Between 5th-7th April 2019, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the first Europe-based Women in the Moo Duk Kwan Seminar Weekend in Paris, France. There were several reasons why I joined this event. One in particular was to train alongside Élodie Mollet SBN, a 5th Dan practitioner and Instructor in the Moo Duk Kwan of France, who has been a great source of inspiration for me ever since we first met a few years ago. After the Women’s Seminar, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to grab an interview with Mollet SBN for Beyond the Dojang. The theme of an environmental view to training emerged after a few iterations of the transcript. We settled on this term as a broad meaning for anything related to your surroundings. You will influence it and be influenced by it at different times, or simultaneously. In this interview, Mollet SBN shares with you many examples of how the environment has shaped her martial arts training.
Hi Mollet SBN, could you share how and when you discovered Soo Bahk Do?
I discovered Soo Bahk Do in 1995. I came from Grenoble – in the South East part of France, and was moving to Paris to study. Because of this, I was looking for a physical activity to do regularly. One day, as I was walking in the park I saw a man training his kids. I particularly noticed a little girl who was perhaps 5 years old. She was so cute kicking. I watched for several minutes, and then approached him to ask what he was doing. He told me he was practising Soo Bahk Do, and shared details about the days and times of the classes. It’s interesting that I’ve never seen this man since.
When I first went to see a class, the instructor Choi SBN was not there. Instead, one of his students was teaching. I returned to the dojang when Choi SBN returned to Paris from his visit to Korea. It was then that I became a student in Soo Bahk Do.
So, what was your main reason for joining, and did anything change over time?
The reason I joined was one of the reasons I hesitated to join. I found the training very military. I thought: ‘why is it so military? Maybe it is not for me’. Something did not fit well with the person I felt I was. When I attended Choi SBN’s class, something about the rigorous aspect of the class was natural. It’s something I’ve actually never thought about before. This is something that I still look for: to make the discipline natural.
I believe that making the discipline natural is very important to preserve the Art. Discipline could be considered as a way to organise the practice and increase the creation of an artistic dimension to our training. However, discipline isn’t the actual goal. For example, in our training guidelines, we’re advised that our energy needs to be released at a specific moment within our action. This can be seen through our shout (kiap), and also through our breathing. The discipline to do this therefore helps to organise our practice.
In general, what value has martial arts brought to your life?
The reason why I’ve been training has changed regularly over my 24 years of practice. I believe that it changes with the phase of your life, the changes of your body, your relationship with your friends in the dojang, with your instructors, but also the key moments of your training (e.g. seminars and competitions). However there is another way to answer your question: courage, patience, self-consciousness, self-control, and honesty. These are not only values that are learnt in the dojang. They are also values that I think each of us expects from human relations. To sum up, training helped me to realise there wasn’t a big difference between life within and outside the dojang. The dojang is a playground in which you explore the meaning of these values.
When was the first time you trained at home?
I trained at home almost from the beginning of my martial arts journey. When you’re at home, you can make one move at any moment and then your training begins. In other words, you don’t need to think “I’m ready to train and will put my do bok (uniform) on” – it just flows naturally. I still do it today, regardless of whether I’m at home or on holiday. Space matters. When I stay in a larger room, I move differently. For example, I often perform some hyung (form) sequences. In general, the space I have in Paris is quite small by comparison. I therefore assess the space available and adapt my movements and training to this.
Early in my training, my family would sometimes ask me to make a short Soo Bahk Do performance – similar to how young girls sometimes create choreographic dance routines. As a red belt, I remember demonstrating the hyung Chil Sung Sam Ro, for Christmas. I also performed the Lohai hyung for my younger sister’s wedding.
When you were without an instructor, how did you keep up with your training?
When my instructor left France, I was among the students who still continued to practise. I joined every opportunity I got to train in Europe – especially in Belgium and Greece. I continued to practise thanks to Zouraris SBN. For several years, he was my instructor.
Another thing that pushed me forward was that I made Soo Bahk Do recognised by the French State. This was through the Taekwondo Federation. I obtained this recognition in order to get the “Brevet d’État”- an official certification. It was a big and long effort, and included several written and teaching exams. Being considered as the Soo Bahk Do representative was the biggest responsibility I had. This was because the people around me didn’t know the Art. Therefore, everything I did embodied more what the Moo Duk Kwan represented rather than my identity as a student aspiring to be certified.
Another motivation, which has come from the Women’s seminar of this weekend, is a little different. It’s a very deep and rewarding feeling when you enable a student to experience something new and beautiful about her own skills that she didn’t know she could do before then. This happened recently with a 6 year old girl, who did a board break using an Ahp Cha Nut Gi (front snap kick) for her 9th gup test. She was amazed that she did it. This is a strong and very precious experience that shows you can push your limits further than you think. I really believe this is one of the main reasons why we should always be grateful to the instructors who supported us to achieve such breakthroughs.
At what point did you start your own dojang and why?
During my Cho Dan test, the Sa Boms asked me why I wanted to become a Cho Dan. I replied: ‘because I want to improve, I want to train and learn new things, and because I want to teach.’ After I gave this answer, I thought to myself: ‘why did I say that I want to teach?’ At that time, training for me was more important than teaching. So, I partly started my dojang because this is an expectation from the outside when you become a Cho Dan. People, the Sa Boms, and the seniors, expect you to start something. Also, in France at the time, there were few students. Most had left after our instructor had moved to the USA. Therefore, to continue what my instructor, Choi SBN, had started, it was now my turn to teach and explore further what I was doing as a practitioner.
When you start your own dojang, you have to maintain your standards because you have students. You spend more time teaching and less time training, but it’s very important to maintain your physical and technical skills. When I see my Cho Dans and the guys between 15 and 20 years old, it encourages me to maintain and improve my skills.
When you train outside the dojang, where is your favourite location?
I have a special place: it’s a garden. One part of the garden caters for young children. Another place is a vegetable area. I used to train between two trees, which was very nice. The trees were not very big but they were spectacular because they blossom during the winter.
These days, I prefer to train in a less exposed part of the same garden. Trees also bloom in this area, although it’s more common during springtime. The location that I train now has vegetables too. I also have got to know the women who collaborate to take care of the vegetables in the garden.
In reflection, public outdoor training places are very important to me. I feel that it demonstrates that we can share a place (without needing to own it), and enjoy the fact that within this place, many activities happen in harmony.
What makes training outdoors special to you?
Due to the current situation of Soo Bahk Do in France (we do not own any dojang but use gyms), we do not have an unlimited time to practice indoors. I therefore look for other opportunities for my own training. The easiest way to create these opportunities is to train outdoors.
In addition, some Chinese Kung Fu films inspired me – especially the ones that showed the young Jet Li, practicing forms with incredible skill, creating a beautiful sequence that covered the 4 seasons. Another, and perhaps a more ironical reason, is that the word ‘wife’ translated to Korean is ‘jib saram’. This literally translates as the ‘person of the house’ – and so a wife was meant to stay inside the home. It is therefore a perfect reason to go out and train!
A final reason why I really love to train outside is because in a big city like Paris, we often have very few opportunities to interact with our natural environment. Take the example of frequent metro commuters: few seem happy with their life, although they live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world! I believe that we should pay attention to keep our connection to the Earth. The shim gung (mental/spiritual) aspect of training, according to the founder and Kwan Jang Nim, is in the quality of our awareness of nature and of the outside world in general.
Finally, what advice can you give to others to encourage and inspire them to do training outside the dojang?
To make your training efficient, before following anyone, you need to follow yourself first: to follow your own desire, your own nature, your own expectations. So, you cannot follow yourself if you don’t train. When you train, you find something new about who you are, your own nature, and your expectations. So to me, training is really about experiencing yourself. Of course we are always experiencing ourselves, however, sometimes our social life does not allow us to feel it that way. For example: we feel that we ‘have to do something’ and end up forgetting that we always have an option. Only training, which is your own space, can give you the experience of yourself.
Thank you for your time.
Throughout this interview, Mollet SBN illustrates many ways we can adopt an environmental view to training. How many did you identify? Were there some you hadn’t considered before but have actually shaped (or is currently shaping) your martial arts journey? Share your thoughts by commenting below!
Interested to find out more about Mollet SBN’s dojang? Check it out here: Shiwol Do-jang.
Photos: © Élodie Mollet, Moo Duk Kwan France. All photos used with permission.