Black Belt Society

I got started in Tang Soo Do back in the good old days of 1993. I was interested in getting fit, and started looking around for something to do. I happened to see a flier at Caltech (California Institure of Technology) advertising a strange martial art called Tang Soo Do. The schedule for the classes was quite convenient. It was after work, and located on campus. Besides, I had always been interested in the martial arts, but never got around to enrolling in any classes, so here was my opportunity.

I showed up to my first class eager to go. I thought I was in relatively decent shape and was ready. There were about ten of us new beginners. For warm ups, the senior students led us on a run outside on the field barefoot, had us do jumping jacks, pushups, situps, and stretches. When we got back into the gym, we learned the front stance, low block, center punch, and front kick. I remember thinking at the time, “Hey, this isn’t so bad. It’s fun. I can handle this workout.”

Mr. Lawrence Chu
The following morning I could hardly move.

For the month that followed, I hurt from head to toe. It took that long for my body to adjust to the rigors of the classes. That fact alone was enough to encourage me to continue. I was getting stronger, and my endurance went up. Week after week, it became a habit to work out. Time went by in a blur, and I got promoted from one rank to the next. There were plenty of times when the workout was pretty strenuous, and I would think to myself, “Why on Earth are you doing this? Walk away!” Yet I would end up going back to the next class, and having the same entertaining conversation with myself, “Why?”.

Shortly after I became Cho Dan Bo (one level below black belt) I moved to the Bay Area in pursuit of a job. I stopped training for a while. I began to feel that something was missing. I started getting back into training in fits and starts with another Tang Soo Do black belt, Kelly Goodwin. We trained in the park whenever the weather permitted, but I really needed a school with a training floor and a roof. I met Mr. David Bell through Ms. Goodwin, and enrolled at his school, the First Tang Soo Do of Fremont.

For the next six months I learned a different “take” on Tang Soo Do. The techniques were pretty much the same, but more emphasis was put on breathing patterns to go with the techniques. Also, it was drummed into me to visualize an opponent whenever doing a technique, whether in drills or hyungs (solo form movements). This was the Mind, Body, and Spirit connection. The idea was that through controlling the mind, it was possible to control the body, and vice versa. The connection between the two was through the breath, which is an expression of the spirit. By proper breath discipline, one can focus the mind and energize the body. Done consistently, this improved awareness, increased endurance, and create a calm mind.

It was initially hard for me to grasp all these concepts at once, and it was like starting at white belt level all over again. But six months after I joined First Tang Soo Do of Fremont, I tested and was promoted to black belt. Since my promotion, I have taken on more teaching duties at Fremont and at the San Francisco Peninsula Tang Soo Do, a school that my old friend Kelly Goodwin started at SRI International. I still can’t claim to understand everything about Mind, Body, and Spirit, but my teaching duties has greatly helped. For starters, my presentation skills in front of a crowd has improved, but more importantly, being able to teach a technique and see the student struggle with it, forces me to understand the techniques and their applications on a deeper level. I also see what anyone is capable of doing when proper mental concentration, proper breathing, and proper technique are put together.

My current attitude towards training is to always look for something to focus on. I may work on perfecting a technique during one class, and on another day focus on breathing, or visualizing an opponent. The goal is to keep it interesting and to keep improving at all levels. I have discovered many useful insights by this approach, and I try to pass it on to my students.

Tang Soo Do has been a part of me for about six years as of this writing. I have learned a lot and experienced a lot. I look forward to learning more, and to gain greater understanding. Tang Soo!

Mr. Chu teachs at The San Francisco Peninsula Tang Soo Do