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Reflections of Ko Dan Ja 2001
by Kyo Sa Jim Savidge

Iíd like to start out by saying that my Ko Dan Ja experience was unquestionably the pinnacle of my martial arts career.

What began in 1981 when I was 8 years old reached a crescendo during my Ko Dan Ja week. My road to this point hasnít been without its obstacles, but it was those obstacles that have given me the character and tenacity to see this journey through to this point and appreciate what I have accomplished.

Along my journey, I have experienced numerous highs and lows, as well as a bout with complacency. Some of my high points include representing Region 1 on both the forms and sparring teams, and seeing many of the students that Iíve taught in West Haven and Shelton reach Dan level. My lows include a five-year exile from the school for poor behavior. Complacency came into play during the last five years while I attended college, got married and settled my life down. In fact, I just finished my undergraduate studies exactly four weeks before Ko Dan Ja.

My whole outlook began to change in the summer of 2000 when Kwan Jang Nim informally told me that I was possibly going to be invited to this yearís Ko Dan Ja. I knew that, while making sure I was prepared (as much as one can possibly be) for this event, I would have to diminish the focus on myself, and be prepared to contribute to the testing group and give back to the membership. Being a Ko Dan Ja member is definitely not a spectator sport.

My excitement really began to build when I received my initial questionnaire around Thanksgiving. This gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I had accomplished and contributed as Dan member. Shortly after returning my questionnaire, I received my official invitation, itinerary and written requirements. It was only then that I began to realize just how difficult this was going to be. But just as the invitation letter said, "Ko Dan Ja testing is not for the faint of heart."

I was practically shell-shocked when I looked at the written requirements, which were due three weeks later, and the depth of the itinerary. At that time, I was just about to take my final exams, so I really only had two weeks to work on my papers. Iím just thankful that Iím not a procrastinator.

After I finished my written requirements and handed in my testing package, I began to dwell on the itinerary. I questioned myself constantly: "Can I handle this? Am I physically prepared for this? Do I really know all of my stuff?" Relying on the peaceful confidence I had developed over the years, I began to settle down and make my final mental preparations for the long week ahead.

When Day 1 of the Ko Dan Ja arrived, I was full of energy, emotion and anticipation. I awoke several hours earlier than normal and unsuccessfully tried to relax. Just to get out of the house, I arrived at the hotel about an hour before I was supposed to meet my peers there. As my fellow candidates began to arrive, my adrenaline really started to pump. I was finally there. The moment I had waited so long for had finally arrived.

Iíll spare you the details of the week because there were just so many that it would take several volumes for me to document all the activities of the week. Every time I reflect on the experience, I remember something new. The training was extremely difficult and demanding. Every time my body wanted to quit or I began to lose focus, I would remind myself that "Iím here because I want to be here." I felt like a white belt again. I "emptied my cup" and focused on every detail as though it was the first time I was learning it.

The instructing portions of the week were informative and positive. Every one of us left there a better instructor than when we arrived. I focused on every comment made, not only to me but also to my peers, with the intention of absorbing as much as possible in order to become a better instructor.

Throughout the week, we lived the theme of the Ko Dan Ja, "Transformation begins with inspiration, remember the inner becomes the outer." By the end of Day 2, most of us were physically spent; we each had to reach down and rely on our inner fortitude. This is when the inner really started to become the outer. We had to let go of our physical dependencies and limitations in order to let the inner strength take over. The energy built daily, and by Day 3 we finally began functioning as a solid unit.

We arrived as five individuals and left as one cohesive group. Each of us brought special qualities to this experience, and we had to successfully blend our experience and personalities to make this venture successful. It was Don Seibertís flexible and easygoing personality that allowed us to function as a group of equals, while exhibiting the appropriate leadership qualities whenever necessary. Dave Berube worked endlessly to bring us together as a group. Larry Lee exhibited quiet confidence, focused energy and acted as the voice of reason for the group. Eddie Pereira brought youth, exuberance, physical prowess and light-heartedness to the group. I used my experience as a musician and former team form captain to help us along in our synchronization, and provided extra energy and spirit whenever I felt like our group energy was coming down.

While the overall experience was very positive, we did have our moments. Putting five strong-willed individuals on the floor together, each of whom are used to being the leader in their own environment, was bound to bring out some tensions in the group. In the end we functioned as a family, each gaining a deep respect for all the other candidates.

Overall, I found the whole experience to be both humbling and empowering. We achieved a sense of oneness through the relationships that developed that week. Each of us had to raise our personal awareness in order to insure that the group dynamic came together. The week of training fostered a keen sense of togetherness and standardized all of our techniques so that we could eventually stand united as Ko Dan Ja members.

For everyone looking forward to attending Ko Dan Ja in the coming years, keep in mind that there is no one thing that can prepare you for the experience. Continued dedication and training is of the utmost importance. Remember, Ko Dan Ja is a test of your will and spirit more than a test of your technique and knowledge. Your instructors see the evidence of your technique and knowledge long before you arrive at the Ko Dan Ja. The Ko Dan Ja experience represents the ultimate melding of the mind, body and spirit.

I would like to thank each of my Ko Dan Ja classmates for their participation in this prestigious event. I could think of no finer group of individuals with whom I would have rather shared this experience. After this experience, each of you is like a family member to me. What we achieved as a group was special, and this experience will be with me for the rest of my life. I would also like to thank the O-Dan candidates for their guidance and support throughout a most trying and difficult week. Your guidance and leadership by example showed us how to be Ko Dan Ja.

Iíd like to thank Sa Bom Nim Rich Kopf for being there with us for the entire week, setting the example for each of us through his uncanny dedication and unselfish actions. Iíd also like to thank all of the visiting Ko Dan Ja. Each of you showed tremendous discipline and unity by being out there, even though you werenít testing. Your energy and support was invaluable to our experience. And of course, a big thanks goes out everyone who sent care packages. They were greatly appreciated by everyone in attendance.

Finally, and most importantly, Iíd like to thank my instructor, Kwan Jang Nim Ferraro. It was an honor to be invited to this event, and it is something that I will cherish for the rest of my life. As my only instructor, everything that he has done for me over the years ultimately prepared me for this experience, and it is with a great sense of gratitude that I achieve this milestone in my training. He has been like a father to me in almost every possible way, and it is my full intention to demonstrate my gratitude and appreciation through my words and actions for many years to come. It is my intention to take and apply everything that I have gained from the Ko Dan Ja experience to function as a leader, a good soldier, a positive influence and a role model in our organization for all future generations of Mi Guk Kwan practitioners.


Be sure to visit the official Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association Website at http://www.tsdmgk.com/