My first meeting with Kwan Jang Nim (Grandmaster) H. C. Hwang was Friday night, 29 April 2005. I drove with Master Bannard and his children to Myrtle Beach for the Spring Dan testing on Saturday. There was a Dan clinic that night (Friday).
Due to traffic we got into Myrtle Beach later than expected, so there was no time to check in to our respective hotels prior to taking Master Bannard to the clinic. So we drove straight to the clinic and proceeded to move all our luggage from the bed of the truck into the cab (I drive a Toyota Tacoma Xtracab truck). [The school is in a good area, but I was NOT leaving my luggage in the open, nor was Master Bannard.] Since I had all our luggage I couldn't leave.
Some of the seniors weren't pleased that I was there, as it was a Dan clinic, and I'm currently an 8th Gup (Orange belt). But the situation was explained, and since I was more than willing to stay out of the way, things smoothed over quickly.
Kwan Jang Nim Hwang arrived promptly at 8PM, and after a few minutes of hellos we lined up, with Sean (Master Bannard's son) and me off on the side. Instead of a workout Kwan Jang Nim presented an update on the President's Vision Tour. Sean and I were invited to join the group, sitting at the back. That was very gracious of Kwan Jang Nim, especially as I was planning on staying as much out of the way as possible.
Kwan Jang Nim H. C. Hwang made a good first impression on me. He showed no surprise that an 8th Gup was at the Dan clinic, and was very polite.
Then he started talking about the Vision Tour, asking questions about different parts of Soo Bahk Do. He spoke quietly and evenly, but with a surprising passion. My first thought was that he really believes in what he's talking about. [Side note: I'm not going to describe the Vision Tour here -- anyone desiring information about it can navigate to the Soo Bahk Do USA web site.]
So far Kwan Jang Nim totally surprised me.
Before I go any farther, let me define my expectations. I did NOT expect much. I've had the opportunity to meet a number of high ranking martial artists of various styles over the years, and most did not impress me after the first minute. Yes, they could do impressive physical things, but most did a poor job of living up to their style's creed. Minor concepts such as respect, honor, and humility typically fell by the wayside as they rose in rank.
The two problems I encountered most are arrogance and a sense of superiority. An unfortunate number of martial artists, regardless of style, develop an overwhelming sense of arrogance at some point. Part of this is a sense of their "position", a false sense of superiority over those of lesser rank.
One "master" I met a couple of years ago at a tournament appeared to be very concerned about his dignity. He was a bit short with people (maybe brusque is a better word), and seemed very much taken with his position. He appeared to feel the need to remind everyone who and what he was.
Kwan Jang Nim, on the other hand, appeared dignified rather than concerned with his dignity. He was unfailingly polite to everyone, and appeared carefree regarding his status as the head of one of the world's largest martial arts organization. He knew who he was and that was all that mattered. He appears comfortable in his position and has no need to remind anyone of it.
The above is MY perception of Kwan Jang Nim. His reality and motives may be totally different, but that is how he came across to me.
Following the presentation Kwan Jang Nim led the Dan members in a short workout, doing basics. From a certain point of view it was comical to see him leading Masters (4th Dan and up) in doing low blocks, high block, middle punches, etc. The lowest ranking member of the class had been practicing Soo Bahk Do for at least 4 year, while the masters all had a minimum of 13 years under their belts, and some like Master Bannard had 30+ years of practice. Yet Kwan Jang Nim led the class as if he was teaching white belts.
Some would undoubtedly be insulted by such treatment. Others, with more common sense than concern for dignity, would realize the purpose behind this. The students in this class are the people responsible for teaching Soo Bahk Do in Region 3 (mid-Atlantic). Periodically refreshing everyone's memory of exactly how to do the basic techniques keeps everyone on the same page. This way I can go to Master Brown's or Master Donnelly's schools (or anyone else's) and they will teach SBD the same as Master Bannard. There will be no correction of variations.
Even in a small area a martial art can get fragmented into "dialects" very easily. If the chief instructor for the area isn't paying attention minor variations will creep in, and in a few short years the techniques of one school will be different from those taught in a school 10 miles away.
It says a lot for that group of Dans that none even blinked at such treatment. Respect and humility are practiced by those who preach it. Kwan Jang Nim Hwang's passion for Soo Bahk Do is clearly shared by his students, and transmitted to their students as well.
There was a clinic for all members prior to the Dan testing Saturday morning. Due to my getting lost I missed most of it, but arrived for the last 15 minutes. It was basically the same presentation as the night before, modified slightly for the audience. Kwan Jang Nim asked questions of the children in the audience rather than Dan members, which made for some very funny comments. Out of the mouths of babes ...
Watching him interact with the children was nice. He used the same quiet touch he did with the adults. Soo Bahk Do etiquette requires being recognized prior to speaking, then bowing, speaking, and bowing again. One of the kids needed a bit of correction on his bowing. Kwan Jang Nim corrected the child and had him bow correctly, but did it without embarrassing the child. As the old saying goes, to see how nice a person really is, watch how they treat waitresses and children.
Later there was a cookout at a state park. While I didn't have an opportunity to speak with Kwan Jang Nim there, I did have a chance to watch the interactions of others in an informal situation. Everyone was relaxed, and as a new comer I was included, as were the non-SBD practitioner family members who also attended. It was a nice comfortable feeling.
Later that evening a group met for dinner at a bar, grill, and sushi house. The accommodations were not exactly perfect, fitting a group of 22 people in was difficult, and the service was slow and sporadic. But everyone had fun anyway! I certainly did.
I did have a chance to speak with Kwan Jang Nim that evening. While we chatted initially about inconsequential things we did get around to the Vision Tour. Again, he spoke with passion as we discussed various points.
One thing stands out regarding the Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation. While the upper ranks are obviously making money off this enterprise, making money isn't their sole concern. Like Kwan Jang Nim Hwang, each is very passionate about Soo Bahk Do. It's rather refreshing to see a focus that isn't solely on the money making aspects of martial arts.
Copyright 1999-2008 Bryan Fazekas