Tomorrow Kuk Sool Won of Muncie will officially celebrate its twelfth anniversary! We had our first class on April first, 2005. We didn’t have any regular students yet, we hadn’t finished painting, and we didn’t have the carpet down.
My little sister, Trinity was there in her new uniform, along with my kids and my wife, Shil Jang Nim Krystal.
We worked on stances and kicks if I remember correctly. There were no mirrors and no board to write on. We had managed to change most of the burned out lights (which were all of them,) and cleaned out the trash that the previous tenants had left. I think I had a desk that someone had thrown out, and a chair that I found abandoned in a hallway of the building.
We eventually bought some chairs and a round table from the Chinese junk seller in another store in our building. For some reason, our landlord hated that we put them in the hallway during classes for parents and other observers to sit. It worked well for us since the school floor was barely 400 square feet.
I advertised in the local paper, and we got a few students. We didn’t have a large budget for opening, and I spent an enormous amount of what we did have on the floor. I bought natural rubber padding that was about two inches thick and a commercial grade carpet remnant to put over it. Aside from a couple of places, it worked very well. A “friend” of mine from the school in Richmond helped me put the carpet down. I say “friend” because one day when we were training together, he argued that there was no way one of our techniques (ki bohn soo #7) would work if the person resisted. I took the opposite view, and during a friendly, if vigorous, exploration of the technique, his elbow made an awful noise, and he had to go to the hospital. Nothing broke, thank goodness, but his arm was in a sling for a while. He was always a little combative after that, but he offered to help put the carpet down in the new school since he had, supposedly, done that professionally in the past.
I rented a tool that was supposed to heat the seams and with a special tape on the back, hold the carpet together. The first thing Dave did was use the iron to burn a hole in the carpet. It turns out he had never used one of them before. I bought him a sandwich and sent him home. I did the best I could with it, but for the next four years, the seams on that carpet were held together with duct tape. We just taped over the old tape every few months as it disintegrated.
In 2009, in preparation for Kuk Sa Nim’s visit, I bought new carpet and paid for installation. That was the best decision I think I have ever made.
During the process of exploring the idea of moving back to Muncie and opening the school, I was receiving mixed messages from my instructor and Headquarters. The bottom line was that I wasn’t at all sure if I would be accepted as an official World Kuk Sool Association (WKSA) school. I suspect that I was misinformed, but essentially, I had to open my school (secure premises, buy insurance, etc.) before I would be approved. This, as you might suspect, was very stressful. I dearly love Kuk Sool Won, and desperately wanted to remain in the association, but I was being asked to open the school without the assurance of being an approved WKSA school. So, everything I did, all the legal stuff to open a business, I did under the name of The Warrior’s Heart Family Martial Art Center. I researched other associations, but couldn’t see myself leaving.
Of course, the World Kuk Sool Association approved our school. All of the worries had been for nothing. There was confusion for a while about the two different names. My students really liked the “Warrior’s Heart” name and identified with it more than Kuk Sool Won of Muncie (KSWoM). I tried to do both for a while but finally decided that I had to take the initiative to stop using Warrior’s Heart, and stick with KSWoM.
I started researching web domains in December the year before I opened. WarriorsHeart.com was available at that time. By the time I got around to registering it, maybe two weeks later, it had already been registered. The domain has bounced around from owner to owner in the years since (a book, a video game, something else, and now a veteran’s group.) I ended up going with WarriorsHeartMA.com as our URL, (MA for Martial Art.) I was never thrilled with that, and I don’t think people got it. I still own that domain and use it as a redirect to this site.
My personal philosophy is that I am not competing with the other martial art schools in the area. I wanted to work together with them to improve the perception of martial art schools and students. I tried networking with the other martial art schools in town when I first opened. There were something like twelve schools in Muncie at that time. Of course, some were big, some small. Some were just guys teaching out of their garage.
I put together a website, MuncieKarate.com, and had listings for all of the schools that I could find anything about. I listed their strengths, what I knew about their costs, and what kind of people the schools appealed to. I tried getting this information directly from the schools, but with only three exceptions, I never heard a single word from another local school. One of the ones I heard from is no longer in Muncie, and we’re still Facebook friends. Another old Karate guy visited me, more to see what we were doing than anything else, I think. His school closed very soon after. The other was a fascinating gentleman who only took students who were already blackbelts. He had no interest in running a traditional school, but only wanted to teach the cool, internal stuff. As a member of WKSA, I was unable to train with him, and I lost track of him, but he was very welcoming and cordial with me. He stopped by several times to chat and see how we were doing.
I ended up killing that website after fighting with it for several years. Ironically, Mr. Sheridan emailed me the day after. He had just retired as sheriff and was going to be doing his school full-time and wanted to participate. I explained that I had given up on it and set it to redirect, again, to this site.
Fairly soon after I opened my school, I made the uncomfortable decision to make a break with my old instructor. The reasons don’t matter, except that they were there. I spent several years, seven maybe, without an instructor. Thinking that it was the right thing to do, etiquette-wise, I asked headquarters to assign me a new one. Nothing happened for a long time.
I was never a great tournament competitor. One thing that Muncie has a reputation for in the martial art community is producing great “fighters.” Since I didn’t have an instructor, I was hoping to get a student who had trained in one of those old-school schools, someone who was good at tournament fighting and could help me improve my sparring.
Tournament point-sparring, even in closed WKSA tournaments, is pretty much the same from one martial art to another. There will be slight differences, but most of them are light-touch games of tag. I wanted someone who was good at that game who could help me get better.
That person came early-on in the person of Chris Low. He was a Tae Kwon Do blackbelt who wanted to learn something new. He was a Ball State student, recently married. He spent a lot of time practicing and inspired me to practice more.
And Chris did help us get better at sparring. I still use some of his lessons when I teach sparring. His style was way different from mine, being a completely different body type, but the lessons were good. He helped everyone at the school a lot.
Chris was studying Japanese at BSU and eventually moved to Japan (twice!) to teach English. He became a certified teacher and moved to Fort Wayne, where he briefly had a Kuk Sool Won club. He reached Second Degree before moving on to a different style with some friends of his.
After spending several years as a First Degree Blackbelt without an instructor. I finally put myself in for a promotion when my kids were getting ready to catch up to me in rank. I thought that Kuk Sa Nim and the Headquarters masters on seminar tour would see my test and how much I didn’t know, and they would find me an instructor.
Instead of testing, my Second Degree test was an amazing two-and-a-half hour private lesson for my son Chip and me with Master Sung Jin Suh, learning Yuk Gum Hyung (Reverse Sword Form.) Master Suh was very impressed with Chip and said that I should send him to headquarters for a while for training. But, Chip was a teenager with a girlfriend, and that never happened. Still, he and I wpromoted to Second Degree, Kathryn and Kristofer promoted to First Degree Blackbelt, and our school was going pretty strong.
Lots of things changed around that time. I don’t remember the dates, but somewhere in there was when the franchising went through. When the school opened, there was only a small, yearly, licensing fee charged to the schools. Kuk Sa Nim decided that for things to move forward, the association needed to go to a more formally organized structure. People had advised him to make this change decades before, but he had held out.
I, frankly, was surprised at how low the licensing fee was when I opened my school. I’m still surprised how low the franchise fee is, even though it’s quite a bit more.
Since I owned my school before the franchising took place, I receive a few perks. I remember when I turned in my franchise agreement to Kuk Sa Nim, he said, “Good. Good. Make you like Master, eh?”
A lot of school owners at that time though didn’t feel that way. I’m not sure why.
Several instructors contacted me and tried to convince me to question the Association. They were more concerned about their bottom line, I think than about what was best for the WKSA. One of them called several times and wrote long emails detailing his issues. I remember he worried about the “authorized supplier” clause, where we would only be able to purchase uniforms and belts from certain vendors. He told me that he had a source for white belt uniforms for less than $5. I said that I wouldn’t want my students to be seen in $5 uniforms.
He, and a lot of much better instructors and martial artists, decided to leave the association. They all had their reasons, I’m sure. I wish the best for them, but I can tell you that the World Kuk Sool Association is populated with the best people who I know of on the planet. I’m continually amazed and grateful whenever I’m with them.
Several years after my promotion to second degree, I took the issue of having no instructor into my own hands. I had met Sabum Nim (now Kwan Jang Nim) Ben Mitchell several times over the years. He owns the school in Peoria, Illinois. Since he was so far ahead of me in rank, we had never trained together at headquarters, but he always made a point to come and say hello, or welcome me when I arrived at events. In case you don’t know me, it would be fair to say that I’m not exactly a social butterfly. To have someone come and break the ice, to welcome me when I felt alone, was incredibly powerful to me.
I happened to be assisting him in judging one time at the St. Louis tournament when he observed a problem in another ring and mentioned it to me. It triggered a conversation that led me to ask if he would consider taking me as his student. We talked, I assume he talked to headquarters, and eventually, it was settled.
I started making trips to Peoria every month or so, sometimes more often, sometimes much less. I became friends with the people in the Peoria and Pekin, Illinois schools. They are a great bunch of people and have made me a better instructor and martial artist. Our school, my students, are better because of our association with Peoria.
Around the same time I started making trips to Peoria, we had a radical shift in our facilities. I already mentioned our landlord not liking our tables and chairs, but he also didn’t like other things about us. There were little things that we complained about, like our ceiling collapsing. He didn’t like that. And he didn’t like us constantly asking to have the air conditioning fixed. He didn’t like our students using the restrooms.
He rented the spot across the hall from us to a call center. Almost immediately, someone (probably from the call center) broke the door glass leading into our hallway. It was safety glass, so it didn’t fall out, but he didn’t have it fixed right away either. Long story short, I refused to pay rent until it was fixed, and he refused to fix it until I “addressed other concerns.”
It wasn’t just the landlord. When the call center moved in, people started having things stolen from their cars. There were apparently drug deals going down in the parking lot. Cars were driving through the lot way too fast. We needed to go.
So we left.
We talked to the Senior Center, just a few blocks from our location, and temporarily moved there. It was nothing like our own, warm little space we had carved out before, but it was much safer, fairly well maintained, and friendly.
Temporary became several years. In fact, we’re still there. Even though we share the Small Meeting Room with Yoga, Euchre, and Neighborhood Meetings, among others, we’ve made it our own. Our flags and picture of Kuk Sa Nim are hanging, along with my school license.
Not having a sign has hurt us. We’re kind of invisible, and even if we had a sign, we’re tucked away in a neighborhood with very little traffic. We lost some students when we moved, and growth, never fast, slowed way down.
So, twelve years have come and gone. I was nervous the first few years. It felt like we had to fight for our place in the association, and once won, we had to defend it. By 2009 we had enough students to get Kuk Sa Nim to add us to the Seminar Tour, but right after that, things took a severe downward turn. We’ve spent years fighting our way back, and maybe we’re finally getting there.
We have two students getting ready to test for Blackbelt who never set foot in the old school. We have two more who were there testing for Second Degree. Last summer I promoted to Third Degree and my two youngest, who don’t remember a time in their lives when they didn’t practice Kuk Sool, promoted to Second Degree.
What will the next twelve years bring?
I have a lot of ideas. Goals. Maybe I’ll write about them later, but they would just sound crazy at this point. I just wrote a letter to the school board offering to teach all the teachers in Muncie at no charge. I don’t know if they’ll broadcast that or not. It will take serious logistics work if any number of them want to participate; and I really, REALLY hope they do.
There’s a lot more work to do before I can say we’ve achieved our mission of making Muncie a better place. But I’m pretty sure that we’re getting there.