Reflections on Grandmaster Taejoon Lee’s Lessons – Conference 2013

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Reflections
By Marco Mattiucci
Susuk Sabum – 4th Dan Black Sash
Italian Branch of the WHRDA

World Hwa Rang Do® Association Championships/Conference/Seminars 2013
Hwa Rang Do USA Headquarters
July 27th – August 4th, 2013

Hwarang!

This document is both to organize my notes about the event and to offer some reflections of our beautiful yet powerful annual event.

Before going on, please let me say that I’m very grateful to have received such teachings and that these lessons are very valuable and worth the sacrifices my family and I have had to make to come all the way from Italy to Los Angeles and participate annually. No growth is possible without sacrifices.

Also I extend my gratitude to all the black sashes and students who have supported me in this event, before, during and after. And, of course infinite gratitude to Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee and his father Do Joo Nim Dr. Joo Bang Lee who are the pillars of Hwa Rang Do®.

“Do you know the difference between self esteem, self empowerment and self discipline? We teach self-discipline and self-empowerment, not only self-esteem! We have to explain that to the parents and create the right expectations.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Yes, I agree and believe that when we teach, we have to teach self-empowerment and self-discipline to our students, not only self-esteem. Because, self-esteem is only the love and appreciation for the self, self-empowerment is the courage and power to face problems and self-discipline is the possibility to adhere to a precise set of rules (morals/ethics) and respect them in spite of everything.

I think that self-empowerment is the foundation of our teaching process. The philosophy that Kuk Sa Nim teaches us is fundamentally a philosophy of power: a person is only truly strong when he makes the right decisions. Good and bad are just shadows of our actions. Only the Truth can direct a person towards what is good. I would like to think that when I am teaching my students, I am making them stronger in all aspects: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

“What is the difference between trying and doing?” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Many people “try” but few people “do”. When a committed student says that he’s trying to improve or something of that nature it’s a symptom of his predisposition: he’s going to quit. It could be for many reasons; maybe the responsibility he feels is too much, maybe he’s tired, lost his motivation, but nevertheless that is his condition, his illness.

When you’re concentrated in doing (making something happen) you cannot complain, you cannot waste your time, you cannot think about leaving or other negative issues; you’re focused on achieving. That’s because by the act of “doing” it is self-motivating. When you need to “try” to do something it shows a defensive, apathetic, self-defeating approach. Even before starting you already know that your doubts are greater than your motivations and that’s surely the end. Maybe not immediately, but sooner or later that’s the result, failure. So, as teachers, leaders, we have to be aware about this process/symptom and act accordingly, preventing or fixing it (preventing is better).

“Human beings are definitely afraid of change. We have to look for consistent and stable patterns. That’s the reason why the class has to be standardized to an extent.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Being afraid of change is one of the main reasons why many of our old instructors left Hwa Rang Do. It’s a very important issue for all of us leaders. Why are people afraid of change? Because it consumes much energy, critical thinking, and forces you to question yourself and everything you have ever believed in, shaking your foundation to its core. Definitely, we have to understand that there is a unique point in which our lives balance on, the issue of our death. As wise people, we should understand that there is no other points of external balance which can be accepted. Growth is change and change requires pain and sacrifice. It’s easy to say, easy to understand, but very hard to accept.

Normal students are afraid of Hwa Rang Do because they believe it is too much. The standard class is the only stable point in their martial arts journey. They need to be anchored with things that they can expect, giving them sense of stability and confidence. Changing the class too much daily where it’s always unpredictable is a sure way to lose students. It is our responsibility as teachers, instructors, and leaders to offer them in the beginning the sense of security through a stable, consistent program and empower them with the end goal of liberating them from mundane routine, systematic control, ultimately to live dynamically.

From this point of view, I think it’s very important to divide the classes for instructors and the classes for normal students. It has to be clear what the distinctions are and normal student should not be in the high-level instructors classes as there are different degrees of expectations and levels of self-belief.

“You, the Black Sashes, must strive for accuracy, precision and perfection. There are at least 18 levels to become a 1st dan Black Sash so you should be at least 18 times better than the other students.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

What a huge responsibility! Every time I think about it, I’m in fear of being inadequate, but that’s the right direction and I cannot waste my time with negative feelings. I must only focus on training harder and become better than before. My students are always critiquing me, even when they seem to be patient and tolerant with my weaknesses. When they follow me, they should inevitably learn, improve. So, if I am weak, they become weak; if I am bad, they become bad. All leaders must push themselves to be the best, to do their best: that’s the only way to teach how to improve and grow. It doesn’t mean that my best is absolutely the best; it is only doing my best and the process of giving my personal best is what is necessary to be a positive, self-empowering teacher.

“…If you perform the same technique thousands of times, it can be a way to exercise the spirit; but if you perform it in the wrong way, you gain nothing but bad habits. You have to train with accuracy and precision to learn the techniques properly. More doesn’t necessarily mean better!” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

One of the fundamental aspects of my training is repeating thousands of times the same technique. I have also taught my students to do the same. What I didn’t teach them and myself is to be accurate and precise. My way to teach and train has changed much in the last 2 years. The sentence “more doesn’t necessarily mean better!” is always in my mind and I strive to find more effective ways to train, learn and teach. Time is important! Repeating techniques are good for the spirit, but only when you’re getting older, you start to understand that time is very precious and it must be used efficiently.

“Today, people want what is immediate and don’t want to commit to long term goals. The virtues of perseverance, commitment and loyalty are being lost” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

This idea perfectly describes our times of crisis. People don’t want to commit to long-term goals because they are afraid that they might be missing out on something, some opportunities, but that is terribly absurd. When you try to do too many things, trying to have everything, not to lose anything, focusing on nothing, you are surely going to lose everything. The right way to accomplish more is to focus precisely on one thing, and then relax to finish one task at a time. Then, from the completion of one, many more opportunities grow from its solid foundation.

I don’t have solutions for this. I only teach people to be strong, I think it’s the only answer that I can give as a teacher and a leader. Nevertheless, I’m sad about the overall situation, as I feel at times helpless to change the popular trends of the world today.

“The way, the process of learning is changing. The method, the act of learning was a continuous search, involving the individual to take physical action; going to the library, asking the librarian, looking up each book. Now, all we have to do is type a few words into Google, a search engine and the answers appear, requiring no more action than the act of typing. It’s altering the way we think, the way we interact with others, with the external world. It’s a way to create dependencies: intellectually, emotionally, and economically. From culture, arts to even food, everything is about dependency. We must be aware that we are giving up freedom, our privacy, the question of “why & how” in order to gain more convenience. What must we, then preserve? The process of learning; the act of seeking for knowledge, for truth, through Hwa Rang Do! That’s the only way we may preserve both our Martial Art and humanity.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Our journey of learning and seeking knowledge is really Hwa Rang Do in itself for me. If we remove this of idea of epistemology, philosophy, of seeking truth from Hwa Rang Do, then it’s no different than any other martial arts. What I mean is that it’s not only the amount of techniques or the techniques itself that makes Hwa Rang Do special, but the way we teach and learn them. From this perspective, it’s clear that the journey is really much more important than the destination, as the destination might not even exist.

“I am creating ESBD: EaSy But Deadly, a program without commitment base and for those with the inability to seek, for the short-attention span of the modern-mind… I’m just kidding, but it could make some money LOL.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

A program without commitment is really hard to understand for me because I cannot teach non-motivated people. I am relieved to know that Kuk Sa Nim was joking, but there’s some truth in it. Anyway, I want to think about it, as I understand that it’s a good means for business and to give people a good opportunity to be introduced to the world of martial arts. From this point of view, it’s better than pure fitness, dance, or yoga, etc. We have to survive from an economical perspective and it’s not easy in a very competitive world where you can become a karate or Tae Kwon Do black belt in less than 1 year (paying a lot of course…). But, of course only as a gateway, an indoctrination into our core curriculum.

“My goal is to be independent from you and make you independent from me. You have to be able to create on your own. You have to be able to make your decisions independently from me. You must be able to make decisions on your own, embracing the fact that you will have to suffer the consequences of the wrong decisions. You are part of Hwa Rang Do; you must be the drivers and no more remain as passengers, think on your own. Then, you must remain humble and when you have a good idea, you must share it. My goal is to make you instructors, and you have to teach 10 people to create 10 others with 10 people under them who are also able to lead, then soon we can lead thousands of people. I’m the only person besides Dojoonim who knows everything about Hwa Rang Do and if we die, what will happen? The remaining instructors will have to be able to rebuild everything without us!” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Independence or self-reliance is another reason why some old instructors left Hwa Rang Do and a specific reason why some black sashes don’t want to open their own schools. I set a precise rule in Italy: if you want to become a black sash, if you want to test for black sash 1st dan, then you have to open at least one Tae Soo Do Club. It’s very clear and there’s no compromise on this. Furthermore, this is exactly what Kuk Sa Nim has outlined many years ago as he clearly stated that we are not just Black Belts, we become Hwarangs and they are generals, leaders and if they don’t have anyone to lead, then what’s the purpose of becoming a Black Sash? If they don’t want to do it, then they can leave Hwa Rang Do immediately. For me, it’s not possible to learn Hwa Rang Do without taking the responsibility of teaching. Maybe I push my advanced students too hard, but I’m very concerned about the future of Hwa Rang Do and I want to do my best to help Kuk Sa Nim and Do Joo Nim to disseminate the Art and to create a stable set of schools in Italy and Europe that can survive for many years, even after my death.

“Black Belt Magazine representative, during a banquet, told us that all the students of different martial arts organizations usually say: this martial art really changed my life! But when you ask them: in which way? What changed? They are not able to answer. The representative went on to say; however, that’s not the case with your students. When asked the same question, they all knew exactly how and what Hwa Rang Do changed in their lives and the benefits they have received.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Being aware of what the martial art is doing and has done for one’s personality, the body and the spirit should be the primary concern for a good student. We have to motivate our students to better understand what Hwa Rang Do is and what Hwa Rang Do can do for them. Seeking understanding is energy-consuming and I know that a lot of our students don’t want to spend the time and effort necessary in deep self-reflection to truly know themselves and their changes. The fact of the matter is that it’s not possible to study Hwa Rang Do without introspection. Therefore, the process of understanding is inevitable. The goal for us, leaders and teachers, is to guide them in this process and help them when needed.


“…How much you know is not as important; what’s more important is the way you express what you know.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Yes, there are instructors who are not able to do many things due to physical limitations, age, etc., but they can still strive to teach very well the small amount of things they know. And, even if they cannot do it, they still need to know how it’s done. The result is that they will have many followers and those students will become very loyal to them. It’s a very important issue. We have to spend time not only in training, but also in teaching how to train other people. This starts from the basics.

From this point of view, I would like to thank Susuk Sabumnim Dylan Sirny for the enlightening class he gave us about how to teach children. I believe that the methods he explained were fantastic! And, should be standardized for all schools and teachers. I have been reviewing what I’ve learnt from it and I will begin by applying it on a specific experimental set of children (Alice, my daughter, will be part of it). I want to train myself in that direction, improving my skills in depth and then disseminate my knowledge to all the Italian instructors, motivating them to apply the same methodology.

“Kids mainly understand what they feel and not what you explain to them.”– Susuk Sabumnim Dylan Sirny

It’s a very interesting point. I’m glad for this reflection. When I teach kids I deal with them as adults, but I have to remember that for them feeling; what’s pleasant and unpleasant, what feels good and bad are much more important than rational reasoning. It’s a key point to remember when dealing with children.

“You’re teaching the child but you’re enrolling the parents.”– Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Absolutely true!

“Beauty is about esthetics and symmetry” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

I’m fascinated by this definition. I heard it from Kuk Sa Nim some years ago and I have been very happy to hear it again this year. We, as leaders, have to be beautified by the essence of fascinating people. I think it’s something that we can learn because esthetics and symmetry can be studied, understood and applied as concepts: (1) esthetics through the exercise of understanding the perceptions of others about us and the world; (2) symmetry through the study of rules and behaviors that make our lives consistent and balanced with what we think and say. That’s definitely why beauty and beautiful people attract other people even those they don’t necessarily want.

“Do Joo Nim says: that a fight is good! When it’s a comparison of skills to make each other grow.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

I have been practicing the egoless way for several years and I find it very difficult due to my nature, but I’m coming to understand more each day. For the first time, this year, I participated in the championships as a competitor without thinking about the results and that has been a great experience for me. I also matched during the black sash test and in that situation; my main goal was to collaborate with my brother (not opponent) to allow him to demonstrate his abilities. I liked it so much more!

The problem I have here in Italy is that I’m the highest degree in Hwa Rang Do and when I match it’s always a lose-lose situation: if I lose I’m losing against a student of mine, if I win I’m winning against a student of mine… I partially solved this problem by matching only with the highest ranking black sashes in private with explanation and understanding of the unique situation. However, it’s a pity that it’s not too often.


“Promotion comes from imagination!” – Fernando Ceballos

Thanks to Fernando for the valuable business issues he pointed out during the presentations. The sentence “Promotion comes from imagination!” captured my attention. It’s definitely true! The greatest businesses in the world come from small but innovative ideas. The tools are important, mainly Internet based tools, but it’s the imagination, which is the source that fuels new and effective businesses.

“The Black Sash test will be changed and believe me, it will be very hard! In addition to the compulsory test, there will be specific subtests for grappling, weapon fighting, continuous sparring, voluntary service or social service, etc…” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

I completely agree! The pre-test for the Tae Soo Do black belt test, here in Italy, is unbelievably difficult now as it is. I made it harder and harder each year. The hardest test creates the greatest results and the greatest value.

“I cannot change my Father, but when I disagree I do question? Always seeking betterment, to make Hwa Rang Do and the family better you must question when you lack understanding and/or to seek what is best. You have to understand, Do Joo Nim is like Picasso, he is a master artisan. We cannot stifle him into a set scheme or routine due to our inability for understanding and for simplification. Most of life is gray and ambiguous, but if you don’t know black and white how can you understand the different gradations of gray and be complete? Because of this, it’s not up to him, but for me to define the standards of what is black and white for every Hwa Rang Do technique.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Kuk Sa Nim is doing the most incredible job I have ever seen in martial arts, he’s standardizing the entire Hwa Rang Do curriculum with the tools of multimedia and everything will be online. I’m so grateful for this and I follow every indication and detail He teaches online. The standardization is really valuable for Hwa Rang Do, mainly for long distance students like me. On the other hand, Do Joo Nim is the creator of the syllabus and of course he can see and understand all aspects of Hwa Rang Do and to expect him to remain within a set of standards is both an impossibility as well as a waste of his prodigious talents, his genius. Therefore it fits perfectly into our framework of Um and Yang, static and dynamic: Kuk Sa Nim is the standardized reference point, and Do Joo Nim is the infinite variations.

“My goal is to shake! I have to constantly test our beliefs. I constantly question myself; I don’t want to become dogmatic. Dogma is a way to control the masses and the only Dogma to follow is the one of Christ. You should be able to question everything, no other dogma either by man or the church is acceptable.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

When I deal with my students it’s hard for me to always explain the reason or the why of my behavior. Now, I understand that is not completely correct. I want to fix this aspect of my personality. I ask a lot of trust to my students and sometimes, because of that I lose some of them. I will find a new way to create a way of balance in which the students can understand much more the reasoning behind my decisions.

“You’re not human if you have no garbage hidden within you. We must reflect deeply and cleanse our deepest hidden trash. Then, once cleansed, with the renewed heart and soul, we must help others. We matter because we need each other. Although we are not perfect, we can help each other strive perfectly. And, definitely that’s the reason why everything is important, because we are sacred; we are made in the image of God. We exist for each other and with God every life has intrinsic value as we are all his children.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

These words are so beautiful and human that I cannot say anything more.

“We’re not only interested in techniques or the rules created by imperfect beings, we follow the natural laws and the absolute laws of a perfect Being. Only through natural laws and the laws of Truth, can we be complete and fulfilled.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

All of our techniques come from natural laws, so understanding those laws means becoming complete and closer to God. The techniques are only a means to understanding nature, God’s creation. And, to live and walk in that path is becoming Godly.

“Money is only a measure of what we’re willing to let go or sacrifice to get. Our society is money-based, yet forgetting what the value of money really is” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Teaching for free is not a good idea for at least two reasons: (1) if it’s for free, the public doesn’t value and only question why it’s free, so we diminish the value of what we teach; (2) if we are not able to ask at a higher price, then it means that we don’t believe that what we’re teaching is worth any value and this is worse than the first point because we are diminishing ourselves.

“You cannot rely on things that you cannot predict. Therefore, you must exercise greater planning and greater organization. More variables you are able to control and predict, the higher the probability to quickly manage the unpredictable. Because no matter how much you plan, how much you organize, you cannot know and control everything.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Every Hwa Rang Do School should have at least a five-year plan. I have a ten-year plan for the entire Italian branch and for EU, but maybe I’m too presumptuous. Anyway, what I can say for sure is that ideas are the drivers of reality. If you don’t have a specific target or worse if you don’t have a target at all, it’s very hard to hit any mark. The target may change, but it must always exist otherwise every action is a waste of energy.

Having a target, a vision, for the organization means that we must plan accordingly and to plan before every situation before taking action. In this way, whatever structure we create is ready to face many problematic situations and increase the probability to survive the storms through the years.

“Is Hwa Rang Do good to me? Yes, and No, it gives me more headaches and heartaches! But, I made a commitment over 25 year ago. I tried to leave Hwa Rang Do many times, but the Art always pulled me back.” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Hwa Rang Do asks for 100% of all what you can do and all of your potentials. Sometimes, it’s not easy to deal with what Hwa Rang Do requires and then we always have two choices: stay or leave. In spite of that, I believe that a person cannot really choose to stay or leave Hwa Rang Do. Every person is free to choose one way or another. However, I absolutely believe that it is the Art that chooses the person and not vice-versa.

Like a hero that gives his life for an ideal: can he really choose to give his life? Or is he what he is because he cannot avoid his fate?


“Spear fighting, sword and shield fighting and archery dueling will be implemented…” – Kuk Sa Nim Taejoon Lee

Yes, I think it’s possible and exciting. We never cease to progress, to move forward, onward, always moving. Kuksanim teaches us to be first and to not wait for others before we take action. So, at times more than not, to others we seem to be swimming upstream.

My Days with Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

GML-Giuseppe

From: Giuseppe Catania
July 2016

Hwarang Sir!

I stayed close to you the entire last month, first in Chianni and then in Genoa. It was another very important moment for me and and I feel very lucky to have spent this precious time with you, both during the seminars and during the mentoring on all these days.

I think that for any instructor who has the opportunity to participate in your lessons can be truly inspired… watching you teach a class and see how you gradually “build” the lesson – it’s like seeing a great painter creating his canvas … it was very exciting to watch and as instructors we can just hope, may be one day, to become at least a tenth of what you are as a Teacher and Master.

“watching you teach a class and see how you gradually “build” the lesson – it’s like seeing a great painter creating his canvas”

I am also very grateful for being present during the mentoring sessions… as I said, I think that teaching as you teach is extremely difficult, but even more so, I think that the ability to read and touch the soul of the people as you know how to do is truly impressive, sir.

To know how to truly listen to people and know how to say the right words at the right time; I think that only a great spirit may possess this kind of skill and abilities. All those who participated in the mentoring were very enthusiastic, and I think some of them were even a little shocked by your ability to get inside them and give deep reflections to think about their lives.

Time seemed dilated and the two weeks seemed like months as deep and intense was the time spent together.

In two weeks you have given us so much and uplifted everyone’s spirits … I know, however, that the enthusiasm is like fire… and if you don’t feed it with new challenges and new goals to achieve, the fire will be soon extinguished. And, I know there will be a lot of work we must do and I also know that we will make a lot of mistakes, but I am convicted that this will not stop us… Susuk Sabumnim Marco Mattiucci has always taught us to never give up even when faced with extreme adversities… You know that he is really strong in this belief; and at the same time we are very fortunate because we have the example of Do Joo Nim and you, Sir!

Maintaining a relationship with extraordinary people like you is never easy, but of course, it also really challeges us and gives us powerful inspirations.

As you are aware, last year was very “particular” for me to say the least… when I came back from the United States, spending an intensive week with you; for the first time, I began to think deeply of my whole life. I have come to realize that I did not know anything and what I thought I knew was not the truth. In the beginning I was struggling, as I felt very bad, inappropriate and unsuitable for everything; I felt like I was a bad Hwa Rang Do student as well as a bad Hwa Rang Do instructor, also a bad son, and a bad husband… a bad person.

It was a very painful experience, but it was also an important, necessary process for my growth as a teacher and as a human being. And, I am reminded as you have said many times; “without pain there’s no growth.” During those days, I isolated myself for several months from my Instructor, my Hwa Rang Do brothers/sisters and my family, but I needed that time alone to process a lot of things, seeking truth and to rebuild myself on the foundation of the Truth.

And, I am reminded as you have said many times; “without pain there’s no growth.” During those days, I isolated myself for several months from my Instructor, my Hwa Rang Do brothers/sisters and my family, but I needed that time alone to process a lot of things, seeking truth and to rebuild myself on the foundation of the Truth.

Many people would like to have a better life, to grow and improve as human beings, but few are able to accept the change that this involves. I think that every time you want to “rebuild” something you need to destroy something that was before… and I think that is true for people too. We all want to grow and evolve, but more often than not we want better conditions without having to endure a transformational process because this often requires suffering and pain, and that’s why I think many people are scared of change, even when it’s for the betterment.

As Susuk Sabumnim often told me: everything that is not growing begins to die! In recent months, I have meditated on a lot of things and as I have said to you, I have felt that I needed to change and so now was the best time for that change… it was perfect!

I think, therefore, the best way to honor all your efforts is to improve as individuals and help as many people as possible to do the same as you do through our beloved and beautiful Martial Art, trying to bring our message of Strength, of Light, and of Love as far as possible in this world that is increasingly moving towards the darkness.


I think, therefore, the best way to honor all your efforts is to improve as individuals and help as many people as possible to do the same as you do through our beloved and beautiful Martial Art, trying to bring our message of Strength, of Light, and of Love as far as possible in this world that is increasingly moving towards the darkness.

Thank You for all you do, Sir!
Much Love!
HWARANG FOREVER!

Giuseppe Catania
Sabumnim – Hwa Rang Do® 3rd Dan Black Sash
Owner/Instructor of Hwa Rang Do® Branch in Genoa

Discover Your True Path

the-tree-of-life

This is something I prepared for a podcast I did for Elite Marketing Pro, April 2016.

You can listen to it here: Hope you enjoy 🙂

Discover Your True Path (Audio Recording)

I have been teaching now for over 35 years and have taught tens of thousands of people all over the world. In the process, I have come to know my students personally as they have confided in me with many of their struggles in life. What I have come to understand now is that all of them think that their problems were unique and the most common rhetoric from people when you try to advice them is, how do you know when you have not lived “my life’, walked in my shoes, etc. However, in listening to so many people, what I find is that most of their problems have common roots. Although they vary in the look and feel, in the sequence of events, in the differences of circumstances, but all arising from the same foundational problems. And however great or small the magnitude of their pain, they all suffer the same. Whether the scale of one’s experience is small or great, one can only perceive the world from their perception and no one else’s. In the discussion of pain, if the extent of a person’s experience is only the pain caused from being struck by a pencil, then they cannot know the pain caused by being struck by a car. And, when one argues that there’s no comparison in the pain caused from a pencil from the pain caused by an impact from a car, what we discover is that pain is still pain and it’s very personal.

Foundationally, it is the question of meaning, of purpose and this has remained same all through the ages as man came to acquire, intellect, knowledge, since Adam & Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. As I have said, in order to change and transform a tree, what do you do? If you only focus on what you see and what is apparent then you would have to touch, change, transform every branch, every leaf, every flower, every petal. However, there is a way you can transform the entire tree by addressing only one thing – the roots. When you change what you put through the roots is how you can transform the entire tree in one shot, so to speak. As Einstein has said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Therefore, the answer does not lie in what we can see and what is apparent; the truth lies in what is not visible or apparent, in the immaterial, in the ethereal, in consciousness, in what is harder to acquire.

As Einstein has said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Therefore, the answer does not lie in what we can see and what is apparent; the truth lies in what is not visible or apparent, in the immaterial, in the ethereal, in consciousness, in what is harder to acquire.

In philosophy and science there is a battle between two juxtaposing views – materialism and idealism. Materialism states that everything in existence can be explained through matter, whether visible or invisible. Whereas, idealism states that all things in existence is consciousness and is invisible, ethereal. And before the technological advancements of our era, people devoted their lives to God, to spirituality, to family, to living. As we come into the modern era, the advancements in technology has made our labor easier, creating more time for leisure, but relieving more than just the burdens of living, but the knowledge in how to live free and independent. At one point one man possessed all the knowledge necessary to survive in the world and that person was then responsible to transmit that knowledge with whatever else he has gained to the next generation and so on, and so on. However, when there was so much knowledge, no one person could possess it all so we began to compartmentalize, specialize, to give more and more power and dependency to government, to the landlords as the state began to offer more than just protection. Then, finally with the advent of currency, it allowed the rapid expansion of cities, empires, and civilizations. In the beginning, people understood the value and limitations of currency, as it was only a promissory note backed by real commodities just as well as knowing where their food came from.

We have lost the understanding of purpose, of foundation, of meaning. And, in my opinion that is the greatest cause of suffering, the root of the problem. We have to ask ourselves if science, knowledge, intellect, materialism is truth, then why is the world in so much chaos, so much hunger, so much sickness, so much war. And more people today are lost in purpose and meaning as it is evident in our millennial generation that desires above all things than success and money; they want change, any change, just something other than what is: Not realizing that the change must come from them rather than asking for it, but of course in order for them to create change they must know what must change and for what end.

And more people today are lost in purpose and meaning as it is evident in our millennial generation that desires above all things than success and money; they want change, any change, just something other than what is: Not realizing that the change must come from them rather than asking for it, but of course in order for them to create change they must know what must change and for what end.

With so much information, yet so lost; and that I tell you lies in the ingenuous way we acquire knowledge. Not through empirical data, but through more and more hearsay. We need not journey, we need not venture outside our doors, it’s all at our fingertips and because there is so much information as well as misinformation, making it harder to believe in anything so we succumb to believing in nothing.

Harvard University performed the longest research project in history. It was a research to better understand human development, simply put to know what truly makes people happy. It took over 75 years and more than 3,000 subjects, half of whom was selected from the Harvard student body and the other half from the worst social-economic circumstances in the ghettos of Boston. They tracked all of them every year and subjected them to rigorous interview, physical medical review and psych evaluations. Some were poor and became rich, some were wealthy and lost everything, and even one became president. They asked all of them in the beginning what would make them happy and they all said money, fame or both. At the end of the 75-year research, they asked surviving members the same question and they all answered – relationships.

We are moving further away from the truth – the spirit; and relying more on the things human beings create. We forget the true nature and essence of all things as we focus only on the pleasure, the benefit, fulfilling the ever so prevalent phrase, “What’s in it for me?” Acquiring all things they desire in Machiavellian fashion and wanting the acceptance and praise of what used to be their community before the Internet and now the World. The truth cannot lie in more hearsay and opinion of others. Because the majority agrees does not mean it’s right. So, let me ask you something we all heard before, would you jump off a cliff if your trusted friend does so, how about 10 people, how about a thousand, how about a million, lets say everyone on the planet? You see it’s easy to say when there’s one, but when there’s everyone, then it all changes. I would have to say no! I wouldn’t jump, until I understood why and for what purpose.

You see truth, goodness, human beings posses intrinsic value, meaning they do not increase or diminish in their worth because the value and worth is in it’s existence.

You see truth, goodness, human beings posses intrinsic value, meaning they do not increase or diminish in their worth because the value and worth is in it’s existence. Therefore, the most noble path is to live and die as a scapegoat. You know we all had one growing up, in our family. There was that one child who was always at the wrong place at the wrong time. But because of that sibling, you escaped punishment, you were saved and yet they did nothing wrong. Is that not the best way to serve your fellow man? This can be fully understood when you know difference in suffering from doing good versus suffering from doing bad, or evil.

In essence, materialism makes gods of men, and idealism requires surrender to God, to ultimate consciousness. And for those who say the acquisition of ultimate consciousness is an ultimate goal in itself which can be achieved by man, but I say for what is the ultimate consciousness for, and that can only be known to God. For in the end, no matter how much a man can know, you also know that man is imperfect and so it cannot be trusted fully. Therefore we place ourselves in a conundrum we cannot escape.

The arrival to this conundrum is necessary in order for one to seek and understand the truth. And it is my hope that I may assist you in helping, guiding you to your personal truth, which is a condition that must be fulfilled to know the ultimate truth.
And in fact is that not the highest aspiration of any human being?

Can you be strong yet not courageous?

CourageousM

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.

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee End of 2010 Message

There is much to be thankful this past year, as we have successfully celebrated our Golden Anniversary and accomplished the goals we have set for ourselves. The uniformity and standardization of art has given clear identity to our group, empowering all of us with pride and unity. Our Internet presence is stronger than ever through our sophisticated Internet development and marketing. Our sport venue is unrivaled as it is the only decathlon of martial arts tournaments, which covers all areas of competition – forms, weapon forms, stand-up kick/punch/throw fighting, submission fighting, and weapon fighting. As a collective, we are growing stronger, bigger, and better everyday as witnessed at our 50th Anniversary Events this year.

I should be very thankful and happy this year, as my father, our founder has been honored as the Man of the Year 2010 by Black Belt Publications and there’s much momentum for Hwa Rang Do to really shine in the public’s eye in the upcoming years. However, I cannot deny this slight aching in my gut, the perpetual feeling as though I am standing on thin ice, the uneasiness brought on by mistrust of our financial institutions and our government, and a sense of frustration and anger, which comes from feeling powerless knowing that only one percent our nations population possesses the majority of our nations wealth, not to mention the fear for our future generations as our planet is in jeopardy. I had never thought I would live through and witness the decline of our civilization. These are only things we read about in history books.

fallofrome
The Fall of the Roman Empire

Although I am excited and happy about our accomplishments, how can I rest at ease knowing that our world, our nation, our people are doomed to repeat our mistakes all over again. With all the advancement in technology, it has made our lives easier or at least at face value. However, in reality it has made it easier for us to be distracted and influenced by those who have the finances and the power to do so. We are connected in everyway, all day, at home, office, or mobile. Yet, with all these means of better communication and access to so much information, our family unity and the sense of community are on the decline. People are becoming more and more hedonistic, self-centered, amoral and eager to consume whatever they can as quickly as they can.

In truth the advances in technology and globalization has sped up the decline of our civilization and we are falling exponentially. Our generation is living through one of the most profound moments in history as we are witnessing how the ideals of socio-economic and political models of the modern era are being played out as well as the potential destruction of our precious environment. Communism has fallen to democracy as only a handful of countries still remain; capitalism is prevailing over socialism or so it seems. However, unspeakable, unimaginable events have taken place. Who would have ever thought that communist states would adopt forms of capitalism as their economic model and democratic states socializing some components of their economy? Furthermore, how does the beacon of democracy turn into a militant state and more importantly, with its peoples’ support? And, how does a communist nation become an economic powerhouse, producing most of the world’s goods. Even more troubling, how do we allow an enemy vessel to come within 35 miles of our coast to launch a intercontinental ballistic missile without being detected? And, just even on the most fundamental domestic level, if we have made so many advances in our society, then why are there so many homeless people among us? When I was young, I had to search out the homeless like hunting for a dinosaur. They were rare to find and dwelled only in Downtown.

There are so many more issues domestic and abroad that I can discuss, but I want to spend more time on the solution. I have spent much time contemplating on this – how can we change so that these things never take place. By lifting the veil of secrecy and isolation through improved globalized communication and for such things as Wikileaks, it has brought the world together. None of the socio-economic and political theories exist in its pure form today. Much like the martial arts where the most popular these days are MMA or mixed martial arts, which a few decades ago would have been taboo, nations are combining and mix-matching different socio-economic and political theories to use what works best in combination for their needs. So, we can at least thank technology for this.

From assessing what is happening in our economy today, I think we can say that ultimately in any economic theory, it will always end up with the very rich and the very poor. We are currently draining our middle class and the rich is getting richer and the poor is getting poorer. We just don’t know it because our standard of living is higher than other third-world nations, but proportionally the disparity of the rich from the poor is the same if not greater than any other third-world nation. The only difference between socialism combined with communism and capitalism combined with democracy is that with communism the rich is dictated by the government and in democracy it’s up to the people, but the end result is the same – only the few with the most.

I went on to contemplate if there were any way to separate money with power and influence. There’s is a notion to separate the government completely not only from religion, but also in commerce so to prevent government interference which might favor one person, one company over another. Although, we have separated religion and state in theory, our nation is still ruled by Christians as politicians rally to gain the public’s votes and since the majority of Americans are Christians, so are all our politicians. Therefore, this notion of complete separation of government from commerce is speculative at best.

As a Hwarang and an Umyangian, we believe in balance and that not one thing will work always. It is knowing and understanding all opposing views and ideas to arrive at a balance and only then can we become harmonious with others and nature. It seems today that wars are no longer fought for political views, but rather as always for economics and archaic as it is, for religion. You can’t mix religion because of it dogmatic nature. How paradoxical that the very thing that professes peace is the thing, which is the root of so many deaths, bloodshed, and war.

There seems to be no answer in the external world. The only thing that I can come close to as a solution is looking inward. It is hardest to change our human nature. I know, I have been trying for over 30 years. However, without change we cannot advance. Even with so much advances in all areas of technologies, academics, and reformations, we still cling on to old dogma. It seems the only way to change the human condition is to change the human being. We must change our nature of greed, hatred, and power and come to realize that we are all in this together. That humanity is only as strong as its weakest human being. We must do as the great Mahatma Ghandi had said – You must be the change you want to see in the world.

We must collectively elevate our human nature, our human consciousness. That is the next step in our human evolution, advancing not only of the physical and mental, but more so of our spirit and consciousness. Put aside our differences and understand the power of ONE. We must value what’s noble over what’s pleasurable and selfish. We must as individuals and as a global community once again teach and relearn for ourselves that our value, self-worth, comes from the measure of our service to others rather than size of our bank account.

This is why I am so excited and happy to announce that we, the World Hwa Rang Do Association, is converting to a non-profit organization with the aim of becoming a humanitarian organization to empower the world one person at a time through the martial, intellectual, spiritual discipline of Hwa Rang Do. We are putting our money where our mouth is and committing even stronger to fulfill our goal of becoming a flowering human, and with continued efforts to one day become a flowering humankind.

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

Reprimanding the Soul

Reprimanding the Soul

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One of my favorite spiritual writings comes from the Lebanese poet, philosopher, and artist Kahlil Gibran. In his poem, “Seven Reprimands,” he teaches us of strong human virtues through self examination. This is congruent with our warrior’s path, since a warrior is defined as a strong human being who is unafraid of facing the struggles and the challenges of life, not just in battle. A warrior is not just a person who engages in warlike activities, but a warrior is a person who follows the path of strength, honor, integrity, loyalty and courage.

Let us, then, examine ourselves:

 

How many times have we taken the easy way out and then complimented ourselves by accepting the praise of others?

How many times have we played sick to avoid responsibility or work?

How many times have we opted to pick up the lightest box when helping our friends move?

How many times have we stayed quiet, refraining from the truth to avoid conflict?

How many times have we blamed others for our mistakes?

How many times have we quit when things got tougher and then consoled ourselves by pointing the finger at others?

How many times have we done something we were supposed to do and looked for praise?

How many times have we taken credit for something we did not do?

How many times have we strutted our fortune in front of those who are less fortunate?

How many times have we taken things for granted and deluded ourselves by saying we deserve better?

We have all done these things before and some of us still do. Life is not meant to be easy and most often, things of value require hard work. We often forget that nobody owes us anything and no one can make us do anything. We are the ones who make the decisions, which affect our lives, and we are the only ones who can change ourselves for the better. So, no matter what happens, the good, the bad, the ugly, we must learn to accept, knowing that no man/woman can pass judgment on our soul. And, it is the strength and vitality of our spirit that will determine our immortality.

 

Hwarang Forever,

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee