Testimonial for Siljun Dobup Private Lessons By Jonathan D. Lupkin, Attorney at law
I wear many hats. I am a lawyer practicing in the unforgiving world of New York City business litigation, a husband of twenty years to a very special woman and the father of four extraordinary daughters. With obligations owed to so many others, coming to the do-jang each week has been nothing short of therapeutic. Upon crossing the threshold, I leave the rest of the day behind me and focus on only one thing – learning to master the sword. Starting, as I did, to train at the age of 42, I felt that the need for an intensive “jump start.” For me, private lessons with Grand Master Seong and Master Min were the answer. The one-on-one training enabled me to focus intensely on my own unique obstacles to progressing in the martial arts. When I began, I found it challenging to perform even the most rudimentary of maneuvers. But Masters Seong and Min were infinitely patient with me and my infamous lack of coordination. Fast forward just a few months and, thanks to the masters’ painstaking attention to detail, I quickly progressed through the ranks, overcame my awkwardness and earned my first degree black belt — an accomplishment that would have taken me at least two years had I trained in a group setting. I am exceedingly grateful to Grand Master Seong and Master Min for acting as my private guides to the elegant art of the sword and enabling me to study and train at a level I would have thought impossible just a short time ago.
What Siljun Dobup Means to Me by Michael V. Macri, M.D.
I was always interested in the Martial Arts as a young boy I was close to black belt twice in my life.I studied a form of Okinawan Karate during my early teen years until 18 years old, unfortunately at that point it was off to college and premedical studies and Karate was put on hold. I studied the Goju form of Karate while in medical school and was quite involved. It was a great release from the tensions of medical school but again medical school came to an end and it was time for residency. So Karate was put on hold again. In the blink of an eye… residency, the practice of medicine, buying a home ( mortgage), marriage and then children 30 years passed by and I am now middle aged. I felt my stamina dwindling, alot of aches and pains beginning that despite an active lifestyle and occasional advil nothing made the aches better. I have always been drawn to weaponry both firearms and edged weapons. In fact, I think my choosing surgery within medicine relates to the practice of precisely cutting something using blade geometry to cure it. Thus my natural attraction. I trained in fencing about 10 years ago and enjoyed it but found it somewhat crude and lacking in discipline and spirituality. I came to the conclusion that if I could study the martial arts again and perhaps incorporate fencing or sword work might be what I was looking for. So I made an appointment to meet Master Seong. Upon meeting him. I didn’t know anything about Kendo much less Siljun Dobup. He was patient in explaining what these styles were and the training it would require.. I was somewhat apprehensive, thinking of Karate, being lined up with all the young adolescent students at the peak of their performance and me … 50 something in less than prime shape.. I asked for private lessons to bring me up to speed to get into a class with younger kendoists. He mentioned Sword training- Siljun Dobup was his recommendation. Understanding the martial way (unquestioning) I figured he knew best what I needed and proceeded to follow his advice… I had no idea for how long I would do it or what level could be obtained. He mentioned “Black Belt” to me, at the time, it was like mentioning a marathon to a person use to walking up the block. I couldn’t even picture going through a whole class without a rest much less attaining the rank of Black Belt that eluded me in the past (when I was in much better shape). He also mentioned I would see it through since ” the more you participate in Siljun Dobup .. the more you’ll love to work at it”.. Again understanding the martial way … I don’t know how he knew this but I was willing to follow whatever he thought would be “right for me”. Till this day I still don’t know how Master Seong knew this about me! The first few classes were fun but very foreign. I felt clumsy but the thought of whipping that sword around naturally peaked my interest. Learning something as simple as moving forward and back and “Eight Forms” took quite a while but was obtainable. Next the Cutting forms…. that’s when things really started to get interesting …. using the blade to cut from different positions and at different angles really got me hooked. At that point I really knew I loved this discipline. When I learned Set Ji ( the Earth) I remember Master Seong’s talk of how I must let go and be open to what he was about to show me and accept it. If he said it was white ( even though of black color)… I was to accept it as white. He taught me how to develop my” Chi engergy”, and how to meditate… All of this were building blocks to getting me to let go, concentrate and enable me to develop my inner Chi power. This really had a profound effect on me. I was convinced I made the right move studying Siljun Dobup. It took a while to get down the breating of Set Ji but as my Chi increased my breathing slowed down. Master Seong encouraged me to harness my Chi energy:”fire” on the inside and “ice” on the outside, The first time he invited me to Tameshigiri practice (mat cutting) I thought now… function follows form.. to actually apply the cutting techniques to what I’ve learned was outstanding. Set Su ( water) made me develop my “flow” of the sword.. More and more as I was practicing I started thinking about movement and harmony. This progressed up to my Black Belt test for first dan …I noticed my thoughts were of cutting .. but more of flow and movement while cutting.I also began extreme concentration and “Moshin”, mind of no mind -having a mind clear of other thoughts. That is, a mind not fixed or occupied by thought or emotion and thus open to everything. Achieving my Black Belt first dan was a monumental achievement for me especially since I was close two other times in my life, however, this time at the age of 52. I realize now that I achieved first dan its a stepping stone to a road further up the mountain. My goals going forward are to train intensively, develop “Moshin” and to effect these changes in my extremely hectic daily life, to reflect the same mindset as when I practice Siljun Dobup. It is my hope to practice the “Way of the Sword” for the rest of my days.
Master Siljun Dobup Michael V. Macri, M.D.
I can’t believe my journey in Siljin Dobup has brought me to this level. Finally my mind and body andspirit work together as one. This was a long journey that has trained my mind to be neutral and have Moshin “No mind” while doing forms. I have alot to be thankful for meeting Master Jin Seong who was very patient with me from the beginning. I was always a good athlete despite being in poor condition and middle aged when I started. As mentioned in my previous essays I trained extensively 2 private sword lessons, 2 group lessons, 1 teaching session and 2-3 group Kumdo lessons a week. I immersed myself in body and mind in learning “the way of the sword”.. I feel this was necessary since I had to overcome my poor previous conditioning and middle aged status. Master Seong was very supportive since I had my doubts about being able to overcome the age hurtle but he always encouraged me that my mind would overcome my age. I have always had a strong spirit but now feel that the body, mind and spirit are one. His encouragement was just that…. He led me to the well and it was up to me to drink the water.
I have a deep passion for Siljin Dobup. I believe it shows. Now that I am at an advanced level I view other styles and note they are too fixed and don’t have enough variety. I love the fact that there are different stabs, slashes and strikes and sheathing techniques in Siljin Dobup and that I can practice virtually anywhere. I love practicing at home, office (in between patients) and of course in the Dojang.
I look at Set Ji (earth) as the beginning form (8 directional cuts) upon which all other forms are based. In Set Ji we start by “putting down the self”. We empty what we already have to accept new things. Set Soo (water) is a flowing form everything is open and fine my mindset is of water flowing down a river. The mind becomes flexible like water and there is an opening of the mind to accept new possibilities. Set Pung (wind) is abrupt, quick movements with conservation of movement in cutting and sheathing. By doing so we cut out what isn’t necessary and make room to insert positive Chi energy of Set Hwa. Set Hwa (fire) we build up positive Chi energy. I had a lot of trouble with this form since I was able to build up chi energy but sometimes too much fire and not enough ice. My mind has enabled me to overcome this now, but it took a lot of work and breathing! Set Cheon (Sky) covers everything, good, bad, hot, cold, beautiful, ugly everything harmonizes under the Sky. Everything has a place. In Set Cheon you start controlling your mind and realize you are the master of your mind. This took the longest since the manner in doing the form Set Ji#1, Set Soo #1, Set Pung #1, Set Hwa #1, Set Cheon #1 was a continuation of all the forms in cutting sequence i.e. Left to right overhead diagonal cuts in #1, right to left overhead diagonal cuts in #2, on up. I view Set Cheon differently since all the forms come together and I see their connection to each other.
Having come full circle the most important part of the sword I feel is the mind. There is a saying “Look at the Soul, to see the Sword”, i.e., Bad Soul. Bad Sword… Good Soul, Good Sword. The Sword can reflect many good things and can be an instrument for meditation. I feel that by reaching Master Level in Siljin Dobup my mind is free to be open to anything and I am the master of my mind. Having arrived at Master Level is a definite milestone but I realize there is a long journey in front of me as a Master. It is my wish to continue the trip up the mountain in learning “the way of the sword”.
Gary E. Stern – Kumdo 2nd Dan, Attorney
It is not difficult for me to explain, precisely, what Kumdo and the achievement of chodan means to me. First, it says to me that I have been privileged to study with special teachers who have enabled me to reach the first significant Kumdo milestone. Secondly, it reinforces the understanding that I have been fortunate to have classmates who were patient enough to train with me despite my awkwardness and lack of skill. And lastly, it has changed my life by giving a new structure and purpose to my very existence. Kumdo has become part of the fabric of my person and I can’t imagine what my life would be without it being part of my routine.
When I began my Kumdo journey I was not sure that I could physically do what would be asked of me. I knew that I possessed the willingness and the determination to learn, but I was concerned that my body was less supple than my mind. It soon became clear that my fear was well founded. The Kumdo being taught to my classmates woulde been more than I could sustain, but my study did not come to an abrupt end. Instead, Master Seong conceived of a way for me to find a place in Kumdo (be it somewhat apart from the others).
Approximately three months into my Kumdo journey, Master Seong, without comment, took away my 39 Jukdo and returned with a 37 and a much shorter sword. He stood in an unfamiliar stance and did a few moves holding one sword in each hand. I could sense that he truly believed that I could learn what he was showing me, and I was flattered that he was willing to teach me. When Sabumnin handed me the two swords, he said “you will learn”. It was clear he wasn’t asking me to try, he was telling me that I could, and would, learn the two sword technique. But more important, he made me believe that I could do it, despite the fact that I was still so new to Kumdo that my feet were blistered and never seemed to heal.
Over the last two years I have begun to realize how privileged I am to be able to study at Sung Moo Kwan and to learn from Master Seong. The fact that I am three times older than most students and limited in what my body will allow me to do – is of no moment. Success in competition has allowed me to appreciate that I have been given the skills to perform, if I am willing to work to hone them. Sabumnim challenges me, each class, to do more than I think I can do and I have endeavored to never let him down. Although, I have never said it to him, I think that he knows that I would rather drop from exhaustion than disappoint him. I may not have done 1000 perfect quick step at the chodan grading, but I did them from the instant everyone started to the final “muhri”.
I have had to attend many more classes than my fellow students to reach the modest achievement of chodan. I surmise that I have read more Kendo books and articles than any of my Kumdo peers. I am not likely to get faster or stronger, but, I can get smarter. I am not only grateful for the attention of Sabumnim, but to my classmates (most of whom are younger than my children) who have accepted me and allowed me to be part of their world. For that, I am humbled and most appreciative.
Kumdo class is the highlight of my week. The realization that I have found a place where I am welcome and where I can challenge myself to learn new things about Kumdo and myself, is the essence of what Kumdo means to me. I don’t know that I will ever have the skill to teach Kumdo to others, but I could surely convey that with Sabumnim’s guidance and a willingness to work, significant achievement is possible regardless of how athletic you may (or may not) be. Showing up for class and giving all that you have – is what is required. From my perspective, I owe Sabumnim and my classmates, nothing less than my best effort. Applying the same approach to the rest of life is assured to meet with the same result.