacho and his father both trained under myself and my father for many years. I have lost touch with them for several years but reconnected last year before I moved to Luxembourg and have remained in contact, following each other on social media.

It is said that the first impression is always the last. Although Kris was in his late 30’s all I can see was the cute vibrant young boy who was always excited and curious to be around me. He followed everything I did and literally followed me around everywhere I went, and he was such a joy to have around. He was so full of life, so happy, so filled with joy all the time. Even when he had to take several breaks during the day to take his insulin shots, having been diagnosed with diabetes since birth. Every time he would take out his insulin kit, pinched himself on the side and gave himself a shot, he did it with a smile, as though it was nothing more than taking a vitamin pill. However, whenever I saw him do that, it was hard to bare as I cringed inside with the reality of his situation, realizing that having sympathy for him and feeling sorry does him no good, yet I could not help to ask God, why?

He was exceptionally talented physically and for a young boy he had some of the best kicks I had ever seen. He excelled also in wrestling and surfing. He loved all of it and loved life. He admired me as a Hwa Rang Do master and emulated me, but I also admired and envied him as I surfed and wished I could be as good as he came to be. He became a legend in Huntington Beach and was loved by all his peers and elders alike. As I read the text, a flood of emotions overcame me and it dropped me to my knees in prayer with tears at the corner of the gym, asking God to care for him, not knowing whether he had accepted Christ as Savior. I tried to compose myself by wiping the tears aways from my face as two trial students approached me. I apologized for my appearance and asked them how they enjoyed the class. It was a couple and the woman replied, “It was awesome! I loved it.” I continued to explain about the class and how well they did, all the meanwhile thinking of Kris.

That night, I was so filled with remorse, I couldn’t keep from crying. Why, I asked? Why am I so sad? Then, next morning I was reading the Gospel by Matthew and came across the verses 18:1 through 6.

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 6 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Then I realized that Kris was the first of my pupil whom have passed who was for me a child and it also reminded me the loss of my own child, and my greatest sin. I would have gladly taken Kris’ place and wished that God would have taken me instead. And, once again I was flooded with uncontrollable tears as I prayed for forgiveness as I have done countless times and each time I have felt the mercy and comfort of God, but the pain never goes away.

Later that day I came across a youtube video and saw a man who I was following on youtube, Nabeel Qureshi. He was a devout Muslim apologist from a strong Muslim family who converted to Christianity during his Med School years after many years of research and debate. Consequently, he lost his entire family to walk in the steps of Christ. Through the youtube video I discovered that he had died from stomach cancer at a youthful age of only 34. He did so much, travelled all over the world speaking, debating, lecturing to save just one more, working with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, all the while writing books and fighting his cancer, fighting to live. Then, I saw a vlog by him in his last days on his deathbed, laying in his hospital bed with most of his hair gone and you can see the pain in his face, having barely any strength to even speak, holding his tears back he continued to speak of his faith in Christ and that there’s not one regret in his life, asking for everyone’s prayers, but that he’s embraced whatever is God’s will. The thing that most impressed me was that he announced the release of his latest book, but more importantly that he’s working on his next book. He was working for the “Lord” even in his deathbed.

Then, just today, upon my sister and my mother attending Kris’s funeral service, they sent me a copy of his eulogy from which I discovered that Kris had given his life to Christ.

It is strange for me yet it was the perfect timing as it is God’s will that I got to meet with Kris only a few months before I moved to Luxembourg. I was going through struggles of my own, contemplating leaving everything behind to move to a foreign land I barely knew to start fresh at the ripe youthful age of 52, right. Then, one day my sister told me that Kris took care of her and her friends at a nightclub he was promoting. You see Kris was one of the most successful nightclub promoters in Orange County. He never touched a drop of alcohol, never did drugs as he struggled each and every day to live, and was the most friendly person you could ever meet. He was the best host, an ambassador for OC.

I had lunch with him and thanked him for his hospitality and generosity. It was great to see him again and he was exactly the same as I remembered him when he was a child, so spirited, so joyful, and excited to see me. He brought joy back into my life and I felt youthful again, talking about surfing, skateboarding and the good ol’ days. He never lost that sense of wonderment and excitement for life as a child, he was what Christ was speaking of. Now, after his passing I realized why God brought him back into my life and I am truly humbled and grateful to have known him. My only regret is that I could not have been there for him. I am sorry Kris, please forgive me.

I didn’t feel deserving to be living, for surely Kris and Nabeel are far more worthy to carry the cross than I. However, I also realized that only God can know all and that we only know in part. So, with great humility I continue living, inspired by the lives of these two great men who have sacrificed much yet taken too soon from the world as we miss them, yet serving a greater God’s Purpose. I am truly humbled and inspired by your lives to do more, to be more, to always strive and never complain no matter how bad or desperate my situation may be.

I thank God for giving me a chance to reflect once more on the value of life and for the lesson to not waste a moment of this great gift. Also for the chance to have known and be influenced, inspired by these great men.

May you rest in peace in God’s grace and loving care, and hope that I may see you in Heaven if I am worthy.

With love and humility,

Reposted from Taedosa.com

“How Grandmaster Helped me to find my way back to my Father”

Testimonial By a Humbled Student

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I already knew that mentoring with Kuk Sa Nim would have been a deep experience, but the ability of the Grandmaster to know where to focus his attention and transmit his words really surprised me.

The knowledge, the depth, the experience of this man are prodigious. The many subjects we encountered in our conversation went from quantum physics to philosophy, with absolute simplicity. I only had to bring out the reason of my interior resentment, that is the absence of a relationship with my father, whom was never a father, to obtain from him a detailed analysis and the direction to overtake rage and fears, and to free myself from my own conditioning.

I only had to bring out the reason of my interior resentment, that is the absence of a relationship with my father, whom was never a father, to obtain from him a detailed analysis and the direction to overtake rage and fears, and to free myself from my own conditioning.

I felt necessary to let the GrandMaster know of the burden I had been carrying for many years. A real setback in my life: the total lack of any relationship with my father. That was a decision I had to make fifteen years earlier, after having realized throughout the previous years that he did not care about me at all. He did not want any fruitful communication with me; there had never been any exchange of love or transmission of life experience or know-how in the manner of a father-to-son relationship. I had tried many times to speak to him and draw his attention on me, but was never successful. I had also tried to write him a letter, the most important letter of my life, in which I made a point about us, explaining his typical behaviors and again tried to tell him of his faults. When he received the letter, he just sent it back with the postman…

I was left with no choice but to quit on my father, in order to protect me and leave him to the life he wanted, without me.

The Grandmaster came directly to the point, his words cutting on my conscience like a sharp sword: I had to forgive my father; go to him and tell him I loved him. I also had to do it quickly, being my father 76 years old: in case of any troubles with his health, shouldn’t I succeed in letting him know in due time, a permanent shadow on my soul would have crippled me for the rest of my life.

I tried to explain how hard that task was after so many years, but I didn’t need to: He knew it already. He said that a warrior must always be ready to take on heavy duties without never stepping backwards. He ordered me to do it, so that I should have done it even if I hadn’t agreed. He said that I had to do it not because my father deserved it, but because I deserved to be set free from my burden, from my self-imposed anguish.

At the end of our time together, I was definitely much shaken by His words and on the verge of crying. He came and gave me a warm hug and in that very moment I somehow felt his strength passing on to me. I knew He was right!

At the end of our time together, I was definitely much shaken by His words and on the verge of crying. He came and gave me a warm hug and in that very moment I somehow felt his strength passing on to me. I knew He was right!

We have to realize the huge privilege of being a part of the Hwa Rang Do Family: the Grand Master, such as all of the instructors, are following our growth personally, and they are interested in making sure that each one of us express the best that we can be and become a better man, a better warrior. “Empowering the world, one person at a time!”

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee gave me the hardest assignment of my life. He wants me to do it quickly, and then he wants to be informed of the developments. No chatters, no excuses, no blame, I just have to get busy and act. I’m not saying that I’ll be able to do it tomorrow, but I need to let Grandmaster Lee’s words and reflections change me from the inside and break down the thick walls that I felt I was forced to build in these many years. However, I’m sure of one thing: I know I’ll do it, I must.

He’s right: nothing in the world is more powerful than “Love”, and if we have even one single hope in one billion to make someone think and maybe change, we can only do it relying on that “Love” that we all have within us. All we need is the strength to express it.

He’s right: nothing in the world is more powerful than “Love”, and if we have even one single hope in one billion to make someone think and maybe change, we can only do it relying on that “Love” that we all have within us. All we need is the strength to express it.

“In almost fifty years I learnt more than four thousands way to hurt someone, but true greatness is in not using them and believing in Love”. I have no other words, but immense admiration and deep gratitude, to define our Grandmaster. I’ll try to be worthy of his teachings and to transform the great inspiration I received from him into reality.

Thank you and Hwarang forever!

My update:

It took me a few days to think over Grandmaster’s words and I was ready to accomplish my task, the hardest ever in my life, but still the most necessary.

I waited for the right time in which I could find my father at home, and I advised the Grandmaster that the following Sunday I would go and meet him. Kuk Sa Nim told me to go there and speak freely with no expectations whatsoever, in order not to be let down in case of possible negative reactions. He told me to let my words come right from my heart.

I felt very confident because of this wonderful direct communication with my Grandmaster and all the strength he was able to pass on to me!

The day came and I went to meet my father. He appeared to be in full possession of his intellectual capabilities but did not recognize me for at least half a minute.. for sure, by showing up before him I had put him way outside his comfort zone..!

I greeted him and told him I was at the end of a path and I just wanted to let him know I loved him.

He replied he had been waiting for that all these many years..

A thought came across my mind, that he would have waited until death if I hadn’t decided to come over and meet him. As far as I could remember, he always preferred deciding not to decide… Then, I remembered Grandmaster’s words to love with no expectations and to stay in the positive. So, I quickly I let go of that negative thought and focused on dwelling in the positive.

We then spoke for about 10 minutes. He asked me of my work and I asked him of his retirement. We exchanged our cellphone numbers and everything let me think we would be in touch again soon.

I had succeeded in forgiving him and started a new chapter of a father & son relationship, which I have longed for all of my life. And, finally it’ll have a chance to be good since I promised myself that I won’t bring up anything of our past and his faults – never, ever again.

I had succeeded in forgiving him and started a new chapter of a father & son relationship, which I have longed for all of my life. And, finally it’ll have a chance to be good since I promised myself that I won’t bring up anything of our past and his faults – never, ever again.

All in all, that is the essence of forgiveness. You do not forget (you never could!), you just go through it and expand.

I left him with some time to fully understand the reasons of my visit and after one week my father called me on the phone to invite me for lunch at his place. He would introduce me to the woman he lives with and to her family.

We spoke for more than twenty minutes; he was friendly and I got along well. I can now say that all conditions for the beginning of a new and finally fruitful communication are set.

I entirely owe this victory to the words and wisdom of Grandmaster Taejoon Lee. He taught me that with the necessary humility and determination and most of all with a kind, compassionate heart every goal can be achieved. Never retreat!

Thank You, Sir.
Hwarang forever and everywhere!

Yours faithfully,

Can you be strong yet not courageous?

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Strength and Courage:

It takes strength to be certain,
It takes courage to have doubts.

It takes strength to fit in,
It takes courage to stand out.

It takes strength to share a friend’s pain,
It takes courage to feel your own pain.

It takes strength to hide your own pain,
It takes courage to show it and deal with it.

It takes strength to stand guard,
It takes courage to let down your guard.

It takes strength to conquer,
It takes courage to surrender.

It takes strength to endure abuses,
It takes courage to stop them.

It takes strength to stand alone,
It takes courage to lean on a friend.

It takes strength to love,
It takes courage to be loved.

It takes strength to survive,
It takes courage to live.
– Sylvia Kelly

I came across this poem so very serendipitously.

I thought I was once strong, now I want to be courageous!

Strength got things done, made me feel invincible, gave sense of importance and value. But, what it lacked was calmness, humility, peace and joy.

After the dust settles and all is said and done, I hope I have gained some wisdom, some clarity. And, hope that I have done some good in the world.

I am left alone and it is here that I must start, and where I will finish – alone, but then we are never truly alone. So much noise, so much distractions, breath… calm…

True peace and happiness lies in courage; in the courage to let go of the pains from the past and the courage to surrender to the joys of tomorrow, by living today fearlessly!

The first step is to make peace with God, then the rest will follow…

But, then again that presupposes that you trust yourself, and that what you chose was correct.

So much noise, so much distractions, breath… calm…

hmmm…

“Conquering others is strong; Conquering oneself is mighty.”
– Lao Tzu

With love and peace,

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

A Dedication to My Hwa Rang Do Sons & Daughters.

Dedication

Sigh…

Oh how time has flown. It has already been 17 years since I first opened this school and with the help of my loyal pupil converted it from a tattered, left for dead Tae Kwon Do school, to a beautiful majestic space where my students and family can call it their second home. It has also been a long time since I actually had written a speech. However, this year, I feel compelled to write everything down as I don’t want to forget anything. I am definitely not a young pup anymore and sometimes my memory fails me.

There have been literally thousands of students who have passed through those doors and honored me with the opportunity to mold, teach, and yes sometimes, maybe often scold and discipline. There have been also, many parents who I have had the fortunate opportunity, actually some more than others, to meet, advice, and council. I have witnessed children wetting the matt floor to women stomping out of class in an emotional melt down. I have heard excuses ranging from “my dog ate my sash” to “I am an actor and the discipline here is stifling my creativity.” I have parents who have praised me with boundless love and support to parents who have resented me as their children obey me more than them. I have parents who have told me that they will move wherever I go as their child needs me to blaming me for spanking, later to find out that the child injured himself playing on the monkey bars. I have received gifts ranging from a sweatshirt that reads “I yell because I care” to a new oven to fuel my new hobby of cooking. I have enjoyed many triumphs and countless moments of joy and excitement, but most of all I have endured many heartbreaks and disappointments.

Beginning of this year, I was forced to readdress the aching question that has always lingered, ready to reveal itself in grand fashion in the deep recesses of my mind, but suppressed: first, when my bible studies teacher told me to “shut up” for asking too many questions when I was in my early teens; then later in college when I pursued philosophy and realized that it only sparked more questions than answers. So, I decided to live life and stop asking: Stop asking the existence of god, what is truth and what makes it true, what is the purpose of mankind, where did we come from, and if there was a god, then where did god come from, etc, etc…

I have resolved within myself that the only way to know the truth is to live life and experience as much as I can with a vigilant yet open mind, unafraid to be hurt, disappointed or disillusioned. I have traveled and done much throughout my life, gaining as much knowledge as I can soak up about people and their nature. Finally I decided to take root by opening this school in West LA. The last 17 years was challenging to say the least, but we have always found a way to persevere.

During the early part of this year, there were some eye-opening experiences that I am not going to get into for the moment, but lets just say that the desire to know the truth became more immediate than ever and it consumed my entire being. It shook my foundation and made me ask: how come we are in this global financial crisis where the dollar is worth nothing and the disparity of wealth is ever-increasing; how we have all globally agreed in this scam of using monopoly money; how come people are starving all over the world and we are facing a food crisis; why are we facing the shortage of oil with no replacement in sight; why if there have been so much more advances in technology that we could not find solutions to these problems; why with so many more institutions of higher learning, so many more college graduates, and professors that we cannot seem to resolve the core issues that affect the our continued survival; why are there more wars than ever before; and could we all be some lab experiment of a multi-dimensional being?

We are living in the information age and although it has helped us to live seemingly better lives, there are so much misinformation as well and it’s a monumental task to try to decipher what’s fact from fiction, what’s real from fantasy. I was scared for the first time in my life as my perceptions, my beliefs were tested and there was a brief moment where life became overwhelming, became meaningless and I lost my purpose. And, for me purpose is more important than food, without it I cannot continue to live. After many mornings of meditation and sleepless nights of reflection, I rose once more from what felt like was my burial. And once again it was Hwa Rang Do that has empowered me.

All the creed, all of our goals were more relevant and necessary than ever before. All the things that I have been preaching became imminent and I was called to take action. There’s no tomorrow, only today and what we do today dictates our future. I became more motivated and inspired to fulfill our goals of empowering the world one person at a time.

In a world where it seems that the public is consumed with consumption, not to the fault of their own, but all you have to do is look around you. The corporations are becoming multi-national conglomerates with deep pockets in DC with endless resources to make sure that they sustain their greed for money and power. There are so many ways that they can influence and infiltrate into our lives to create dependencies through fear and hedonism.

It’s all about the bottom line, it’s all about feeling good, it’s all about having the most toys before you die. The martial art industry is like all other industries with the same goals. The goal is to make the customers happy so you can increase retention and repeat business. Don’t give negative criticism, constructive or not. Diminish any activity that would give them a negative experience. Dumb everything down so that it’s easy to do and easy to learn. Make everything fun and enjoyable. Don’t get too involved with the student’s personal life. And definitely no knuckle pushups!

And, yes this is where I have failed as a martial arts entrepreneur. My goal has never been to make the students happy, my goal has always been to offer them strength to realize and love their true self by stripping away their ego, which only serves to comfort them with lies of self grandeur for self-preservation. My students were never my customers, they were students who needed to be taught what they lacked and needed. I have always believed in the balance of both positive and negative reinforcement, and as they got stronger and moved from Tae Soo Do to Hwa Rang Do, the negative reinforcement would prevail. The underlying message of only using positive reinforcement is that you can’t do anything; the underlying message of negative reinforcement is that you should know. What are we training them for? What is the real world like? Who needs training to deal with good experiences? We need training to deal with the bad, negative, painful experiences. So, how can our students learn to deal with the hardships and disappointments of life if they were never exposed to it and never had practice dealing with criticism, disappointments, and conflicts, which are predominant in the real world. This can also be seen in our educational system where in elementary schools, they do not even play games life musical chairs by saying “why should 1 kid win and 30 lose.” All we are doing by this is creating more bait for the sharks. And, I have no interest in raising my students as someone’s lunch.

Oh, don’t even get me started on drugging our children. You know how I feel about that.

No, I do not dumb things down by speaking in terms that children understand in gaga googoo language, but I expect them to learn Korean terminologies as their capacity for languages are best when they are young and it helps to stimulate their brain activity. No I do not demean the seriousness of martial training by making everything into a game that kids can play. How can we make martial training a game where one learns to hurt, injure, maim other people? How is that for fun? We must not delude the serious intent of our training, but rather use it to heighten their awareness and have them pay respect and reverence to what they are doing so that they are careful not to error. They must learn also to do things that are not so fun. Maturity is learning to do the things that you do not like, but in order to get ahead, you must do these compulsory tasks of our lives very well. We must first teach them what they need and then give them what they want. And, they must learn the self-discipline to do the things that they do not enjoy but are necessary.

I know all my students personally and by the time they have reached their Tae Soo Do Black Belt, I know them very well in all aspects of their lives. What is the satisfaction to teach a person how to throw a kick, a punch, to hurt another human being? The satisfaction comes from knowing that you have trained them to be self-disciplined to control themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally to present themselves in the best light possible to others and to extend themselves selflessly to help those in need. A good teacher tells a student what they should do and fix their mistakes when they occur; a great teacher shows the students what they should do and fixes the source of their mistakes so they never occur again.

In this era of uncertainty, which I thought would not happen in my lifetime, but maybe for the future generation, I too looked towards self-preservation and wanted to survive. I became selfish and tried to find ways to secure a better future. Should I make the curriculum easier; should I lower my expectations; should I not be so strict; should I get rid of the knuckle pushups; should I discipline less; should I, should I. For sure, I would be liked by more people, have more friends, less headaches and invited to more baby showers. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, but I was focused on me and if I saved myself, that’s only one life. Where is the nobility in that? No, I must commit to teaching better, harder, and more to as many people as I can. In that way I may help many to live better. This is what fear does to you. It makes you egocentric, egotistical, selfish, entitled and myopic. Only truly strong and fearless people can be selfless and devote their lives to a higher cause.

This week I attended a high school graduation of one of my Hwa Rang Do Black Sashes, She’s the only teenage female Black Sash that I have taught besides my sisters in the over 33 years I have been teaching. She graduated with honors from Elycee Francais and is accepted to UC Berkeley. As I was walking into the school, I saw some familiar faces and in particular a grandmother of two kids who were formerly my students. I have not seen them in many years as the girl stopped training after receiving her TSD Black Belt, but she is my girl’s best friend and her brother, who also trained when he was 6 or 7 was unrecognizable. He was 6’5”, at only 15 years old and already being recruited by colleges for basketball. I remember him being quite a handful as a little tiger. The grandmother walked over to me and was delighted to see me. She held my hand and said, “Thank you so much for all that you do for the kids.” I have not seen her in 7, 8 years and she left me speechless and as I was fumbling for words like, “ah it was nothing or was it I didn’t do anything.” Before I can say anything, she gave me a big hug and that meant everything to me.

Sitting there in the auditorium as I am trying to see where my girl was in the parade of incoming graduates, I realized that I could not find her. I could not see the cute 4 year old in ponytails. When I finally made her out, she was a beautiful young woman, tall, proud, and with make up and heels. Wow! It’s been 14 years already. And of course we never think of how old we are getting.

As I sat through the speeches from the president and the school faculty, I was reminded that I am not an island, that I am not alone. And you can’t imagine how refreshing that is for me. As the president spoke, what remains in my mind are these two statements; “we do not give compliments easily. They must be earned.” And “we have high standards for our students.” Awesome! I am thinking to myself as I nod in agreement. As she receives her diploma and her awards, I was filled with great joy and satisfaction. And it dawned on me, she was not my girl, not my daughter, but she might as well be. Although she was not my own, it would be the closest I would come to feeling the joy of raising a child.

As I watched her mingle with her friends, taking pictures, and congratulating each other, I was admiring how beautiful she was, how feminine, how delicate, then for a moment I thought to myself, “Oh I should have been easier on her” and that quickly changed to “No, and then, do these people realize that underneath that cover of beauty and femininity, lies a fierce warrior who can seriously kick some ass.” And that thought brought a comforting, satisfied grin across my face. I was genuinely proud of her and I guess I was gloating a little in hoping that my teachings took some part in helping her to be how she is today. However, the true testament of her success lies with the mother, Christina. There were many moments when Andrea, oh did I mention who this girl was, yes it’s Andrea Perez-Bertolotto.

As I was saying, there were many moments when Andrea wanted to quit Hwa Rang Do, especially when all her friends quit. To give you a perspective: in Tae Soo Do they average a belt test every 3 to 4 months, for Hwa Rang Do it takes a year to 1 1/2 and has ten times more the curriculum than Tae Soo Do. So it would take an additional 6 to 10 years to reach Black Sash. These were critical times in their early adolescence with so many distractions, so many new experiences and possibilities. However, Christina did not give her daughter the option of quitting, even after many arguments with her husband, who is in fact a Hwa Rang Do blue sash himself and should have known better, LOL!

And, let me tell you, and all my students know, I was definitely not easy on her even through those awkward years where her body is growing faster than she can handle. We live by the idea of “not looking for exceptions, but to be exceptional!” And that was my aim. I am sure there were many moments she cried herself to sleep and wanted it all to stop. Things did not get easier as she had to prepare for her black sash examination. To review hundreds if not thousands of techniques, moves, forms, fighting, weaponry, then perform them in front of an intimidating board of judges compromised of Dojoonim (our founder) and his high ranking masters, a 15 page minimum dissertation, 2 poems, 2 hour written exam with a mean score of 50 out of 100, power break though concrete slabs, and doing this with a demanding college prep work at school, not to mention that she is the only or one of a very few women in class, having to spar, grapple, and weapon fight 20 to 30 other male adults throughout most of her teen life. To say the least she did excellent and seemed to have breezed through it. I think I was more nervous than she was. I know I was more nervous.

Finally, I saw her prepare for her college entrance exams, interviews and the application process. She could have on any of these occasions asked to take a break, stop training; many have, for far less as breaking of a fingernail. But, she did not. She managed and juggled through all her responsibilities here, her school and family, never complaining, never losing her poise, her character. And neither did her mother.

Usually, by that age, I rarely deal with the parents and it’s even more rare that I receive any credit or compliment from them. I was delighted to have had a chance to chat with the mother, Christina, and I was truly moved that she gives me so much credit to Andrea’s successes. And it moved me even more when she continued to tell me that Andrea measures all her school teachers against me and complains why they are not like Master Lee. I must say this was big surprise! She went on to say that Andrea’s school teachers tell her that Andrea is a very special girl, especially when she’s able to bring a rowdy, loud, unruly class to attention by just standing, turn and give a deadly stare with the intensity partly of Grandmaster Lee and partly Andrea. The entire class comes to a silent attention. Yes, this is why I do what I do, talking to myself. Yes, this is what I must do. It had uplifted my spirits and I have regained my purpose.

There are countless other stories of my student’s successes and how their dedication and commitment inspires me. But, I will leave you with one more.

I have another student who started when he was 12, 13. He received his TSD Black Belt, graduated from Winward High, did his undergraduate work at Harvard, then got accepted into one of the most demanding MBA programs in the country at UC Berkeley, graduating with a second masters in Public Health. He had committed to me that he would change the healthcare system in this country for the better. He got recruited by McKensey & Company, the world’s leading management consulting firm, first working in Brussels and currently he resides and works in New York City. He is now a Hwa Rang Do 1st Dan Black Sash and one of my most loyal pupil, William Wright.

I received a disturbing call couple of weeks ago. It was unexpected and I thought it was about converting our organization to a non-profit, which he is heading. But, it was not. He started to mumble in a feeble voice, which I barely understood. So, I shouted, “What is it? Speak up!” and in my grand self I added “are you man or mouse.” I have never heard him speak this way. He was always so confidant, self-assured, and always positive.
He replied, “How do you do it sir?”

I said, “Do what?”

“How do you do it? How do you day in / day out, stick to your beliefs? How do you…

I stopped him. I did not need to hear more. He was growing up. His innocence is challenged and perceived by others as being naive. He is disillusioned on how his colleagues, supposedly with high intellect from the finest educational institutions in the world, perform their jobs with such inefficiencies, waste and without ethics. And, how his bosses stifle his ability rather than challenging him to outperform. He is lonely, his friendships were not as deep and meaningful; they are superficial at best. It broke my heart to hear him sound defeated.

As I have said many times, “Teaching is Parenting and parenting is teaching.” And that our parenting never stops. At first, it made me sad, that my child, my student was in pain. I wished it was me in his shoes instead, but that was quickly overruled by my desire to offer him strength and empower him.

During Andrea’s graduation they had a keynote speaker who was nice and made some good points, but to tell you the truth, it left me confused. To summarize I think he delivered a message that goes something like this – strive for your dreams and when you can’t achieve them, don’t’ worry because you’re better off for trying and that it’s ok to be a flea as many fleas can do big things.

So this speech is for my Hwa Rang Do daughter as she takes flight for the first time alone, I wanted to send her off with powerful winds under her wings so that she may soar to reach her final destination, however long and treacherous it may be.

I told my beloved Will and now to Andrea: You must find your passion.

It says in the World English dictionary that the definition of passion is:
1. ardent love or affection
2. intense (sexual) love
3. a strong affection or enthusiasm for an object, concept, etc
4. any strongly felt emotion, such as love, hate, envy
5. a state or outburst of extreme anger
6. the object of an intense desire, ardent affection, or enthusiasm
7. an outburst expressing intense emotion
8. philosophy
a. any state of the mind in which it is affected by something external, such as perception, desire, etc, as contrasted with action
b. feelings, desires or emotions, as contrasted with reason
9. the sufferings and death of a Christian martyr

Yes, to all the above except for #9. Yes I have done them all.

You must discover what you are passionate about and create a cause higher than yourself. “No Will, not about healthcare. Are you that passionate about healthcare? Will you sacrifice your life for healthcare? What are you truly meaning?”

“That’s right! Helping others, making the world a better place to live for everyone by instilling what is just, fair and good. You can die for that can’t you?” I asked.

“Yes sir!” He replied.

Healthcare is the means, the focus in which you will improve humanity, but your passion must be the intense love of humanity.

So I say, choose carefully in what your passion is then never relent, never listen to others, never give up! You are being forced or asked, coerced in compromising your principles. And why would you compromise? You want to win their favor, you want to be liked, accepted. You want to belong. This is quite natural, but this is why you are losing yourself as you are starting to sell off piece by piece your foundation and now you are standing and shaky ground.

I went on to say, “Don’t be afraid to lose everything. Don’t worry about losing your job, your girl friend, your friends, disappointing me, your parents, don’t worry! Stand your ground, stand by your principles and your beliefs and those who love you will understand you. Our fear of loss cannot be the basis of our decisions; it must be for only one thing, what is right, what is noble. Do no accept the status quo, be exceptional!”

As I was telling him all this, so too I was saying it to myself. These words are automatic for me. They come out without having to think about it. It is my core, it is my foundation. My students have unknowingly inspired and motivated me. As Randy Pausch has said, “It’s the indirect lessons we learn the most from.”

Well, my students have taught me an indirect lesson to persevere, to fight on!

No matter if there is a god or not. No matter if the world will end or not. No matter live or die. No matter rich or poor. We must persevere! We must fight onward! For we are Hwarang, flowering knights to beautify and empower the world.

So Will, Andrea, we have each other, we have our family. You are not alone! Together we must encourage each other and others to greatness and never shall we accept mediocrity.

Dream and dream big, then be relentless and never compromise in your principles. Don’t be afraid to be alone, for you are supported by 59 generations of warriors.

Hwarang Forever my beloved students – sons and daughters.

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

Just got this email today, 5/31/16, and thought we would share:

Grand Master Tae Joon Lee, It is with my most respect and humility that i find myself writing to thank you for undulating the societal covers that have for many years hindered my life’s perception. Reading the above dedication brought tears to my eyes as i was replacing Andrea with my own son and feeling the emotions you described.

My son Michael will be turning 7yrs old this July and because he has been excelling scholastically will be skipping second grade. He is currently an Orange Belt in TaeSooDo in the Norwalk Dojang. My wife is a 3 year Breast Cancer survivor who 4 months ago also enrolled and is also a TSD Orange Belt. I am a 38 year old Mexico born and raised until the age of 8yrs. My father and I were enrolled in Tae Kwon Do during the mid 80’s when it was extremely popular. I don’t remember much about that time, however, i do remember that the training was hard and not made easy just because i was a kid. I remember seeing and practicing based on magazines where Supreme Grand Master Do Joo Nim would appear.

My family migrated to the United States of America and with that transition my martial arts training ended. Been alone and unguided due to my father constantly working to provide for my mother and 3 younger sisters, I felt the need to belong, but where would I go, if I do not know anybody and i’m still a kid. School was the only place I had to socialize, however, without a strong foundation, it is easy for a kid to mold to what is easiest and not always best.

Meeting my wife and having our son has made me mature in a way that I never thought I would. I have stopped bad habits that damaged my body and mind. I was searching for something greater and 5 months ago I found it. It started with the enrollment of my Son, then one month later the enrollment of my wife, and finally, I will be enrolling in TSD this week. I am greatful to have found Hwarangdo yet again, and this time with a strong Foundation and Believes, My Family and I should one day make you proud of been Hwarangs.

You are an Inspiration to me.
Thank you Very Much.
Salvador Tinajero Lugo.

A Hwarang’s Reflections on his Journey Toward Happiness

This might be hard to stomach for some people:

“Nobody needs you. Seriously, you’re not that important.”

Often we are stressed and burdened heavily with the idea that without us, our family, our loved ones, our business will collapse. The truth of the matter is all things and all people are replaceable. When you’re gone your family, your children, your spouse, your business, they will all continue on; maybe not the way you intended on, but they will all go on without you. So, be blessed with today while you are here and do your best to be happy, help others, and not worry about what people will do without you. This is also one of the hardest things because we must destroy the ego. We build our self worth and value, defining ourselves by how many people depend and need us. But, once again the truth is nobody needs us, they’d rather we’d hang around, but whether they live or die, be happy or sad does not depend on us – it depends on the individual’s self-determination.

The magnitude of one’s suffering and pain created from their guilt and burden to perpetuate the family was evident and clear to me when one of my students broke down in tears in utter helplessness when he said, “I hate my parents. I want to die, but I can’t because I have to take care of my parents.” These sentiments, maybe not so harsh, yet just as real are felt by many first born sons, especially Asian. This got me thinking deeply about my own personal state of being. I never want my burden to family become the source of my pain and misery. However, recently I have discovered that at the core of my being, I am the same with misery and sadness, knowing that I will never satisfy my parents’ expectations.

Many opt to blaming their parents for this and become miserable adults with suicidal tendencies. I choose not to follow that path. it is not the parents fault for wanting their child to do their best and have a better life. So, I do not blame my parents and have accepted them and love them as they are. I wouldn’t expect anything less from them than to want what’s best for me. However, I can change how I perceive my duty to family.

Rather saying that I must take care of my family, I have to go to work, I have to care for my children, say I choose to do so. Changing it from something that you must, presupposing that you rather not do it, to a choice gives you back your power as well as changing it from something negative to something that’s positive. Being positive also takes practice and remember negative attracts more negative and positive attracts more positive. Life is not a magnet, life is life!

Let me make it clear. This is not to say do not care and help others, just to make yourself happy. That is definitely not the path to happiness. There’s nothing more noble or gratifying than to help others selflessly. What I am talking about here is rid oneself of guilt and inner pain for not being able to fulfill their duty or burden. First the individual has to be happy with himself/herself and be at their optimal in order to better serve their family and loved ones. Just don’t beat yourself up worrying about what they will do without you and just get busy and do your best, because in the end the worrying is not going to solve anything, but only through action.

This is hardest for me to stomach as I have to accept that Hwa Rang Do will exist with or without me. So, I choose to accept my legacy and do my best so that it will thrive even more so without me.

P.S.: When I was younger my need to carry my burden and fulfill my expectations fueled and motivated me to always strive. However, in my mid-life that same thing, which has been the source of my motivation has become the sinking Titanic that’s pulling me under to the depths with it. So, now I realize the source of my unhappiness and I choose to cut myself off from the sinking Titanic and liberate myself. Although it has not been easy, I am in the process of building another ship, one made from hope, reconciliation, and acceptance.

With love, peace, honor, and humility,

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

The Karate Kid Re-make Banking on America’s Ignorance

“Man should not follow money. Money should follow man”
– Supreme Grandmaster Dr. Joo Bang Lee, Hwa Rang Do Founder

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I have had the privilege of being able to travel to many countries throughout the globe. Each country I have been to all had the similar martial arts history. Judo was first introduced along with Jiujitsu, and then came Karate, which was the byproduct of Japanese imperialistic regime during the early 1900s and lasted until the end of WWII. Then came along Kungfu as well as Tae Kwon Do in the 70’s.

In America during 1970’s, due to the TV series, “Kung Fu” and Bruce Lee’s films, Kung Fu became very popular. Asian culture was new to America and was slowly being accepted through the popularity of martial arts. I came to America in 1974 and I grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods. The Asian ethnic communities were small and scarce. The majority of Caucasians could not identify the different Asian races and we were all clumped together as either “chinks” (Chinese) or “nips” (Japanese). Then of course the “gooks” during the Vietnam war. And, these terms were not used exclusively for each race; rather it was used interchangeably to describe any Asians.

Martial art was relatively a new thing in America and the only terms that the public was familiar with was Judo, Karate, and Kung Fu. So, many of the Korean martial arts had to refer themselves as “Korean Karate” and since we were both soft/circular and hard/linear, we called ourselves “Karate/Kungfu.” The term martial arts was rarely used. Even the Yellow Pages had all the different martial arts listed under the heading of “Judo.” It was not until the 80s did they change it to the appropriate heading of “Martial Art.” Many people back then mistakenly thought we were a Chinese restaurant with the name “Hwa Rang Do,” and we are still mistaken occasionally. As we tried to find our identity and place as a unique form of martial art within the new country and culture, so was I searching to find my identity, my source of empowerment.

I lived through these prejudiced times, growing up in Orange County and let me tell you, it was not pleasant. I was reminded daily that I was different and ridiculed for something that I could not change even if I wanted to. I remember as a freshman in high school, the kids all thought that I was Hawaiian as I had a beach bleached long hair from surfing. This was accepted as cool and really the only way for me to make friends, especially girlfriends. Of course the other part was because I could fight.

I remember my father carefully explaining the social/cultural differences and adamantly reminding us not to do anything to offend the white people. In Korea, we make noise while we eat. It shows how much you are enjoying your food and it’s well received. However, he told us never to make loud noises when we are eating and chewing our food. We could not eat our primary staple diet of “kimchee” in the morning or for lunch and only for dinner, because the garlic smell was offensive to the white people. What’s even stranger now is that when I visit Korea, although I am aware of the Korean eating etiquette I am also offended and bothered by the noises people make while they are eating and chewing. I guess after 35 years I am no longer Korean, but Korean American.

There are many other stories of racial discrimination, but I am not here to bash the Caucasian people for their ignorance as they were the majority and this kind of mal-treatment towards minority racial groups happens all over the world. However, I am here to bring to people’s attention the regression of our social evolution and that we are not living in a third world totalitarian nation, but a democratic nation of the most eclectic ethnic mix all seeking the ideal of FREEDOM!

We are not in the 70s or the 80s. This is the 21st century with advanced technology bringing everyone together as a global community. This is also the decade of “Political Correctness” (PC). I remember there was a big stink a while back about Asians not wanting to be called “Oriental” as that describes rugs and inanimate objects, not people. So, Asians rallied to be called “Asians”, not “Orientals.”

Then, the highly popular brand of clothing, Abercrombie & Finch, came out with a line of t-shirts making fun of Chinese stereotypes. Shirts that have slogans across the front in big bold letters, “Two Wongs Don’t Make Write.” What made them even consider this as an option as one of their biggest markets were Asians? Soon after, the Asian community rose up against the Abercrombie & Finch and they terminated the line. I wondered even in this PC era, how could such a thing happen from such a large corporation with so many levels of approval before it finally gets to the mass market. It was unbelievable!

Traditionally, Asians have remained quiet, as we are most conscious of offending others. As a product of assimilation, many Koreans today cannot speak or write Korean as their parents made them learn English as quickly as possible when they were children and did not reinforce learning the Korean language. I think we are out of the dark ages and into the light of global communication and no race should need to hide their culture, their way of life in fear of ridicule and discrimination. We as Asian Americans have paid our price to be Americans from working the railroads, to the sugar cane fields of Hawaii, to becoming one of the most educated and economically strong ethnic groups in America.

We must evolve, progress, grow and change together for the better. We must elevate ourselves out of racial tolerance to respecting racial differences. In my opinion, we can only achieve unity and racial harmony when we are able to respect each other’s differences and not deny one’s identity, source of empowerment. It is due to our individual and racial differences that make living as a global community so exciting, enjoyable and at times challenging.

Then, how can we allow “Hollywood” to set us back in our quest to find and empower ourselves through understanding our individual racial identity? It’s understandable that in the 60’s and 70’s, during the height of racial ignorance that our parents and grandparents did whatever they could to survive. However, there’s no excuse for us today to call something that’s Japanese as Chinese or vice-versa. If you called something German as French or Scottish as Irish, they would be screaming in protest, but why do we just sit and watch as they are clearly mislabeling the new remake of “The Karate Kid.”


The Karate Kid? – Looks Like Kung Fu (courtesy of eonline.com)

What’s even more appalling is that Jackie Chan, who is one of the most beloved, well-recognized Chinese martial arts actor/producer with the greatest wealth and influence is sitting idly, while “Hollywood” just clumps all of us Asians together once again as “chinks” or “nips.” His defense when asked about it, was that when he was making the movie, he didn’t know what it was going to be called and that it was referred to as the ‘Kung Fu Kid’ during production, shrugging his shoulders and hoping not to offend his bosses. (1) (2) (3)

It is imperative that we as Asian Americans as well as any ethnic group support each other in destroying racial ignorance and educate the people to respect our differences. We are not talking about Jackie Chan as an actor, playing another ethnicity. As actors one should be able to play other ethnic roles as long as they do it justice, maintaining the roles ethnic integrity. This is clearly calling something Chinese as Japanese. It should be called “The Kung Fu Kid.”

Jerry Weintraub, who was the producer of the original ‘Karate Kid’ and co-producer on this re-make along with Will Smith’s company, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal admitted that this issue was discussed.

Will Smith had concerns and asked him about possibly calling the film, “The Kung Fu Kid”. Mr. Weintraub’s response, with zero sensitivity or respect to Japanese or Chinese culture and identity simply replied, “I’m not going to do it. This is like changing Pepsi-Cola to Dookie-Cola. Why would you lose a brand like ‘The Karate Kid’? It’s a BRAND. In China it will be called the Kung Fu Kid, but in America it will be called ‘The Karate Kid’.” (4)

Karate, an art and cultural treasure to the Japanese, in America has been claimed as a “brand” to be misrepresented for the purposes of marketing and profit. Every single martial arts studio in America (except for mine) has been convinced to herd children into special screenings of the new ‘Karate Kid’, use their kids as recruiters and have them bring their friends to these screenings. This creates a new batch of fresh leads for the studio owners to recruit from, perpetuates ignorance into the next generation and inflates the profits of the production companies through the strengthening of a money-making “brand”, at the expense of our cultural identities.

There’s nothing wrong with making money or a savvy marketing campaign, but why can’t we respect each other’s race and culture? It’s a remake and they are banking on the success of the original “Karate Kid,” which I feel is something the industry really needs amidst the popularity of MMA and no-holds-barred fighting that’s become so prevalent. We need this, if it’s anything like the original. But, not like this….

I argued that no kid today remembers the original “Karate Kid.” They are more familiar with “The Kung Fu Panda” and should use Kung Fu. Ah, then the reply was that our generation who do remember are the parents and they are the ones who will take their kids to see it. Wow, marketing genius!

It’s all for money that we as Asians once again take it. I have even heard from other Asians who have said that they don’t care whether they mislabeled or not as long as more Asian culture, stuff, things are exposed to the masses. No matter how much money it should never overrule integrity and honor and this is the cornerstone of what Martial Art is. Wrong is wrong and yes two wrongs don’t make right!

I propose that we boycott this movie and deliver a loud message to “Hollywood” and to Jackie Chan, that we as Asians are not going to allow disrespect to our cultural identities and that we may be quiet, but when we roar it will be ferocious. Even in our greetings we are humble and not entitled. As the western greeting is a handshake, extending the right hand to show that there’s no weapon to kill you and our eastern greeting is the bowing of the head to show humility, looking down as to say please don’t behead me as I take my eyes off of you. It’s time we stand up for our beliefs and gain the respect we deserve and although we may be humble, we are not stupid.

  1. http://news.softpedia.com/news/Columbia-Pictures-Changes-the-Name-of-Karate-Kid-Remake-108132.shtml
  2. http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/04/02/the-karate-kid-or-the-kung-fu-kid-fans-debate-the-title-of-new-jackie-chanjaden-smith-movie/
  3. http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2010/01/07/jackie-chan-unsure-of-karate-kid-remake-title-reveals-fate-of-wax-on-wax-off-the-crane-kick/
  4. http://blogs.wsj.com/speakeasy/2010/04/10/jerry-weintraub-discusses-new-memoir-karate-kid-naming-controversy/

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

Year of the Tiger – Grandmaster Taejoon Lee’s New Year’s Message

Hope everyone had a nice holiday break, rekindling familial bonds and sharing the joys of love and friendship.

For those of you who followed my 2009, Year of the Ox, New Year’s Message of hard work indicative of the ox, you should now be in good shape to spring into action.  Just working hard at planning and developing does not guarantee success; you must set it in motion, put into action!

2010 is the Year of the Tiger.  It’s the year of being courageous, bold, and taking initiative.  It’s all about implementation and taking risks.  If you have done the right work in the year of the OX, then your risk will be far less.  Nevertheless, there’s always risk and one should not fear it.

ML-BlindSword
It is this that I would like to address, the fear of taking risks.  This is what dictionary.com says about “risk”.

risk noun
1.    exposure to the chance of injury or loss; a hazard or dangerous chance: It’s not worth the risk.

So the fear of taking risk is then the fear of injury or loss.  Life is about decisions and most of our decisions are based on assessing the risk.  This is where as a martial artist or better yet; as a modern warrior we have the advantage or at least we should.  Essentially in our training we address these two most fundamental fears, the fear of injury and the fear of loss.

In sparring or fighting – you cannot expect to strike without being struck, inflict pain without receiving pain, and win without losing.  And even more so for us Hwarangdoists, before a student can apply joint-manipulation techniques on a person, the instructor first applies the techniques on him/her so that they can feel the pain first before they can perform the techniques on anyone else.

As I have said many times before, it’s the imagination that fuels the fear.  So the greater your imagination, the more fantastic your fears become.  The foot soldiers on the frontlines do not need to think as much as take action; too much thinking delays action and intensifies the fears.  The generals/commanders require less physical action, but more strategic planning.  The goal for Hwarangdoists is to always strive for balance and this also applies here.

We must be both educated intellectuals as well as possess heightened physical attributes in all areas.  Thought without action is worthless and action without thought is perilous.

We perform magic or miracles daily.  We create a conception in our minds from nothingness, the invisible and then through our actions we materialize our thoughts into tangible/physical reality.  Of course this does not happen at the waive of a wizard’s magic wand, but in essence that’s what we are doing, creating something from nothing, from thought to reality.  And, action is the bridge from the immaterial to the material.

Hence, whatever we can create in our minds, then we should be able to create in reality.  So, all we have to do is to choose and then commit to the action until it comes to fruition.  All great things in the world came from one person’s mind, who put the thought out into the universe and sparked the imagination of the collective humankind.

So, then why are so many people lost and unhappy?

For me the answer is simple: we are enslaved by our fears, which forces us to focus on the risk rather than the reward.  And, with the added element of “human inertia” which makes us seek for complacency and apathy disguised as comfort, we dwell in thought and become idle in action.  And to make things worse, we are constantly bombarded with distractions by the media & technology, taking away the time for introspection and enhancing the illusion of happiness.

Therefore, the first thing is to take the time to know ‘thyself’:  Who am I?  What do I want and just as important what do I don’t want?  What do I need?  What do I want to do with my life?  Then, the second thing one must do, which for most people is the hardest thing and the reason for abandoning their quest for what they want – taking action!

After investing much time into discovering the ‘self’, now one must put it into action.  Although, it’s clear in our minds, the work, the struggle, and the hardships, which one must endure in order to make something a reality overwhelms and deters any normal persons’ decision to stay committed to their quest.  Therefore, the next vital component is to cultivate courage, the hardest to procure.

Any person can be courageous, but in order to cultivate it, one must fertilize it with strength.  This strength is not of the body or the mind alone, but it must be of mind, body, heart, and spirit.

Strength is not only about what more one has – more muscle, more money, more knowledge; it’s also about tolerance, endurance, patience, compassion, and wisdom.  And all these attributes are gained empirically, so it can be taught and more importantly self-taught.  They are learned by challenging oneself to accomplish difficult tasks: whether it be attending the strictest of schools, doing something no one or only a few have ever done, daring to go places where no one has been, striving for perfection.  And through their struggles, their pains, their sufferings, they emerge stronger and more courageous.  As I always say to my students, “One cannot build a fortress out of marshmallows,” then you cannot build a stronger you without hardship.

Then, as warriors we should not be afraid of the pain, the hardship as we face these in every training session, every class, daily.  We know that the fear imagined is far worse then what is real.  We were all afraid the first time we engaged in sparring, but after we have done it, we scoff at it like it was nothing.  It’s the worrying that kills, not the problem.

We also know that you cannot inflict pain without knowing pain yourself.  Then, we should not be afraid as we also realize that we can be much more tolerant to pain once imagination is out of the equation.

Furthermore, we also know that although we may lose today, that with practice that we can win tomorrow.  We know of personal sacrifice and that you cannot gain if do not give up and that the only true loss or failure is in quitting.

We do not live life to die; we do not engage in competition to lose; we do not fight to get beat up: so, why should one be afraid to choose one’s life path and to live the way one wants.  Don’t fixate on the bills, go out and make more money.  Don’t worry about losing your mate, get up and stay in shape and invest in your betterment.  Don’t be afraid to start your business venture, go out and learn more and educate yourself.  Don’t ask if something is easy to do, get stronger and better at it.  Don’t ask if you can, ask what you’re willing to give up.

In the end we will lose everything anyway!

Let us roar like a Tiger in 2010!

Hwarang Forever with Strength, Honor, & Courage!

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee’s 8th Dan Speech

Newly promoted, Grandmaster Taejoon Lee delivers his speech at his Hwa Rang Do 8th Dan Ceremony & Banquet.

On May 23rd, 2009 in front of over 100 friends, family and students, Taejoon Lee was promoted to 8th Dan Black Sash Grandmaster and given the title of Kuk Sa Nim.

During his speech, Grandmaster Taejoon Lee revealed the real reason for allowing his students to organize this beautiful and historic event — to honor his father, master and founder of our beautiful art of Hwa Rang Do, Supreme Grandmaster Dr. Joo Bang Lee. In a speech, which was heard from as far as a mile away, Grandmaster Taejoon Lee used the entire time he was at the podium to share on the sacrifices and courage of Dojoonim, as he ventured off into the land of opportunity, the United States of America, from his home country of Korea – to spread Hwa Rang Do and provide his family the best possible life.

As Grandmaster Lee put it, his promotion to 8th Dan Hwa Rang Do Black Sash is not his achievement, but the achievement of his master, father and teacher – Dojoonim. Grandmaster Lee humbly delivered a heartfelt, yet thunderous homage to his father, for having made everything which took place that night possible.

At the end of his speech, Grandmaster Lee called Dojoonim to the podium and to demonstrate his gratitude for all he had done for him, presented Dojoonim with a handcrafted sword, made and imported directly from Japan, with an estimated market value of over $10,000. The construction of the sword included an beautiful handle made of gold, brass and stingray skin. The steel blade was forged completely by hand benefiting from Japan’s centuries of rich tradition, science and art of sword making.

Earlier in the evening, Dojoonim declared and announced to the world that Grandmaster Taejoon Lee in 20 years or at the time of Dojoonim’s passing, would become Supreme Grandmaster Taejoon Lee and 59th generation “owner of the way”, and pass the secret combat skills of the ancient Hwarang Warriors for yet another generation.

All whom were present, were in awe of this magical and powerful declaration, for it ensures the preservation of our ancient traditions, martial art and history. We thank you for sharing this very special night with us. It will never be forgotten!

Visit the official Grandmaster Taejoon Lee 8th Dan Page featuring the documentary, “Inside the 1st Family of Hwa Rang Do & the Life of Grandmaster Taejoon Lee”.

The entire Grandmaster Taejoon Lee’s speech in text form:

Thank you Dojoonim.

Good evening  ladies and gentlemen, students, parents, and fellow Hwarang Warriors.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your attendance and your support for making this event possible.

Before I begin, I would like to take this time to recognize the members of the 8th Dan Banquet Committee for their hard work and selfless contributions in making this event a reality.

Tony Diaz for the video presentation, which he has spent countless hours in reviewing over a terabyte of videos and pictures to extrapolate an eloquent yet powerful summation of the Hwa Rang Do family and my journey.

Fernando Ceballos and Raymond Fong for implementing an effective online campaign to organize and raise the funding necessary to make this evening a great success.

Rick Robbins for designing the classic look and feel of our online campaign.

Daniel Gonzalez for designing all the graphic elements that went into the publishing of tonight’s event.

Glenn Mantel for making it possible for me to present to you a small, yet poignant gift in the way of the danbong.

Reynaldo Macias for accepting the daunting task of being tonight’s master of ceremony and for doing a fantastic job.

Antonio Goodwin for connecting us with one of the top DJ’s in the country, Mr. Quick, whom you will witness in a short while.

My Brother-in-law Danny Kim for providing the video projector.

Joey Klein for organizing all the people involved to work together harmoniously in making the planning process as smooth and flawless as possible as their team leader.

And, of course, my sister, Dr. Janet Lee for designing and creating the center pieces as well as coordinating this beautiful setting we are all graced with.  And to my sister Stacie Lee for being the handy helper to both mother and Dr. Lee.

The last couple of months have been quite interesting to say the least.  I was first approached by Dojoonim over a year ago, when he invited me to test for my 8th dan.  At that time, I humbly declined as I thought like a bottle of fine wine, I could wait a couple more years so that I can age properly.

I have never been interested in acquiring higher dans as most other martial artists I have witnessed. The way I see it, rank is something that the master offers his student as a gift when the student is ready to carry the responsibilities of such title and rank.  And, it has always been my philosophy that One Hwarang Should Conquer a Thousand, so no matter the rank, as a Hwarang we must always be prepared to accept whatever the challenge, however great or small. However, this spring marked the 100th Black Sash Examination and I could not pass up such important benchmark in our history.

There is so much I would like to share with you; it would take the breadth of this entire memorial day weekend and then some to fully express all the feelings, thoughts, and reflections I have had in these trying months.  However, I know Mr. Quick is waiting anxiously to get the groove on and I am sure you are as well.  So, I shall attempt to tell you about what is most important, most valuable, “The Ideal of One.”

You are all here tonight thinking that you are honoring me.  Well, if so then my “head fake” worked.  As the late Randy Paush, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, dying of pancreatic cancer says in his last lecture which he gave in front of all his students and colleagues, that the greatest lessons are learned indirectly and he finishes his lecture by telling everyone that the lecture was not for you, but it’s for my children.  So, I say to you, this banquet is not for me, it is for my father, my mentor, my master.

My trials, my accomplishments are nothing.  My hardships, my sufferings, I have none.

All I am and have done dwindles in comparison to my master.  My journey is smooth sailing in flat waters compared to my master’s journey through a tempest.

He was born the fourth son of siblings of 7 children.

He started his training at the young age of 4.

He trained in the mountains of North Korea under the strict guidance of his master Suahm Dosa, a hermit monk.

He escaped the communist regime of the dictator Kim Il Sung during the Korean War.

He survived through impoverished, war-torn conditions during the Korean war.

He left home to work and help support the family at 16 years old.

He systemized the knowledge passed to him by his master into a modern martial art system, introducing it to the public for the first time in 1960 in Seoul, Korea.

He had the first post-war nationally televised martial art expo in the largest and only sports stadium in Korea, Jang Chung Chae Yuk Kwan.

He met with Korea’s former president, Park Jung Hee, and was given the responsibility to create one unified Korean martial art.

He attempted twice to form the all Korean Unified Martial Art System, which was dismantled both times.  In the process, he aided in the development of Kuk Sool Won, and Hapkido.

He bumped heads with the former KCIA director and won his allegiance.

He protected his community in Seoul against the rampant bullying by unruly thugs.

He created the Korean Hwa Rang Do Association and opened 28 schools in Seoul alone.

He single handedly was responsible in bringing over all of the members of his immediate family to the United States which consisted of his parents, 2 sisters, 1 brother-in-law, 3 brothers, 2 sister-in-laws, 3 nieces, 4 nephews, 2 daughters, 2 sons, and his wife.

He has revived the Hwarang Knights and brought their significance to the modern consciousness and to the minds of all martial art practitioners today.

He has authored three books and co-authored three more.

He was instrumental in elevating the hand-to-hand combatives of the Elite US armed Forces through mentoring and cultivating the former head instructor of the Special Forces Green Beret, the late Michael Echanis.

He secured the name Hwa Rang Do and all of its intellectual property by acquiring the first trademark for a martial art and copyrighted all of it’s curriculum for the first time in history.

Without him, the world would have known of the Hwarang, only as a group of flower boys who rode on horseback and shot arrows, diminished as an archaic cultural side note on tour guidebooks of Korea.

I have yet to mention of his physical prowess and accomplishments.

He was the first to rotate 540 degrees in the air, striking a target 10 feet in the air with his foot.

He was the first martial artist to be aired on the ABC’s TV show “That’s Incredible.”

He has had cars and trucks run over his stomach.

He has had thousands of pounds of rock slabs smashed over his body with sledge hammers.

He is the first and last with only me coming close to have successfully completed a 5 directional cut of watermelons held against the naked stomachs of his students, while blind-folded.

He has taken down a bull with one blow.

And in the deep recesses of his mind, training under his master, he has fought against tigers.

There’s a saying in Korea that when you live long enough, you shall endure all of its pain.

As my father has been a witness to my journey, so too I have witnessed, fortunately or not, much of the hardships and heartaches that my master had to endure throughout his teaching career.

If I have taught thousands of students, then he has taught tens of thousands of students.  And, although the reward of seeing a person blossom, transform, and become the potential they all possess is priceless, it takes 1000 disappointments for one moment of satisfaction.

Above all, we as Hwarang cherish and hold in the highest regard, the virtue of loyalty.  If I have faced countless betrayals, then my master has faced too many for words to do justice.

I have seen my father take in students from the streets in their teens and raised them as his own children, with my mother feeding and nurturing them with kindness and love.  To the point where at times, I felt jealous as my father has always been the strictest with me.  Only to have them grow into manhood, acquire a taste for power yet short on wisdom, and claim their superiority.  To the unfathomable extent, where Dojoonim had to witness one of his students, whom he took in without question, once again treating him like his own son, in front of his face say, “With all of my vast knowledge of Korean Martial Arts, I have created Hwa Rang Do and all of it’s curriculum.”  And, this all done after being sworn in under the name of God.

I have known of a Buddhist Monk, who calls himself the Mop.  When I asked him, Why do you call yourself the mop?”  He replied, “Because like a mop I clean all things, yet like a mop I am always dirty.”

Unlike most teachers, we parent.  When teaching your children, just teaching is not enough.  You must make sure they learn the lesson.  And even though you have been scarred, dirtied from past disappointments, you must once again teach with conviction and love, for as children they can feel you more than they can hear you.  And, even when you are at the brink of disillusionment in people, you must believe in them even when they do not believe in themselves.

To be truthful, formal classes with Dojoonim for me, I can count with my fingers.

It’s the lessons I have learned in observing him as a teacher, a father, a husband, a man, which are most profound and have taught me the most.

Most of what I have been witnessed to are heartaches, pain and sorrow.

I have never seen him adorned with great gifts from his students; I cannot remember when was the last time one of his instructors treated him to a fine meal; I have never seen him take a vacation or his masters treat him to one; and I am just as guilty.

Most of what I have seen has been painful.  I have heard student’s complaints and resentments of my master, which only showed me their lack of understanding, compassion, and only revealed their self-entitled nature.

However, even after witnessing all of his trials and hardships, I was inspired to be like him.  He was my mountain, he was the one.

The one person, who have committed his entire life to one thing, to one love, to one passion.

Whenever, I felt it was all too much, all too painful, when my heart lay wasted in pieces; all I needed to do was to think of my father, my master as he lived twice as long, and taught as twice as much, and have endured twice as much; I could not complain, but only admire.

It is this I am an heir to. No raise in salary, no fortune, just more mopping.

The lessons I have learned from him are too many to tell in one sitting. It will take a lifetime.  So, I shall share with you all that I have learned from my master, if you will share your life with mine.

And we shall mop the world together as one, to hopefully instill the power of one; to believe in the self as all great things started from one person, then when all the people are self-empowered, then hopefully we can all live together as one in peace, in harmony.

There are too many people for me to thank. So before I close, I would like to recognize few of the people who are in attendance tonight who have made an impact in my life as well as made great sacrifices to be present.

Sensei Taro Ariga for having an open mind, helping me to realize my vision of a new weapon fighting method.

Master Fariborz Azhakh, whom I have known for over 25 years, for his guidance in keeping my dojang open and for helping me to revamp our organizational management.

Dr. Mark Cheng, whom I have known for 20 years, for being a great brother and for keeping me in the minds of all martial artists.

Jokyo Victor Garcia, whom I’ve known for over 25 years, for never giving up as I have challenged him to start over again, which for him at this point in his life is like climbing Everest for the second time in his 50s.

Susuk Sabum Dylan Sirny for accepting me as his grandfather and for being my proof that we are on the right course.

Susuk Sabum Scott MacKnight, whom I have also known for over 25 years, for his undying loyalty to me when I was a child and now hopefully a man.

Colonel Richard Downie, whom I have also known for over 25 years, for his dedication to his country and never forgetting the Hwarang Spirit.

My sisters, Dr. Janet Lee and Stacie Lee, for their unconditional love and support.

And, mostly, to my mother as she is my teacher of compassion and forgiveness.  I love you too mom.

Also, to all my students for believing in me and always challenging me to be a better teacher.

My father has said, that warriors do not retire, we die!

Although, I am most honored and privileged to be the heir to Hwa Rang Do, I must endure the greatest loss in order to claim it.

I will promise in front of all attending witnesses, that I shall do my best to secure Hwa Rang Do for the next generation, not only preserving my master’s life’s work, but fulfilling his vision.

I will accept once again his challenge which he has set forth for me to be second, but making second remembered as much or more as the first.

… or die trying.

Dae Dan He Kap Sa Hap Ni Da.

Dojoonim, Abonim…

The Hwa Rang Do Angola Experiment – In Angola’s “City of Trash”

If you were to do a Google search for “Lixeira, Luanda” you won’t find much. The only helpful search result is a picture on TravelPod.com.  This picture shows a child, sifting through a garbage dump, which in reality, tells you everything you need to know – this is Lixeira.

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Lixeira is a city within the province of Luanda in the African nation of Angola, which is built entirely on top of a garbage dump.  The poorest of the poor in the world live here with the trash surrounding them being the source for supplies, tools, food and regrettably, even water.

“My first striking impact with this place was the sight of thousands of slums where some 500,000 people lived surrounded by tons of rubbish scattered all over the place. Many of these inhabitants lived in a condition of malnutrition and sickness”.
– Davide Pizzo
(TSD Brown Belt)

“The conditions of the place for the mission are disastrous, no kind of hygiene, rubbish everywhere, rust, open air sewer, streams of dirt and piles of garbage that people burned, which released a thick smell so bad that, for the 21 days there, I couldn’t see clearly the sun or the moon.”
Emanuele Veluti
(TSD Half Black Belt)

Lixeira and the surrounding regions along with being one of the most impoverished places in the world, is also one of the most dangerous, where only missionaries (with approval from the government) are allowed to stay and work.  Even then, with no assurances for their safety, several missionaries have recently been murdered while performing their humanitarian works.

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It is here that 4 brave men and women from the Hwa Rang Do Italian branch have traveled to teach the children of Lixeira, the ancient korean martial art of Hwa Rang Do – with the goals of the mission being to teach the life skills of unity, motivation, strength, and self-awareness through the practice of Hwa Rang Do and otherwise provide the experience of a lifetime to children in a part of the world which is forgotten and void of any future worth looking forward to.

“I think it’s vitally important to teach these children a behavior based on moral values. The alternative to their current condition is to get involved with other youngsters addicted to sniffing petrol or starch, or burglary.

“The primary purpose of our mission is to give these children a chance to choose their own future; to grow and improve their lives, in spite of the fact that they were born in Lixeria. Otherwise, they have no other prospective but end up in one of the local criminal bands.”
Davide Pizzo
(TSD Brown Belt)

Chief Instructor Marco Matiucci, head of the Italian Hwa Rang Do branch, had the difficult tasks of selecting 4 of his students to take part in this mission (they had many more volunteers for the mission than they could send).  Instr. Matiucci had to grapple with the very serious possibility that the students he selected could be robbed, assaulted, kidnapped or even killed.  With that in mind, the criterion used to select the students was for lack of better wording, “who would be missed the least?” – meaning:

Are they an only child? Do they have kids? How big is their family? Does their family depend on the person financially?  Are they married? Do they have a girlfriend/boyfriend?

… the unthinkable questions had to be asked in order to make the selection for the mission.

The brave volunteers chosen were Laura Della Mora (TSD Yellow Belt), Emanuele Veluti (TSD Brown Belt), Maria Luisa Medelin (HRD Blue Sash & HRD Team Leader), and Davide Pizzo (TSD Brown Belt), while being led by General Italo Governatori (General of the Italian Military Police Force, close friend of Instr. Matiucci and President of “Lumbe Lumbe).

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Lumbe Lumbe is a non-profit organization based out of Italy, devoted to helping the poorest people in Brazil, Mozambique and Angola create businesses, and schools for children in the most impoverished areas of these countries.  In Angola, they work directly with Salessiani, an international Catholic organization for African missions.

“I was deeply impressed with the work done by the Salessiani missionaries; over the course of 30 years, they succeeded to create 18 youth centers in the district of Lixeria that take care of 50,000 children. These children are taught the rudiments of the alphabet, practice sport and are prepared professionally. They have a future ahead and it’s all due to the hard daily work and sacrifices of the missionaries. The friars never show signs of tiredness and they possess a strong spiritual force within them. Their reward, they say, is donating themselves to others.”
Davide Pizzo
(TSD Brown Belt)

Lumbe Lumbe prepares 2 to 3 Italian teams per year to go to Angola to help the Salesiani teach children and help their families become more independent.  Initially, Lumbe Lumbe was hesitant about the possibility of teaching Hwa Rang Do and Tae Soo Do (Sport version of HRD) in Angola, but after witnessing the professionalism, dedication and self-discipline of Italy’s Hwa Rang Do instructors, they saw the incredible value they could bring to the people of Lixeira.

“People can be poor, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have rich thinking!”
Laura Della Moral
(TSD Yellow Belt)

All members of the Hwa Rang Do team paid for all travel expenses themselves, including $1500 for each individual plane ticket with Ethiopia Airlines.  They also each had to purchase insurance, in the event of injury or death. Lumbe Lumbe aided with the slew of vaccinations, organization of the trip and over 4 weeks of emergency courses to psychologically prepare the team in the areas of terrorism, psychological resistance to extreme situations, and how to move and act within Angola.

The responsibilities for the team were as follows:

  • The team-leader (Maria Luisa) will manage the Hwa Rang Do & Tae Soo Do lessons and the relationships with the local people (formal, legal and practical).
  • The rest of the team will help the team leader in everything she needs, from lessons to their ultimate safe return to Italy.
  • The mission is a personal engagement for all participants with the people of Lixeira, not just through the HRD/TSD activity. (Participants are aware of the serious problems they will face in doing so.)

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The general plan for the “Angolan Experiment” was:

  • Arrive in Luanda and contact the Salesiani (missionaries)
  • Official contact with the Italian Diplomatic Corp in Angola.
  • Official contact with the religious leaders in Angola
  • Official contact with other voluntary organizations in Angola, including a local Capoeira organization.
  • Make contact with the local people, local leaders and access any potential issues or problems

Proceed with Hwa Rang Do/Tae Soo Do activities and instruction:

  • The team leader will work together with the Salesiani to find a location for lessons, to schedule the lessons and recruit/encourage local children to attend.
  • Organize meetings and joint activities with the local Capoeira organization and discuss other possibilities for the future.
  • Each HRD/TSD lesson is expected to be 50 – 100 students, with multiple lessons throughout the day to serve as many children as possible.
  • Towards the end of the 3 weeks, organize a party and martial arts demonstration for the town.
  • Safely return to Italy

The team travelled to Angola for 3 weeks for their mission, which began on August 1st, 2009 …

“Before departing I had inquired about Angola, on its history, on Luanda and on the specific district where we would spend the three weeks, but to imagine is however far from what one lives, for sure all this has prepared me, but the initial impact was strong and I believe that I would not have been able to avoid it. The traffic, the confusion, the crowd of people that floods the roads, the smog, the garbage, the intrusive odors, the dust, the being submitted to the looks of all for the color of your skin, the danger, the fear, the smiles, the handshakes, the embraces, the heat, the joy, the poverty, the wealth. All comes out together.”
Maria Luisa Medelin
(Team Leader – HRD Blue Sash)

During this time, there was limited communication being sent via email, including pictures to Lumbe Lumbe, Hwa Rang Do Italy and Chief Instr. Marco Matiucci.

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As you can imagine, with limited communication, the Hwa Rang Do leadership worried and hoped that as every step in the plan was implemented, it was done with safety & security being the #1 priority.

As their mission moved forward during the 2nd week, we received this email from Chief Instr. Marco Matiucci:

“I have to admit that in these days I’m a little bit worried for the Angola team because they just told me that they have started the activity outside of the protected area (that is, outside of the area managed by the Catholic missionaries). There are a lot of people who are armed around them and a lot of “children-hunters” (local people that kill or kidnap children to use them for experiments or other evil intentions).

“As part of their mission to engage the local residents, our team is playing with the children, inviting them to wash and clean, cut their hair (Emanuele is a professional hairdresser), but most importantly, motivate them and teach them self-respect and self-awareness according to HRD/TSD teaching (principles and techniques). Children-hunters are often justified for their nasty work by authorities and corrupt government officials because the children are dirty and uncontrolled. So these kidnappings are allowed as a way to remove a “problem” for the society…

“Because of that, the activity of our Angola team creates a real problem for both for these corrupt officials and for the children-hunters.

“This makes me worry.

“I told them to be carefully in motivating too much, everything has to be done carefully otherwise we may have political/criminal problems or worse.

“As a result of this communication, the World Hwa Rang Do Association refrained from publishing this article or attracting any publicity to the self-less efforts of the Hwa Rang Do & Lumbe Lumbe Angola team, until they had safely returned to Italy.”

“In Angola all, big and small, they intensely live every instant, as if that moment were the last, as if tomorrow didn’t exist.

“The situation of the women is almost disastrous, they are not considered, they are used, they have 4-5 children and they are alone; husbands go away, so women are forced to maintain the family by themselves, working the whole day, but yet they sing and continually smile. Children play for road barefoot, among mountains of garbage, with balls deflated or made of cloths, or on abandoned and rusted cars, risking every time to hurt themselves, to become infected, if not worse to die…

“But yet they always smile too.”
Maria Luisa Medelin
(Team Leader – HRD Blue Sash)

On August 24th, at 6am all 4 HRD team members and General Italo Governatori flew into Italy and were greeted by a group of Hwa Rang Do students from the various Italian schools & clubs to welcome them with smiles, hugs and kisses.

Everyone, including Hwa Rang Do Italy, Lumbe Lumbe and the humanitarian organizations in Angola are grateful for the successful completion of the mission and for the safe return of everyone involved.

It is with great pride that we salute our Hwa Rang Do & Tae Soo Do brothers and sisters for their selfless dedication to humanity and in helping the weakest, poorest and most desperate of our kind in the absolute worst conditions, when even their own country is not willing to care for them…

“Three weeks have been full of new difficulties, challenges of management; as team leader I felt the responsibility for my companions, my “brothers”, and I could not think only about myself, even if I was in a new and different environment; I had to check everything, every move, perceive all the states of mind…

“One day they brought us in visit for the city, and I discovered that Luanda has rich districts, skyscrapers, plasma screens, commercial centers, places and villas with swimming pools… but these areas are usually only frequented by the few rich Angolan people and by the many foreigners that work there.

“Many questions flashed in my head. How is it possible that this happens?!…

“I saw that next to these places (almost exclusively frequented by white people) around many corners there is someone who dies on the road or some orphan boy who survives by washing cars. Boys with long hair, unable to afford a haircut, are persecuted by police because of their appearance.

“My mind raced with many thoughs… “why?… why?…” and the anger was the emotion  that invaded me.

“I have told in the beginning, “confusion and contradiction”: these are the memories of my trip, because I can’t understand how all is possible. I would want to change this all, I would want to help, to do the best I can, but I feel impotent. I came with the idea to help in every way I can, prepared to work as physiotherapist, if there had been the opportunity and to teach Tae Soo Do everyday, all day.

“The experience of the teaching has been exciting: at the beginning I felt some fear, I didn’t know the language well, how to explain and what to say, but in the end it has been simple… it was enough to DO!
Maria Luisa Medelin
(Team Leader – HRD Blue Sash)

This mission marks the beginning of a broader mission by the World Hwa Rang Do Association to bring the gift of self-empowerment to all, as it has done for so many of Hwa Rang Do & Tae Soo Do students worldwide.

As the rest of the industry focuses on providing entertainment via pay-per-view spectacles, Hwa Rang Do has remained steadfast in its commitment – to empower humanity via the principles, teaching and practice of its martial discipline.  This trip and the incredible experiences, which you are reading excerpts from, are the epitome of what Hwa Rang Do as an organization is striving to do…

“One evening I went out with Father Roberto, a 75 years old “Hwarang” (to whom I gave the official Hwa Rang Do T-shirt) who walked his path without looking back, straight to his purpose with a strength, an empathy and a sensibility that spoke to me many times (I immediately had an admiration to him – I like people who speak few and do a lot). With him I went, in the night, through a big market called “roche” (large about 10 km).

“I admit that my attention to dangers was very high (obviously, for the influence of the practice of Hwa Rang Do, which pushes me in paying attention to the details of the places where I go): there where fires everywhere, people running, loud music, children screaming.

“After a long walk we reached the destination, that was a “caisa de rua”, a house dedicated to hosting the “crianca de rua” (homeless children). In that place children can find water to clean themselves and a roof under which they can stay and, if they do good actions, they earn credits they can use (at the end of the year at the Don Bosco party) to get clothes or other useful things to survive.

“Father Roberto asked me, knowing my profession, if I wanted to cut the hair of the kids.

“Obviously my task was easy to be done, I’ve done it for many years, it’s what I’ve seen since I was very young and it’s what represent me. So I said to him “no problem” and I started working.

“One, two, three… I started cutting hair one after another; everybody smiled to me, they introduced themselves, they were happy, we laughed together about the styles of cutting: they have impressive eyes, true warrior eyes.

“I started being hungry, I was hungry, hungry to cut as much as possible because I wanted to make them all happy, give them my best. This motivated me, so I kept on without stopping, without fear, I could accomplish it, I could make all of them happy!

“After some time the tools I was using (with battery) ended the charge and stopped supporting me, it didn’t have any more energy for me. I started sweating, being afraid, “what can I say to the others?”, but I had to do it, I could do it, “let’s go! Find a solution!”  Electricity is what we needed, but in vain I looked for a cable to get the energy, we were in the dark with some portable lights only. My instruments were abandoning me.

“Then I thought I had a shaving blade with me, “good!” So I kept on doing my job… problem solved.  One, two, three… but then the blade became dull, it didn’t cut anymore, again another problem; I looked madly in my bag for another one, but nothing more to use in there… “but, it has to be here, I remember I brought it, where is it?… I can’t find it…”, I couldn’t go on… I didn’t have any more tools to continue, I ran out of ideas, I felt hopeless…

“Through the desperation of the moments passing by, the stream of painful emotions ripped through me, many thoughts about what I did wrong and I could do, about having to accept the loss, I started to cry thinking I couldn’t finish what I began, I had failed, I couldn’t help everybody with the few I knew.

“So father Roberto got close to me and, understanding my state, put his hand on my shoulder, as my father does, as Kyo Sa Nim does, and said to me: “Don’t worry, come on! Be strong!”.

“It’s a simple action of love that only people like him give me that way. A love that rarely is given to me, an action that represent so much for me.

“Then we came back home and obviously the journey back, always between fires an screams of the roche (market), created a suggestive atmosphere; it seemed like we were coming up from hell…

“So, the day after I went to an oratory, the same oratory full of kids running, pushing each other, screaming, jumping on you, kids who eat you alive to get you attentions.

“But it was a different day, there were A LOT of kids and the entertainment of the oratory for them didn’t start yet. On one side there was some sand and some children playing on it, I couldn’t sit down, I love grappling: so I got nearer and I started wrestling with them and as they knew of me, they all came to me and wrestle all together! I started throwing them one after the other, soft as the hand on my shoulder that gave me relief days before.

“During that play, casually I called a kid “cicciottello” (= “fat”, said in a nice and funny way) and he immediately repeated it in perfect Italian language; of course I was astonished of that and so I thought: “come on, try and give them what you adore..” and so I said to them “Tae Soo Do!” and they repeated it perfectly… “Hwa Rang Do!” and they all did, perfectly again and it’s easy to understand my feeling in that moment, because I know people who still can’t pronounce it.

“So I gave a punch and they copied perfectly… “ok, the moment has come, I can try…”

“I told to all the children to follow me on the line of the soccer field and with those 20 kids, avoiding any possible formation (because to wanted to stay close to me), I started walking from one side to the other yelling “Tae Soo Do – Hwa Rang Do”, giving punches (like in the warm up), and since they were 20, they became 30, 40, then 50!! We were so many and all yelling that we covered almost all the soccer field and at every scream I had shivers through my back-spine, my voice was one with the childrens’ voice and my heart was exploding.

I was feeling again the sensation of “giving myself”.

I looked to my friend Davide (adventure fellow) and he was almost crying; later he told me that he felt moved by me and all the children and I answered that he couldn’t even imagine what was flowing in my blood in that moment and that I wished for him to feel the same.

Emanuele Veluti (TSD Half Black Belt)

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There are many wonderful humanitarian groups who bring much needed aid in the form of food, medical care, clothing, schools and other forms of relief to places like Angola.

In an effort to build on top of the essentials for life provided by people like Father Roberto and other humanitarian organizations, Hwa Rang Do’s mission is to bring transformation to these regions and other areas of the world, beginning with the development of the self, by first instilling confidence, awareness and development of the individual. This in turn empowers families, groups, organization, entire countries and ultimately, the world.

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As Grandmaster Taejoon Lee stated during his speech at his 8th Dan ceremony:

“The lessons I have learned from him [Dojoonim] are too many to tell in one sitting. It will take a lifetime.  So, I shall share with you all that I have learned from my master, if you will share your life with mine.  And we shall mop the world together as one, to hopefully instill the power of one; to believe in the self as all great things started from one person, then when all the people are self-empowered, then hopefully we can all live together as one in peace, in harmony.”

Warrior’s Path – Unafraid of Change

Unafraid of Change

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As many of you are aware, we have made some changes to our programs and curriculum here at the West Coast Hwa Rang Do Academy. For over 10 years, we have maintained the same programs, curriculums, pricing and methods of instruction.  It has worked well for us, but I felt that it was time for change. There is an interesting phenomenon that takes place in human behavior. By our nature, we seek out comfort and when we find it, we want to dig a large hole and immerse ourselves in that state of comfort forever. This is surely death.

Why? What is comfort? It is the sense of security and a peace of mind we gain knowing with certainty what we are going to do tomorrow. By limiting the uncertainties of our daily lives, we reduce the stress and anxiety derived from the unknown. This fear of the unknown is an incredible force that shapes and molds our decisions on a daily basis. So comfort is a good thing, but “too much comfort” is not so good. If it is such a good thing, then comfort should make us better, happier, and more productive, but it does none of these. Being too comfortable makes us complacent, lazy, careless, unhealthy, and the happiness we gain from comfort is only temporary at best. As warriors, this is unacceptable. We must always strive for betterment in all areas of our lives and constantly push our boundaries and limitations. A warrior must work constantly to maintain sharpness and focus, to always be prepared for the worst. When you get comfortable with your abilities, you become overconfident and careless, resulting in defeat. This is why we constantly drive home the idea, “Never underestimate your opponent.” This is not limited to your sparring partner, but applies to any task in life. Whether we have done something a thousand times, if we do it the thousandth-first time without being mindful, it will result in a mistake or failure. For a warrior that could mean death. It is this “warrior’s spirit,” that we are trying to teach and preserve – to always strive for excellence, to be unafraid of challenges in our lives, to persist when other’s have lost hope, to always seek for betterment, and to always do what is “right,” not for reward sake, but purely because it is the right thing to do.

This “Warrior’s Path” is eloquently portrayed in the recent movie “Batman Begins” when the father of the young Bruce Wayne asks his son, “Why do we fall Bruce?”

And Bruce replies, “So, we can get up.”

With Love

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee