I am good thanks. How are you?
So tell us about yourself. How long have you been training, how old were you when you started and what style was it in?
Well I have been training for 7 years. I started out training in Taekwon-Do (ITF style) under the Taekwon-Do Association of Great Britain when I was 14-years-old.
When did you move here to the US?
November of 2013.
And you continued training I assume? (Laughing) Did you stay with ITF Taekwon-Do or switch styles?
I did continue my training. Just before I moved, I reached 1st degree black belt in ITF and wanted to experience the Olympic style of WTF Taekwondo. So I found a Kukkiwon school and earned my black belt in there also.
So you're a Kukkiwon Black Belt then?
Yes, I'm a Kukkiwon 2nd Dan (Registration No. 05518736).
And are you still training in Kukki Taekwondo? If not, what style are you training in?
No, I am not currently training in Kukki Taekwondo. I wanted to see what else was out there and came across the American Jidokwan Association. I decided to further my training in Taekwondo through them. Their curriculum is very different from most of what I have experienced and seen before. The AJA is very self defense based, with very old school training techniques and principles. I've also started training in San Budo Sogo Bugei and American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu.
While training in the various styles of Taekwondo, I never really had the opportunity to work on things like joint manipulation, take downs and throws. When I started working with the AJA, it was obvious they weren't like l any other Taekwondo association I had been involved with before. They taught these techniques alongside what you expect to learn in Taekwondo - punches, kicks, etc. I soon realized that kicking and punching/striking alone wasn't going to save my life in a real situation. Don't get me wrong, Taekwondo is very effective done the right way. But if someone grabs you unexpectedly, then kicking isn't always an option. I started learning some of these new techniques and wanted to learn more. So I took it upon myself to further my knowledge and started training under Kaiso Bret Gordon.
Tell me a little more about American Jidokwan. How does the organization help you as an instructor compared to other organizations you've seen?
As an organization they are very helpful. When I first opened my school, I originally wanted to provide Kukkiwon certification to my students. But being only a 2nd degree I wasn't allowed to do this alone. The AJA gave me the option of standing alone and teaching what I felt was right. They provided me with their curriculum and allowed me to add what I felt was necessary. They gave me one-on-one training and certified me as an instructor once I was at the level required. So now, I certify my students under the AJA. They keep their standards high and I really respect that. They stay true to the old school principles and focus on real-life self defense. The people within the organization are extremely supportive and highly motivating, always asking about my personal goals within martial arts and helping me find away to achieve them. I am proud to be part of such an amazing team. It's like family.
What motivated you to open a school at such a young age?
I love teaching. Martial arts is my passion and I knew it was what I wanted to devote my time to. I always knew I would continue my training. It is a way of life for me. But an opportunity to open my own school appeared and I took it. Sometimes I look back and and wonder why I decided to do it at such a young age, but I only have one answer. I acted out of passion. I want to keep the martial arts alive and continue to spread knowledge while impacting others life's and inspiring people to better themselves. My martial arts training help me to over come my fears and molded me into the person I am today. Before I started training I was quite a shy person and didn't have much confidence in myself.
Tell us about the other arts you're learning, American Yoshinkan and San Budo Sogo Bugei. How do they differ from Taekwondo?
They are different from Taekwondo because they focus on joint manipulation, locks, throws and takedowns even more than the AJA does. All of the stuff I never really had the opportunity to learn before. San Budo Sogo Bugei is very self defense based and covers pretty much everything you need to know for self defense and survival. The training is very different. We are conditioned to deal with our body's response to real-life situations. The instructors make it very real, so we learn to overcome our fear and the shock of being attacked. American Yoshinkan Aiki Jujutsu is also very different from Taekwondo. It is an internal art that focuses on teaching you how to use your body in the most effective way. I love learning aiki and how to apply it when doing locks and throws. It's like magic!
How has your training in these arts influenced your understanding of Taekwondo?
Training in these arts has made me realize that all martial arts are the same. They all have the same purpose. I am starting to see the similarities between them all. Even though they look very different from each other, they aren't as far apart as one would first think. For example, our traditional Taekwondo forms contain locks and throws when you really look into the application. So it has influenced me to look deeper into what I have already learned and how it can be applied. Training in these arts has really pushed me to focus more on self defense and taught me how to effectively incorporate what I already know into successfully defending myself
How has martial arts training influenced other areas of your life?
Martial arts training has influenced literally every aspect of my life. Without my training, I wouldn't be the person I am today. As a child I was shy and reserved, very quiet. Meeting and talking to new people scared me. Martial arts taught me how to overcome this and how to stand up for myself and be a leader. Martial arts teaches so much more than just fighting/defense skills. If you have a good teacher, which I have been lucky to have many, you will see the martial arts and its principles don't stay within the dojang. It can be applied to everything you do.
Now if you asked me this question before I stated associating with the AJA, I would have said competing. I have competed in many competitions during my training time. In both ITF and Olympic-style Taekwondo, this was something I really enjoyed doing and enjoyed training for. But after earning my instructor certification with the AJA, I soon realized the importance of real-life self defense training. Most schools I have trained in have set, choreographed self defense in place (one steps) however I have come to realize this is not enough. Simply reacting to a punch that you know is coming your way with set movements doesn't prepare you to defend against a real attack. There is no fear factor in these types of drills, and I feel it is important to condition the body's reaction to a real attack and the emotions associated. I feel that this is the most important aspect of martial arts training and is very necessary.
What types of drills do you practice for real life self defense?
We work on a lot of different drills that have a fear factor to them, such as realistic armed robbery drills where the person robbing you either has a gun in your face or a knife at your throat. While yelling at you. It can be a very scary drill and a lot of people tend to freeze in that kind of a situation. I use to be one of those people to panic and freeze, but after being put in that situation over and over again I was able to control my emotions and react accordingly. We use real weapons (controlled of course) which also creates fear. When someone is coming at you with a real knife, it's terrifying but this teaches us respect for the weapon. Sometimes when using fake weapons for training, we don't give it as much respect as we should because we know that if we mess up we aren't really going to be hurt. But that's not how it works outside of the dojang. We also do a drill we call randori which involves multiple attackers attacking you one after the other with any type of attack they wish. Your job being to react to them and survive. I like this drill a lot because you cannot tell what kind of attack is coming your way until it happens, which in itself creates fear. You are forced to rely on your instincts and your training to react in time. This is a very realistic drill compared to the self defense one steps taught by other schools. You never know what kind of attack you will be faced with when it happens for real, so its important to learn how to react in that situation and adapt.
And last question for you. What advice would you give to someone coming up through the ranks wanting to pursue deeper study?
I would advise them to do what I did. Research. Research everything. Find out the history behind your art and the history of the founders. Look at how the art has adapted over the years. Find out where it all started and what kind of training they did back then. To pursue deeper study in the art they are currently studying I recommend looking at the forms (poomsae, hyung, kata, etc.). The forms are blue prints and contain principles. Look into the application of each form you have learned and try to figure out what the movements are actually for. Come up with your own use for the movements and test them to see how effective they are. I also recommend cross training.Train in a style that's different from the style you currently study and see a different side of martial arts.