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How The Martial Arts Evolve

by Jason T. Fry, 2nd dan in HapKido

Some people wonder why there are so many different styles of martial arts. Even within a style, there are often different “schools” that may they teach Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, or Karate, but do things differently from other schools of the same name. In this sense I am talking about a school as a “kwan” in Korean, or a clan of classes that are part of an organization. Some styles are different because they originate out of different countries, representing how a particular country’s earliest peoples may have worked out how to defend themselves. Others are the result of changes over time.

Martial arts are a lot like language. Groups of styles can be attributed to countries, like Hapkido and Tae Kwon Do for Korea, or Judo and Karate for Japan. Within each country, different styles could still be different languages, just like many countries have different languages spoken. There are 23 official languages in India and many indigenous languages spoken alongside Spanish in Central and South America. Different schools can be thought of as dialects, still the same style, but with minor or major differences to distinguish it from other schools. Some moves may be totally different or the way a kick is executed slightly changed, but otherwise recognized as the same way of fighting.

Then of course the individual class is like an accent. We all speak in the same dialect as our “kwan,” but we may do things differently from one class to another. Our accent is often the result of our instructor; the particular way he/she prefers to do techniques is passed on to us and we all adopt that way of doing things generally.

But it goes even further. Each of us has our own individual way of speaking: a cadence, a quirk, a set of phrases or words we may use more than others. We each also have our own way of doing our particular martial art. Some of us might take advantage of our flexibility and prefer higher kicks or acrobatic movements. For others, like a lot of us in Hapkido, we might make adjustments for age or injuries and alter techniques to be easier on certain parts of the body. Maybe we try to avoid some techniques altogether. Our martial arts speech patterns become important as we progress because it becomes a defining characteristic of who we are as martial artist. As we spar our classmates, they will become accustomed to how we “speak” and recognize advantages or disadvantages in the way we do things. We may develop bad habits in our particular execution of certain techniques and require a kind of “speech therapy” to correct issues to make us a better martial artist.

But with all the training and correction that we may go through, it is important to remember that our personal martial arts expression is the result of thousands of years training passing down knowledge to hundreds and hundreds of instructors, evolving and changing along the way to the set of skills you know possess. You are simultaneously a completely unique martial artist and inextricably connected to generations of martial artists that have come before you. And who knows? Maybe someday you will teach your own class and all of your students will learn your particular martial arts accent.

Training for a Marathon and a Black Belt Test

Chris ran his 5th Marine Corps Marathon last year with his son, Sean.
From prior posts, you have probably noticed that Be Ryong Martial Arts curriculum and testing requires a tremendous amount of strength, stamina, and mental toughness. Let’s say you are an ambitious student and have earned your First Dan (degree) in your chosen martial art, mine happens to be Hapkido. Preparing for the Second Dan exam is no less demanding and in many ways can be more so. All that said, perhaps you are also training to run a marathon during your Second Dan training cycle. Some may say, “That is crazy!” It is hard to argue against a sound, logical argument like that, but I am going to attempt to. I trained for my Second Dan exam on December 22, 2018 and I ran the Marine Corps Marathon on October 28, 2018.

So, where do we begin?

Why would you have marathon training in the middle of your black belt training? Well, sometimes the best laid plans don’t work out. I had planned to test in June of last year, but circumstances did not allow for that, so…Here there I was, looking at December and I had registered to run the marathon back in March. You can see the dilemma? The marathon was supposed to be a post-testing event, but life goes on. I decided I could do both, but I would have to moderate a bit in both training cycles to avoid getting injured.

Develop a Plan

What did I do? I came up with a plan and I wrote it down (digitally) and I followed it. Mostly, it involved running and going to class consistently. Back in June, I began the running portion of the marathon training plan. Pretty easy at first, three to four days of running totaling about 16 miles per week. You can imagine that the mileage will build, and it does. Peak mileage is over 40 miles in a week with a long run of 20 miles thrown in. A peak week example is 6 miles on Tuesday, Speed work totaling 8 miles on Wednesday, 4 miles each on Thursday and Saturday, followed by a 20 mile run on Sunday. But wait, there’s more, I am also training for my black belt exam, so I have Hapkido classes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. Seems overwhelming right? It is. That is too much to handle with a full time job, family obligations, etc.

Be Flexible

Sometimes adjustments have to be made. This all has to do with what your primary focus is at the time. In June, for instance, I knew the test was six months out, so choosing to skip a class in order to build up my running base mileage made more sense. Marathons don’t so much test your fitness as they do your preparation for the struggle. You may be able to run 26.2 miles in a single run, but if you don’t prepare your body for the impact forces, you will pay, in pain, for some time after your race and you may injure yourself in the process. If you build up your mileage so that you are running 20, 30, 40, or even 50 miles over the course of a week and make that progression slowly, you will be able to run the race and still function in the days that follow it.

I modified my running plan as training progressed through and got closer to the marathon, and the black belt test, to allow for “rest” days from running, which meant I had averaged 3 days running and 3 days of Hapkido every week since June. It was challenging to say the least. Some mornings, I did not want to get up, especially the Sunday mornings of the very long runs in the summer which requires a 5:00 am alarm to get out before it is too hot to move. When the marathon is in just under two weeks away, I am in what the marathon world calls “taper”. Just means I am running less mileage to let my legs rest in the two weeks leading up to the race.

Endurance and Strength Training

As for Hapkido, in August, I began building my upper body endurance and strength by doing daily push-ups and sit-ups. How many? I set a “baseline” number by doing a single set of push-ups with good form until I felt that one more push-up would equal a face-plant. That number was 50. So, week 1, I did 50 push-ups a day and 50 sit-ups a day. Each subsequent week, I have added 10 of each to the total. The last week prior to the test is 200 of each. After the marathon, I added the weighted vest to the push-ups until the week of the black belt test. Did this prepare me for the test? I look at it as a weekly payment toward being successful on test day, but seriously, I was confident that the test would still destroy me. It did.

What else do I do? I work hard at class and try to give every minute my best effort. I take time to improve my techniques. I practiced as often as I could the techniques, falls, rolls, kicks, etc. I even had some concrete blocks to try to toughen up the hands, wrists, and forearms for the power breaks at the end of the exam. It worked, by the way, as I smashed through two concrete blocks to finish the exam.

What About Yusul?

What about yusul (ground fighting)? Well, we practice when we can in class and at the regular belt tests. Going through 5, or 6, rounds with a fresh opponent each round is not something I think you prepare for, other than mentally. It is challenging, to say the least, but as long as you don’t ever give up, it is going to be ok in the end. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Mental Training is Important As Well

The important thing to remember is that both a marathon and a black belt exam are tests of endurance. Not just physical, but also mental endurance. The marathon will test you in ways you never imagined. You are competing against no one but yourself. Mother Nature may throw you some curve balls: rain, humidity, heat, and so forth, but you are really trying to beat that little voice in your head that says, “Stop, it’s ok if you don’t finish.” The black belt test, no matter how well prepared you think you are, will always be tougher than you think you can handle. Here again, it is not just a physical test, but a mental test. It tests your will to persevere, to struggle, to fight to achieve a goal that you have set for yourself. In both cases, you must commit to giving your all, mentally and physically, to gain the title you are trying to achieve, whether it be “Marathon Finisher”, or “Second Dan black belt”.

Whichever goal you pursue, the iconic runner, Steve Prefontaine, may have said it best, “To give less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.” Enjoy your training and we will see you at Be Ryong Martial Arts!

by Chris, 2nd degree black belt, Hapkido

Why a Martial Arts Class is a Great Workout

We do a lot of sit-ups at Be Ryong. Sit ups strengthen your abs and build core strength. Sometimes, we do group or partner sit-ups, because doing sit-ups with a buddy is always better than doing sit-ups alone.

I was having lunch with a friend recently and he asked whether I was continuing my Taekwondo and Hapkido training. I said yes. He then asked if I was getting enough of a workout through my martial arts training.

I nearly choked on my sandwich. “What do you mean?” I asked. Turns out, he thought that during martial arts classes, we’re just doing forms and kicking.

If you’re reading this and you’re wondering if you’d get a good workout from taking a martial arts classes, let me tell you, the answer is an huge YES.

First of all, you can’t really be a martial artist unless you’re in good shape. You need strength, flexibility and power. Which is why every class starts with a warm up, then stretching, then a good workout.

Most classes at Be Ryong are half workout, half techniques. During workouts, we often do interval training where we alternate between running, pushups, burpees (I hate burpees), situps, kicking, jumping jacks, army crawl, rolling, duck walk,falls, and any other crazy stuff the instructor thinks to throw into the workout.

After the workout, we have time for techniques, which can be just as strenuous as the workouts. Try doing jumping front kicks and spinning back hook kicks ten or twenty times in a row! And when done right, taekwondo forms and hapkido techniques are downright tiring!

If you’re looking to get in shape AND learn some cool martial arts moves, consider signing up for Taekwondo or Hapkido.

by Joanna, Taekwondo Black Belt and Red Belt in HapKido

How to Prepare For Your First Belt Test

Students with boards after belt test

So you’ve got your first belt test coming up. Here’s some training advice!

Step 1: Go to class and learn. In order to take the belt test, you need to learn your kicking combination and your form. If you do not know these, you will not be ready to test. If this is your first test, you will also need to learn the basic 6 movements and the basic 10 movements.

Step 2:  Get your stripes. In order to test, you need 4 stripes. Red stripe for kicking, Blue stripe for form, Yellow for breaking and White for discipline. BTW, a form is completed by parent or guardian in order to earn the White stripe.

Step 3:  Build stamina and strength. During the test, you will be doing push ups, situps and other physically straining activities. Knowing forms and kicking is only part of the test. Practice pushups and running, or do other physical activities during class and at home to make sure you have the stamina to take the test.

Step 4:  Practice more. Some people think that once they earn their stripes, they are done. However, the reason the test exists is to prove that you have learned. It does not matter if you have your stripes, if you don’t know the kicking and form. You should practice during class and at home.

And that’s it. After this you should be ready to take your first belt test, or any other belt test.

Extra tip: Take advantage of the makeup test. If you aren’t ready by the Friday of the test, take another week to practice and take the test later if you need extra time.

by CJ, 13, TKD Black Belt

Have a Super Sunday!


Many people are looking forward to today’s Super Bowl Game, whether to root for one of the two teams, or with plans to watch – and rate – the commercials, or to get together with friends for food, drink, and camaraderie. For the players on the two teams, however, the Game is the culmination of years of hard work and sacrifice. Getting up early in the morning as kids (with their parents!) for workouts. College play. A statistically impossible contract getting onto a professional team. Then over this season were the workouts, watching their diet, tough games (contact sport? more like a collision sport!) to earn the chance to play literally in front of the world tomorrow night.

The same goes for the thousands of men and women involved with the teams, the broadcasters, advertising agencies, and sponsoring corporations. For all of them, tomorrow night pr itogram represents the results of years of education, effort, talent, long nights, and hard effort.

So what does that have to do with you? Do something hard today. Run an extra mile or do 1 more pullup, carve out an hour to play outside with your kids, spend a few minutes working on that kick that you just can’t figure out, do that one chore that you never seem to be able to get to. Make tomorrow a super day for you and take some time to be your best self. Don’t let the the two teams get the day all to themselves. Tonight, you can watch that game knowing that those players, advertisers, and half time performers aren’t the only people who worked hard and did something awesome!

Thanksgiving is the Time for Turkey Trots (it really is cross-training for martial arts, I swear.)

You may not know it, but Thanksgiving morning is one of the busiest days of the year for runners of all shapes, sizes, and abilities. Many of us rise early to run, or walk, the first slice of pie off before we have breakfast. It is called a Turkey Trot. Most are in the 5k-10k range and are usually generously timed (you can walk the distance during the time allowed). It is a great way to get the metabolism cranked up on a day traditionally known for feasting and watching football. It is also a great way to continue being active while the dojang is closed for the extended holiday break.

So head on out to a local Turkey Trot to support a good cause, usually a food bank, or soup kitchen, and have some fun before you give thanks. Here are a few on Thanksgiving Day:

Alexandria Turkey Trot
Arlington Turkey Trot
Fairfax Turkey Trot
Pacers  Turkey Trot
So Others Might Eat Turkey Trot

 

Let’s Paint the Dojang Pink: Be Ryong is Helping in the Fight Against Breast Cancer!

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and in support Be Ryong will be taking up a collection to donate to the National Breast Center Foundation (NBCF), located right here in Alexandria.

The NBCF has a 3-fold mission:

  • EDUCATE women and physicians in the surrounding community about breast cancer and treatment options available.
  • INCREASE ACCESS to breast cancer screening, treatment, and supportive services for
    underprivileged and uninsured/under-insured women in the community.
  • IMPLEMENT TECHNOLOGY to provide high quality screening and treatment services in order to detect breast cancer at earlier stages.

For more information, check out the NBCF website at http://www.nationalbreastcenterfoundation.org/

How can you donate?

There is a box at Master Yun’s desk where you can place your donation. Make checks out to National Breast Center Foundation, and write Be Ryong in the memo line. You can put in cash and it will be donated in the name of Be Ryong. Checks are better, though. You can also donate directly through their website listed above. NBCF is a 501c(3) organization, and donations are tax deductable.

For every donation of $5 or more, you can put a message on one of the Pink Dragon Ladies that you’ll find near the collection box. You can write the name of a friend or family member who is fighting or has fought through this terrible disease. Or you can just write a message of hope or support. Then stick your Pink Dragon Lady to the wall of the corridor or the seating area. The more, the better. Let’s turn the dojang pink!

We’ll take collections through Saturday, November 4th. We’ll send the money to the NBCF the following week.

by James, 2nd degree black belts in TKD and HKD, HKD instructor, who is doing this to support friends and family who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

How Often Should You Go to Martial Arts Classes?

Students line up for a belt test in June 2017.

Many people ask this basic, yet complicated question: How often should I go to TaeKwonDo or HapKiDo class?

When I signed up, Master Yun said, “Come twice a week. Three times a week is even better.” So when I was a white and orange belt, I went twice a week. I would go on Tuesdays and on Fridays.

After a few more belts, I decided that in order to be able to remember all the previous forms, kicks, and miscellaneous other movements, I needed to start going 3 times a week. So I added Wednesday Tae Kwon Do to my calendar.

Then, once I became red belt, it becomes mandatory to remember earlier belt forms for your stripe testing. So I started going on Saturday. A year goes by, and I become a bo black. Bo black training starts, and I remember that you have to spar during the black belt test. So I started taking class on Thursdays as well.

By the time I took my black belt test, I was taking TKD classes four or five times a week, including sparring on Thursdays.

A senior black belt told my mom that going four times a week is optimal because “you’re going to the studio more often than you’re not” in any given week. I guess this means my body doesn’t have a chance to forget my kicks, forms and breaking. Really good advice.

Why not go five or six times a week? I think rest is equally important. Another senior black belt told me that it’s important to let your body heal in between  really hard training sessions. I have boy scouts and Kumon on Mondays, so I don’t go Mondays. I like to relax on Fridays and the studio is closed on Sundays. So it all works out.

What schedule is right for you? Only you can decide, but going more often than you’re going now is probably the right thing to do.

by CJ, 13, black belt in TKD

Martial Arts Training for Adults

Joanna, Andrea, Laura (the author of this blog post) and Sara took their TKD black belt test in June 2015. This photos was taken a few minutes after the 3 1/2 hour test ended.

Perhaps you have been watching your child take Tae Kwon Do for a while.  You show up, grab a seat on the bench and start scrolling through your phone, chatting with the other parents or catching up on some reading for the 45 minute class.  Occasionally, you look up to see what’s going on, but you’re just killing time until class is over.  Some days you probably look over and think what they are doing looks like a lot of fun, but that it’s just for kids.  Or that you are not athletic.  Or that you are too old to learn or you would never be able to kick like they do.  I’m here to tell you to give it a try.  

Why?  Because it’s a great workout. It’s a full body workout; cardio, strength, and core all rolled into one class.  Tae Kwon Do is designed to be a self-paced program.  You can come as often as you like and progress as fast or as slow as you are comfortable doing.  Few people begin a Martial Arts program in great shape.  The use of the belt system is designed to allow for this.  Your white belt is a clear indicator to the instructor and to your fellow classmates that you are a beginner at this, so less is expected of you. The only thing that is asked of you is to try your best.

Why? Because it’s also great way to reduce stress. For most kids memorizing the forms (a complex set of movements combining blocks, kicks and strikes) comes easily.  Kids are sponges; it’s not as easy for adults.  It forces you to utilize a part of your brain that you have not accessed in years.  It requires concentration, balance and coordination.  It truly requires you to be dialed in and focused into the moment.  Suddenly you are checked in, not checked out and you will find that the stresses of the day evaporate.

Why? Because it a great way to increase self-confidence. Tae Kwon Do builds both physical and mental confidence.  Mastering a new kick, squeezing out one more pushup when your arms are wobbling, or smashing through your breaking technique is an amazing feeling of accomplishment.  There is a direct link between increased physical confidence and improved mental confidence.

So give it a try, sign up for a two week trial.  You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

by Laura, adult, TKD black belt and currently green stripe in HKD

Cross-Training and How It Benefits Your Martial Arts Performance

From earlier posts, you have probably noticed that Be Ryong Martial Arts curriculum and testing requires a tremendous amount of strength, stamina, and mental toughness.  It is particularly so during the Black Belt Testing cycles.  Generally, you will train for a minimum of 6 months from the time you put on your Bo-Black belts until you test for your Black Belt.  It’s really important to use this time wisely to create the mental toughness, strength, and stamina that are required to succeed.

That is where cross-training comes in.  What is cross-training?  It is, basically, doing something that is different.  For martial arts training, it can take a variety of forms.  One of the simplest forms of cross-training to employ is running.  It has been said by runners, “My sport is your sport’s punishment.”  This is in reference to many team sports using running laps as a punishment.  Running is not punishment.  It is one of the most effective training methods to help you gain the cardiovascular fitness and endurance to be successful in martial arts.  It also helps to condition you to work through discomfort to allow you to continue and finish the training.  You don’t need a lot of special gear for running; some good running shoes, synthetic clothing, sunglasses and a water bottle will pretty much do the trick.  You might like it.  You might like to know that Master Yun has completed two 10-Mile races and a Half-Marathon (13.1 miles) in the last two years and will be competing in the Marine Corps Marathon (26.2 miles) this October 22.  Believe it or not, these distances are a challenge, even for our Master

Some other great cross-training is weight training.  I know, I know, you don’t have a gym, or some other such reason, but…  You do have your own body weight and a floor, so, you really have all you need to get started.  Push-ups, yes, remember you will do at least 770 during your Black Belt test, are body weight exercises and you can do them almost anywhere.  On the floor in your office, in the hallway at home, on the patio, on the deck by the pool, or even on the floor in front of your TV!  Just do them a few at a time, 10 then 20 then more.  Practice doing them slow, fast, different hand spacing, on your fists, on your wrists, just do them and do them in proper form.  Pull ups are fantastic.  Live near a school or playground?  Find the monkey bars and start it out.  Can’t do a lot? Do a few at a time and work your way up.  Almost anything can be used as a weight, a gallon of milk, a can of corn, get creative and have fun with it.

Don’t forget about the sit-ups either.  Get creative with them.  Do crunches.  Do bicycles. Do side crunches.  If you know how, practice side falls and back falls and then take it up a notch by practicing the fall and standing up after each one.  Seriously, picking up your own body weight repeatedly will wear you out faster than you ever thought possible, unless you’ve taken a Hap Ki Do Black Belt test…

Cycling is a great cardiovascular cross-training exercise too.  Just ask Daniel, he rides hundreds of miles each week and takes Hap Ki Do and Tae Kwon Do as well.  Many of your classmates commute to and from work by bicycle.  It’s great and we have plenty of safe trails to ride on  around here.

In the summer, you can swim in an outdoor pool and an indoor pool in the winter.  It is low impact and very highly effective at strengthening your muscles, most of which you don’t use as much as you think you do.  Don’t believe me? Go to the pool and swim 20 laps, then come see me the next day.

It’s also critically important to stretch.  You might think that’s not exercise, or cross-training, but you would be mistaken.  Take a yoga class, or Barre, or Pilates.  Do the Wii Fit Balance Board yoga work out.  Sit in front of the TV and stretch after you have done push-ups and sit-ups during commercial breaks ☺ You know stretching improves flexibility and flexibility improves your kicks right?  How can it hurt to work on these two things as a means of cross-training?  Answer, it can’t hurt.  No matter what you do, if it is different than what you are doing in classes, it is cross training and it is helpful to you as a martial artist.  It can also be fun.  So enjoy your cross-training and we will see you at Be Ryong Martial Arts!

by Chris, adult, HKD black belt