(Denver, CO) – According to a rough estimation from publicly available Kukkiwon data, about 10% of martial artists have currently reached the rank of 1st degree black belt. Of all the black belts, about 3% are ranked 4th dan and above. Of those, only about 1% have reached the rank of 9th dan. That means that our of everyone doing Taekwondo, only 0.0025% (about 1 in 40,000) have achieved this rank. 9th Dan is also the last rank generally achievable through ordinary means. The 10th dan is usually reserved for special situations such as founders of a style or heads of a major governing body or international sports federations and is often granted posthumously.
Colorado is very fortunate in that one of our own instructors was recently promoted to 9th degree black belt. COMANews sat down with Grandmaster Rich Hodder for this exclusive interview.
COMANews: Please give our readers a ‘cliff’s notes’ summary of your background.
GM Hodder: I began training in TKD in 1964 in Arvada, CO with Mr. Fred Criswell as part of GM Chuck Seriff’s organization, which at that time was called Western Tae Kwon Do Federation, a precursor to the United States Taekwon-Do Federation. I was awed to have General Choi, Hong Hi sitting as a judge at my first test for Gold Belt. When that school closed I began training at Cho’s Tae Kwon Do (Karate) School under Grand Master Ki Sun Cho. GM Cho was one of the first 9th dans certified by the KKW. He was also a member of the famous ROK Army Tiger Division. After GM Cho had a severe car accident his nephew (a former ROK Army Green Beret) Master Tae Ro Cho took over the school instruction. He was my instructor until his untimely death. Master Newby and I inherited the school in 1984 and continued to operate and learn about the business of Martial Arts. I have had the great honor of having schools in Steamboat Springs, Hayden and Oak Creek, CO, as well as in Houston, TX. I am now teaching at Sahn Taekwondo of Carbondale with Ms. Cedar Rose and under the direction of Grand Master Sean Cavins.
I competed in Taekwondo for 30 years, retiring from active competition in 1994 after having won 13 State and two National Championships. I continued to coach competition TKD until about 2007 having trained 100’s of athletes to the state and national championship level.. I have held the offices of Athletes Advisory Council Chairman, Vice President, Secretary General and several other Chairmanships within the Colorado State Taekwondo Association.
For the last 17 years I have been the Executive Director of Taekwondo for the United States Korean Martial Arts Federation and along with GM Cavins have been nominated to join the advisory council of the United States Taekwondo Grandmasters Society.
Over the years I have studied many different martial arts and hold dan rank in Judo, Shorin Ryu, Shin Goju Ryu, Kali and Hapkido.
COMANews: You’ve been training in martial arts almost 50 years. What kind of changes have you seen since you started and what things have stayed the same?
GM Hodder: There have been quite a few changes, some good, and others bad.
The best change in the arts, being, research using modern scientific methodology within Kinesiology, Anatomy and Physiology, along with more open mindedness regarding training with other Masters of the arts to better improve performance. The worst change being the modern marketing methods being adopted by commercial schools and the subsequent lack of hard, thorough training in order to make a dollar at the expense of traditional values and etiquette.
COMANews: Who are the most influential instructors who have helped you along the way?
GM Hodder: That is a long list, a shortened version would be: GM Ki Sun Cho, GM Sung Dal Cho, Master Tae Ro Cho, Shihan Frank Goody, Dr Vthor Braun, Master Larry McGill, Master Sean Cavins, GM J. R. West, Dr. He Young Kimm and of course Master Mike Newby.
COMANews: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a white belt on his first day?
GM Hodder: The best advice I could give a new white belt is: Try to learn something new every day, just one thing will do, but learn it well and make it yours. Also, after each class write down what you did in class that day, who taught, your impressions, etc. in other words keep a journal of your daily experiences in Martial Arts. If you do that and continue to find a reason to come to the next class rather than an excuse to sit on the couch, you will have an incredible resource of motivation and a history of the improvement you’ve made along the way.
COMANews: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to a student who is preparing for this 1st degree black belt test?
GM Hodder: Don’t over train. We have all seen the Black Belt candidate that hurts themselves right before the big test; we used to call that “Brown Belt-itis”. Learn to trust what you know and have faith in what you have been taught. If you were not ready for this test, your instructor would not have recommended you for testing. Remember, your instructor is being evaluated by his/her seniors on the quality of his/her students.
It is also useful to remind students at this level that they are now just beginning their journey in the martial arts. Many think that Cho-dan means First Dan, in reality it means “beginning level” and should be thought of in that way.
COMANews: What is the most important piece of advice you would give to someone who currently owns a martial arts school?
GM Hodder: Advise for current school owners is simple: Continue YOUR martial arts training while you teach your students, continue your academic education, and by all means stay faithful to the tenets of TKD. Your reputation is invaluable; don’t do anything to tarnish it or Taekwondo. Remember every day what it felt like to be a beginner, and make sure you keep a student’s mind set.
COMANews: What are your most fond memories from your training?
GM Hodder: My fondest memories of training are of my classmates and friends. Like many high ranking martial artists I am not, nor have I ever been an extremely social person. That being said, I have been most fortunate to have had absolutely fantastic instructors and even more fortunate to have acquired the best and truest of friends through the martial arts.
COMANews: The Rocky Mountain Taekwondo Retreat recently completed its first successful year. Please tell us more about this event and how our readers can participate next year.
GM Hodder: The Rocky Mountain Taekwondo Retreat was a great success in 2013. The aim of the Retreat is to remind adult students and Masters why they started training and to show them that TKD is not just a sport or just for kids. Taekwondo is a life study and activity. Our goal is to re-introduce some of the martial and spiritual aspects of the “art” of TKD that the sport side seems to have weakened.
We will be conducting our next Rocky Mountain TKD Retreat in July 2014 and already have people from Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Colorado signed up to attend. You can go to www.rockymountaintkd.com and visit our Face book page for more information. I would also like to thank those people that are such an integral part of our success. A big shout out to Grandmaster Sean Cavins, Master Mike Newby, Master Georgie Martinez and Master Instructor April Jazwierska, and a huge, huge thank you to Ms. Cedar Rose for not only teaching segments but for coordinating the entire event.
COMANews: Please tell us more about the US Korean Martial Arts Federation. What are the benefits to being involved with this group?
GM Hodder: The United States Korean Martial Arts Federation (USKMAF) grew out of a need to inspire and improve the study of Korean Martial Arts in the United States. It started over 20 years ago with Grand Master J. R. West’s (the first non-Korean to hold the rank of 1st Dan in Hapkido and currently 9th dan certified by the Dae Han Kido Hae) vision of helping students of the Korean Martial Arts (KMA) to have access to qualified resources and individuals to help them improve and advance the virtues of the KMA’s. It is an organization free of political turmoil and is dedicated to the advancement of the overall quality of instruction of the Korean Martial Arts in the United States. We hold bi-annual (twice yearly) seminars in Jackson, MS where you will find 7th, 8th and 9th degree black belts on the mat training alongside all levels including white and yellow belts, without egos, haughtiness or bravado, just sweating and slamming with the greatest of comaraderie. If you would like more information the website is www.hapkido.com or you can contact GM West at 601-856-8487. Dr. Kimm is one of the only men ever to have attained the rank of 10th dan through the Dae Han Kido Hae and 9th Dan through the Kukkiwon. He just finished an extensive study of Taekwondo and published a book aptly named “Taekwondo History”.
COMANews: What does Taekwondo mean to you?
GM Hodder: That Sir is a huge question. Let it suffice to say that I cannot separate myself or the core of my being from that of Taekwondo. The statement that Martial Arts and being a Dan level student of the Martial Arts is not something you do, but rather something that you are, is indeed true. Taekwondo has literally saved my life in more than just a physical sense and I will continue to be a beginning student of Taekwondo for the rest of my life.
COMANews: Anything else you would like to add?
GM Hodder: As Martial Artists, especially Taekwondo-in, keep a humble attitude and a modest bearing. Train your students to walk that same path. Train them and yourself as if your Instructor were watching. Honor your lineage. Keep the tenets close to your heart and mind, and never do anything that would bring dishonor to Taekwondo.
COMANews: Thank you for your time and insight, sir! Once again, Chook Ha Hahm Nida! from the entire Colorado Martial Arts Community.