Grandmaster Gedo Chang instructing students in Illinois

Hapkido Update II: ‘Tis but a scratch!

I’ve been studying Hapkido for little over a year and a half now, and after weekly training we get usually three periods in the year where our 8th-Dan Grandmaster, Kwanjangnim Gedo Chang, comes to the UK and tests us.

Without wishing to be seem disrespectful, I must preface what I’m about to say with the opinion that he is a ‘Miagi-esque’ wise old man who preaches nothing but love and modesty. He is truly an envoy of peace.

That being said, I genuinely can’t tell if Grandmaster Chang really likes me or really hates me.

(I’m told by my instructor “Neither”, and by black belts that he doesn’t hate me, rather is more likely “quite curious about you!” — but this is difficult to convey in snappy, humourous writings).

M’Lud, Exhibit ‘A’

At my last rank test, I was caught off guard. I was called to spar with someone of the same ability of me, and more or less the same height. This is perfectly acceptable and normal. This I expected. I gave it 110% and really pushed myself. Immediately after this flurry of fists and feet, I was called again, not only against somebody of a much higher grade, but of a much shorter stature.

“Adam.. versus.. Hannah.” — Grandmaster Chang

I felt a lump in my throat as my name was called to spar against our resident whirlwind, Hannah. If you’ve read ‘Of Mice and Men’, try to imagine Lenny facing off against Curly, but instead of boxing, feet are flying everywhere. That, and Curly isn’t an utter prick.

I held my own. I’m damn proud of that. I sit down and begin to reclaim the oxygen I feel like I’ve now earned.

“Adam.. versus.. Jennah” — Grandmaster Chang

Oh for feck’s sake.

That’s three in a row, and whilst Jennah is thoroughly lovely, and a belt below me, half the London students are smirking; not only is she also half my height (and probably half my weight), she’s a black belt in another discipline, the name of which currently escapes me, but I know it involves WEAPONS. Clearly I am about to have the floor wiped with me, an Adam-shaped imprint to grace the mat shortly. Fortunately after Jennah, I went through no further punishment. Jokingly, My instructor warned me to expect a lot more of that in future tests. I figured for my villainous role in these David vs Goliath matchups, the die had been cast.

The plaintiff would like to present Exhibit ‘B’

This time I decided I was going to be prepared. Or so I’d arrogantly thought.

Pumped up and ready to rock, I go into the examination. My forms were comfortable (although I confess one slightly sloppy), my techniques had no issue. I get through everything and mentally prepare for the impending sparring. Not before the Grandmaster has a curveball for me, however. One of my fellow students, and only a single belt higher, Aurimas, is due to test his locking and manipulation techniques. The catch however, is that there doesn’t appear to be anyone tall enough for him to do this successfully, with the exception of myself, and a very pleasant fellow senior student called James, who is sat next to me.

The following is paraphrased, as I was somewhat engaged in panicking.

“We need tall person. Uhhhh. Adam. Adam.” — Grandmaster Chang

My eyes go wide. I do not know this set of skills. I wouldn’t have to perform them, but I would have to mitigate the damage of them being done to me. I look comically gormless and point a silent enquiring finger at myself. Thankfully my Saboumnim (Instructor) has my back. She whispers a quiet word to the Grandmaster.

“Sir, Adam hasn’t learned this set, it wouldn’t be fair to use him.” — Master Parlour

The briefest sigh of relief.

“ Adam. Come up.” — Grandmaster Chang

What.

Both Master Parlour and Mr Watson convene toward Grandmaster Chang with the utmost respect for etiquette. He is after all, not only their superior, but also their instructor; but surely he’s not about to let an inexperienced student play the role of essentially crash-test dummy. There is hushed conversation, calls for James to rightly come forward (which to his credit he springs into action), but ultimately they must defer to the Grandmaster’s decision.

Up I go.

Aurimas is just ever so slightly taller than I am, so there’s no denying it making physiological sense that I should be his opponent, but when James is almost as tall as me, and senior to both myself and Aurimas, I’m not seeing the logic. All I know at this point are two very specific tenets of the Academy I train at:

  1. The instructor is to be completely obeyed.
  2. The senior belts are to love the lower belts; the lower belts should respect the senior belts.

Up I go.

The next several minutes are devoted to Aurimas absolutely flooring me in a variety of ways I can only hopelessly predict based on my current training. For the most part, I felt I was rather successful in falling ‘correctly’. The only technique where this wasn’t the case involved my opponent being restrained (as if being handcuffed), breaking from that hold, dropping to his arse, and (without looking), yanking my ankles out from beneath me.

I don’t know, dear friend and reader, if you have ever seen a 6,7" man unceremoniously dragged by the ankles, but I assure you it is not a majestic image. If I’m not mistaken, what I should have done was let the impact roll off my coccyx, up my back and the brunt of the force dissipate around the shoulders. Instead, I fell to my arse, the impact shot up my spine and I slammed the back of my head into the mat.

For a couple of particular black belts who may be reading, I am both wonderfully amused, and now somewhat appreciative of your conflicts involving ‘mat cuddles’.

Before too long, my journey into the unknown was over, and a seat at the edge of the mat and the opportunity to reclaim my breath was my reward. I had a hunch the sagely Grandmaster wasn’t done with me yet. I was right.

Prediction and Expectation

You might think that I perhaps assumed that I had earned some brownie points in my participation with Aurimas. I didn’t assume. I would have been very surprised if I wasn’t called up again to spar with anyone after the initial traditional session of one-step sparring against an opponent of my own grade.

“Green Belts, sit down. Not Adam..” — Grandmaster Chang

Here it comes.

“Adam.. Aurimas. One Step.” — Grandmaster Chang

I was both amused and somewhat enthusiastic that we were paired up once again; to call what was going through my head as ‘revenge’ would be inaccurate, and cast somewhat of a disapproving cloud upon your dear narrator. That said, knowing my impressive leg-span and semi-frequent ability to kick rather high, I confess (as much as I am considerably friendly with Aurimas) I couldn’t help but think “Come on then, fecking hav’ it, yer git!”.

This is absolutely not the correct way to think, but oh my is it cathartic. Strictly speaking, I should leave all ego at the door when entering the dojang (training hall). Even if paired with black belts, there’s occasionally a smirk on my face. Attaining ‘mu-shin’, the sensation of absolute concentration and being free of anger, fear or ego.. that is something I have yet to master, and suspect I won’t for some time.

Should I have passed this examination, I will have earned my blue belt, and will move on to full-fledged sparring. Until then, this is very much what mine and Aurimas’ flailing looks like:

For those less aware, I am the heavier-set fellow.

Post-Grading

As is tradition, after the grading is a trip to the pub. The Barman did not appreciate my request for a quad JD Honeyed.

“I’m not serving you a quad, pal.” — Bartender at Southwark’s ‘Union Jack’ pub.

I’m quick to a solution. I ask for two doubles, in the same glass. He’s still not convinced. I can only offer the truth of events:

“Y’see that giant blonde bloke in the corner? He’s just thrown me to the floor a good seven or eight times. Then, in front of all my peers, teachers, and welcomed guests, I had to fight him.”

I’m served a quad Jack Daniels Honeyed.

A couple of the senior belts found me and congratulated me on my initial pairing with Aurimas. Without wishing to be arrogant, I understand what I did was a good thing, but for all the words like ‘brave’ and ‘impressive’ that were gifted to me, all I could think of was none of these; I simply followed what the etiquette dictated. I obeyed my instructors. No more, no less.

I’ve since been back to class, only to have Saboumnim pull me to one side.

Apparently a fair number of people approached her about Aurimas and I testing his techniques. I don’t know how frequent such situations occur, but I’m told there were many compliments not only for my courage and dedication (their words), but also Aurimas’ control. He could have absolutely gone hard and done some real damage in the examination, and huge credit to him, he was one of the best opponents I could hope to have in a situation that I am thoroughly unfamiliar with. I’m also told by James that Saboumnim had a similar micro-lecture for an earlier class that I wasn’t present for.

Back to my original query however. If Grandmaster Chang does indeed favour my progress, then fantastic. If he doesn’t, he’s giving me a good amount of opportunities to prove my resolve and enthusiasm for the Academy.

Regardless of which, I appreciate being appreciated.

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