The past few weeks have been an adventure among the Nerd Posse as we launch Northwind Martial Arts LLC in Bemidji Minnesota.

(Was that a blatant enough plug?  See the end of the post for more!)

There is a lot to do:  We have websites, Google+ pages, and Facebook pages to build.  The search continues for a training space indoors, out of the fickle north woods weather.  (While there is something quite hard-core samurai to the feeling one gets completing a set of forms in twenty-degree weather, the pride comes at a price.)

Every martial artist, and I think definitely every master, has their own vision of what a proper Dojang would be.

I am sure that most, if not all of us would love to be able to train with fantastic uniforms, fantastic schools, enough students to payroll all of it, and a dojang straight out of a Joseon era palace complex.

Baek Dong Soo Palace School The truth is, though, that for 99.99% of martial arts schools in the world, that vision is never going to be a reality.

I have to admit that I like the grandeur and beauty of mass forms performance, and those uniforms really do look great.  But if I’m going to be honest, I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable as part of such a scene, and I certainly don’t think that I would be the man leading it.  This simply isn’t what dojang means to me.

The head master for our state, Master Frankovich, had an excellent post recently about lineage as a martial artist.  In a related post he pointed this out about the martial arts industry:

4) What are teachers and schools trying to hide when they don’t put their training history, lineage and teachers on their websites and material? My first thought is that they ordered their equipment from a catalog and opened a school.

My view of what I want my dojang to feel like, which to me is much more important than what it looks like, is tied very strongly to my history and lineage as a martial artist.  I never planned on teaching a martial art to anyone else, and my take on life outside of religion is relatively informal, so I never took notes as I moved along, but this is the most coherent reconstruction that I can offer, along with how that path guided me.

My first martial art, and I consider it so, is European fencing.  I had just turned 8 at Lac Du Bois, one of the Concordia Language Villages when I was first attacked with a sword, and I have been hooked ever since.  While my training (from 6-12) was dominated by gymnastics, soccer, and swimming, I never passed up a chance to learn everything I could about a sword.  I watched every Zorro and Musketeers movie and book that I could get my hands on, and sword play (as opposed to swordplay) was a constant theme of life.  I took every fencing class I could at the language villages and in 1989 I organized and performed in a fencing demonstration for the Concordia Language Villages World Fair.

Gary Goltz with Kiel Soon Park
Mr. Kiel Soon Park with Gary Goltz

I began formal martial arts training at the age of 14 under Mr. Kiel Soon Park (I use the title he prefers, instead of calling him Kwangjangnim Grandmaster Park as most schools would) at Park’s Judo & Karate of Copley, Ohio.  I started martial arts to survive racial violence and bullying.  Mr. Park teaches a very traditional (he never mentioned by name but parodied the 1970’s Tae Gook Poomse as the “new” forms) Tae Kwon Do mixed combined with his expertise in Judo and Hapkido.  His training strongly emphasized practical application and self-defense, simple movements with the maximum possible power.  Within three months gangs and bullies had found easier prey, and I got through high school pretty much at peace.  I trained with Mr. Park for my first two years of high school.

Master Ernest Kiraly
Master Ernest Kiraly

My junior and senior years of high school I studied fencing under fencing master Ernest Kiraly at Salle D’Armes Kiraly in Fairlawn, Ohio.  I studied all three weapons but focused largely on saber fencing, the military-descended branch.  Master Kiraly taught a more traditional approach with the older dueling-applicable stances.  No electric scoring or tip-flick garbage that has since destroyed my beloved art.  Only killing and crippling shots counted for a point.  If Mr. Park taught me rough and rugged self-defense, Master Kiraly taught me the effectiveness of drill and steady training.  I still find his methodology seeping through most of how I drill no matter what martial art I learn.

At Concordia College in Moorhead, MN I studied self-defense for my physical education requirement.  (I got an A but had to spar the instructor after class every day to earn it.)  There was an emphasis on pressure points and escape techniques.  I do not have the name of my instructor, which is my dishonor and no disrespect to him intended.

In the mid-90’s I returned to Ohio and resumed training with Master Park for 3 years.  There was a brief hiatus as I destroyed my left knee, which had to be reconstructed.  (The surgeon who rebuilt my knee informed me that I could never practice martial arts again, which was either the most motivational thing he could have said or a clear statement that the gentlemen never dealt with stubborn Cornish peasant stock before.)

The damage and new limitations were so severe that it took more than a year to return to training, and Mr. Park re-started me at white belt so that I would have a chance to learn to fight in the new style that my body demanded.  I worked from 10th to 3rd gup in the two years that I continued on there.  My highest achievement there was an invitation to help represent the school at a tri-state invitational tournament (Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York) where I took gold in forms and third place in full-contact sparring.

For the next eighteen years my martial arts training was cut short by a travelling lifestyle.  For more than ten years I didn’t live in one place for nine months at a time.  I also moved to Minnesota for personal reasons in the year 2000.  While I traveled, I trained in dojangs where I could, but this would rarely be more than 3 months at a time before a new job would call me out of state.  I trained briefly with the American Taekwondo Academy in the Twin Cities, and had a few months at Circle Pines Karate with Master Grissom in the late 90’s.  The most formative thing that I learned during that period came from a conversation with Master Grissom when he said that if he could not make it to a dojang regularly, he would get his hands on the best books he could and drill what he could learn from them.  This was the sole training available to me for most of my late 20’s and through my 30’s.  I collected the best manuals I could on Tang Soo Do, Tae Kwon Do, and Hapkido, and wherever my jobs took me I tried to find time to work on my forms.  (My favorite memory of Lake 26 in Wisconsin is the fallen log I used to do Naihanji Hyung on over and over to practice my balance.)

Living in Bemidji, MN for eleven years I was two to four hours away from any martial art I had already trained in or wanted to study.  From 2011 until 2014 I participated in Eyal Yanilov’s Max Krav Maga program, which provides video and forum support to supplement those training and to provide training to those too far to get to a studio.  (The closest Krav Maga studio was 4.5 hours’ drive from my apartment.)  On top of a shelf-full of dirty tricks and useful training ideas on how to build combinations, Eyal Yanilov’s moral on training has stuck with me ever since I first heard it, and it is a maxim of my life.  I will paraphrase it as best I can from memory:

Krav Maga is for everyone, everywhere.  If you can make it to a studio to train, excellent!  If you can only train with your friends, do that!  If you only have one or two training partners, train!  If you can only train alone in your basement, train!  Whatever you do, daily training is the most important thing!  That is Krav Maga!

Master Oz, Master Burns, Master Frankovich, Kwangjanim Kim, Master Koivisto, Master Rose, and Master Shirk
Master Oz, Master Burns, Master Frankovich, Kwangjanim Kim, Master Koivisto, Master Rose, and Master Shirk

In the fall of 2013 I connected with Range Martial Arts in Chisolm, MN.  Mrs. Wickstrom, Mr. Arjir, and Mr. Koivisto were some of the first faces I met returning to formal training in classical Korean martial arts.  Injuries re-training and finances delayed my participation until the spring of 2014 when I joined the Haidong Gumdo program at Range Martial Arts.  In the spring of 2015 I enrolled in Haidong Gumdo’s master’s program.  Since then I have had the privilege to attend master’s training with Chief Master Parnell and President of Education Jeong Woo Kim.

Together with my training partners we have opened a dojang program called Northwind Martial Arts LLC.  In hopes to offer a martial art that is not currently available in the Bemidji  area I have returned to formal class work in Tang Soo Do at Range Martial Arts, though that is currently a long-term goal.

I currently hold the title of Master in Haidong Gumdo, and will be testing formally for ChoDan this fall.  I am starting a dojang in the Bemidji, MN area.  I do have a pair of students near Fertile MN whom I will be commuting to train, so additional small-group sessions are a possibility if a town or group not far off of Interstate Highway 2 wants to learn.  I will be commuting through there every weekend as part of my own training.

sidekicks_Mr_Lee_TeachesAs for how this effects my view of what I want my dojang to look like, until a year ago I referred to myself as “a universal white belt”.  The only thing that has changed with more formal training is a more definite understanding of all that I do not know and have yet to master as a martial artist.  For the majority of my life my martial arts training looked less like Enter the Dragon and more like Barry in Chuck Norris’ Sidekicks.

I genuinely love Haidong Gumdo, and I will gladly share what knowledge I have as a martial artist with whoever wishes to, but I will view my dojang as successful if it contains students who have caught my love of the art, who improve as artists and people, and with whom we can share the ongoing fellowship of training.  If that group is a hundred people strong and we can afford our own palace of a dojang, then awesome!  If it is a handful of enthusiasts constantly helping one another hone our skills, I will be just as happy.

The most important thing, in any case, in any circumstance, is to train!