“I decided to come to Singapore to do this seminar because when Master Daniel Sng invited me, I could tell he took good care of his students.”
Those were the opening words by the generous and aspirational Grandmaster Hong Sik Myung (Founder and President – Hapkidowon – World Hapkido Headquarters) on 4th October 2014. Though I was sitting at the back of the room wearing a white belt, I suddenly felt very close to the Grandmaster with those words. How accurately he had captured the essence that makes Sun Hapkido Academy Singapore the home to diligent, happy, and devoted students in those words! And these words were repeated by several other people over the two-day seminar because they are so very true.
I personally decided to come to Singapore to learn Hapkido for the first time in my life because it felt right to do so. As the old adage goes: when the student is ready, a teacher appears.
Master Sng recommends Hapkido to all Taekwon-Do students who have become black belts because he says that it complements what we are learning in Taekwon-Do so well. But until now, I have been so engrossed in Taekwon-Do because the more I learn, the less I seem to know. I am still completely fascinated by Taekwon-Do and the tenets are a way of life for me, but it felt right to be initiated into Hapkido at this time, and who better to do this than the Grandmaster himself?
Friends and colleagues are often blown away by the fact that I would do two overnight flights to get to and from Singapore for a day of work and an evening of Taekwon-Do. But this time, I arrived a day early to do a crash course on the basic of basics, and then attended the two-day seminar and the Thank You Dinner. I have Master Sng and Jeremy Tan to thank for their patience and generosity in instructing me and a compatriot, Kenichi Nonaka, who flew in and stayed for only 30 hours due to work commitments. (Yes, maybe we are creating a reputation for Japanese students that we like to fly in for short visits… But if we could, we would stay much much longer!)
Mostly because I trust Sir so blindly and partly because I was too busy, I had arrived on 3rd October with no preparation other than two colour belt doboks and a white belt. Embarrassingly, I had not done any research in advance or any preparation except for having several late night chats online with Nonaka-san, who was as excited as I was to be attending the event. Not surprisingly, both he and I had decided separately that we would leave our black belts home. We were being initiated into a new martial art – how could we wear anything but white belts?
On the morning of the first day, he put on a white belt for the first time in 20 years and I in 12. It was a liberating and refreshing feeling – to be a novice again; to be a blank sheet of paper ready to be marked. And I feel I have now been marked for life – the Grandmaster is amazingly inspiring. He managed to make a novice feel like she just may have a tiny bit of talent for the art!
“Many martial arts use the clenched fist as a symbol – but not Hapkido. For Hapkido, the open hand represents its essence,” Grandmaster Myung explained. And from then on, for two days, whenever my hands were not in use and whenever I shouted to signal that I am ready, my fingers were extended and spread out straight – the total opposite of what we diligently do in Taekwon-Do. And true to those words, Grandmaster Hong Sik Myung embraced even the clumsiest white belt with equal generosity and extra patience, opening up and grasping our attention and focus as he guided us.
It must be so much easier to say “you are doing everything wrong!” or “that is not what I showed you!” but instead, he would say, “here, grab my wrist/collar/arm… watch. I will show you.” And where there are frequently misunderstood techniques or where he sees frequent errors, he would say, “Many people do it like this but that is wrong. It should be like this!” and made sure we understood not only what we were supposed to do, but what we are NOT supposed to do. These learnings are what make face to face seminars so precious. We cannot learn such things with a video or book. We cannot fully benefit from the Grandmaster’s experience if we do not interact with him directly.
Another great benefit of attending a seminar is receiving positive feedback from the Grandmaster himself. “That is correct!” “Excellent! You are doing a great job!” – words of praise from the authority on the art is priceless in motivating even senior members. And Grandmaster Myung was very generous with his praise.
For such a senior master of the art – someone who walks on clouds from where I am sitting – to be so generous with his knowledge, skill, and expertise was captivating. He worked magic with his instructions and guidance. There was always both a sharp and warm light in his eyes and he used humor as well, making us laugh in between practice sessions, relaxing us just enough to keep us going. I was also very moved by the way the Grandmaster randomly chose different students to come up to him during the demonstrations so that students could experience the art by his hands. However, when one was selected for such a task, it seems most students were so overwhelmed by the experience that all they “remember is being thrown around.”
In the course of the two days, I have learned a lot – not just technique, but principles as well. And as my training partner, Johanan Choo, was so patient and kind as well as diligent, we tried to understand and absorb the principles through physical trial and error as well as in our heads.
“I won’t throw you. Let me try it again to feel the point where you lose your balance.” “Now it is your turn. Try it,” Johanan said repeatedly as we sought that moment when the opponent becomes weightless and throwing him effortless. Whenever I realized that I was throwing the slim Johanan by brute force, he would say, “That didn’t feel right. Let’s try it again.” When my hold was not firm enough, he would say, “You can lock me tighter. Do it again.” And he had a way of being thrown so magnificently, that when the Grandmaster witnessed it, he praised me by saying, “Excellent work! That is right!!!” – I think Johanan must be a great dancer. He is the kind of lead man that makes the lady he is leading look like an absolute genius.
Further benefits of being at a two-day seminar are the opportunities to interact intensively with the Grandmaster outside of the dojang and to be able to ask him questions in a less formal setting. Learning about the age of his students inspired me anew. His oldest student is 65 years old. Furthermore, he has a student who was born with only one leg who has a very fierce kick! So much for using age or physical limitations as excuses for not training.
“I can tell you practice Taekwon-Do”, the Grandmaster said over lunch the first day. “When you grip (my wrist) I can feel that your entire body tenses up. Taekwon-Do is good, but human beings are soft and flexible when they are babies and our bodies get harder and more rigid with age. Why make your body harder? Do Hapkido. Hapkido is about soft movements. You can do Hapkido for a very long time.”
“Also, Taekwon-Do, Aikido, Judo… they are all tiny parts of the very large universe that is martial arts. But Hapkido is very comprehensive. It covers many aspects of martial arts.” After the second day, I came to see for the first time how broad Hapkido is – the locks and throws are but only a small facet. There are punches, kicks, and even weapons training! The Grandmaster’s passion for the art and enthusiasm to teach the “correct” and “authentic” techniques that are not “for show” but “effective and practical” was limitless. He did not tire of speaking about the art and its benefits and what he teaches at Hapkidowon.
His kindness and generosity outside the dojang made it clear that he is genuine – none of it was for show or superficial. Even without his black belt and gold stripes, without insisting on anything, or even without a long history of training under him, I felt nothing but respect for him and humility in his presence. His enthusiasm for the art and sharing it was truly magnetic.
Now that I am back in Japan, it seems nothing that was not hurting before the seminar is hurting. But I did discover a few new bruises on the side of my calves that I probably got from being thrown. Johanan was too gentle with me to leave grip marks on my wrists. I recall how friends were comparing bruises on arms at the Thank You Dinner, but how I had nothing to contribute.
I would like to take this opportunity to once again thank Grandmaster Hong Sik Myung and Master Roe Min Myung for their patience, guidance, and enlightenment. Even one’s soul feels like it has been elevated to new levels when one is given the opportunity to encounter such beacons.
And the effect was magnified as we were also guided by the ever so generous in sharing and teaching Master Daniel Sng. I am grateful beyond words for the opportunity for a novice to learn from Grandmaster Myung. Had the seminar been run by lesser men, I am sure the privilege of learning from the Grandmaster and interacting with him so freely would have been jealously protected behind closed doors or restricted to only the most senior students. Instead, I must say I have hardly ever seen a Grandmaster work so hard with autographing, posing for photos, and shaking hands with every single student on more than one occasion.
Master Sng Sir has also been more than generous with his recognition of my “contribution” to the event – it was humbling to be allowed to sit in the front row with my white belt in the group photo; to be able to pose for photos with the Grandmaster for a “Japan Photo”; and to be honoured with engraved crystal etched for me to remember this event forever.
I am grateful to the diligent and patient Jeremy Tan for organizing the event and patching up any glitches as soon as they pop up to make the overall ride very smooth for everyone. I do not know how he can be all smiles the whole time he was running around with very little sleep – but perhaps that is a clear sign that he is a far better student of the “do” in Hapkido than I am.
Last but not the least; once again, I would like to thank all my old friends at Sun Hapkido Academy Singapore. Some of you were very young boys and girls when I last trained with you. Now you are men and women, and you still treat me as warmly as a member of the family. Thank you also to all my new friends – your friendship has broadened my horizons and has given me an additional reason to keep training so that we can work together again.
I had a really awesome weekend in Singapore!!!
… and yes, I will be back!
Written by Ms. Jules Takagishi, 2nd Degree Black Belt
© Sun Hapkido Academy Singapore 2014