ITF-JAPAN Kansai Region Black Belt Grading
Master Daniel Sng was invited to observe the ITF-JAPAN Kansai Region Black Belt Grading held on 15 June 2013 in Sanda, Hyogo Prefecture, and made the trip with Justina Sun (1st degree) to enhance friendly ties with ITF-JAPAN.
Master Daniel Sng’s Trip Schedule
14 June: Arrived in Japan; conducted class at the Kobe Dojang
15 June: Black Belt Grading
16 June: Master Sng Class attended by Master Lee Jong Mok (7th Degree Black Belt), Mr. Park Jong Sa (Graded for 6th Degree Black Belt), Mr. Tomoyasu Kataoka (4th Degree Black Belt), and many others
17 June: Depart for Singapore
The Chief Examiner was Master Lee Jong Mok (7th Degree Black Belt and Secretary General of ITF-JAPAN), and the MC for the grading was Mr. Ken-ichi Nonaka (5th Degree Black Belt and Bronze Medalist from the ITF World Championships in Canada in 2012). Other senior black belts that attended the event to support the grading were Mr. Tomoyasu Kataoka (4th Degree Black Belt and World Medalist) and Mr. Munekazu Hiramatsu (3rd Degree Black Belt and Japan Representative).
Mr. Park Jong Sa, who is the head of the ITF-JAPAN Kansai Region, was grading for 6th Degree, along with his students Yasuo Tsuda, Shinya Akemaru, and Jules Takagishi (formerly trained at ITC) for 2nd Degree; and Daisuke Fujimoto and Junta Fujimoto for 1st Degree.
Master Sng was met by Kaori Takano and Shu Wang of Lee’s Taekwon-Do Kansai Club at Kansai International Airport upon arrival. It was a very kind gesture by Kaori, who was reciprocating Master Sng’s generosity when she visited first Singapore and then traveled with the Singapore team to Malaysia for the Malaysian Championship in 2012.
In the evening of 14 June, Master Sng took the class at the Kobe Dojang, which celebrated its first anniversary in November 2012. The class was attended by Mr. Park, Jules Takagishi, Yasuo Tsuda, Kaori Takano, Jules’s twin children, and two other white belts, one of which will be grading for the first time on 5 July 2013; 18 months since he began to train in Taekwon-Do. It is Mr. Park’s policy not to rush students through grading, and each student must take a preparatory exam before submitting his application for the official examination so that Mr. Park is convinced that he is ready to be tested. Though taking the examination still does not guarantee that one will pass, Mr. Park does not believe in allowing students who are not at all ready to grade for grading’s sake, either.
Master Sng shared with the class some of his exercises and games, and the two-hour training felt very short, especially since it was wrapped up with “dodge ball,” which brought the kids out in everyone. At the end of the class, Master Sng presented the dodge ball to Mr. Park so that Mr. Park and his students can continue to enjoy the game to hone their agility and reflexes after Master Sng departs.
The following day, on 15 June, Mr. Ken-ichi Nonaka traveled five hours from his native town of Matsumoto to meet Master Sng and to attend the grading. “I did not think that I could be so fortunate to see Master Sng so soon after my Singapore trip and in Japan, too, so I am very excited and grateful for the opportunity,” Mr. Nonaka said.
The grading commenced at 18:30 as planned, and ended by 21:00.
The Japanese grading examination includes patterns, pre-arranged sparring, semi-pre-arranged sparring (the students must come up with five of their own pre-arranged sparring routines as opposed to learning a syllabus), self-defense, power breaking, sparring, theory, and fitness examination. Sparring includes 2 vs. 1 for 1st degree gradings, 3 vs. 1 for 2nd degree gradings, and Mr. Park, grading for 6th degree, was required to fight one round of 5 vs. 1. These sparring rounds against multiple opponents test one’s indomitable spirit and perseverance. It is also expected as a sign of qualifying for a black belt to be able to take on more than one opponent at once. Mr. Park was also asked to demonstrate self-defense techniques against two opponents.
As the day 15 June coincided with the anniversary of the day the founder of Taekwon-do passed away, silent prayers were offered before the examination commenced.
There were two unusual accidents during the grading – two people holding the power boards for power breaking cut their faces on the boards on two separate occasions. (That is why two people are wearing band aids in the group photo.)
More common incidents like being kicked in the chest after Mr. Park broke four boards also happened with no injuries.
At the closing of the grading session, Masters Lee and Sng gave short speeches to the students.
Master Lee asked that each student take a closer look at themselves and their performance and understand their challenges and take them on to become better students.
Master Sng also urged the students to understand what they need to do to become better students of the art and reminded them that “the test is not the test; preparing for the test is the test.”
The results were announced by ITF-JAPAN on 21 June 2013 as follows:
- Promoted to 6th Degree Black Belt: Jong Sa Park
- Promoted to 2nd Degree Black Belt: Shinya Akemaru, Yasuo Tsuda, Jules Takagishi
- Promoted to 1st Degree Black Belt: Daisuke Fujimoto, Junta Fujimoto
After the grading, an official dinner was held near the dojang with Masters Lee and Sng as the guests of honor. A total of 27 students attended the event and enjoyed themselves as they shared good food, drink, and much laughter.
Many of the students who observed the grading commented that they were very inspired and moved by the experience. Seeing their Sabum grade is a rare event and treat and Mr. Park’s indomitable spirit touched many of his students.
On the following day, Sunday, 16 June, Master Sng led the Lee’s Taekwon-Do Club class from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. Master Lee, Mr. Park, Mr. Kataoka, and Jules Takagishi were the black belts that attended the session alongside colour belts and white belts. Master Sng shared a few of his many exercises with the class as well as self-defense techniques. He also had the class play games and enjoy themselves as they trained.
At the end of the session, each student spoke a word of thanks to Master Sng, and then Master Lee wrapped up the session with the following: “It was confirmed today that the most wonderful thing about Taekwon-Do is that it bonds us regardless of race, nationality, gender, age, and affiliation. We are connected through mutual respect and through the art which, unlike sport, can be practiced even as we get older. I am very honored that I was able to take the class led by Master Daniel Sng, which I hear is world-renowned as a physically demanding class, today. I thank Master Sng for his generosity in sharing his knowledge and years of experience with us today.”
A Personal Note from Jules Takagishi:
I am very grateful to Master Daniel Sng and Justina for making the trip to oversee our grading. It has been more than seven years since Master Sng’s last trip to Japan, and it was his first visit to the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, etc.).
I first started learning Taekwon-Do in Dubai at the age of 36, and was very fortunate to be able to further my training under Sir’s guidance in Singapore. All the skipping, physical exercises, and training made me the fittest in my life at ages 37~38! I believe I am proof that it is never too late to start training and age is no excuse to not do any of Sir’s exercises!
After a six-year break to have my twins (I was actually training and doing patterns through my pregnancy. I had trouble tying my belt when my belly got bigger than 100cm – it was 118cm just before I gave birth – and no one wanted to kick targets held by a pregnant woman so I did patterns), I trained for two years leading up to my grading. Mr. Park has been nothing but patient and encouraging. When I first returned to training, I had forgotten so much that I asked if I should not be wearing a white belt again, but Mr. Park insisted that I continue in my current rank.
Nine months ago, when I was first invited to grade, it was difficult to fathom being ready. But I knew I wanted to do it, so the desire fueled my training and got me to where I am today.
I believe I am the oldest person if not the oldest woman to grade for a black belt this year at ITF-Japan, at age 46. There were allowances made for my being a woman, but I had no concessions made for my age at my grading, and I am proud of that.
Thanks to Master Daniel Sng and his generosity to all members of ITF-Japan, Mr. Ken-ichi Nonaka came to our grading as well. It may seem strange that Master Sng of Singapore has become the link to bring two Japanese people living in Japan together, but such is the miracle of Taekwon-Do and Master Sng’s character.
Master Sng making this trip meant the world to me and it has enhanced ties between ITF-Japan and ITF-Singapore. I hope to repay Master Sng by contributing to both ITF-Japan and ITF-Singapore in any way I can, and also by training harder to be worthy of my belt not just in spirit and intention but in skill as well.
Written by Ms. Jules Takagishi, 2nd Degree Black Belt, ITF-JAPAN
© Island Taekwon-Do Centre 2013