But every now and then, someone breaks the mold. No, I'm not talking about the typical shu-ha-ri pattern embedded into Japanese martial arts. I am talking about truly educating oneself, independently of any instructor, in search of the truth, in search of higher learning.
Sun Sang Nim Hannah Hunt is just that person.
Ironically, Ms. Hunt's location was next door to my old storefront so I walked in to introduce myself. After several conversations, I invited Ms. Hunt to train with my group and she actually came. That in and of itself is noteworthy, because not many practitioners nowadays would travel to train with someone they've only met briefly in an entirely different art.
Now, as a 2nd Dan, Ms. Hunt was unable to secure Kukkiwon recognition for her school. It was then I introduced her to the American Jidokwan Association, under Hae Jang Nim Patrick Justice. The AJA is renowned for clinging to Taekwondo's roots of "Korean Karate" and placing a higher emphasis on self defense rather than sport training. In fact, the AJA uses both Taekwondo and Tang Soo Do to describe what they teach, viewing these arts as two sides of the same coin rather than separate disciplines. So not only did Ms. Hunt agree to start training with me in my system, she recognized that as a sport practitioner she was not providing proper self defense for her students and she plunged head first into the AJA.
Before I continue, let me give you a brief history of the American Jidokwan Association. The AJA began in the 70s and 80s as a collaboration between several martial artists (William Sirbaugh, Shune Davis and E.A. Fuzy) who all had backgrounds in either Taekwondo, Tang Soo Do and/or Hapkido. The AJA gained a stronger link to the tradtional Jidokwan in Korea when Steven Hatfield, Sirbaugh's son, began training under Choon Yang. Hatfield sensei eventually inherited the AJA before passing administrative control over to his cousin, Master Justice.
After one of my students got injured during his test for Brown Belt, Hatfield sensei and I decided to switch gears and test Ms. Hunt in American Jidokwan. Giving her exactly 10 seconds notice before the exam started, from the moment we bowed in this was no ordinary Taekwondo exam. Without giving too much detail, we put her through 3 hours of absolute hell. Her exam consisted of 3 hours of straight self defense, ranging from every empty handed assault we could think of to weapon disarms. Now, in reality she had been testing from the moment Hatfield sensei walked in the door three days prior but this was it. Although it's still Taekwondo, our family is so adamant about self defense that this would be the deciding factor, and when most would quit, Ms. Hunt kept going. We pulled live knives on her, ranging from small pocket knives to full-size Japanese tanto. We put a real gun in her face (unloaded of course, we're crazy, not stupid). My students who were brought in to help with the exam looked at her like a fish in a shark tank. And you know what? She pushed through.
When the exam was over, not only was she brought into the American Jidokwan Association, we saw fit to promote her to 3rd Dan and award her the instructor title "Sun Sang Nim." We chose this title because it's the literal Korean equivalent of Sensei, and we felt that it most closely represented bridging the gap between Japanese Karatedo and Korean Taekwondo.
But as amazing as this all is, that's not why Ms. Hunt has made it onto our Instructor Spotlight. Just two days after her exam, Ms. Hunt was attacked and was thrown to the floor. Within seconds, she fought off her attackers and escaped to safety. After meeting up with her, she mentioned that is was due entirely to her training with us. That prior to it, she wouldn't have been able to control her adrenaline and would've panicked. Yet here she stands, a testament to how the mentality of training can be the difference between life and death.
And who said Taekwondoin weren't tough?