14 November 2023

6th Dan Promotion

I was promoted earlier this month (November 2023) to 6th Dan by Taekwon-Do pioneer Grandmaster Lee Yoosun. My previous black belt test to 5th Dan, in April 2014, was also by a Taekwon-Do pioneer, Grandmaster Park Jongsoo. 

In both cases the promotions were a bit unexpected. When I got my 4th Dan here in South Korea under Master Kim Hoon, I was relatively content with my rank. I had started working on a PhD in Taekwondo at Kyunghee University, so I really didn’t feel a need for any higher ranking anymore. However, Master Kim Hoon told me that he wants me to be promoted by one of the original pioneers and said that when Grandmaster Park Jongsoo visits Korea again, he will arrange a test for me under this legendary martial artist. Then one day, Master Kim Hoon told me that Grandmaster Park will visit within two weeks, and I’ll have my test then. It felt very sudden, but I made the most of that forewarning to get ready for the test; and it was an honour to spend time with Grandmaster Park and be promoted by him. 

Something similar occurred recently with Grandmaster Lee Yoosun. We connected the first time in 2015, but it wasn’t until recently that we spent some time together and started to communicate more regularly. (Gransmaster Lee lives in Busan, Korea for half of the year and the other half he spents at his home in Houston, Texas.) My goal with getting to know Grandmaster Lee was mostly to learn about Taekwon-Do’s early history related to my research in the evolution of Taekwon-Do (which is part of my research on Korean body culture). Black belt promotion was not on my mind, so when Grandmaster Lee indicated his intention to promote me to 6th Dan I was hesitant at first. 

Some people are eager for promotions. If I was similarly punctual, based on mere time of practice, I would have been 7th Dan by now. However, for me the martial arts journey is not about belts, but knowledge gained and personal mastery – mastery over the self, which is a constant struggle (for me). I agree with the Kukkiwon’s recent description of “Geukgi” (which they translate as self-mastery / self-discipline) as foundational to Taekwon-Do philosophy. And since I always feel that I have much more to learn, and that I need much more self-mastery, I’ve always been somewhat reluctant for promotion. 

However, I contacted many of my trusted Taekwon-Do friends and they all strongly recommended that I accept the offer for promotion. GM Lee promoted me just before he returned from Korea to the United States. I look forward to meeting and learning from him again when he returns to Korea next year. 

I remain forever thankful to the many instructors and influential friends who keep pushing me to be better, particularly my first instructor, Mr. Johan Bolton, and my Korean big brother, Master Kim Hoon. And I’m especially thankful that another Taekwon-Do pioneer, Grandmaster Lee, approve of my journey in Taekwon-Do so far.  

-- Sanko Lewis

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