There is a great book by David Lowry called Autumn Lightning. It is the story of a young boy who is interested in learning sword fighting and how he came to meet his Master and learn bushido. I recommend it to anyone considering training in martial arts.
The beginning of my story is this:
I met Grandmaster Choi in the summer of 1979. I was when I was just 16 years of age. It was during the Iranian hostage crisis. I was often mistaken for an Iranian kid and was regularly picked on and bullied. I was in fights in school, at the local McDonald's, and almost everywhere I went. Even when I was with friends, they would not back me up. Some friends!
I decided then and there I was not going to take it anymore and was going to learn how to fight. I knew a classmate who was taking "Korean karate" classes and got him to convince my parents to let me try the classes.
I still remember my first private lesson, in my brand new uniform and white belt, with Kwanjangnim Choi. At that time he was a seven dan with a huge following of students. He taught me all my kicks, punches and first form. Then I joined the Class.
The Class was fantastic. There would be at least fifty students in class who would thunder up and down the lines led by the senior black belts. Master Choi would then lead class with a lightning fast pace and spirit. In his limited English, he would call out techniques, combination and explain how to get more power out of the body.
At the end of his lesson, we would pair off against a row of black belts for sparring. In those days, there were no gloves, foot protection or helmets. We squared off against the black belts and were told to fight. It was a revelation. Here I was being allowed to fight and learn to defend myself. I found myself bruised, battered but learning each day. I was so happy.
The most interesting thing happened next. I stopped fighting in school. I stopped fighting on the streets. I stopped fighting everyone even when they tried to bully me. What changed?
Well for one, I was tired and sore from the black belt matches. More importantly, I did not feel the need to hit back every time someone tried to provoke me. I learned discipline. I learned to defend myself with words. I realized I did not need to fight to prove myself. I was becoming a martial artist.
Next I met Grandmaster Robert Zuczek in his South River branch school for GM Choi. Back then he was in his late 20's and had just earned his 2 dan. Master Robert, as we affectionately called him, became my primary instructor. I went to class 3-5 times per week.
Classes here were more intimate, 10-15 students, held in a rented Knights of Columbus boxing hall. Here I honed my basic skills advancing from the back row to the front lines.
Over 5 formative years, I grew as a boy into a man and learned the fundamentals of the way that has sustained me over 40 years.
Our cadre of students learned to compete in tournaments and WIN. Master Robert was an expert of weapons, breaking and fighting. He showed us how to present ourselves at tournaments and we WON. I had never won anything more than little league participation trophies before. And now I was winning competitions against fighters.
It was a time of great changes: finishing high school, starting college, and learning new things every day. Those changes formed the basis of my love of teaching.