Previously I gave a breakdown of my training experience and certifications within the martial arts. Primarily doing so so that people would stop harassing my buddy Noah Legel. Then people started demanding to know about my teaching experience. As it’s no secret lets discuss it. Shall we?
As previously mentioned I went through the World Youn Wha Ryu Association’s Instructor’s Course when I was a 1st Kyu/ Gup. At this time my friend Corey Warner was running a class out of a Creative Arts Center outside of town on Tuesdays and Thursday’s. His work schedule changed, so he was looking for someone to take over the class. One day my instructor approached me after class and asked me if I would be interested. So I went and met with the owner of the center and was given a rundown of the program, being told I would be getting paid $10 an hour, wouldn’t need to worry about advertising the program, etc. That I would just show up, teach, and get paid.
So I did that for two month. When I took over, there were only three students in the class. I taught there for two months, and one day the business owner called me into his office and told me he was shutting down my class because their wasn’t enough interest. I never once got paid, and explained to him that I had half a dozen people who wouldn’t mind training there, but he wanted to use the time slot for tap dancing.
So even from my first teaching experience I witnessed the unethical side of the martial arts business. Joys!
Next, I just became an assistant instructor at several schools. I traveled around and helped out in different towns on certain days of the week. Monday I helped Master Sherry. Wednesday I ran a class for Abi Borrego. Occasionally I’d drive an hour to help my buddy Lance Bohnert. Etc.
In college, when I was a 2nd dan, I was given another offer, “Matt, we want you to open a school three towns over. We had one there in the past and it always did well.”
I explained, “With my current college and work load if I opened a school I’d only be able to run it two classes a week, and that’s not fair to the students.”
So a group of three 1st Kyu/ Gup girls took the offer instead and only opened the school for two classes a week… go figure.
A few months after opening, this new school was losing money and close to failing. So again my instructor asked me to go and help out. As an assistant instructor in the school I did a flier campaign and secured some business sponsors, growing the school from 5 students to 30+ students and added 4 more classes a week to the schedule. I continued to teach there until I finished my Associates Arts in Teaching and moved away to pursue my Bachelor’s Degree in teaching.
While at a four year university, I again just became an assistant instructor at a wide arrange of schools. I also became very involved with my college’s TKD Club, eventually becoming it’s Head Instructor. I was then asked, by my new instructor, to take over a few after school programs and schools. So I taught an after school program at Star Middle School, Miller Elementary School, as well as at a gym in Mount Vernon, Mo.
I was unsatisfied with the small space in Mount Vernon and was constantly turning down students, because I refused to take more students than our space would accommodate, so I partnered with the local BJJ school called The Bull Pen. We set it up so that if BJJ students wanted to train in Youn Wha Ryu they would get a discount and if Youn Wha Ryu peeps wanted to do BJJ they could get the same discount. I also reached out to local police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and school teachers to offer discounted training.
However, again we outgrew the space, so when two BJJ students started a new health and fitness gym, the owner of The Bull Pen and I partnered with them. They set up a huge mat area with half a dozen hanging bags in their new building, D-Fine Fitness, and we moved there after they opened.
I continued being the Head TKD/ YWR Instructor at D-Fine, Miller Elementary, Star Middle School, and my college’s TKD Club (as well as assisting at other schools) until 2012, when I passed the reins on to others and ventured into the next part of my life. This by no means implies that I am somehow great or above such things, I am simply explaining these instances for those who have been pestering my friends for such information.
In 2012 I became a camp counselor at Cub Creek Science Camp and asked the owner if I could teach Tai Chi. I am not particularly good at Tai Chi, nor do I enjoy it. However it is a healthy practice that provides benefits for things like lung capacity, balance, and flexibility. The owner of the camp agreed and we added it to the roster of eligible courses campers could take. We decided on Tai Chi because the owner felt TKD and Karate were a bit too violent for their program.
Also from 2012 to 2013 I helped out at the Missouri University of Science and Technology Youn Wha Ryu Club along with Garret Coffee, the club’s head instructor. Despite outranking Garret by quite a bit, I was more than happy simply helping out. Same as I always have.
From 2014 to 2015, I helped out in the eastern part of Missouri and was the Head of the Eastern Missouri Division of the World Youn Wha Ryu Association. A position I found myself in when my original instructors left the association in May 2013. I was also made the Head of the Western Illinois Division of the World Youn Wha Ryu Association.
This is leading up to when Jeremy Fox and Yujin (pronounced Eugene) Han attempted to Blackmail me. Their first step was to remove Anthony L. Smith Sr. and myself from Jeremy’s chain of command. Placing us both under the supervision of Marsha Fagan. Next they attempted to remove Anthony L. Smith as the Head of State of Illinois. Tired of all the politics and unethical behavior happening in Missouri and Arkansas, so in 2015 I took a job offer in Arizona and moved far away from the mess happening in Missouri, Arkansas, and Illinois. Anthony L. Smith Sr. even threatened Jeremy Fox with a lawsuit over Jeremy’s unethical business practices, and Anthony was kicked out of the World Youn Wha Ryu Association for making a legal stand against them.
In Arizona I assisted Marsha and John Fagan at several of the schools they ran and eventually took over the classes taught at Hope Baptist Church in Surprise, Az and the Youn Wha Ryu classes at Empire Martial Arts in El Mirage, Az. Empire Martial Arts being an MMA gym that also offered Boxing and BJJ. That was the second time in my life that I taught out of MMA/ BJJ gyms.
Also around this time I was training and helping out at Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts in Scottsdale, Az. Assisting Noah Legal and Richard M. Poage Sensei with video seminars, testings, and classes. Though it should be clearly stated my capacity there was primarily as a student, not an assistant instructor!
In May of 2017 I moved away from Arizona. I helped teach Youn Wha Ryu until 2018 at my original dojang. But by that time I was emotionally distant to both Youn Wha Ryu and Taekwondo, not having an interest in continuing to train nor teach.
In 2019, I joined the World Matsubayashi Ryu Karate-Do Association as a Shodan-ho, with the clear intentions of wishing to eventually open an Okinawan Karate dojo. However that day is no time soon.
Well… that’s it! That is a summery of my teaching history. Please stop harassing Noah demanding to know my story. Please stop harassing me. Please stop harassing people (period).
This may be a topic that will make a few guys squirm in their chair, but as you know I do not shy away from such topics.
If you didn’t know when a female human being reaches a certain age they begin menstruation. Part of this process is the sluffing off of a blood rich lining of the uterus which we call “a period.” This is completely normal and natural. Periods are often accompanied by cramping, bloating, and physical pain in many women, while in others these symptoms are less problematic.
During their period many women refrain from attending karate classes. Sometimes this is due to the above mentioned cramping, bloating, and pain. Other times it is simply due to fear that this blood rich mixture will soak through the Zubon (pants) of their Karate-gi. Especially during activities like stretching and kicking. I have even witnessed this happen first hand at a Judo tournament, where the match was postponed until the competitor had time to go clean up and switch out her pants. I have also witnessed this first hand as a middle school teacher. It is generally embarrassing for the young ladies involved.
As such many martial arts schools have started allowing dyed pants. When I was coming up through the ranks in Youn Wha Ryu we used white uniforms up till our equivalent of 2nd Kyu, then black uniforms starting at 1st Kyu. As a young man I remember how many women gave a sigh of relief when they were permitted to wear black. Even when I trained in the Shorinkan they utilized white and black karate-gi in a similar fashion, and again many women expressed a feeling of relief when they were permitted to wear black pants.
Now when it comes to the history, the wearing of dyed uniforms to hide blood stains is something that is very common in Kobudo circles already. But in karate there seems to he some resistance to this idea. Why?
1. Dogmatic views of Tradition.
2. Esoteric views of Purity.
Let’s address both.
When it comes to tradition we have to understand that the idea of a set uniform for training is actually a modern concept, that went through several changes since its inception. The idea was originally introduced at a 1906 meeting of the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, but it was actually intended to be a Competition uniform, and the task of creating such a uniform was given to Jigo Kano of the Kodokan. His original competition uniform was non-bleached cotton.
Now we get to our first changes:
1. Instead of only utilizing this uniform for mixed style competition, Kano began requiring it to be worn as a training uniform within the Kodokan.
2. He noticed that many of the young men were neglecting to wash their uniform between sessions and before said competitions. As such he began requiring the uniform to be bleached white. This was intended to stop the spread of bacterial infection, as well as encouraging the young men to wash their uniform more often.
3. The type of obi originally used was a traditional Kaku Obi. The obi went through several changes of its own: The knot was swung around to the front. The way the knot was tied was modified. Eventually a core was added to stiffen and reinforce the obi.
4. When the idea was introduced to Karate the material the uniforms were made out of also changed. Instead of a reinforced weave still common in Judogi and Kendo-gi, the Karate-gi utilized a duck cloth/ canvas material.
When it comes to the esoteric concept of Purity we have to understand a little bit about Japanese culture and linguistics, as this concept is getting Lost In Translation.
If you ever go to a Buddhist or Shinto temple in Japan, chances are the first thing you’ll notice other people doing upon entering is rinsing their hands and mouths at a fountain, upon entering the sacred grounds. Why? Purification? Yes… and no! This is called “Chōzu” which is short for, “Chōzu o tsukau” (手水を使う). Water for washing the face and hands.
Japanese are generally very hygienic people, Japanese scholars found out long ago that washing the hands and rinsing out the mouth was a good way to prevent the spread of illnesses in public places, like temples. As such most Japanese words that means Pure also mean, Hygienic and Clean. Such words don’t just describe cleaning your hands and mouths at temples. They also describe the hygienic practices used in hospitals, schools, gyms, etc. You know, places where bleach water happen to be used as cleaning agents…
Now back to blood!
With modern clothes washing technology the use of bleach isn’t needed to maintain sanitary clothing. We put our clothes in the Laundry Machine, make sure to add the correct amount of detergent, and depending on if the clothes will shrink we either throw them in the Drier or hang dry them. Hang drying still being the preferred method in Japan, where space is a commodity and most homes don’t have a Drier.
As such continuing to require bleached white pants is actually an outdated and dogmatic practice. And in my not-so-humble opinion, women (and lets face it, messy children) should not be forced to wear white.
Over the years I’ve heard many speculations about where the Karate-gi and Judo-gi came from. And while sometimes these myths and dogmatic teachings come close. Most of them show a general lack of understanding of historical Japanese attire. To help alleviate this problem, I’ve compiled a pretty long list of Japanese clothing
Wafuku (和服) Literally “Japanese Clothes.” This term came into popularity after the Meiji restoration in order to distinguish Japanese Style Clothing from Western Style Clothing, which is sometimes referred to as just Fuku (服) or Yōfuku (洋服).
Kimono (着物) Literally “Clothes thing.” Though this is a larger umbrella term, it can also refer to the layered robes that in the past were worn as daily wear but are now often worn as formal wear. It is imporant to remember than, NOT ALL KIMONO ARE FANCY SILK KIMONO!!!
Kosode (小袖) Literally “little sleeves.” This is an older style of kimono that has sleeves that tappered near the ends.
Furisode (振り袖) Literally, “waving sleeves.” This refers to long sleeved kimono traditionally worn by non-married women. It is considered formal wear and is often made of silk. It comes in many varieties. Kofurisode (小振袖), which have shorter sleeves, and ōfurisode (大振袖), which have longer sleeves, being the most common.
—Nagajuban (長襦袢) Literally, “long under clothes.” This is a light weight, full length robe that is worn under the kimono and is often considered part of the kimono itself.
—Hadajuban (肌襦袢) Literally “skin under clothes.” This is an undershirt worn against the skin. It is worn under the Nagajuban.
—Susoyoke (裾除け) Literally “bottem edge division.” This is an underskirt, worn along with Hadajuban, under the Nagajuban. Traditionally women didn’t wear underwear that went between the legs, instead wearing a Susoyoke.
—Koshihimo (腰紐) Literally, “hip string.” When wearing a Kimono or Nagajuban usually at least one Koshihimo is used for each layer. It is tied around the waistline in order to secure the robes in place.
Yukata (浴衣) Literally, “bath clothes.” The Yukata is a light weight, single layer robe that was originally designed to wear on the walk between the home and bathhouse. Now it is most often worn in the summer, as lounge wear around the house, or when going to festivals.
Montsuki (紋付) Literally, “family crest attached.” Montsuki Kimono are mostly worn by men to traditional Japanese weddings and other formal occasions. However Montsuki can refer to any type of traditional clothing which features the family crest and there are different types depending on where the crest is, how many crests adorn the clothes, and even the color. For example Montsuki Kimono (紋付着物) vs Montsuki Haori (紋付羽織), and Kuro Montsuki (黒紋付) vs Iro Montsuki (色紋付).
Samue (作務衣) Literally, “make-task clothes.” Samu (作務) refers to the chores that buddhist monks would perform around the temple. This included cooking, cleaning, and farming. In order to keep their holy vestments unsoiled they would wear these work clothes instead. Samue were also worn by craftsmen and artisans. They are still used for these purposes today, as well as for both work clothes and lounge wear around the house.
Jinbei (甚平) Literally “very peaceful.” Jinbei/ Jimbei are a type of summer wear worn by men, women, boys, girls, and even babies. It is most common as lounge wear and at festivals. They are made from a thin fabric and have a separated top and shorts.
Haori (羽織) Literally, “feathered fabric.” This refers to a formal overcoat worn over a kimono and hakama, but can just be worn informally over just the kimono.
ーHaori Himo (羽織紐) Haori are not of a crossover design and instead use a short cord (often decorated) to hold the garment closed around chest level.
Noragi (野良着) Literally “farm clothes.” A noragi usually refers to a durable jacket, often worn over just a fundoshi or kohakama.
Happi (法被•半被) Literally “law cover” or “half cover,” depending on the kanji used. These are short, straight sleeved jackets usually worn for festivals. They usually feature a family or group crest and in the past were commonly worn by household servants. Often they are worn with just fundoshi or kohakama.
Hanten (袢纏•半纏•袢天•半天) Hanten are short winter coats that contain a lining or cotton stuffing.
-Hikeshibanten (火消し半纏) This specific type of Hanten was worn by firefighters throughout Japan in the past. Hikeshi (火消し) is what firefighters were called during the Edo period and generally means “extinguish fire.”
Hakama (袴) Hakama is both the general term for traditional Japanese pants as well as being used for two distinct types: umanori/ bajō (馬乗り•馬上) hakama and andon (行灯) bakama (袴).
—Umanori/ Bajō hakama (馬乗り•馬上), or “horse riding hakama,” are bisected and are often pleated.
—Andon bakama (行灯袴), or “lantern hakama,” are more of a skirt with no individual legs. However when people usually refer to a hakama they are most likely refering to Umanori Hakama. Hakama are worn in formal wear over a kimono, however they weren’t always considered formal wear.
—Nobakama (野袴) Literally “field pants.” These are full length pants that are tapered down with a snug cuff around the ankle. These were often worn for long walks or journeys to protect the legs and kimono from dirt and damage.
—Kohakama (小袴) Literally “short pants.” These are shorts which are often hemmed just below the knee. However Umanori Hakama that have been bloused (or tied up) beneath the knee are also occasionally called Kohakama.
Momohiki/ Matahiki/ Nagapachi (股引・長ぱち) These are a tight fitting pants originally worn by craftsman as work pants, but now are mostly worn to festivals along with a Happi or by Taiko drummers.
Monpe (もんぺ) Monpe are often referred to as, “women’s work pants.” They are similar to Nobakama but are distinguished from the former.
Fundoshi are a collection of undergarments that go around the groin. They were originally men’s undergarments. However in more modern times women often wear/ wore them as well. With most types of Fundoshi you list the specific type along with the word Fundoshi: Ecchu Fundoshi, Mokko Fundoshi, and Rokushaku Fundoshi.
—Ecchu (越中) Named after a province in Japan this type of fundoshi is closer to what many westerners think of when we say “loin cloth.” It consists of a rectangle of material and a himo that goes around the waist. Once tied a flap will hang down in front.
—Mokko (畚) Literally a “basket fundoshi.” This fundoshi is names such because it resembles the baskets used by wood cutters to carry wood.
—Rokushaku (六尺) Literally “six foot fundoshi.” This fundoshi is named such because it is a single piece of cloth that is roughly six foot in length.
—Mawashi (回し) Literally “round.” Unlike the other types, Mawashi is usually not said as “mawashi fundoshi,” but rather just as “mawashi.” This is the type of garment worn by sumo practitioners, and by some festival goers.
Side Notes: Sashiko (刺子)- The type of weave on the upper part of Judo-gi, or a type of reinforced stitching which can be either functional or decretive.
Hishisashi (菱刺)- Rhombus or diamond shaped weave.
Boro (襤褸)- A type of patchwork used for Japanese clothing. Both kanji in Boro mean “rags” or “tattered.”
*All photos are being used for educational purposes and the rights go to their perspective owners.
Every individual, school, association, and style develop their own customs and culture as time progresses. One thing that varies greatly is how people retire their belts. Some people view belts as sacred objects to be honored and respected. Others view belts as a utilitarian garment. Yet, most reside somewhere in the middle.
Some retire their belts by hanging them on the wall, or making some such display in their home.
Others repurpose belts by making useful items out of them, such as a bag or quilt.
It is also common in many schools to pass belts along to the next generation. Passing on your colored belts to other Kyu or Gup practitioners, or even passing on an old black belt to one of your trusted students. There’s also the popular act of simply packing them away in a box and forgeting about them.
These sorts of cultural developments are the kinds of things I enjoy observing and pondering. So recently as I approached my Shodan grading in Matsubayashi Ryu, I gave some thoughts about what to do with my old belts, that I’ve had lying around for over a decade.
My belts were all awarded to me in a former style that I no longer train in. I have no sentimental attachment to them. I have limited living space. I no longer felt a need to hold onto them. So what to do?
Reflecting on my past as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout, I remember how beautiful and symbolic a flag retirement service is.
If you are not familiar with such, the proper way to retire a USA Flag is Retirement by Fire.
This appealed to me greatly.
So the day after testing for my Shodan, I talked with my current instructor and proceeded with my plan.
Often times we martial artist become too attached with the tangible trappings of our arts: the uniform, the belt, patches, training halls, tourist sites in The Mother Land, etc. Doing so we often forget what is at the core: training, positive relationships, abilities, and knowledge
Thusly, I have no reason to cling to the past. Like smoke, I’m moving on and moving up. Leaving the ashes of the past where they belong.
I am often known for the fact that I’ve spent the better part of a decade studying the history of the belt system. The history is something I would say I am very enthusiastic about. However when it comes to the practice of utilizing belts systems I am actually a less-is-more kind of guy.
Belts were originally used to denote assistant instructors vs students, which coincided with the concept of Yudansha vs Mudansha. This system only contained a white belt (Mudansha) and a black belt (Yudansha), and the system worked really well for around 50 years. It is also important to note that this system is still in use today in some styles of Karate, Aikido, and Jujutsu.
When the colored belts were introduced, the idea was that students outside of Japan needed more tangible motivation. So Mikinosuke Kawaishi intoduced the original colored belt system in Europe around 1937. When the idea of an expanded belt system made it back to Japan it was generally rejected. Eventually the Kodokan adopted one additional belt, making their Mudansha system for adults White and Brown, then White and Violet for youths. Karate adopted two belts using White, Green, and Brown for Mudansha. Again both these systems are still used to this day.
As martial arts became more global more belts and more systems became adopted. However too much focus on belts has had a negative impact on martial arts. Why?
-Too much concern about getting that next belt, rather than truly developing skills taught at each individual level. -Too much investment in “social hierarchies,” rather than positive social relationships. -Too much political jockeying based around belts and ranks. -Too much focus on money generation centered around belt promotions, rather than a focus on student development.
Thus in recent years we have seen people who have been attempting to combat this focus on belts. For example, when Jesse Enkamp ran his large seminars, the required dress code included that every student and instructor wear a Momo-Iro Obi (Peach Colored Belt/ Pink Belt) rather than their own belt. Another example is how Royce Gracie usually teaches seminars wearing a Blue Belt rather than the coveted Black Belt or Red Belt. Many schools no longer wear the “traditional” uniform and now wear modern sports wear instead, or have a full “gi season” and wear sports wear the rest of the year.
So how can we get away from a focus on belts?
-Set a verbal precedent from day one. Something as simple as, “Even though we utilize the belt system, our focus is on physical and mental development at each individual level.” -Refer to students by their grade rather than as their belt. (Encourage those at your school to do the same.) -Place less importance on receiving a new belt. For example, instead of awarding it at promotions or tying it onto the student at the next class, just have the student discretely pick up their new belt at the desk or office area when they attend their next class. (Possibly with a note that touches on physical and mental aspects they did well on, where they still need improvement, and some general motivation.) -Instead of complimenting students on their progress to a new belt, compliments should focus around their physical and mental development. For example, don’t say, “great job getting your blue belt,” but rather something along the lines of, “Your Pinan Sandan is looking good! Your hard work really paid off.” (Make sure your higher ranking students also follow this precedent.) -If possible, simplify the belt system for adults. Use 1/2 to 1/3 the number of belts for adults as used for children. (Remember, a 9 kyu system has the same number of promotions regardless of if there are 9 belts, 6 belts, or only 1 belt.) -Lead by example. Be the change you want to see! When I removed my rank stripes I got berated and belittled hard core, then a few years later a few others, including “Master Instructors,” within the same association also started removing their rank stripes. (Note: some of these people were the ones who belittled me the most.)
Originaly Published in Totally Taekwondo Magazine March 2016
So have you noticed research often leaves you with more questions?
After exploring the history of the belt system and the Kyu/Dan system I was left with one question, “What came before these things?” And the answer was surprisingly easy to find.
Prior to the introduction of the belt system in 1886 and the Kyu/Dan system in 1883 the majority of martial arts in Japan used a license system known as Menkyo (免許).
The menkyo system was introduced to Japanese culture in the 8th century A.D. Like the Kyu/Dan system it was used in a wide arrange of crafts and skill based arts. Eventually this practiced was adopted by the many schools of Jujutsu and Kenjutsu, and was in wide use within the a few other Koryu (古流) or “old style” martial arts prior to the 1600s. For a list of Koryu martial arts please check out the Bugei Juhappan (武芸十八般), a list of 18 warrior arts, originally established by Hirayama Gyozo who lived from 1759 to 1828.
Each art was entitled to use its own license system. However, for the most part, you received one license when you began your study of an art, one when you become proficient enough to pass on that art to the next generation (Menkyo), and one when you have learned all the art has to offer and are able to add to the art (Menkyo Kaiden). The highest license was usually a Menkyo Kaiden (免許皆伝), this was given to diligent practitioners who often spent 30 or more years involved in serious study. Those that held a Menkyo were often considered eligible to become the successor or heir of the art; they were also eligible to become the next Soke (宗家) or “Head of House.” Though it is important to note that a new Soke had to be included on the Koseki (family registry) of the old Soke and transference was a legal procedure and not as easy as simply stating, “I want Joe to take over once I retire or pass away.”
Also tied into the menkyo system are Mokuroku (目録). A mokuroku is a hand written scroll detailing the entirety of a style. They include things such as techniques, philosophy, history, and lineage. Often times they are written in a poetic format making them harder to translate, but other times they are simply a compilation of lists. Though the Menkyo system has fallen out of favor within martial arts due to the introduction of the Kyu/Dan system, Mokuroku are still being used and produced in modern times. These scrolls are found in two formats: scrolls that read from right to left and scrolls that read from top to bottom. It is important to note that mokuroku were considered very precious items reserved for holders of a Menkyo or Menkyo Kaiden, and were usually hand written by the head of a style. The famous Okinawan karate master, Bushi Sokon Matsumura produced a hand written mokuroku during his lifetime and it is still within the private possession of his living descendants.
So how does all of this connect to what is currently done within more modern martial art styles?
Jigoro Kano trained in two main styles of Jujutsu in his youth; first he trained in Tenjin Shin’yo Ryu under Fukuda Hachinosuke followed by Iso Masatomo, unfortunately both these instructors passed away when Kano was a young man, so Kano transferred to Kito-Ryu under Iikubo Tsunetoshi. Some believe that Kano received Menkyo and inherited a Mokuroku from Tenjin Shin’yo Ryu, but unfortunately these claims have not been substantiated with documentation. However in October of 1883, Jigoro Kano received his Menkyo in Kito Ryu. Interestingly enough, this is a few months before Kano introduced the Kyu/Dan system within the Kodokan, his school of Jujutsu which later took on the name “Judo.”
As discussed above this was prior to the use of belts to distinguish between kyu grade students (無段者) and dan ranked students (有段者), so when Kano awarded a dan rank he commemorated the rank with a paper certificate/diploma called a Menjo (免状). This is what the norm in modern martial arts in Japan became and which was then carried on to Korea and other parts of the world.
These paper certificates were often considered legal documentation in countries of the orient and as such they needed to possess a few key elements. This may seem like common sense but they needed to say who was receiving the certificate, what the certificate is for, and who was awarding the certificate. Also to authenticate the certificate they needed to be stamped with seals.
So why use a seal?
In modern Western civilization we use our legal signature in black or blue ink on documents, however in East Asian civilizations seals in red ink were used for legal documents. In Japan these seals are known as Inkan (印鑑) and Hanko (判子). Legally registered seals for large organizations and corporations are referred to as Jitsuin (実印). So a martial arts certificate will often have multiple seals often one for the organization and one for the individual awarding the certificate.
However dan certificates are not the only type of certificates that exist within the world of martial arts. Just like a Menkyo were used as licenses to teach, teaching certification also became the norm within most styles. And certificates were also awarded for honorary titles, called Shogo (称号) in Japanese, such as Renshi, Kyoshi, and Hanshi. These were spread through Judo’s involvement in the Dai-Nippon Butoku Kai, which regulated many formal martial arts and martial sports in Japan.
So how’d this practice work its way into Taekwondo?
As Okinawan Karate instructors began working with members of the Kodokan and the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai, they started to adopt many of the practices within these groups. So it comes as no surprise that when Karate adopted the Kyu/Dan system, belt system, and Dogi in 1924, Gichin Funakoshi also adopted the use of Menjo, awarding 7 of them in April of that year (13th year of Taisho). One of these 7 certificates has been made public by the International Ryukyu Karate Research Society, and will be included with this article. It is the Shodan certificate of Kasuya Shin’yo, awarded by the Toudi Research Society which was headed by Gichin Funakoshi.
Finally martial arts such as Kendo, Judo, and Karate made their way to the Korean peninsula during and after the Japanese Annexation (1910-1945) and this practice of using certificates was brought to Korea as well.
During this time martial arts schools had to be approved by the Korean government due to the partial ban on martial arts in Korea. This is again where seals and legal documentation comes in. Many martial art students would use their martial arts certificates as a legal form of identification. This leads us back to the seals used on them. The personal seals used by individuals referred to as Hanko (判子) in Japanese are called Dojang (도장) in Korean, not to be confused with Training Halls (도장, 道場) which is a homonym. The more formal Inkan (印鑑) in Japanese are called Ingam (인감, 印鑑) in Korean. And the registered seals called Jitsuin (実印) in Japanese are referred to as Silin (실인, 實印) in Korean, as 実 is a simplified way of writing 實. Some certificates even had passport pictures pasted to them making them even more useful as forms of legal identification.
So how has this changed?
As the governmental bodies of Asian countries began to have less and less control over the teaching and regulation of martial arts, certificates began to lose their standing as legal documentation. Stamps and seals began to be replaced by western signatures. The Japanese and Korean languages began to be replaced with English. Beautifully hand written certificates were replaced by mass printed, digitally produced ones; some of which are quite beautiful in their own right. As styles and organizations began to splinter and diversify, parent styles and organizations lost their absolute authority.
One important thing to understand is that the name of karate, and it’s various styles, have changed many times throughout history.
When it comes to the names of individual styles, such as Shotokan, Goju Ryu, Matsubayashi Ryu, etc. we have to remember that on Okinawa this wasn’t really a thing until after Karate was introduced to mainland Japan. Mainland Japanese were very focused on individual styles and these styles were usually registered with governing bodies, such as the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai. However this isn’t really how Karate-ka did things in Okinawa. So the first registered and specific style of Karate was Goju Ryu, which was officially named after a demonstration event in Kyoto, Japan that took place in 1929.
Some say that before this point it was more common to refer to karate-ka and karate “styles” by their regional flavors. The three most common are Shuri-Te, Naha-Te, and Tomari-Te, or in Uchinaaguchi: Suidi, Nafandi, and Tumai-Di. However there is credible research to suggest that this naming scheme wasn’t really made popular until the 1900s as the world outside of Okinawa began taking an interest in the art. This holds true especially in the 1920s, as this naming convention became more used in modern times to understand where kata and instructors were from, than anything else. However there are several problems with this naming convention. It is important to remember that these three villages are only roughly three miles apart. Even in the past, you could easily walk from one to the other to the other all in one day. As such, it was relatively common for practitioners who taught or trained in one of these “styles,” to actually live or work in a different village. For example, Anko Itosu lived in all three at different points of his life. Even when this naming convention was relatively new, Itosu was living in Naha but supposedly teaching Shuri-te, and some of the Shuri-Te he was teaching were kata he learned when he lived and trained in Tomari. Another example would be Choki Motobu, who lived in Shuri but trained in “Tomari-Te” under Kosaku Matsumora, as well as “Shuri-Te” under Anko Itosu (who lived in Naha at the time). So we see how easily this naming convention falls apart.
Now for the big two: Karate (空手) VS Karate (唐手). Empty Hands VS Chinese Hands, or more specifically Tang Hands as the character 唐 refers to the Tang Dynasty of China rather than China itself. We know that in 1935 there was, “The Meeting of the Masters,” as it is commonly called, where one of the topics discussed was officially deciding on which of these two to use. Why was such a decision needed? Around this time in Japan there was a very strong Anti-Chinese sentiment (remember the Sino-Japanese war broke out in 1937 and lasted till 1945), and referring to the art as “Chinese Hand” was considered off putting and distasteful. Thus it was unanimously decided at this April 1935 meeting that the art shall be officially named “Empty Hand.” This being homage to Hanashiro Chomo who had been using the characters 空手 since 1903, if not even earlier, as documented in a Newpaper article he published in that year. Between 1903 and 1935 most people who published articles and books on the art had used 唐手, which can also be pronounced Tō-te, or more correctly, Tō-di. However it is important to note that it is highly likely that the use of 唐手 was first used by Anko Itosu as a way to make Karate seem more refined, as historically, in Japan and Okinawa, Chinese goods and philosophies were considered high quality and refined.
So far we have tackled a lot, the founding of individual styles, regional styles, Empty Hand, and Chinese Hand, but here’s the thing, throughout the longest time in history the martial arts which we talk about was simply called Hand. Not Empty Hand. Not Chinese Hand (Tang Hand, but you get the point). Not Village XYZ Hand. Just Hand. According to the resercher Scot Mertz, the oldest known reference to Ryukyuan (the name of the Kingdom Okinawa was a part of before it was taken over by the Japanese) Hand comes from a 17th century author. Two hundred years before we see any of the others I’ve mentioned being used. As we should remember, historically, Karate is a mixed martial art. Absorbing influences from many martial arts and refining it to suit the Okinawan people, and they just called it Hand. In standard Japanese (which they didn’t speak) that is Te. In Uchinaaguchi (the main language spoken in Okinawa prior to the Japanese takeover) that is Ti or, when used as a suffix, -Di.
Originally published in Totally Taekwondo Magazine in the April 2015 edition. However this is a living document that continues to be edited as new information is learned. As all research projects should.
In 1883 Jigoro Kano, the founder of Judo (柔道), began what would develop into not only the belt system but also the kyu and dan system used in martial arts.
It was in 1886 that he borrowed a practice, used in Japanese swimming, of tying black ribbons around the waist of those that were considered proficient in the sport of swimming. This is when he awarded kuro obi (黒帯) to Tsunejiro Tomita and Shiro Seigo. This is also the first time in the history of the martial arts that a “black belt” was awarded and the style of obi called a Kaku Obi (角帯) was used to achieve this means.
Prior to this, right after New Years of 1884, Kano adopted the Kyu and Dan system (段級位制) used in many traditional Japanese activities such as Shodo (calligraphy, 書道), Ikebana (flower arrangements, 生花), and Go (classic strategy game). He initially utilized 3 Kyu grades (級) as well as 3 Dan ranks (段). At first there was no physical representation of rank, but after a boom in students in 1886, the Kyu grades became represented by a White obi (白帯) and Dan ranks became represented by a Black obi (黒帯). Outside of representing beginner verses proficient student, as well as kyu vs dan, these belt colors had no real meaning.
At the time this basic belt system was introduced, there was no standardized practice clothing or keikogi (稽古着), so students simply trained in whatever they wore that day. Work cloths and school clothes were the norm in the Judo Dojo (道場). But those of you experienced in any sort of grappling knows that grappling takes it out of lighter weight clothing. The solution was a heavy jacket that could tolerate being grabbed, jerked, yanked at, and dragged along the ground. After several stages of development Kano produced a standard Judogi (柔道着) after a 1906 meeting for the Dai Nippon Butoku Kai.
The first black belts of karate were awarded by Gichin Funakoshi to seven of his students on April 12th, 1924. He held a formal ceremony where he presented black obi to Hironori Ohtsuka (Wado Ryu’s founder), Shinken Gima (Gima-ha Shoto-Ryu’s founder), Ante Tokuda, Shinyo Kasuya (Keio University professor of German), Akiba, Shimizu Toshiyuki, and Hirose. Gima and Tokuda were cousins who were both raised, and trained, in Okinawa before moving to mainland Japan. Also at this time Tokuda was awarded nidan, while the others all received a shodan. It is said that Funakoshi himself never received a formal rank, but some of his students say that he was a 5th dan prior to his death.
The next type of belts were Kohaku Obi (紅白), which were initially introduced in the year 1930. These were Crimson & White belts to be used for Kodansha (高段者) or high ranking dan practitioners. The colors for these belts were chosen from the colors used at the Kohaku Shiai, a Judo competition held every year, and these belts were initially considered optional, mainly being reserved for special occasions. It is unclear if these belts were specifically introduced to represent a high ranking practitioner or the holder of a Japanese titles, such as Renshi, Kyoshi, and Hanshi, but regardless different styles and organizations use them in varying ways. These belts were eventually brought over from Judo to Karate, and are even used in some styles of Okinawan Karate. The main type of Kohaku Obi also goes by the names Kagamiita Obi (鏡板帯) and Dandara Obi (段だら帯).
Between 1935 to 1937 a Japanese Judo instructor living in Europe, Mikinosuke Kawaishi, decided that his students needed a bit more tangible encouragement, so he introduced the colored belts. So now, instead of having one belt representing 6 kyu grades, there were 6 belts representing these same 6 kyu grades. Mikinosuke’s original belt system contained the colors: White, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple, and Brown. However there is a reason for the original colors and why they are represented in this order. All you had to do was take your existing white belt and dye it multiple times getting you all these colors. If you went in a different order this trick wouldn’t work, so it had to be White then Yellow then Green then Blue then Purple all before Brown Belt. Mikinosuke is also who most likely introduced the concept of Rank Stripes, around the same time.
When the Japanese heard of the colored belt system it was initially rejected. Instructors believed the focus should be on learning and that awarding superfluous belts was unnecessary. However, Jigoro Kano did adopt two additional belts. For adults Kano adopted the brown belt to represent adults who were 4th Kyu through 1st Kyu, and for children he adopted a purple belt to represent the same Kyu grades. Karate initially adopted two additional belts as well, but did not distinguish at this time between child belts and adult belts. Thusly karate adopted an additional green belt and brown belt.
Well lets fast forward ten years to 1945. What happened then? WWII ended, as did the Japanese annexation of Korea. Korean students were flocking home! Some of which had never even laid eyes on Korea before… Some of these Koreans were martial art students of Gichin Funakoshi’s lineage or Kanken Toyama’s lineage. Many of these students would go on to become the “Fathers of Taekwondo,” such as Yoon Byung In (Shudokan 4th dan), Yoon Gwe Byung (Shudokan 3rd dan), Chun Sung Sup (Shotokan 3rd dan), Byung Jik Ro (Shotokan 3rd dan?), Choi Hong Hee (Shotokan, rank heavily debated), and Won Kuk Lee (Shotokan 4th dan). It is also important to note that around this time the rank system in Karate changed in Japan. Prior to 1945 Karate maxed out at 5th dan, but after 1945 Karate changed to max out at 10th dan. This is important to keep in mind when we talk about how things differ in Japan, Okinawa, and Korea from this point on.
Since the simplified colored belt system was introduced to karate, there is a general disagreement between Koreans and Japanese. Some will tell you it was White, Green, Brown, and Black belt others will tell you it was a White, Blue, Brown, and Black belt. Honestly, after much research, I firmly believe it was the green belt due to testimony by Japanese instructors that began their training back in the 1940s, as well as a few Korean Shotokan practitioners who trained in Tokyo in the 1930s and 1940s. But in Choi Hong Hee’s 1965 book he outlined a system that utilized 8 kyu grades and 4 belts: White, Blue, Brown, and Black. Also in 1965 Choi became the president of the Korea Tae Kwon Do Association.
Other groups in Korea separated and used different systems. For example Hwang Ki, who eventually founded the Moo Duk Kwan teaching Tang Soo Do (one of the Korean names for Karate-Do), used White, Green, Red, and Midnight Blue. This system traded out the Brown Belt, used in other styles of Tang Soo Do, for Red, and traded out the Black Belt for Midnight Blue. Hwang Ki also attributed his color system to the changing of the seasons, and is one of the first individuals documented to assign esoteric meaning for the individual colors.
Many believe that the Korean use of a Red Belt for a Kyu rank was a slap in the face to the Japanese, and many Koreans will agree. However you’ll note the use of the Red Belt for 9th and 10th dan in Japan hasn’t been mentioned yet in this article. Why? You’ve probably noticed, by now, that most the major changes in the belt system happened in Judo before being brought over to Karate. When the Koreans were returning home, Karate did not use the Red Belt in this manner. See, the Red Belt for denoting 9th and 10th dan was introduced, by Judo, in 1943. It didn’t make its way into Karate until the 1950s. Sources suggest this was after Hwang Ki, and many others, had already started using Red Belt for Kyu grades. It is also worth noting that some Okinawan instructors associate the Red Belt with the concept of Kanreki (還暦), which in this case represents 60+ years of practicing the arts.
Back on Okinawa there was a meeting between the heads of several styles, around 1965, to decide on standards for rank and titles used within Okinawan Karate. Prior to this, there were no standards and due to how the rank system in Karate went from maxing at 5th dan to maxing at 10th dan, no one was really sure on how to handle things. For example, the youngest legitimately awarded 10th dan in Japan and Okinawa went to a 34 year old Eizo Shimabukuro, a proponent of Shorin Ryu (少林流), and was awarded in 1959. So in 1965 the Okinawans set general time-in-rank requirements and age restrictions on dan ranks, as well as establishing the Title Stripe system, in place of the Kohaku Obi. The Title Stripe system goes up to 5 sets of stripes, but most people only wear a max of 3 even if they are permitted to wear more.
It is part of this author’s hopes that this document will help dispel many of the myths involving belts, as well as dispelling “belt worship.” It is my hope that putting the practice of using belts into their proper historical perspective will lessen our reliance on them and diminish our irrational feelings about them. For example, we can see the belt system was only introduced once the Kodokan Dojo, of Judo, grew to well over 130 students. The color belts were originally just a tool for unmotivated students. Highly coveted Title Belts, such as the Kohaku Obi, Red Belt, and black belts with Title Stripes, are actually much more modern than most people believe and were originally considered optional. The practice of using Rank Stripes actually predates the practice of Title Stripes by nearly three decades. It’s always best to know where these things come from so we have a clearer picture of where we wish to go in the future, especially if we view ourselves as traditionalists.
Right, so as previously explained I first joined Taekwondo at the age of six. However my life always has a way of throwing me for a loop.
When I was seven years old my dad took an early retirement from the United States Air Force, where he worked as a airplane mechanic, and relocated my family to his home state of Missouri. This meant that my siblings and I had to transfer styles and school.
This is when my siblings and I began training in a Korean style called Youn Wha Ryu.
Like most kids in Karate and Taekwondo, we didn’t take our training super seriously. However unlike most kids, we didn’t care about ranks or belts. To us there wasn’t really a difference between a white belt, a yellow belt, and a green belt.
Furthermore our two instructors, Sherry and Ceth Jordan, were pretty strict about testing requirements and maintaining high standards back then.
My siblings and I continued to train up until I was ten years old, and we didn’t test very often. My brother eventually made it to First Degree Green Belt (7th Kyu/ Gup). While my sister and I remained at Second Degree Yellow Belt (8th Kyu/ Gup). In part this was due to shoddy attendance, as my parents were very inconsistent in taking us to classes. Some weeks we went every day. Other weeks we would go to only one class. Sometime we may miss an entire week. It just depended on what else was going on, as my sister also did Girl Scouts, my brother and I did Boy Scouts, we all were in 4-H, amongst swimming lessons, music lessons, soccer, American Foot Ball, Westling, etc. We stayed pretty busy back then.
At the age of ten I was extremely excited that I would be going to our town’s school which all 5th and 6th graders attended, as it was within safe walking distance of the martial arts school. However right before the school year started our parents told us, “You can’t go to karate anymore, because we can no longer afford it.
We understood, and my siblings accepted their reasoning. Lessons are expensive for three children. However, there’s always this doubt in the back of my mind that it wasn’t actually a financial issue, but rather that our parents felt we were not taking martial arts seriously. As such the ten year old me tried to reason with my parents. Without the other two could I keep going? I could raise 4-H animals to help pay for lessons! I can walk to the school, you don’t have to worry about taking me anymore, etc.
But alas it was not to be so…
And for the next five years I regularly asked my parents if I could go back to martial arts., but their answer never changed.
In the five years I was no longer doing martial arts I became relatively inactive. I stopped doing soccer. I stopped taking swimming lessons. I stopped wrestling. I stopped roller skating. I didn’t ride my bike as much as I did before. Puberty also hit me hard… In short, I got fat.
And my freshman year of high school I started working out more. I took swimming and weight lifting classes in school. I joined the football team. Not because I like football, but because I wanted some structured exercise in my life. After football was over, I joined the wrestling team. And all of a sudden after five years of turning me down, my parents allowed me to return to martial arts.
My fifteenth birthday present was martial arts tuition!
Returning to Youn Wha Ryu I still remembered all the basic techniques, partner drill, and the majority of the forms I had learned as a child. I rejoined at Second Degree Yellow Belt due to this, and after 3 months I finally ranked up to First Degree Green Belt. And from then on I trained with a vengeance. If the doors to the martial arts school were open, I was there! I was usually the first student to arrive and the last to leave. I would take two or three classes a night. I trained on Saturdays. I showed my parents and instructors that I wasn’t going to take my training for granted again.
Due to the frequency and intensity I trained, I promoted very quickly.
Every two to four months I was being promoted, until I reached Brown Belt (1st Kyu/ Gup), in which I waited six months before testing for Bo-dan. Bo-dan is one of the Korean equivalents to Shodan-ho. This was never because I asked to be promoted! It was because my instructors all agreed I was ready to move on to the next level.
Around this time I was taking my association’s Instructor’s Course, and received a copy of our Instructor’s Guide. Inside was our stated Time-In-Rank requirements. Unbeknownst to me I had promoted early at three different grades. This of course, went against what I was taught as a child. It also went against what I believed was the right thing to do as a teenager. Reflecting on this, I decided that I wouldn’t promote early again, as doing so wasn’t beneficial. Not for me. Not for the art. Not for my instructors. Not for my school.
So I promoted to Bo-Dan in January 2005.
Six months later my instructor asked me, “Matt, you ready to test for 1st dan?” And I did something most people don’t have the integrity and grit to do, I said, “No sir. The requirements between 0 dan and 1st dan is one year, and I would like to wait the full time.” He just smiled at me and said, “Okay.” I couldn’t tell at the time if that was a test, and he wanted to see if I would do the right thing. But having been an instructor for so long, I’m pretty sure he had simply forgotten when I tested last.
I then started researching martial arts practices around the globe. What was the norm in Karate? What was the norm in Taekwondo? What was the norm in Judo? And I quickly noticed that the World Youn Wha Ryu Association had relatively relaxed standards when it came to time-in-rank requirements. So instead of just going off of what was allowed in my association, I held myself to higher standards and encouraged others to do the same. (With some degree of success.)
I promoted to 1st dan in May 2006.
I promoted to 2nd dan in March 2008.
I promoted to 3rd dan in February 2011.
I promoted to 4th dan in October 2013.
Before we get into why I broke from my cycle at 4th dan lets discuss something else.
When I was a 2nd dan in Youn Wha Ryu two things happened. In 2009, I walked into an Okinawan Karate dojo for the first time in my life. The instructor Steven Graham is a 5th dan in Shobayashi Ryu and a very skilled practitioner. He came up in a hard core, no nonsense kind of dojo, and that carried over into his teaching style. Needless to say, I was in love with Shorin Ryu Karate.
In the months that followed this encounter, I became Steve Sensei’s student and dedicated myself to learning the Pinan Kata. Prior to this time I had already learned:
Taikyoku Shodan, Sandan, and Godan
Naihanchi Shodan and Nidan
As Youn Wha Ryu maintained its pre-Taekwondo roots, derived from Yoon Byung In, (Shudokan Karate 4th dan under Kanken Toyama) and Chun Song Sup (Shotokan Karate 3rd dan under Funakoshi). In Youn Wha Ryu these Kata (型) are known as Hyung (型), and they go by the names: Basic Form 1, 2, and 3, Bassai, Chulgi 1 and 2, Nopae, Sip Soo, and Youn Bi. In addition to these I learned Chulgi 3 at 3rd dan and Kong San Koon (Kusanku) at 4th dan as per the standard Youn Wha Ryu requirements.
Most traditional Karate practitioners get somewhat confused by this, as most are unaware of the fact that all styles of Korean Karate (such as Tang Soo Do and Kong Soo Do) actually fall under the umbrella term of Taekwondo. This is despite the fact Korean Karate predates the use of the term Taekwondo. As the term Taekwondo wasn’t coined until 1955 and wasn’t generally accepted until 1965. This is due to some political decisions made in Korea in the 1960s through 1970s. This is also why you will see older styles of Taekwondo simply referred to as Karate in the United States. These older styles are Korean Karate.
So what else happened in 2009?
In August 2009 I moved again. This time to attend a four year university. Luckily for me there were Youn Wha Ryu schools in the area, and the president of my colleges “Taekwondo Club” happened to be a Matsubayashi Ryu practitioner. Thus I became a Youn Wha Ryu student of Zach and Katie Shaw, and trained with Eric Klick to maintain my Pinan Kata. However the Pinan of Matsubayashi Ryu and Shobayashi Ryu are pretty different. The angles used were different, certain techniques were different, path of movement for techniques were different, etc. So at this time my Pinan became a bit “muddy” due to mixing two different styles of Shorin Ryu.
Moving forward into 2013. Several odd things began to happen. I began noticing that many instructors were involved with illegal, dishonest, and immoral activities. In Youn Wha Ryu I noticed there was a case of Child Mulestation and a case of Embezzlement. Outside Youn Wha Ryu I met a Taekwondo instructor who spent 10 years in jail for dealing cocaine within the walls of his dojang back in the 1970s. I began noticing instructors who teach “Christian family values” in class, but then regularly attend Swinger Nights, taking their 18 year old step daughter with them. So many instructors who also taught “family values” were cheating on their spouses with their students or other instructors. I noticed black belt holders were skimming months and, in some cases, years off their time-in-rank requirements. I noticed people trying to use their rank and standing to intimidate and boss around lower ranking instructors.
I was then put into an awkward position, due to these last two points. As previously mentioned I chose to wait extra time-in-rank in order to encourage higher standards within my association. But with others skimming off time this meant people with far less experience and knowledge, were attempting to boss me around. People outside of my chain-of-command were, for some odd reason, attempting to micromanage my involvement within the association.
Now I’m a man who will usually look for simple solutions for simple problems. If I am a 3rd dan and a group of 4th dan practitioners believe they can boss me around, the simple solution is just “rank up.” So double checking my Instructor’s Guide, I had already completed my associations time-in-rank requirements. I was training and teaching regularly. So for the first time in my life I asked my instructor, “Do you mind if I test?” Zach Shaw knew what was going on behind the scenes, he knew that I didn’t actually want to test for 4th dan until 2015, but he gave me his blessing. I also got the blessing of my original instructor Ceth Jordan, as well as Han, Man Hee’s blessing. Thus on October 12th, 2013 there were two surprise testings, that none of the other students were aware of: I tested to 4th dan and Zach Shaw tested to 6th dan.
After the promotion Han, Man Hee came up to me, told me he was very impressed with the essays I had written about the history of Taekwondo and Karate up to that point, and asked if I would be his official Record Keeper, telling me this position supersedes rank. I accepted. And a few months later he made another request of me, so in February 2014 he requested that I not only be the associations official Record Keeper, but also the associations official Historian. Again, I accepted.
After college, around 2014, I moved back home. I went back to training in Youn Wha Ryu under Ceth Jordan again, also training in Shorin Ryu under Steven Graham as well.
Previously when I trained under Steven Graham we never discussed rank, or anything of that nature. I would just show up to train in zubon (pants) and a T-shirt. However this time he wanted me to wear a full Karate-gi, and a white belt. Which I happily obliged. But after a month or two he stopped me after class and said, “Hey Matt, next class please wear your black belt. The white belt is starting to confuse the students.” Again, not a problem.
Steven Graham then offered to make me a Shodan-ho and stated that in May 2015 he would have two of his teenage, 1st Kyu students promoting to Shodan, and that he would like me to promote with them. However this was not to be. In April 2015 Steven Graham shut down his dojo, giving us students less than a one month notice that this would be happening. I asked if I could continue training with him, he agreed, but then took an early retirement from his job and moved to Florida, where he and his wife are living quite happily.
On the Youn Wha Ryu side of things, thing were even worse. As a Record Keeper I not only recorded the good things within the association but, as taught to do in college as a teacher in training, I also recorded the bad things. I even reported illegal activities to the authorities, as all school teachers are mandated to report abuse. Sweeping things under the rug is actually illegal to do as a teacher. And I carried these ethical principles into my job as a Record Keeper and Historian.
As you could imagine this did not make people happy. As criminals seem to hate “snitches.” And in June 2015 the VP and 3rd highest person in the World Youn Wha Ryu Association, Yujin Han (pronounced the same as Eugene) and Jeremy Fox, began to try to blackmail me. But not before Jeremy Fox began spreading a scathing email to instructors within the World Youn Wha Ryu Associations trying to convince people I had quit the association. The date on the email just so happened to be the day after Jeremy Fox called me on the phone, at 10:45 PM, with liquor on his voice, cussing and screaming about events that I recorded.
The day of this phone call also happened to be the day my grandfather passed away. A week later, when they announced they were going to blackmail me, just so happened to not only be the day of my grandfather’s funeral, but also the day my brother committed suicide. Both Jeremy Fox and Yujin Han were aware of what was going on in my personal life, as they were informed not only by me, but also other members of the World Youn Wha Ryu Association who advised these two to at least give me a mourning period before harassing me any further. Advise they both ignored.
Also in 2015 I accepted a teaching job at a small private school in Arizona ran by Marsha Fagan, a Youn Wha Ryu 5th dan under Han, Man Hee. So in August I moved yet again.
This is when I met Noah Legel in person, after years of being his friend online, and he invited me to Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts in Scottsdale, Arizona. While visiting the dojo Richard M. Poage (Renshi, 5th dan) invited me to be his student. I accepted and requested to join as a white belt, but Richard Sensei wished for me to join as an Honorary Yondan, or Yondan-ho. That didn’t sit well with me, so Richard Sensei agreed to let me join as a Shodan-ho instead. So for the next two years, I trained in the Adult Class and Advanced Class at Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts. As well as continuing to teach Youn Wha Ryu. Richard Sensei was fully aware of this and quite encouraging about it. He even asked me to invite the Fagan’s to seminars.
While in Arizona I formally resigned from the World Youn Wha Ryu Association on New Years Day of 2016. I also formally resigned from Karate for Christ International later in 2016. I had joined Karate for Christ International as a Hapkido student of David Dunn Sensei between 2012 to 2014, and was loosely involved with it afterwards due to my friendship with Anthony L. Smith Sr. as well as Marsha and John Fagan, who were also members. Karate for Christ International changed some rules in an attempt to kick out Anthony L. Smith Sr. I disagrees with this rule change, and respectfully bowed out.
This gets us to 2017. In May of 2017 I moved away from Arizona after the private school I taught at lost its funding, due to the teacher strikes in 2016. I actually taught an entire semester for no pay, because I wanted to make sure our kids continued getting the best education we could provide. Can’t really do that without teachers.
After moving, I attempted to find a decent Shorin Ryu dojo but to no avail. I contacted Richard M. Poage to see about long distance lessons as he had done this for his other student Geoff Mires, who is an honorary Sandan within the Shorinkan, but Richard M. Poage passed away in December of 2017.
This was devastating for me, as Richard and I had become really good friends, while I was in Arizona. We often would hang out at his dojo after class, just chatting, until well into the night. Many times we would even go get dinner together, so we could continue our discussions over a meal. To me he was more of a friend and peer, rather than just “a sensei.” Richard was only 3 years older than me and we had very similar martial arts experiences. The only reason he outranked me was due to the age requirements for 5th dan that he and I both followed. I had turned down promotions for 5th dan, multiple times, up to that point, because I felt I was too young for such a rank. The fact he and I were friends seems to upset many people.
In 2018, I was a bit of a Ronin, but after giving the students and instructors at Peaceful Warrior Martial Arts adequate time to mourn, I contacted Noah Legel and Jeff Allred (Renshi, 6th dan), the new head instructor, and again asked about becoming a long distance student. In September 2018 they agreed and I was again a member of the Shorinkan. With encouragement from Jeff Allred, Tiffany Richards, and Eddie Bethea (Kyoshi, 8th dan), I was put into contact with Randy Culpepper (Renshi, 5th dan) and began training, in person, at Culpepper Sensei’s dojo as well. However due to continued harassment from other members of the Shorinkan, I bowed out at the end of February 2019.
I was a bit of a Ronin for most of 2019, until I remembered an offer made to me in 2017 by Michael Mullet, a Matsubayashi Ryu 3rd dan, for me to become his student. I asked Michael Sensei if the offer still stood, and in September 2019 I became an official student of Michael’s dojo and Matsubayashi Ryu. Since then Michael Sensei and I have undertaken the tedious task of converting my kata over to Matsubayashi Ryu’s way of doing things. Prior to joining, I already previously learned versions of all the kata in Matsubayashi Ryu with the exception of Ananku, Wankan, and Gojushiho. Two of which seem to be Matsubayashi Ryu specific kata.
Currently, as of when I am writing this I am scheduled to test for my Shodan in Matsubayashi Ryu.
This is a basic rundown of my thought process behind joining martial arts.
Like most young children, born in the late ‘80s. I grew up wanting to be a Ninja Turtle. The dream was to fight The Foot Clan (the evils of the world). At the age of six my parents took my two siblings and myself to the local strip mall in Alamogordo, New Mexico. At one end was a gymnastics studio. At the other end was a Taekwondo school. We watched a class of each, and then my parents asked which we would like to do.
So 6 year old Matt had to ask himself, “Which would help me out on my way to Ninja Turtle greatness?”
Cleary Ninja Turtles are athletic and utilize acrobatics, in their pursuit of The Foot! Gymnastics would help with this.
However, once in a confrontation a Ninja Turtle must be able to conquer the battle field! Taekwondo would help with this.
Conflicted, and limited to only choosing one, I had to look outside the box.
What other factors were there to consider?
Gymnasts wore tight fitting leotards…
Taekwondo-in wore loose fitting jackets, pants, and that signature belt…
Belts that resembled the Ninja Turtles’ belts! My decision was made. At the tender age of six, I would begin my training in the martial arts!