Over the martial arts journey, we undertake gradings (Shim Sa) to demonstrate the knowledge and skills that we have acquired through training. When we reach the Master level, the grading is known as the Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa. This is a grading that lasts several days. In this interview, I caught up with Elizabeth Mora SBN, a great practitioner and friend, to learn more about her recent experience at the Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa that took place in Argentina 2022 and how she applies her training to life.
Can you share your martial arts history with us?
I started martial arts in 1981, at the age of nine, training in Taekwondo with Guzman SBN. By the age of 15, I had obtained the 1st Dan in this martial art. It was in 1994, when I was the 2nd Dan in Taekwondo, that Guzman SBN was making the change from Taekwondo to Soo Bahk Do with Chang Shi Ja Hwang Kee. So, I followed my instructor to join Soo Bahk Do. In 1998, I transferred to Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan.
Did you find that there was any overlap between the two martial arts?
It was very difficult to make some changes because Taekwondo is more square in movements and more focused on combat. Last November, in my city, there was the Taekwondo world championship. It’s very different from when I was practising Taekwondo in the 80s. The most important difference is the use of the huri (hips) and the philosophy. Taekwondo today forgets much about the philosophy and many of the principles connected with the philosophy of the Tao. With Soo Bahk Do, we understand the Five Moo Do Values, the Eight Key Concepts and the application of these in classes. The most important thing for me now is the worldwide connections with all the practitioners – like with you, it’s so nice!
Can you describe more about your current training?
I train every day. Once a week, I attend the Ko Dan Ja class with Guzman SBN.
Guzman SBN is very passionate because he’s a perfectionist martial artist. He makes us repeat, repeat and repeat again to achieve the correct standarization (Il Kwon Seon). He’s like a father to me because I’ve known him since I was nine years old. Guzman SBN covers philosophy in the classes and uses connection with the personal energy. This is not only about the technique. We also focus on the connection with um and yang and the use of energy through Moo Pahl Dan Khum application.
Is there a particular part of training that is your favourite?
I love hyungs…I love everything! I love hyungs because I can connect every movement with the meaning of the movement and the energy of the movement. Also, I love the connection with history and philosophy. I use my imagination with some movements to consider different types of opponents. This is because hyung is a mental combat. There is a sense of perfection in the movement of the hyung performed. When we are in combat it’s different, but it’s using what we’re practising in the hyung.
What is your philosophy about being a martial artist?
It’s very deep, I think. When I was a girl, I started Taekwondo. Guzman SBN taught us about the history and the philosophy at the time with Taekwondo. But when he started to connect with Chang Shi Cha Hwang Kee and Kwan Jang Nim H.C. Hwang, I got to know more about the history and the Five Moo Do Values. For me it’s very important to connect my personal history with the history about the Moo Yei Do Bo Tong Ji. I try to apply the Eight Key Concepts and Five Moo Do Values in everything that I do.
You also have a background in sports psychology. Can you share why this area is very important for martial artists?
Sports psychology is a science to connect the thoughts, feelings and emotions of sports people, in this case for martial artists, because we need to understand all the fears, motivation, emotions and objectives. Martial arts practitioners in Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan are always thinking about the next test, the next tournament and the next goal. So, that’s an objective. We need to apply some small pieces of the sports psychology practise.
In my preparation for the Ko Dan Ja, Mondays and Tuesdays I went to the gym. On Wednesdays, I had two sessions with Guzman SBN: two hours in the morning and two hours at night. Thursdays I rested. Fridays, I went back to the gym. Saturdays I did a short run and on Sundays I rested. That was my schedule for the week because I needed to improve some techniques and I needed to improve my health and nutrition. This is the same way that I work with my athletes when they have a main objective, such as a tournament.
In martial arts, there is more focus on philosophy than in other sports. We are martial artists. We are not sports people. This is different, but sports psychology can be useful. It’s about training our mind.
Congratulations on your recent Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa! Can you share your experience?
There were six countries present for this Ko Dan Ja: Spain, Costa Rica, Mexico, United States, Argentina, and Korea. I reconnected with my friends. Some of us had all presented in Uruguay in 2016 for Sa Dan in the Ko Dan Ja. It was very nice to see them again and to see the Kwan Jang Nim H.C Hwang in person again was very important to me. Also, to be able to present my personal effort since the last Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa and to represent my country was special. And finally, thinking if Guzman SBN was watching me, I hoped that he was very proud and that I demonstrated the techniques as well as he had taught me.
To explain a bit more:
The Ko Dan Ja is a week of testing. On the first day, you arrive at the venue. At 5pm, the Shim Sa begins. It’s your first evaluation of the week and then every day is a test. The seniors are looking at you and notice if you’re on time. They look for your Moo Do discipline and observe if you are very good in international relationships – how you talk about everyone. In this Ko Dan Ja, we are Sa Dan candidates, O Dan candidates, Yuk Dan candidates and Chil Dan candidates. The presentations are at a very high level. On the final day, we had the last evaluation. Here, KJN H.C. Hwang expects to see your personal progress and the group progress over the week.
In this Shim Sa for example, there were candidates from three different places in Argentina. In the United States, they were from two different places: New York and California. In Mexico, we had two from different places. So, we had seven people with different SBNs from different countries. Therefore, the message is: work together. Be one person. Be a very good unity. This is the main objective from the KJN H.C. Hwang. The KJN and seniors see you the first day on Monday. By Friday, they want to see an evolution in your personal technique and within the group related to Il Kwon Seon (standarization).
Can you give an example of how you would work together?
An example is hyung. The Huh Hop (inhalation and exhalation) – all the breathing in the movement. Maybe you inhale in the movement and maybe someone else exhales in the same movement. So, we need to get together and connect in the same movement, with the same breathing. That breathing connection is important. Next, we need to work together for the rhythm with the hyung and the group’s communication. We need to make a work project as a group. At first, second, and third Dan, you work under the personal aspect. In Sa Dan and above, it’s a worldwide project.
What advice can you give for anyone preparing for their KDJSS?
The Ko Dan Ja involves a technical and spiritual preparation. KJN H.C. Hwang says that he only needs seven minutes to know your technique. But he says that he needs seven days to know your heart. We are training all day.
From my experience, the advice would be to get very good focus in the technique and create a good support network around you. You’ll be away for one week, so you need to understand that. You’ll need to be focusing on the Ko Dan Ja, not thinking about your job, your family, or your personal situation. Any problems you have – address those before or pause them for after. So, be focused. Be connected with your SBN. Be connected with the philosophy and leave that week with the biggest experience in your life.
Can you share with us a special memory from the KDJSS?
You will have many surprises during that week, so go with an open mind. Don’t have any expectations. You can think: I’m in very good shape and I’m very prepared….but I can’t count on the weather. It was very high humidity at the Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa and we had an air conditioner inside the room. When we trained outside, it was very hot and my throat became sick. At my final presentation, I presented whilst having a fever, however throughout the week before this, I was fine. I thought: just do it. It was a different situation, but I had to put all my effort into that last moment. The Ko Dan Ja needs mental toughness.
Another nice moment: I had a very good time with KJN H.C. Hwang in the banquet talking together. The last time I had a good conversation with him was in 2016 in my Sa Dan Ko Dan Ja in Uruguay.
What was an important point that you have learnt from this recent experience?
For all the candidates: pay attention to the history and the philosophy that your SBN has shared with you. Guzman SBN has always taught us about the history, the wan gup of the hyungs and the rhythm. I’ve studied all of that. Make notes every day because in the Ko Dan Ja, there are few moments that the KJN H.C. Hwang says “ok you have five minutes to write”. At all times, I carry my personal notebook.
How do you see your training for the year ahead?
For 2023, I need to speak with Guzman SBN because I don’t know at this moment in time what the recommendation is by the seniors and the KJN H.C. Hwang about my December presentation. When he tells me that I need to work more about a particular technique, I’ll focus on that for the next six months. The evaluation in every Ko Dan Ja doesn’t finish that week. It lasts six months longer. I need six months more to have the outcome of my test.
Thank you for your time.
What main impression did you take from this interview that you can apply to your journey this year? Leave a comment below!
Photos: © Elizabeth Mora, Mexico Moo Duk Kwan. All Photos used with permission.
This Post Has 4 Comments
A very well written piece about the Kodanja experience. Anyone who has gone through the Kodanja shim sa process can relate and appreciate the effort and focus she shared. She is truly blessed to have such a wonderful instructor as Guzman SBN.
Thanks for sharing your insights Ma’am! It was very interesting to learn more about the Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa experience from this interview 🙂
Very nice article addressing most of the points about the Ko Dan Ja experience. It is hard to put into words the full impact of the event. You need to be there. I highly recommend students attend the Moment with the Masters and if possible the Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa before it is their time to be invited. That will help you understand how to prepare. Very nice job.
Thanks for your comment and suggestion!