This is an open letter to thank Grand Masters Choi Hong Hi and Choi Jung Hwa.
First, to General and Grand Master Choi Hong Hi, for creating Taekwon-Do, an art that has changed my life since the moment I read about it in my early 30's, planting a seed of curiosity in me to learn the art one day.
Then, to Grand Master Choi Jung Hwa for upholding the spirit of Taekwon-Do as the late General had envisioned it and created it; and for sustaining the International Taekwon-Do Federation as the constructive, inspiring, and warm group it is today.
Yesterday, a quiet Sunday like any other, I received a phone call at my home in Ashiya, Japan, from Singapore. It was from Master Daniel Sng.
"There is a student here from Japan. He says he trained under Master Park Jong Sa in Hyogo with you. Do you remember him? He is on free trial with me today. I just wanted to ask you about him. Would you like to talk to him?"
The gentleman came on the phone and said,
"I remember you from when you were a red/black belt. Then, you became a black belt. We trained together at the Kobe Dojang."
Unfortunately, I could not put a face to his name, but we spoke briefly about the dojang, and I told him what I think of Master Sng and Island Taekwondo Centre.
"He is my Master for Life. He is the most humble and most enlightening instructor one can hope for in Singapore. His fundamental exercises are tough, but all of his senior students are of high moral standards and you will find everyone including Master Sng warm, inviting, strict, and respectful. I highly recommend that you become his student."
"I travel often for work and will miss some lessons,"
he said, with concern.
"The beauty of ITC is that Master Sng does not mind if you come once a week or seven times a week. When I worked in Singapore, I traveled a lot, too. But when I was back, I took all four lessons on Sundays and trained every night. All for the same price! You can train as often as or as little as you like at ITC."
"Thank you so much for your recommendation. I was thinking I want to join the school here. Now I feel even more confident that I have chosen well."
"You have indeed," I reassured him.
Then, he handed the phone back to Master Sng with whom I exchanged greetings again.
The world of Taekwon-Do is so small and so warm!
And I am nothing in this vast world.
I have no international title.
I am a mere I degree Black Belt - a baby in the bigger scheme of things.
Yet, Master Daniel Sng treats me like a life time friend.
Yes, I was a crazy student for him.
In my peak, I trained 40 hours a week at his dojang.
I was 38 and pregnant when I went to the Malaysian Championships in Genting and won a gold medal for sparring and a bronze for patterns shortly after I graded for my I degree black belt, which took us from 9:00 am through 17:30 with no lunch!
(OK, I do NOT recommend this to anyone else. I was really crazy...!)
Then I took 6 years off to have and raise my twins.
During which time I have changed jobs and had a "divorce" with the father of the twins, a live-in partner, and who was also my training partner.
I am not at all proud about his, but I promptly forgot most of my patterns that I used to do in my sleep (my partner woke up with bruises on his face and chest as I no doubt was practicing Dosan tul or another pattern in my sleep). Yet, when I came back, Sabum Park Jong Sa and my fellow students welcomed me with such warmth, it literally felt like I came home. Master Lee Jong Mok of ITF Japan continues to be too generous with his encouragement and praise for this humble middle-aged woman.
Only last December, one of our World Champions came to our dojang and said,
"I heard so many nice things about you at the Asian Championships in Hong Kong. It was quite surprising to hear your name in Hong Kong! Master Sng sends his regards."
I met him for the first time, but thanks to Master Sng, it felt like we had trained together for years.
In 2003, that fateful day in Dubai, when the social dance class I showed up for was cancelled due to the teacher not being available, I met my first instructor. He casually invited me to "try" a class - and I have never thought twice about continuing my training since.
When I moved to Singapore, after an unfortunate encounter with a "fake" teacher - fake, because he lied about his rank; fake, because he was not at all a teacher but a mere imitator of one - I was able to meet my Master for Life, Master Daniel Sng (VII degree) of Island Taekwondo Centre.
The very first time I called Master Sng, he said,
"I am still studying Taekwon-Do myself. You are welcome to come and train with me."
His humility struck me like lightning, and even before I met the man to whom the warm, gentle voice belonged to, I knew I would sincerely bow to him when we met.
It was such a change from the fake teacher I met before and wasted a whole month with! That man tried to project himself as being bigger than he actually was. Master Sng, then a VI degree black belt who had been training for over 20 years called himself a "fellow student" - what a difference it was!
I started with one class a week.
I couldn't skip for more than 30 times without getting stuck.
Doing 30 push-ups seemed like a feat I would never accomplish.
I even remember almost crying the first time I was able to skip 100 times without getting stuck!
I used to say,
"I wonder if I will ever become a black belt... It seems like such a long way away."
I was a yellow belt then, but I knew Dangun very well!
Within a year, I was taking nine to ten lessons a week and training out of hours until Master Sng chased us out of the dojang so he could go home before midnight.
Push-ups were still not my forte, but I could handle about 120.
And to think Master Sng once grabbed me by the back of my belt as I struggled to say,
"At least she has perseverance!" with a laugh...
Skipping became my strength, and I could skip for 45 minutes without stopping.
Jump double side kicks holding a 7kg medicine ball was not my favourite activity, but I believe I did 20 x 3 sets for my grading.
I had the honour of being team manager as a green belt when Singapore went to the World Championships in Daejung, Korea.
There, I met many inspiring women and men.
When I was visibly pregnant, I continued to go to the dojang to teach.
I had to wear my partner's dobok as mine was too tight, and soon, with twins, I could not really tie the belt without putting the knot at my name.
But I loved being there and teaching... just doing Taekwon-Do.
I gave natural birth to very healthy twins at 37 weeks and 0 days in just under 12 hours from when I broke water.
This was despite my age (38), the fact that I had partial hysterectomy in 1999, and that my babies were twins. My obstetrician referred to me on my charts as a "triple high risk pregnancy" and yet, I breezed through it all thanks to my fitness and positive attitude. (I was convinced I was going to have nothing but a very natural pregnancy and birth that did not require any extraordinary medical intervention.)
Last May, when my twins turned five, I started talking about Taekwon-Do with them. Soon after, they began to ask me for lessons. I let them kick targets at home.
Then in July, as if he had heard my twins, Sabum Park Jong Sa called me and invited me back to class.
The kids and I had visited Singapore in February, when Master Sng gave the twins doboks as gifts.
So the kids and I were ready and looking the part when I returned for classes.
I saw some old faces - promoted, of course - and some new ones.
But once Sabum Park introduced me to the group as someone who has been away for six years after winning medals in Malaysia, I felt a bit of pressure as well as the feeling of coming home.
Later, a fellow student who was assigned to me so that I could check his Dangun in preparation for his grading, confessed that I was very scary.
"You don't miss the smallest of moves and your explanations were detailed and to the point, but there is an air about you that says 'don't mess with me' and I was terrified! After that session, the test was actually not scary at all!"
Last December, I competed for the first time in 6 years, and I was not even planning to compete until Sabum Park invited me to in October.
After losing to me, the lady who sparred with me at the finals said,
"I will train harder so that I can be like you."
I laughed and said,
"You should try to be like someone who is younger and more agile. You are too kind."
But she and her fellow teammate said,
"No, we have heard so much about you as I prepared for this competition, and we are lucky to have a senior student like you in our group."
That was one of the most rewarding experiences that made me feel more humble than ever before.
I continue to train - not as much as I once did, but still - and aspire to great students like Sabum Park and Master Lee. And yet, I have fellow students who look up to me to set examples.
My dream now is to one day be beaten by my children in sparring.
I tell myself I must train and become an opponent worth fighting to beat.
Of course, as every parent would, I want my children to excel over me and become great at whatever they are meant to achieve in this world. But Taekwon-Do gives me a tangible way of connecting with my children.
Taekwon-Do is also something that connects me to people around the globe in a way that work or social networking cannot quite achieve. Of course, the SNS platform helps to facilitate communication and sharing of ideas, events, ideals, and warm wishes. But the glue that keeps us together is Taekwon-Do.
And I am so grateful that I am part of this global family and that training hard and working with my fellow students and instructors has created so much good will for me.
So, I am forever grateful to Grand Masters Choi Hong Hi and Choi Jung Hwa. Without them, I would not have Takewon-Do. And without Taekwon-Do, I would not have the friends and family I have today.