One of the joys about being a blogger at Beyond the Dojang is receiving thoughtful messages from martial artists. I’ve really loved hearing many of your journeys so far, your thoughts on the ideas relating to an article, and just the general positively you have towards my efforts as a writer. Recently, one martial artist, Simon Hall, a 2nd Dan Soo Bahk Do practitioner and instructor at Essex Soo Bahk Do, reached out to me and shared his story. I thought how martial arts changed his life was incredible. In fact, it was too incredible to keep to myself! I asked Simon to guest write for this article. I feel many could benefit or relate to elements of his journey to get a boost of inspiration.
Here is Simon’s story…
My life before I joined
Leading up to starting Soo Bahk Do, I was in a bad place in life. On a personal level, three of my grandparents had passed away in quick succession, and I had recently discovered that my Father was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer. To make matters worse, my marriage had broken down and my ex-wife had started divorce proceedings. On a professional level, my contract job was drying up.
These circumstances led me to feel emotionally and physically drained. I would just try to take things day by day: to try and get through this difficult period and keep focus on my two children. I wanted to stay strong and do the best I possibly could for them, although I could honestly say that I felt very alone. Apart from trying to be the best father figure I could, I didn’t feel that I had much purpose or direction in my life. During this period, I went from being a happy and lively person to becoming an unhappy shell of the man I use to be.
Discovering the martial art
Before I continue, I must say this:
I do believe in fate and fate was definitely on my side that day.
Let me explain.
The town I lived in at the time was Dereham, in the county of Norfolk. It’s a very small place and in the middle of nowhere. One day in 2010, as I was walking in the town with my son, Leon, we noticed some people in martial arts uniform standing at the corner of the street handing out leaflets. Being curious, we approached them. I will never forget this day: when I first met my instructor Master Paul Salter of Norfolk Soo Bahk Do, Dan Bon (32830). After a quick chat and seeing a Ho Sin Sool, (hand grip self defence) demonstration, I was so impressed that I wanted to sign my son up straight away. However, I was told that if I wore a tracksuit and top, I could also give it a try.
I did not realise it then but that day was going to change my life.
The journey begins
If I were to tell you my what my fitness level was at the time, I’d say it wasn’t good at all. Over the past few years I had certainly put on some weight. When Leon and I attended our first lesson, I was totally in awe of these practitioners and how they moved. I knew instantly that this dojang and the Art was really something special.
After that first class, Leon and I were really motivated. We hoped to see how we would get on. I’d say that the initial goal was to get fitter and learn some self-defence. It was great to have an interest that we could do together and strengthen the bond more between father and son. We started training regularly once a week. This quickly increased to two, three, four, and then five times each week! We never missed a class. In fact, I became so serious about training that during the early years I sacrificed going out with friends many times if I had an upcoming grading or if I felt I needed to train.
Challenges and triumphs
Our martial arts journey wasn’t without some setbacks. We had some people literally tell us that: “martial arts is a joke, what a waste of time”, “you won’t make it past green belt”, and “you’re only any good if you get to black belt”. I love proving people wrong. I also realised that you don’t need to obtain a black belt to be good at martial arts.
The amount of support Leon and I received was outstanding. I cannot thank Master Salter, his wife Carolynn, and the martial artists for their support and direction. Also, from the very start of our journey, even though my Father had cancer, he still came to watch almost all of our gradings. He wanted to see our progress in martial arts and be part of our journey.
Martial arts changed my life by helping me become more focused – both in the dojang and outside. For example, my hand-eye co-ordination improved along with my concentration, flexibility, balance and overall fitness. During these intense years of training I nearly lost 3 stone in weight. My son became a very good practitioner. He remembered things well and picked up techniques quickly. I loved what we were doing, the people we were becoming, and felt a real part of something amazing. I had gained a second family: my Moo Do (Martial Way) family.
Finding my path
Martial arts changed my life by giving me a sense of purpose. This was sparked by a particular moment when I was a green belt, whilst on a holiday in Spain in 2011. Every day I woke up very early to train on the beach as the sun rose. I remember practicing a hyung (form/kata) called Chil Sung Il Ro. The hyung uses lots of graceful movements and focuses on connecting your breathing with movements. While performing this hyung, a very strange feeling overcame me. At that point, I felt complete that I had a purpose and a true sense of direction. On my return to the UK, I told Master Salter about what had happened. I discovered that I had found my Moo Do (Martial Way). Martial artists who train regularly and are serious about their training reach this feeling at a stage in their journey.
During October 2013, my Father’s condition had really deteriorated and I visited him at every opportunity. Sadly, on the 30th October 2013, he passed away. I was devastated. I had felt so strong and physically powerful and fit through my training but could not save him. However, I knew that he was still with me: in spirit and in my heart.
He had always said to me:
“You can have all the money in the world, but if you haven’t got your health you haven’t got anything.”
Wise words from a wise man. I started training even harder, often at weekends and early mornings when no one was watching. Although this was the saddest point of my life, it also made my mind the strongest and most determined I’ve ever been.
The quest for the black belt
From the first class of hoping to get in better shape and seeing how we would do, martial arts had certainly changed both Leon’s life and mine. Our sights had turned to training for our black belt. At this point, I was at the final stage of my divorce and had started dating. I met a lady who fully supported me. Having support and someone who truly believes in you really helps.
Leon and I were given the date of our black belt grading: 28th November 2014. As the date approached, my emotions were running high. Our training had intensified and I knew that I was not only doing this for myself but also for my Father. When the grading date arrived, Leon and I both performed very well and gave maximum effort. I was still devastated that my Father had missed this day by around one year of his passing, but all the time I could feel his spirit willing me on during the grading to do my best.
Obtaining a black belt level doesn’t mean you are invincible or you’re at the end of your journey. It’s a signal that you’ve arrived. You’re at that point and should be a good practitioner – not just in the dojang, but outside too. You need to be humble and know how to conduct yourself at all times. That’s the point when you realise just how much there is still to learn, and that you’re now ready for the next exciting part of your journey.
Starting my own dojang
After my black belt grading, I continued to train 5 days a week in Norfolk for a few years with Leon. At this point in time, I was engaged and had returned to my original hometown of Romford, Essex.
I’d known for a while that I wanted to open my own dojang someday. I’d been training for a long time and learnt so much. I also felt that martial arts had really changed my life. I therefore decided that it was now time to pass on my knowledge. When I moved to Braintree in Essex, I opened my own dojang. The date was 22nd February 2017. Our student base grew quickly and we now have approximately 35 active members.
Although Soo Bahk Do is a very important part of my life, I don’t teach for financial gain, but for my love and passion of the Art. I want to keep this amazing Art alive and keep kids off the streets and away from their phones, game consoles, and televisions. The skills taught could even help save a life one day.
I still train daily at home and also visit my original dojang in Norfolk occasionally. Being an instructor certainly makes you think differently. You have to ensure what you’re teaching and demonstrating is correct. You also have to ensure that students enjoy their training and that they understand the lessons. I feel the size of the club we currently have is perfect for what we do, and I can really focus and spend time with each individual student.
The next chapter
I will continue to teach in Essex and do my best to produce high-level quality practitioners of the Art. I always tell my students that: “your level of effort will equal your level of results”, “you only get out of it what you put in”, and “move sharp and stay focused”. We have to remember the path we’re on is not a race. Some gradings may take longer to reach than others.
I’m now back to my best and feel great. Martial arts has certainly changed my life to get to where I am today. I’m also now married and my wife helps run the club. I cannot thank her enough for her support. We both have a son, Jude. He’s just turned one years old and I can’t wait to start training him. Hopefully he will also become a black belt one day – watch this space!
I like setting myself goals, even if at first they seem out of reach. My next big goal is to obtain Sa Dan (4th Dan, Master level). This will be an 8-day test in Korea or the USA. It’ll be a long road to get there with a lot of work, but this is my goal. My life is now much more focused and meaningful with Soo Bahk Do in it, and I wouldn’t change any part of it. When I’m doing my own training in Soo Bahk Do, I feel alive, focused, and motivated. When I’m teaching Soo Bahk Do, I feel purposeful and it reminds me that my journey as an instructor has just begun.
The main points I’d like to get across in my story are:
Nothing is impossible
If you put your mind to it, stay dedicated and focused you can achieve great things. You may not realise it at first but sometimes your struggle will be your strength. If you can find your passion, you will find your purpose. If you find your purpose you can become a very powerful and unique individual.
We all have good days and bad
No matter how low or down you’re feeling, and no matter what’s going on in your personal life, your training will always be there for you. Never give up on your training, because your training will never give up on you.
Simon’s journey shows how martial arts can often provide a much deeper meaning to one’s life. Not only did it boost his health and fitness, it also provided an ideal opportunity to bond with his son and rise from being defeated by personal challenges. Now Simon’s taken an additional route in his martial arts journey: becoming an instructor so that more people could benefit from the many gifts that martial arts provide. Interested to find out more about this? Check out his dojang here: Essex Soo Bahk Do.
Have any thoughts or reflections about Simon’s journey or would like to share your own? Drop a comment below!
Photos: © Simon Hall, Essex Soo Bahk Do. All photos used with permission.