The Black Belt Grading
    ELGIN - 7th, 8th& 9th March 2003

On the weekend of 7th March 2003, Mr A. Clark's first black belt students from Brighton & Crawley Down Taekwon Do Schools were awarded their 1st Dan black belt grades under Grandmaster Rhee Ki Ha (IX Dan) in Elgin, Scotland.

One of those students, Marco Vallone, writes about his experience for us.

It was an almighty journey to get to Elgin, something reminiscent of the 'Long March'! We set off from Brighton at 3.30am on Friday morning to arrive at Stansted airport in time for our 8.00am flight to Glasgow. The venue for the weekend course was changed at late notice and, therefore, it was not possible to change the flight to Inverness, which would have been considerably more convenient. Once In Glasgow, we headed off for Elgin, a four-hour drive north, travelling through some of the most spectacular scenery Scotland has to offer. In the mini-bus, spirits were high, although, there was an underlying fear amongst the students who had their minds firmly set on the grading to take place on the coming Sunday.

There was a Friday evening training session in the hall next to Master J. Williamson's Dojang. Grand Master Rhee arrived to a rapturous applause. When he stepped in to the room, we all felt that, in the absence of General Choi, our Taekwondo father had arrived! He took a very enjoyable session during which all of the 100 or so attendees were put through their paces. Even though the Brighton contingent was jaded from the travelling, the training session was very enjoyable and finished at around 9.00pm. We had something to eat and had an early night to gather our strength for Saturday's session. We stayed in the guesthouse and highly recommend this to anyone who may wish to visit Elgin for future seminars.

Saturday dawned and all students arrived promptly to start training at 9.30am. Again, Grand Master Rhee entered the room and started giving instruction to his loyal students. We trained hard before and after lunch and the entire day was very fulfilling. When Grand Master Rhee imparts his knowledge and experience on the lucky students and instructors who attend his seminars, his words are greeted with respect and a positive attitude. Even at 65, Grand Master Rhee is an imposing man and deserves the respect he receives in abundance. Master Williamson allowed students to visit his Dojang next to the training hall and all were very impressed with the training equipment and memorabilia he has put together. Master Williamson has invested a great deal of energy in developing his Dojang and this is plainly evident. He was also very supportive to the black tag students and spent a great deal of time answering questions about the grading and reassuring us. This is something for which we were all very grateful.

Sunday, grading day. The nerves in the air were very apparent and there was an uneasy feeling during breakfast as the grading candidates collected their thoughts and went through some last minute revision. Grand Master Rhee arrived in a smart suit and took his rightful place on a stage in front of the class, where Master Williamson joined him. Approximately 40 black tags took their grading and they were assessed in groups of eight, being asked to perform Hwa Rang and Choog Moo. Mr Clark's students went up last and this gave them a chance to assess the grading but also allowed their nerves to grow, so it is not clear if this was an advantage or not.

After the patterns, there was one-step sparring and free sparring, which Grand Master Rhee examined closely. The nerves were still present in all of the students, however, being submerged in a grading situation, the nerves tended to dissipate and we were focused solely on the grading with no outside distractions. We were then lined up and asked to approach Grand Master Rhee at the front of the hall where he asked us about the philosophies of Taekwondo together with testing our knowledge of terminology and application. Once Grand Master Rhee was satisfied, we went on to carry out our breaking exercises. This part of the grading consisted of board and brick breaking with both hand and foot techniques. Once the grading had finished, we all waited patiently, in readiness of the results.

Mr Clark's instruction had proved to be up to the high standards he has set and we all passed. The feeling of elation is hard to describe and the journey back home went very quickly and was underpinned by a euphoric atmosphere, so different to the frame of mind that accompanied us up to Elgin. We arrived back to Brighton at around 11.00pm, thoroughly exhausted but with a real sense of satisfaction that our task had been achieved.

This is where Taekwondo training begins for us all. Achieving black belt status is just the beginning of a long journey, rather than the end and we need to continue to work hard to develop our skills and attitude.

On a final note, it is important to recognize that it was only with the training and support of Mr Clark that we were successful in passing our black belt grades. He has been, and continues to be, an inspiration to us and his enthusiasm and dedication to the martial art of Taekwondo draws us all closer to him and to our training. We thank Mr Clark and wish him all the very best of success with his clubs at Brighton and Crawley Down.