What Kumdo Means To Me by Gary Stern

Gary E. Stern - Kumdo 2nd Dan, Attorney

Gary E. Stern - Kumdo 2nd Dan, Attorney

It is not difficult for me to explain, precisely, what Kumdo and the achievement of chodan means to me. First, it says to me that I have been privileged to study with special teachers who have enabled me to reach the first significant Kumdo milestone. Secondly, it reinforces the understanding that I have been fortunate to have classmates who were patient enough to train with me despite my awkwardness and lack of skill. And lastly, it has changed my life by giving a new structure and purpose to my very existence. Kumdo has become part of the fabric of my person and I can’t imagine what my life would be without it being part of my routine.

When I began my Kumdo journey I was not sure that I could physically do what would be asked of me. I knew that I possessed the willingness and the determination to learn, but I was concerned that my body was less supple than my mind. It soon became clear that my fear was well founded. The Kumdo being taught to my classmates would have been more than I could sustain, but my study did not come to an abrupt end. Instead, Master Seong conceived of a way for me to find a place in Kumdo (be it somewhat apart from the others).

Approximately three months into my Kumdo journey, Master Seong, without comment, took away my 39 Jukdo and returned with a 37 and a much shorter sword. He stood in an unfamiliar stance and did a few moves holding one sword in each hand. I could sense that he truly believed that I could learn what he was showing me, and I was flattered that he was willing to teach me. When Sabumnin handed me the two swords, he said “you will learn”. It was clear he wasn’t asking me to try, he was telling me that I could, and would, learn the two sword technique. But more important, he made me believe that I could do it, despite the fact that I was still so new to Kumdo that my feet were blistered and never seemed to heal.

Over the last two years I have begun to realize how privileged I am to be able to study at Sung Moo Kwan and to learn from Master Seong. The fact that I am three times older than most students and limited in what my body will allow me to do – is of no moment. Success in competition has allowed me to appreciate that I have been given the skills to perform, if I am willing to work to hone them. Sabumnim challenges me, each class, to do more than I think I can do and I have endeavored to never let him down. Although, I have never said it to him, I think that he knows that I would rather drop from exhaustion than disappoint him. I may not have done 1000 perfect quick step at the chodan grading, but I did them from the instant everyone started to the final “muhri”.

I have had to attend many more classes than my fellow students to reach the modest achievement of chodan. I surmise that I have read more Kendo books and articles than any of my Kumdo peers. I am not likely to get faster or stronger, but, I can get smarter. I am not only grateful for the attention of Sabumnim, but to my classmates (most of whom are younger than my children) who have accepted me and allowed me to be part of their world. For that, I am humbled and most appreciative.

Kumdo class is the highlight of my week. The realization that I have found a place where I am welcome and where I can challenge myself to learn new things about Kumdo and myself, is the essence of what Kumdo means to me. I don’t know that I will ever have the skill to teach Kumdo to others, but I could surely convey that with Sabumnim’s guidance and a willingness to work, significant achievement is possible regardless of how athletic you may (or may not) be. Showing up for class and giving all that you have – is what is required. From my perspective, I owe Sabumnim and my classmates, nothing less than my best effort. Applying the same approach to the rest of life is assured to meet with the same result.

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