Chang Moo Kwan: The Source

My Chang Moo Kwan Journey
Grandmaster Jon Wiedenman
Last Student of Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee
Non Sequitur Autobiography
Through Photos and Commentary
A Work In Progress


Chang Moo Kwan Events

San Pedro In Photos

Chang Moo Kwan Events

San Pedro In Photos

 

Photo 2014:  Honor, Truth, Integrity, Tradition...Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee's last and highest ranking students pose for a group shot in Grandmaster Jon Wiedenman's home studio in San Pedro, California, USA. From Left to right in order of rank, Grandmaster Jon Wiedenman, 9th Dan; Master Tony Barnes, 8th Dan; Master George Fullerton, 8th Dan; and, Master David Johns, 6th Dan.


Band of Brothers:  I was lucky enough to get a photo with the three senior Chang Moo Kwan Instructors under Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee in the same place at the same time.

This photo is taken in my home dojo with Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee photo behind us.  The four of us all trained extensively with our late teacher immediately before his passing, and to this day, continue his teachings and his wisdom with integrity, truthfulness, and honor. 

I am proud to stand along with Master Barnes, Fullerton, and Johns.   They are also my best friends.  We have passed though the happiness and hardships of life together...almost forty years; the common bond was Chang Moo Kwan where we all met.  We raised our families together, and we supported each other in so many ways--thick and thin.

The other day someone asked me who and what we were.  I thought about it.  I guess I had never really thought about it that much. 

I answered:  The last students of the late founder of Chang Moo Kwan.
Photo: 1999 Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee and Grandmaster Jon Wiedenman and his son Ian Wiedenman at the San Pedro YMCA Studio after a private lesson together.

This is my favorite photo of Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee.

It is this one.  It was after one of my private lessons with Supreme Grandmaster Lee, and I had my son for that day.  I decided to bring him to the class.  Ian, then about four, was all over the place.

I would do a form, and in the middle Ian would run up and want to wrestle with me.  Supreme Grandmaster Lee was really good about it.  He just smiled and kept teaching.  I love these photos because Supreme Grandmaster affectionately put his arm around Ian, like telling me he was ok with me being a dad with a "wild" four year old son.

I was happy with the ground Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee covered in our San Pedro YMCA.  The many times I had met him here and in Korea, he had a very serious side.  Maybe guarded…That was no longer apparent.  I think this was a turning point. 

I knew at this point our training was as much about compassion and mutual benefit mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally.  We had taken it to the next level. 

Supreme Grandmaster Lee always was happy to see Ian when he came along with me.  He knew I was a struggling single parent, and he build a bridge between the three of us with his compassion.  This symbolized he was “Cultivating Capability” in his actions with creativity, flexibility and awareness to me, and Ian.  Ian still remembers some of those moments. 

When I see this photo with Supreme Grandmaster Lee’s arm around my son, I feel it is around me too.  In addition I perceive around our YMCA youth program and his adult students in San Pedro.  We had both changed definitively though this and many other moments like this. 
Photo:  1999 San Pedro YMCA:  The return of Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee teaching after a forty year hiatus is captured in this photo with Grandmaster Jon Wiedenman on his left and Master George Fullerton.

This was an incredible day:  historic by any standard and measures in martial arts.  This photo was taken outside our dojo at the San Pedro, California YMCA after the first class taught by Chang Moo Kwan founder, and our newly adopted headmaster, Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee.  George Fullerton on the left and Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee in the middle, and I am on the right. 

Our journey with Supreme Grandmaster Lee officially started a few hours before this photo.  It is our ground zero, and this is what it looked like.  Neither George Fullerton nor I slept much the night before, and we sure did not sleep that night.  Supreme Grandmaster Lee had told Master Fullerton and me it had been thirty of so years since he had taught any students; however, his first class was awesome.  Mentally, spiritually, and physically he never lost his ability to cultivate capability.  I have never seen anybody teach, guide, and motivate as much, with his presence and non-verbal articulations.

 I remember reflecting on how Supreme Grandmaster Lee inquired directly I was truly willing to start over, after 25 years in Chang Moo Kwan.  It was at a Mac Donald’s in Torrance, California, and my Korean dry cleaner and good friend was translating for George and me.  I took my full cup of coffee and poured in on the shiny linoleum McDonald’s floor.  Then I set the empty cup in front of him with an audible “click.”  Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee had known me since 1979.  His eyes widened, an ever slightly perceptible smile formed, and he said a warm and curt “OK.”  Neither of us ever looked back.  That is what I feel when I see this photo again.  I playfully told Master George Fullerton, we are two pieces of tinder between a very significant spark.

Photo 2014: A very special "Band of Brothers  Master Anthony Barnes and Grandmaster Jon Wiedenman take a photo holding a photo, patch and flag honoring all veterans, but in particular, this day, the Airborne Divisions of the 82nd for Master Barnes and the 503 Airborne Parachute Division.


Master Tony Barnes spent a week with me in January and we paid tribute to our brave veterans past and present.

Master Tony Barnes first met my father at my mom's funeral in 2000.  Tony and I had been friends for many years, but somehow dad and he never met.  Tony has always been a great listener. He remembered dad served in the 503 Airborne Paratrooper Division and Tony struck up a conversation with dad.  Instantly, they were brothers, and you could not have hammered a wedge between them that day.  I never knew everything they talked about, but I think these pictures tell some of it.  They had a spiritual bridge spanning any differences in age, race, and background.  Tony was the son of a school teacher from Mississippi; dad was the son a corn farmer in Iroquois South Dakota.   Tony served during the Vietnam War; Dad was destined for the World War II battlefields of North Africa.  Both jumped out of airplanes.

I looked at the first two pictures of Tony and Dad.  I visually exchanged uniforms.  Then I thought for a while about the two men who filled the uniforms and who they were and what they stood for.  I thought about their willingness to jump into danger for our freedom.  I thought about the level which they both could communicate and bond one which I could never truly understand completely.  I was humbled.

One of the biggest honors of my life was when Master Barnes asked if we could take a photo holding dads photo.  We were going to do our forms together so we went to my home dojo and Tony put on his 82nd Airborne had and held dad picture.  After training and at dinner we spent some time talking about the moment.  Tony had taken some time to read a very rare book written by Col Raff in 1942 talking about the 503 Airborne and their heroism.  I was even more honored. 

This truly was a “bridge of significance” for all of us.

Another truly significant bridge between past and future was engineered and constructed between Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee and his last students in San Pedro at the YMCA.  It was in the true spirit of martial arts most important, inseparable, and simple components..."honor and tradition..." between teacher and students, patriots and country between a man with a message and a messenger willing to bear its weight.

Photo: 1999 San Pedro YMCA Regular Promotion  Test where Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee judged some of his favorite students.  (Left to Right Denise Der, Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee, Grandmaster Jon Wiedenman, Claudia Montez, and Truman Der)

When I see this photo I feel something very, very significant.  I have looked at hundreds of photographs from Korea documenting the early Kwans and certainly almost all available related to Chang Moo Kwan's formation and my teacher Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee.   I have never seen an early photo, at least form the late 1940's and early 1950's of female students involved in formal martial arts classes.  No females.  So I realized something very significant in regards to Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee and his training at the YMCA in San Pedro: he was. probably for the first time in his life, teaching young women.  Wow.


This photo is very symbolic of  the open minded bridge builder Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee was.  At the time this photo was taken, he had several months of working with the San Pedro YMCA, and he had become very familiar with our students.  In this photo Supreme Grandmaster has his arm around Claudia Montez, and is surrounded by Denise and Truman Der.  I see another bridge, the universal one, a man who spoke virtually no English communicating with his compassion what he knew would be Chang Moo Kwan's future.

 

I urge you to reflect on all of life's events which led Chang Moo Kwan's founder up to the specific frozen moment, and on cannot help but be awestruck at the juncture.  Born in the oppression of Korea under Japanese Imperialism, a teenager when the allied forces freed Korea for a brief calm between storms, rendered asunder politically when North fought South in a tragic and bloody conflict which was the Korean War, rising up undaunted to spread his beloved art of Chang Moo Kwan to almost every continent, and then one day finding yourself in a Sea Side in the Western United States, where, a student s like Claudia, Truman, and Denise extend their open minds and willing spirits to you, with our reservations, demands, hidden objectives.


Just as Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee brought Chang Moo Kwan to the people he could serve best at the YMCA in Seoul Korea in 1946, he was "at" it again.  Were his classes in the 1940's so different, or did Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee just speak a Universal Language?  These students all seem to understand his message.  Powerful. 

1999 Photo #1: San Pedro YMCA: Ready is a state of being not merely a physical posture...a mind quiet and unprejudiced with no expectations.

Somewhere along the way I realized I was Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee's last student.   My students at the San Pedro YMCA were his last dojo.  Moreover, I am probably the only person to train one on one with him, most likely since Chang Moo Kwan's inception and synthesis in maelstrom of Post WW II Korea. Fourteen  years after his passing, I had the self realization I am arguably the last and most direct physical/spiritual connections to any of the traditional Kwans.  Now that is really cool. 


I was always taught "Jung Shin Il Do Ha Sa Bul Sang:" Once you put your mind to it nothing is impossible.  After 50 years, I think I would add "mind and Heart."  The Korean word for heart is "Ma-Um."  My work with Chang Moo Kwan has been both heart warming and heart breaking at times.  To achieve the impossible i believe on needs to be determined and resilient, steadfast and flexible, focused and aware, tenacious and creative all interlaced with compassion for the people and the world around us.  This is summed up in what I have come to call the "Chang Moo Kwan Paradox:" "Total focus and complete awareness."  While triaining with Supreme Grandmaster Lee on day this "state of being" popped into my comsicousness.  Supreme Grandmasters favorite axiom "Cultivate Capability" capsulates our Chang Moo Kwan legacy. These two phrases represent best my journey into the spirit of Chang Moo Kwan.


The experience--historically and as it unfolds now--is a epic lesson in honoring one's teachers, seeking of truth, loyalty to my country, determination to preserve integrity of a traditional Korean art, and respect and love for our rich and wonderful multicultural world and its inherent complexities.  I think our story symbolizes, if you take to heart what we are taught from our teachers, what can be created by setting our minds to and objective, and then "going for it" with honor, integrity, truth, and compassion.  Our journey is dedication over time coupled with "doing the right thing" when it needed to be done.


In the thrill of our training together, I never thought for a second our days were limited.  I can say with some certainty Supreme Grandmaster saw no end, he was totally into it.  He had found something he had lost,  had been taken from him, or both.  This time he was not going to let go.  He had come home in spirit, mind and body.  Remarkable...  Look at them beyond what they simple represent physically.  Meditate on this.  'Let the be be the finale of seem,' perhaps. 


Photo #2 1999: Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee and I bowing. Our sense of honor and respect was mutual, this allowed us to travel further and deeper into the Spirit if Chang Moo Kwan.

When training with Supreme Grandmaster Lee I was open each and every moment to the direction which he determined.  He steered the boat, and I was the sail.  In this way it was truly a significant spiritual transference which really could not have existed otherwise.

The only real objective I had at the moment was to surrender myself to each passing moment.  After all, the wind came from somewhere beyond both of our discernible consciousness'.  Which is more important the needle or the thread...?


My answer on my one of my black Belt tests was neither.  Now that really pissed off the judge which asked me that question.  To me the Needle and the Thread are useless without a purpose realized in harmony with each other.  I was the thread and Supreme Grandmaster was the needle.  We were purposeful together, stitching in and out a overlying purpose...the fabric if you will


The Chang Moo Kwan Spirit was our fabric, this was the "wind" which propelled us to the realization of our purpose.  Without wind a rudder a sail are of little use together or combined.  It was not until man was able to stop rowing and start sailing he was able to discover the far reaches of the known and unknown world around him.  This is what Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee and I did.  We turned ourselves over to the wind.  One of the most ironic sayings a sailor can hear is "harnessing the wind."  We can never do that.  We can "borrow" from its ephemeral gift drawing momentarily from its energy, at best.  Humanity will never build a boat which will humble the wind.  It was in this Supreme Grandamster and I trained.

1999 #3: Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee and I bowing.  Our sense of honor and respect was  mutual, this allowed us to travel further and deeper into the Spirit if Chang Moo Kwan.

My time with Supreme Grandmaster seemed to be rendered down to four words which Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee and I shared...truth, integrity, trust, and honor...arguably four of the most admired yet often under-celebrated human attributes.

 

These four photos are not necessarily physically dynamic, but they do freeze a moment if intense personal revelation.  This was late 1999, and I was “bowing in” with Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee for our regular Wednesday Private Lesson at the San Pedro Boys YMCA.  This lesson began the same.  We bowed to each other, and I would almost whisper "Chung Shin Dong Il" "Focus Spirit" and we would begin doing basic forms.  We were wordlessly communicating better than we could have ever if burdened by spoken language.


When Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee was sick, after May of 2000, and slipping in and out of consciousness, I would visited him frequently at the hospital.  I would repeat these words, optimistic if his other senses were failing, these words word have meaning to him, both emotionally and spiritually..."Chang Moo Kwan Chung Shin Dong Il Kwan Jang Nim." It was my way of expressing to him I would take care of the things he shared with me in our precious time together.  I was my way of telling him in words he would clearly understood "I have your back Grandmaster."

Photo #4: It was a "Rite of Passage" for both of us.  One with no beginning and no end.  I knew what I had and I really ran with the feeling and the significance..."

I have trained only in Chang Moo Kwan as an adult, and I have honored both of my teachers: Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee and Grandmaster Dae Woong Chung.  One was the founder of Chang Moo Kwan, the other the top student of Chang Moo Kwan pioneer Grandmaster Sun Koo KIm, Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee's dear friend and student in Post Korean War Seoul. 


My 1st through 5th Black Belt Certificates are signed by Grandmaster Sun Koo Kim and Counter Signed by Grandmaster Dae Woong Chung, my 2nd through 5th witnessed physically by Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee; my other certificates are signed by Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee, all I believe, while I was his student.  I would shred them all for a few more weeks with Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee. One more cup of coffee, a sushi lunch, and interview, a bow and a last lesson.


My heart truly sinks when I think about the Wednesday I waited at the San Pedro YMCA for an endless hour for Supreme Grandmaster to show up to teach me, just us, one on one.  It was a warm spring day, and I walked from our training room to the entrance and looked for his dated, metallic blue, Oldsmobile cutlass, and maybe him smoking his cigarette near the entrance. 


Supreme Grandmaster would never physically enter the double glass doors to the YMCA again.  I did not train that day.  I just folded my uniform, wrapped my belt around it, and went to Cabrillo Beach and sat in the cold sand looking out at the Pacific Ocean:  seagulls, sandpipers, a few dolphins, a bunch of really fluffy, white clouds and the coming of Spring.  I knew I had lost something.  It was four days later until I found out just what it was.


The Founder of Chang Moo Kwan, Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee,  and I trained until he passed away in 2000.  I asked him to teach me Chang Moo Kwan as he wanted it memorialized.  That is what he did.  When he passed, the World lost a Korean National Treasure and the founder of a Kwan, a school, a way; I lost my teacher, my friend.


I believe it was my honor to my teachers and the spirit of Chang Moo Kwan which carried me this far.


I am confident it is "honor" as Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee and I defined it together which will carry me forward in sharing the legacy of Chang Moo Kwan.

2014 After a Chang Moo Kwan belting ceremony  I respectfully laid my belt on the bed, placed my belt on top, and I began to reflect...
I placed my uniform and my bed along with my belt.  I just kept thinking about the significance of it all.  I am not sure I ever really stopped to think about it entirely.

My belt was presented to me by George Fullerton, and has one stripe for every degree I have earned over the last 50 years. When the stripes are laid out nice and orderly, it is a bit like a time line.  The fall of Rome is one inch away from the fall of Greece.  In actually, I reflected on all the years in-between.  The blood, sweat and tears, the tens of thousands of students, Grandmaster Chung and Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee, the countries I visited, the people I met, and the doors which opened...all tucked somewhere between each stripe.
 
I meditated on my one and only son's Ian name being at the top. I added his name the day he was born. When I cinched my belt before I train I am inspired by his name.  The above my name is my father.  He was, in all truth, my first teacher.  Sergeant "Hack" Wiedenman, 503 Airborne, parachute division.  He was my hero.  He was willing to jump out of airplanes onto foreign soil to defend the liberty of people he had never met in the defense of their freedom.  I thought about that.  He is my hero and when I train at look down at his name I think about how, as martial artist, we defend a different kind of freedom.  The freedom, for example, of our students to live free of fear, and to defend themselves, their loved ones, and society against the many adversities encountered.

The opposite side of my belt has the name of my system, White Tiger Chang Moo Kwan.  This is the name which my teacher, Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee, inducted into the Chang Moo Kwan Seminar in 1998.  Later our San Pedro School became the Last Students of Supreme Grandmaster Lee, and we then no longer used the white tiger logo and adopted the Chang Moo Kwan logo in its place.  I wear it to symbolize a very important transition in my life.
 
Below the school is the name of my mentor, teacher, and friend.  Few will really know how close Supreme Grandmaster Lee and I really were, but we connected on so many levels.  The single greatest accomplishment in my 50 year “in the arts,” was the time I had with him.  He passed what he knew on to me, and I gave him the gift of training once again, in what he loved and created, until the end of his days. When I see his name on my belt I am reminded to continue with steadfast conviction and resolve the “Cultivating of Capabilities” in all my students, as he had when he created Chang Moo Kwan so long ago.

I wear two patches and, on ceremonial occasions, my Chang Moo Kwan pin.  The patch with the “White Tiger” on is carried great significance to me. The tiger was not randomly drawn.  It is a black and white of a beautiful water color painting which was presented me on my third good will tour in the Far East promoting Chang Moo Kwan in 1985.  In Taiwan, I was presented with a beautiful scroll with a white tiger descending from a mountain top. I was given the nickname of “White Tiger” partly because my fierce fight attitude, but more so because of my unyielding dedication to Chang Moo Kwan and my student in the Far East.  This recognition inspired me. 

In 1992, one of my San Pedro Boys and Girls Club students turned it into a black and white image.  This had deep meaning to me.  One of my at risk inner city students had the compassion to do this for me, unsolicited.  I instantly made into our logo.  The tiger gives the impression of descending downward in the quest of perhaps prey.  To me, the tiger is descending to seek knowledge, opportunity, enlightenment, and harmony. It also symbolizes humility in mind, body and spirit, the humbling of ourselves to our students and teachers: no matter what our rank, letting go of “ourselves” and our egos, so we can be of better service to our student.  The “White Tiger” seemingly emerges from the “Yin and Yang,” the tigers essence filtered through the union of opposable intermeshing opposites, a sense of balance between conflictive elements.

The smaller but no less significant Chang Moo Kwan logo carries a great deal of significance historically for Chang Moo Kwan and the system as a whole.  In early 2000 a few months before Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee’s passing, we were discussing the logo.  He expressed he was not entirely satisfied with the existing ones, and since were had a teacher student relationship for some time, I offered up, why don’t we re do it?  He agreed.  The logo you see here is the result of several renditions being faxed back and forth from my office to his.  I still have, and deeply cherish, the final draft with the simple work “ok” at the bottom of the page.  I am proud to say, Supreme Grandmaster was able to see the final patch before he fell ill.  He was very emphatic about two points.  First, he did not want his name on it at all.  Second, He wanted the dragon head.  I’d like to believe, and I think I am correct, Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee thought of himself as a “dragon.”  To accomplish what he did in his lifetime this is a very fitting nickname. 

The small gold pin was presented to me by Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee about a year into our training.  I guard it with my life because there is no replacing it if it is lost.  I wear it every time a put on my suit and on special occasions on my uniform.  It is, of course, the Chang Moo Kwan logo, in gold.  The significance to me, is that it went from his hand to my uniform, this weighs so much heavier that it outward symbolism.  A funny note:  Nobody has any clue what it represents when I wear it out in the general public.  Are you are in the Rotary Club?  When I tell people who are not in the arts “oh no, this is a pin presented to me by my teacher and  the founder of Chang Moo Kwan Supreme Grandmaster Nam Suk Lee as a gift…they are a little overwhelmed at first…but then it leads to some pretty interesting follow up conversation.

Well here are some of my reflections.  When I look at this photo I see so much of my Chang Moo Kwan journey symbollically represented.  I am deeply, deeply moved and motivated to continue to add meaning to what was laid before me.

Grandmaster Jon Wiedenman, 9th Dan MA Ed
Last Student of the Founder of Chang Moo Kwan