SIKESTON -- The American Martial Art Sports and Education Association is holding its annual martial art convention March 18-20 at the Southeast Missouri State University campus in Cape Girardeau. For the third year now, the convention is open to non-members on March 19. I recommend this convention to any martial artist in the area if for no other reason than to meet grandmaster Bong Yul Shin of the Moo Do Kwan school in St. Louis.
A world-renowned martial artist known primarily for his rank and ability in judo, Shin is also a grandmaster in the Korean arts of hapkido and taekwondo.
Word has it he is the personal bodyguard for the Busch family in St. Louis. He even appeared in a Busch beer TV commercial that was frequently aired about 10 years ago.
Shin was a life-long friend of the late Lee H. Park who founded the Moo Sul Kwan martial art schools in this area and was well-known on the SEMO campus as Dr. Park.
Fourteen years ago as a white belt in taekwondo at an AMASEA convention, I met Shin for the first time.
I still remember walking into SEMO's gymnastic room and finding a slightly stocky Asian man in his mid 50s, shorter than the average American, serenely sitting crosslegged on the floor in a plain, white judo uniform. Instead of a black belt, he was wearing a belt with red and white bands - the only one I've ever seen like it. Not stripes, but sections of red and white about a foot long alternating around his waist.
Martial art techniques I had seen up to that point that were visibly effective - a combination of physics and physiology. I wondered what it was a grandmaster could do, if he was indeed like the small but magically powerful martial art masters in the movies.
Shin began the session by asking if we had been working out hard, if we were in good shape. Enthusiastically, we declared we were in good shape and ready to work out with him.
OK, he said, then let's warm up with some calisthenics. Over the next hour, he showed us dozens of variations of leg lifts, situps, pushups and other calisthenics. We were directed to take turns counting off 50 repetitions of the current exercise which he would change after several hundred had been counted off.
Meanwhile, Shin - who stayed perfectly with the count, never missed a repetition, and completed each with apparent ease and perfect form - encouraged us with a non-stop monologue: "Don't stop! You are young and strong - if I can do, so can you! Don't cheat yourself! Come on - don't stop!"
Dripping sweat, we groaned, whined, stopped to rest and joined back in as the shame of stopping while he continued on seemingly without effort inspired us to do another pushup or situp.
He never sounded out of breath. If you closed your eyes you could even imagine him relaxing in an easy chair his voice was so even and calm.
On and on we went for just over an hour. When we finally stopped, we had counted off somewhere around 4,000 calisthenics. Shin was the only one in the room to do them all.
Since then, I have seen demonstrations of skill by Shin that make today's "freefighting" grappling champions look like kids "wrastlin' in the backyard." But I will never, ever forget that first experience or his words: "Don't cheat yourself!"
For more information e-mail Charles Hildebrand at firstname.lastname@example.org.