Posted in young then older

Forging Onward

From 11/15/09:

The following is a letter I helped Erik write to our students.  We’ve been thinking about breaking away from the Association for a long time now, but receiving the final Franchise Agreement–which was non-negotiable–made it the right time.  His business has always been named “Alameda Martial Arts” and now it will become “Kuk Sool of Alameda.”  My side of the business–the management, the administration, the sale of equipment and uniforms, will be a variation on the KSWA theme:  Kuk Sool West.


One thing we’ve learned:  getting big thoughts like this down on paper is a long process best done with many naps and breaks for green tea.  The subconscious is an amazing thing and we are glad to have learned through experience that we can take time to write, re-write, process and re-process information until we are able to say exactly what we mean.  Now if we had only known this in school!


Dear Students and Parents–


I have been a member of the The World Kuk Sool Association for twenty years now.  As a school owner I have operated this business independently through a license agreement.


My goal has always been simple:  If a child signs up at 6 years of age and then trains with me for five or six years to get a black belt, that student should be able to go out into the world with some viable ideas about how to defend his or her self.  If I can teach in a fun, positive, playful way that promotes supreme physical, mental, and spiritual strength then I have done my job well.


Today I am announcing that after many years of thoughtful consideration and research, I have decided not to renew my agreement with World Kuk Sool Association.


The ramifications are small or large depending on your perspective.  Essentially this is an administrative change and we will simply and gradually take the “Won” off our name.  There will be no additional cost to you.


My hope is that you enjoy my style of teaching, and appreciate the program and community that I have created.   I will continue to offer the same high level of training and will still use the traditional Kuk Sool curriculum as a foundation.  I will continue to offer advanced black belt testing and hope to add various seminar,  road trip, tournament, and educational opportunities for my students.  Additionally, I hope to expand my student teacher certification program.


If, however, you are very much bound to the idea of the being a part of the larger World Kuk Sool Association, if you want to be sanctioned through them, then you are officially required by the Association to discontinue training with me.


You can choose to continue your studies at a different Kuk Sool Won school.  Nearby there are schools in Berkeley, San Francisco, or San Lorenzo.  You will not lose your rank and if you have already paid a black belt fee, you will not be required to pay again.  You will be obligated to pay whatever monthly fees those schools require.


My doors will always be open to you no matter what course you choose.


Instead of taking class time to address questions, I have scheduled a Question and Answer Session on Saturday, Nov. 21 at 10:00 a.m. (Before the Sparring Seminar with Sylvester at 11:00). If you email me your questions in advance, it will help me to answer more succinctly.  If you have a more involved individual question, please email or call me at the school, tell me a good time to return your call and I will.  This applies especially to the students who are in the middle of black belt testing, I know this affects you most of all.


What I am hoping is to keep this change a positive experience for my students.  The Association has been very good to me over the years and has allowed me to flourish.  I really did try to take everyone’s needs into consideration and I hope you can appreciate that I did what I thought was best for my students.


If you are curious about why I chose not to renew, I have included this explanation.  Please read this before attending a Q & A session.


A few years ago, much to everyone’s surprise, The World Kuk Sool Association added some stipulations to our agreement.  Not health & safety or real quality control issues, but rather restrictions on what we teach.


To clarify,  there are four main reasons to train martial arts:


  1. 1.  Self defense
  2. 2.  Tradition–the study of an art form for spiritual, physical, and mental health
  3. 3.  Sport/tournament preparation
  4. 4.  Demonstration


Increasingly the WKSA is moving toward being simply a demonstration art.  The WKSA vision of a high ranking student (5th degree and up) includes mastery of esoteric arts.  These are great except I feel they are high risk activities with limited reality-based return on the time investment.  If your child started training at six years of age, they would be eligible to learn these techniques (i.e. archery, knife throwing, two man spear set, choreographed sword-to-knife set, etc.) at approximately 30 years of age.


This cloistered historical approach to training made me uncomfortable, but I thought I could just go on doing what I’ve always done, that is, use the basic material as a starting point to build strong and confident students.


However, because of a number of legal issues in this state and others, the World Kuk Sool Association has decided that all of its members must sign an expanded Franchisee Agreement.


It would be one thing if these changes were for the safety or progress of my students. (For example, I have chosen to take out a number of techniques that I have decided are not safe for children to practice.)  However, this is not the case, instead most of these changes are concerned with protecting material and trademark secrets.  I am not interested in secrecy.  The martial artists I most admire freely trade information about what works best for them, and it is up to the student to train hard and learn if these moves work well on an individual basis.


Under WKSA guidelines, we would have to stop training the following activities simply to keep the WKSA curriculum pure and unadulterated:  Out goes wrestling, switch kicks, double & single leg take downs, pad work, ducks, perrys, ground work such as a escapes from the bottom, sweeps, reversals, chokes, jujitsu arm bars, kimuras, americanas, and finishing moves.


Additionally, neither myself nor my students may train in any other martial art which emphasizes these useful ideas.  I cannot imagine telling my black belts that as Kuk Sool Won students they are not allowed to take judo or compete in point fighting tournaments if they so choose.   Many of my students start young and then excel in judo and ju jitsu as they enter high school (For example black belts like Jason Woo, who went on to get a black belt in Ju Jitsu, Kenneth Eng who went on to study Chinese Martial Arts at UC Davis, Rachel Suson who went on to train Capoeira in Brazil,  Maria Young who went on to become a certified yoga instructor, or Sylvester Youngblood who went on to win a number National Point Fighting Championships).  Astonishingly, all these activities are not approved activities under WKSA guidelines.  


As a student, practitioner, and instructor for over twenty years, I am in the unique position of being able to comprehend the material in a way that allows me to fully integrate other martial arts principles into my curriculum.   I believe the reason people stick with my program is precisely because I do not limit myself to the textbook and the proof is in the pudding:  my students are awesome, fit, and solid. I am the only instructor in the history of WKSA tournaments to have captured 1st place school six years in a row.


So while Kuk Sool is vast and comprehensive system, the WKSA program is a lot like studying folkloric dancing:  it’s useful to learn, it’s exquisite, and it would be a shame to add hip hop moves to it.  But, it is frozen in time, a museum piece.  WKSA instructors must train techniques on just one side, train each technique slowly without resistance and are told to match their performance to a photo in a book.  The primary emphasis is on memory and not building good reactions and good self defense habits.  


Fortunately there are many good Kuk Sool based schools that are not part of the World Association and I will continue my studies of Kuk Sool.   After all these years I still appreciate the broad range of techniques; the forms which promote balance, alignment, coordination, and strength; the breath work,  the etiquette, the drive for perfection, etc.   I still care deeply about the art form and want to be able to offer beautiful and exciting demonstrations.  I just want the freedom to also teach material like a simple duck, a bob and weave, a left jab, and a superman punch.


One of my second degree black belt students complimented me by saying:, “You know, in all the years I’ve been coming here, I’ve only had about two classes that were roughly similar.”  I take pride in the fact that I am constantly challenging my students with new and exciting material while simultaneously keeping a beautiful tradition alive.


As many of you know, I live and breath martial arts.  I want several lifetimes to learn everything there is to know about martial arts.  I am lucky to have an office manager who feels the same way about alignment and anatomically safe training techniques.  Together we are very interested in continuing our personal education and hope to share lots of varied and exciting material with our students while building a strong community of healthy, happy individuals. Together we hope that as students graduate our program they are ready to excel in any endeavor they undertake.


Ultimately my loyalty lies with my students,  and my sole obligation is to offer the best program I can create. I hope you will trust me and chose to continue our training together.  I honestly believe that I am continuing to grow and improve as an instructor and each generation of new students benefits along the way. 


Thanks for your kind consideration of this event,



Erik Lee

Owner, Head Instructor

Kuk Sool of Alameda

Alameda Martial Arts








Maria Young Ace Certified Personal Fitness Trainer, Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (500) Independent Contractor providing the following services: Office Management, Bookkeeping, Web Design, Marketing and Instruction in Yoga and Martial Arts for children and adults. Black Belt, 4 year program, LockBoxing. Maria studied under Erik Lee and won Grand Champion at the Kuk Sool Tri-State Tournament in 2006. Experience Certified Yoga Instructor: 700 hour level. At Piedmont Yoga, Maria’s main instructors were Richard Rosen, Rodney Yee, and Clare Finn. To them she is eternally grateful. Richard Rosen, founder Piedmont Yoga Studio & editor of Yoga Journal says: “Among the 30...students Maria was always among the more assiduous and adept.  If you’re thinking of adding Yoga instruction to your program, then I highly recommend Maria for the job.” College: CSULB: B.A. English Literature, UC Berkeley: M.A. Comparative Literature