Leaders. Some strive to become leaders and others, well, they just are. Leadership is a skill that can be learned and developed, but the best leaders, in my opinion, have it ingrained into their being. It's who they are, and it's what they do. Strength and knowledge, wrapped in wisdom and empathy, that continues to develop over time through action, intent, study, hardship and success.
The Moo Duk Kwan® Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa (weeklong master test) hosts the best instructors in the world. The room is filled with Moo Duk Kwan martial art practitioners, teachers and leaders with decades of experience who willingly donate their time to strengthen the art by shaping the next generation of leaders. Visitors and candidates work hard to improve their skills and model their teaching after the instructors. The training is second to none, and the process is finely tuned. The training is difficult yet rewarding, and the days blend together. The days of the week are discarded, and time is recorded as “Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, 4 Days Left, 3 Days Left, 2 Days Left, Last Day”
The 2022 Shim Sa in Tulsa, Oklahoma started Friday evening, and by Tuesday morning (“4 Days Left”), the candidates had completed nearly 50 hours of the test.
The previous day, we had completed the well-known “basics class” and were combating the stiff bodies and discomfort with ibuprofen and intent.
This morning, we were in the Yuk Ro Hyung (forms) class and needed some extra refinement with Joong Jul, the second form in the series.
The bar was set, and we needed to meet it as a group by keeping our chain of command in intent, breath, movement philosophy and low stances.
We were being molded into better practitioners and preservers of the art with sweat running down our faces and legs shaking from the effort. The repetition was becoming more and more difficult, challenging and strengthening our Shim Gung (spirit).
Quietly, the most senior individual in our organization and leader of leaders, our Kwan Jang Nim, stepped in front of the group providing quiet assurance and guidance as we performed repetition after repetition of the form.
It was an honor to be able to do the form with him leading us. He knew what we needed, when we needed it and provided for us a model of what was expected, rep after rep.
His presence lifted spirits, strengthened resolve and improved the performance of everyone in the room.
I am honored and blessed to have been able to take part in this amazing event. It was a great experience to strengthen connections with so many talented people and to continue to grow as a martial artist.
One of the biggest lessons I learned this week was about leadership, and that lesson was delivered without words. My legs were tired and shaking, my knees sore, my back was tight and hurting, sweat was running down my face, but when I looked over to see our Kwan Jang Nim doing the same reps, with deeper stances and better movement, I knew I could do better. The standard was achievable.
My spirit was energized as I was motivated to be a better version of myself in that instance. That is what leaders do. They lead by example; they understand what it takes to improve and provide a path to do it. They help others see their value and become better versions of themselves.
Our Kwan Jang Nim, H.C. Hwang, has leadership ingrained into his being. Every action, every story, every question is intentional and provides a lesson that can be applied to make us better Moo Do In (martial art practitioners) and better people. He never sets out to degrade but always to improve and elevate others. His ability to lead and teach is revealed in different ways: through quiet examples like he demonstrated during our form, through direct verbal communication like the conversation he had with the Yuk Dan candidates at the end of our presentation, or through a combination of both.
He is able to instruct beginners, advanced practitioners and instructors at the same time. A good example of this was on Day 3, Sunday morning, when he taught a class of 100+ practitioners from white belts to 8 and 9th Dans. He commanded the room with his calm, direct tone and Moo Geh (“Heaviness in Presentation; Weight of Being a Sa Bom”). Toward the end of the class, he had each group demonstrate the drill he had just taught, starting with the most senior practitioners and ending with the Gup members (color belts).
When the color belts first demonstrated, they did well, but there were some that had difficulty with the drill. Our Kwan Jang Nim addressed the room, using just the right tone, description and demonstration, showing the color belts (and all the seniors) precisely what the expectation was. On the next repetition, they all performed the drill correctly.
Directly, he told and showed the junior members what was expected. Indirectly, he modeled to all of us how to teach and how to lead. I was amazed at the results he achieved with the color belts and took to heart how he modeled what the expectations are for a Moo Duk Kwan Sa Bom (Master Level Instructor, teacher of teachers).
Thank you, Kwan Jang Nim Hwang, for your continued leadership and dedication to the art and to all of us, making us better versions of ourselves, so we can in turn do the same for others.