Special Feature: Interview with Grandmaster Sean Cavins

(Summit County, CO)Colorado Martial Arts News had the pleasure to spend a few minutes with Grandmaster Sean Cavins on the occasion of his promotion to 8th degree black belt. Grandmaster Cavins is one of the key figures in the history of martial arts in Colorado. He was elected Colorado State president for COSTA 1998-2002, and also held the office of Vice President, Secretary General and other State Chairmanships. Over the years he has trained and coached many Junior and Senior State and National champions and medalists. Grandmaster Cavins is is still active in teaching students of all ages and abilities. His school Sahn Taekwondo serves Breckenridge, Silverthorne,  and Leadville.

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GM West, Dr. Kimm, GM Hodder & Master Borucki

COMANews: Give a brief history of your own training.

GM Cavins: My Martial Arts journey began in the late 60’s. A friend I had not seen in years, knocked on my door and said he was taking TKD and asked if I would partner with him, I said yes.Within the first month of training I knew I would achieve Black Belt and go on to teach classes and eventually have my own Dojang. I was completely and forever hooked. At white belt I was fortunate enough to meet Rick Mitchell, now Grand Master Mitchell, 8th Dan – ITF. We were training 7 days a week and testing together through the mid seventies. We are still training and working together to this day. Thank you my dear friend!

During the summer of 1994, we met Dojunium Dr. Kimm and Grandmaster JR West soon after. We were fortunate enough to host both Grandmasters. What a wealth of information and flawless technique. They were an inspiration for all that attended. Truly gentleman to model your life after. I am so thankful for the guidance of Dr. Kimm, Grand Master West and Grandmaster Hodder. I am honored that I was considered to be worthy of USKMAF 8th Dan. This is a huge honor and a great responsibility! (Editor’s Note: Please see our recent interview with Grandmaster Hodder)

COMANews: Who were the most influential instructors?

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GM Sereff 3rd from right, Master McGill 2nd from left. 1st ITF World Championships, Montreal Canada 1974

GM Cavins: My first instructors were Grandmaster Chuck Sereff, Master Larry McGill, and Master Ra Young Chul. The training was very strict and disciplined. I enjoyed this very much. I learned I was studying ITF TKD, and that General Choi Hong Hi was the founder. This was a military art, so the strictness of the training made perfect sense. I have been very fortunate to have strong instructors with great incite to mentor my progress, Grandmaster He-Young Kimm, Grandmaster JR West and Grandmaster Rich Hodder to name a few. I am forever in your debt.

COMANews: Give an interesting anecdote from your early training days.

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Master Ra Young Chul Yop Chagi

GM Cavins: I was a green belt at the time, 4 or 5 rows back. Master Ra was the instructor and instructed the class from the front. Thus he did not see that I was not pivoting on my supporting foot when executing Yop Chagi. (side kick) It was rare that he would walk up and down the rows. He did that day. Master Ra yelled, “green belt up front.” “Yes sir” I said, and sprinted up front. He stood me about three feet from the wall and said, “this is how green belt does side kick, very bad.” He demoed my lousy side kick, then said “this is how you do side kick.” Master Ra pivoted 180 degrees on his supporting foot, and with perfect foot shape hit me in the center of my chest. That kick, picked me off the floor and slammed me against the wall, leaving only a red mark the size of my thumb nail on my chest. I didn’t realize until much later that was my first experience of Ki. Master Ra said, “Now green belt understand side kick?” I replied, “ yes sir.” (I did not.) He pointed and said, “Green belt mirror”. That was my place for the next six months. I attribute that learning experience to a decent Yop Chagi today. Master Ra was in the first wave of Korean Instructors sent overseas by General Choi.

COMANews: What changes have you seen in martial arts during your time training?

GM Cavins: Into the seventies I experienced more hard core military style training. At that time there were no females or children’s classes. 70’ ish thinking changed. Why couldn’t females learn martial arts? And children needed to be focused and well disciplined. That was good! The general feeling was women and children should not be trained with the severity that men were trained, therein lies a major turning point in how martial arts classes were conducted.

COMANews: What do you think the future holds for Taekwondo?

GM Cavins: Soon after, WTF and the Olympic movement caught the attention of many studying TKD, another avenue and a good one! The one drawback that I saw was the sport of TKD began to overshadow the martial and philosophical aspects of TKD. Change is inevitable, some positive, some not so positive. As instructors and educators it is our duty to maintain a high level of integrity and a solid curriculum for our students. I feel we must respect the path the pioneers laid out for us. It is imperative we understand the past so we can live in the present and ensure the future. I believe the future of TKD is bright, it is being taught in 200 countries, no doubt we will see more growth in the future. We must continue to instruct good solid TKD, and impart to our students the importance of our TKD heritage.

COMANews: What advice do you have for someone just starting out?

GM Cavins: Do your homework, research TKD and other arts, it’s important that you find the proper fit. Check out different Dojangs, take free classes, see if the atmosphere is organized, and that students and instructors are respectful and courteous. Please DON’T just pick the most convenient to your home, that may or MAY NOT be the best fit for you. Once you have found a Dojang, put everything you have, mind, body, and spirit into your training. Never missing, always getting to the next class! You can have the best instructor the world has ever known, but if you are hit and miss with your training, your instructor can’t help you. The old adage, you get out of things what you put into them is never more true than in the Martial Arts.

COMANews: What advice do you have for someone preparing for 1st Black Belt test?

GM Cavins: Make your mind set PILSUNG (certain victory.)

Work your basics to death. That is your foundation, after all 1st Dan is the point you really start to learn and build your TKD. You can’t successfully build upon a weak foundation. This is true no matter what you pursue in life. Redouble your efforts, every class is a test, leave nothing to doubt, your training , your nutrition, make sure you’re well hydrated all the time. Get plenty of sleep, visualize your test from start to finish. In my opinion it is very beneficial to do this on a regular basis. If you do this you have already completed your test many times mentally, now the physical part of your test will flow naturally. If you have access to video, use it. Video will leave no doubt as to what your TKD looks like. It can be an ego bruiser, but it is an invaluable tool. After all we should be striving to be humble and egoless. Above all enjoy your journey, take pride in knowing that you are special, that what you have accomplished is experienced by only a few.

COMANews: What advice do you have for instructors who own their own dojangs?

GM Cavins: Don’t neglect your personal training! I am a proponent of ongoing education. It helps keep things fresh, gives you new ideas and keeps you sharp. If you don’t use it you lose it.

In the beginning most instructors do everything from teaching to keeping the restrooms clean. If you take pride in your Dojang, your students will as well. Some will ask to help, accept their help, this gives them a sense of pride and a vested interest in their Dojang. We had students that swept the floor another would wipe down the mirrors another would keep the dressing room neat. There is always someone that has a talent and is willing to lend a hand. I have seen many good instructors close their Dojangs, not because they didn’t know TKD, because they didn’t understand the basics of running a business. This is a must! Don’t sell yourself short, you have a lot to offer, you have knowledge that other people seek, there is nothing wrong with being compensated for that. Don’t over extend yourself, when you’re over extended everything suffers. In a very short time what was a joy has become a burden, students sense this and in no time you may be looking at an empty Dojang. You don’t need to be THAT GUY! Do your homework, when you think you’ve completed your home work, DO IT AGAIN! Give YOUR DREAM the best chance to succeed. Back to the basics one more time, boys and girls!!

COMANews: What is you favorite Kick?

GM Cavins: I have always liked any type of hook kick, it seemed to come easy for me, my body and mind understood that kick I guess. That being said, my Hapkido Master has said “a brick in the side of the head is good Hapkido.” His point was, if this doesn’t work do something else, WIN, you go home not to the hospital.

COMANews: What is something about you that few people know?

GM Cavins: My first school was in Aspen Park Colo. I was a red belt and drove a light blue “69 VW bug.

COMANews: Anything else you would like to add?

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Mrs. Cavins, GM West, Dr. Kimm & Sean Cavins

GM Cavins: My loving wife Mary of 30 years, has supported me and my dream of living the Martial Art way of life. Mary has been shoulder to shoulder with me the whole way – thank you. Be greatful every day for what you have. Never give up on your dreams. Understand you will have to have a positive, relentless work ethic, and there will be many sacrifices along the way. If you persevere you will have the satisfaction of living a wonderful life, with the ability to help your community and influence people with your positive actions on a daily basis.

Never lose sight of all the help you have had along the way. I often hear people say I did this and that, and make it sound like their success was a solitary effort. I was fortunate to have parents that taught me the importance of being focused, orderly, disciplined, and accountable for my actions or inactions. The school system embraced those principals. The multitude of jobs I had also expected those qualities. Understanding the importance of these attributes is imperative to a successful life.

COMANews: Thank you, sir, for your wisdom and insight!

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