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  • Writer's pictureSusie Cuseo

Mi Guk Kwan News: June 2024

In this edition:

  • Unlocking the Mi Guk Kwan's Hidden Secrets

  • Upcoming Events

  • "If You're Not Having Fun, You Shouldn't Be Here"

  • The West Haven Academy of Karate, North Haven Branch

  • Sa Bom Spotlight: Master Jason Barrs


Unlocking the Mi Guk Kwan’s Hidden Secrets

By SBN Hoke Nunan (

Edited by SBN Susie Cuseo (


How well do you know your Mi Guk Kwan curriculum?

The Mi Guk Kwan is a very curriculum-rich style of Tang Soo Do.  Our material comes from many sources.  Some forms are hundreds of years old with rich histories while other material is being created in the present day.  Each new rank comes with its own specific material to learn:  individual technique, forms, one-steps, wrist grabs, etc.  Continued training develops increased skill.  The curriculum is working… it is teaching you almost on a subconscious level and the secrets are waiting to be unlocked.

The important thing to remember is that learning each rank’s new material is not all there is to training in the Mi Guk Kwan system.  The Song of the Sip Sam Seh (Thirteen Influences) tells us to:

“Keep alert and seek the meaning and purpose of your art”

We are challenged to delve deeper into the curriculum in order to learn from it and become well rounded martial artists.  In this article, we will explore one path towards unlocking the hidden secrets of the curriculum.  In order to do this, it helps to follow the Seven Steps to Learning according to Grandmaster Andy Ah Po.

Seven Steps to Learning – Kwan Jang Nim Ah Po

1 – Look with the intent to learn

2 – Listen with the intent to learn

3 – Copy what your teacher does

4 – Save this in your memory

5 – Practice, practice, practice

6 – Obtain a higher level of conscious awareness

7 – Create

What do we do with these steps?  Following these steps enables you to learn anything.  With regards to Tang Soo Do, the first five steps are the “meat and potatoes” of learning to duplicate what our teachers are teaching.  Step 6 “Obtain a higher level of conscious awareness” (the true meaning of Chung Shin Tong Il - Concentration) is where the secrets are revealed.  With repeated practice and an open mind the secrets within a technique will start to reveal themselves. 

Important note - The secrets won’t appear without a true understanding of the material; which only comes from adherence to the previous five steps.

After reaching the Dan level I was challenged to go back through the gup curriculum and study it more intensely looking for things the material would teach me.  What I found changed the way I looked at our curriculum forever.  There are so many more applications to even the simplest of moves in Tang Soo Do than I had initially understood.  Example: “Low Block” – is a block to protect the lower part of the body, an escape from a wrist grab or clothing grab, as well as a throw.

Video of a couple Low Block variations:

Let’s look into the secrets of one of the most basic techniques in our curriculum: Cross Hand Grab #1.  When I first learned it, I had no idea the secrets it held.  Initially, it was a fun way to deal with someone who grabbed me.  I thought, “Wow, I can escape from this bigger person’s grab and pummel them with open handed strikes before they even realize I have escaped!” 

After years of doing and teaching cross hand grab #1, I thought I really knew it.  I could do it right handed or left handed with my eyes open or closed.  I’m sure many of you reading this can do the same thing.  Honestly, I didn’t really give it much more thought until reaching Cho Dan and being challenged to go back and study the gup material. 

So, what’s next?  Is that all there is to cross hand grab #1?  Is it simply a wrist grab for orange belts to begin learning how to escape from grabs? Or a box to check off for the next rank?

“Obtain a higher level of conscious awareness”

Step 6 of the Seven Steps to Learning is What’s Next.  Step 6 is where the secrets live.  How do you obtain a higher level of conscious awareness?  What does this even mean?  Breaking it down, we can see the following:

Higher Level – refers to something above or beyond the average

Conscious Awareness –a state of being in which the mind is both awake as well as cognizant of its surroundings

So, obtaining a higher level of conscious awareness means to see more, to feel more, to experience more and to know more.  That is a tall order and it is not something to be entered into lightly.  In fact, before you can begin to reach a higher level in your training a solid foundation must be developed. 

Applying this mindset to studying cross hand grab #1 unlocked its secrets.  With slight variations to the technique, depending on the different stimulus presented, alternatives aspects appeared. In a short time, I realized this simple wrist grab held answers to numerous attacks.  Here are just a few:

Lapel Grab & Punch

Single Punch

Two Punches

Video of Cross Hand Grab #1 with a few variations:

We all have our own reasons for starting our journey into the martial arts.  Regardless of those reasons, one of the benefits is learning to defend yourself and your loved ones.  Students who continue studying Tang Soo Do year after year do so partly because they enjoy the challenge of growing through martial arts training.  I encourage you to go back through the material you already know and study it.  Look at all the options you can think of.  Meditate on a wrist grab or one-step or a sequence from your favorite form and be open to listening to what it wants to teach you.  You might find you know a lot more martial arts than you thought you knew.


Upcoming Events

July 3-4 – School Closed for 4th of July Holiday.

July 13 – Gup Testing – White - Cho Dan Evaluations – 12:30 pm – West Haven Dojang.

July 11-13 –30th Annual All Tang Soo Do National Championships, Stamford Marriott, Stamford, CT.  Contact:  Grandmaster Charles Ferraro for questions or information: 203.932.5335 or 203.410.3207.


August 14 – Gup Testing – White through 4th gup upgrade – 6:30 pm – West Haven Dojang. 

August 23 – 24 – Weekend with the Masters – Region 6 – The Woodlands, TX (Aug 23) 6:30 pm Kodanja Class at Woodlands Martial Arts Academy; (Aug 24) 10:00 am – 4:00 pm.  Contact:  SBN Emily Bowman – 281.292.0225.


September 11 – Gup Testing – White - 4th gup upgrade – 6:30 pm – West Haven Dojang.

September 16 – Kodanja Class - West Haven Dojang – 7:15 pm.

September 20 – Kodanja Class – 6:30 – 8:30 pm The Karate School, Atascocita, TX. Contact: SBN Tripp Davis – 281.812.2811.

September 21 - 58th Region 6 Dan Shimsa/Clinic – The Karate School, Atascocita, Humble, TX:  Red / Dan Clinic: 10:00 am – 12:00 pm; Shimsa – 1:00 pm


October 5 – 58th Region 1 and 2 Dan Shimsa/Clinic – West Haven Academy of Karate, Inc., West Haven, CT – Kodanja Clinic 9:30 am – 10:30 am; Red/Dan Clinic – 10:30 am – 11:30 am; Dan Shimsa – 12:00 am – For additional information call KJN Charles Ferraro – 203.932.5335.


"If You're Not Having Fun, You Shouldn't Be Here"

By SBN Helen Morahan (

Edited by SBN Susie Cuseo (

Several years ago, when we had the ability to get together in large groups without worrying about disease, I was attending a clinic where we had many sessions and one of those sessions was with Kwan Jhang Nim Charles Ferraro. I was delighted to hear Kwan Jhang Nim say, “If you are not having fun, you shouldn’t be here.”  I have quoted Kwan Jhang Nim many times since then. There are two most frequent occasions for using this quote.


The first is when students are working very hard and have reached a point of

diminished returns because of their hard work. This is where I reiterate what Kwan Jhang Nim Ferraro said, “If you are not having fun, you shouldn’t be here.” This breaks the ice in a usually tense situation and allows students to give themselves a break if they have made a mistake.

The second is when students (usually children) are getting rowdy and loosing discipline. For this second occasion I usually follow the quote with “but he didn’t say you should [Fill in current activity here].”

·       Swim in the dojang,

·       Clean the floor with your uniform,

·       Tell jokes in the middle of Gicho Hyung Ill Bo


On first inspection it may appear to mean that Tang Soo Do is all fun and games but that is not the interpretation that I make. In simple terms: we enjoy what we excel at. If we make ourselves excel at Tang Soo Do; then we will enjoy it. So, if we are not

having fun, we can make ourselves have fun by improving our technique and execution. There is little to compare to the validation and good feeling that comes with self-improvement. Perhaps it’s the excellent feeling of helping a student do something we cannot do ourselves that can compare. By addressing training in areas where students are weak, we can remove the parts of Tang Soo Do where we are NOT having fun. When frustration mounts as a student is trying to learn a technique but not fully succeeding, there comes a time to switch tactics, divert the attention elsewhere to clear the mind and then come back to the original move to see the clarity of what’s being taught and expected.

Including games, like Dirty Socks, Rock, Paper, Scissors or Wheelbarrows to the dojang adds to the learning that students come to the studio for. Concentration, sportsmanship, building strength, endurance and fair play are worked on when students compete against themselves and others making the class time fun and a secret way of sneaking in those concepts. This allows the students and instructor a time to enjoy the activity and break away from stressful moments of learning.


The next feel-good activity we can take advantage of is paying it forward. We know that the Dan rank and its connection to autumn symbolizes giving back.... giving back to our instructor(s), our school, our organization and our style. There are many ways we can do this:

·       Cleaning the Dojang,

·       Assistant in teaching,

·       Participating in tournaments,

·       Attending Weekend with the Masters,

·       Contributing to the TSDMGK Newsletter,

·       Spreading information about TSDMGK,

·       Being a Good Example


If you are not having fun when training, then there is the question: Why are you not having fun? Aside for actual injury or sickness, there may be external influences that are affecting your mood. The simplest resolution to this is the adage: “Empty your cup”. If you use Tang Soo Do as the place where you lighten the weight of the world on your shoulders, you not only follow the correct practices for training, but you may also give your body and mind time and space to recover. For a short time during your day when you are training you can take a break from what is worrying you and “have fun” practicing Tang Soo Do.


In short, if you are not having fun, you should:

·       Improve in your weakest areas,

·       Give more than you take,

·       Empty your Cup


And if you cannot do these things, maybe you shouldn’t be here.


To all my fellow Tang Soo Do practitioners you SHOULD be here, and you SHOULD be having fun.


Studio Profile: The West Haven Academy of Karate, North Haven Branch

By SBN Andrea Kaman (

Edited by SBN Susie Cuseo (

The North Haven School was started in 1977 in Master Rich Kopf’s parents’ backyard in North Haven, CT. His early students were siblings, cousins and friends of the Kopf family.   At the time he was a Cho Dan and wore a black belt in Tae

Kwon Do Moo Duk Kwan. He also started another program in the early 80’s where he worked at Yale New Haven Hospital.  Master Dawn Veign (who is currently the highest-ranking woman in the Mi Guk Kwan) was an employee there in Security who joined the karate program.  The hospital program ended when Master Kopf left his job, but some students including Master Veign, joined his program in North Haven which was then at the Parks and Recreation Department. After several years of being moved from one public school to another during summers and school holidays, the program moved to the Court Club Fitness facility where it grew to over 100 students.  Shortly thereafter, Master Kopf met Kwan Jhang Nim Charles Ferraro through a mutual friend and the North Haven school soon joined the West Haven Academy of Karate. The North Haven members were then tested into the Tang Soo Do Moo Duk Kwan belt system with Masters Ferraro, Dugan & DeVita. 

Around 35+ years ago the school found a “permanent” home in the Faith Methodist Church Hall in North Haven.  The church never had air conditioning and it was kept cool in the winter months.  Training there could be very cold – “you'll have to work extra hard to warm up and start sweating”.  Training could also be very hot – “working out in the heat is the best time to get a good stretch”.  During the sizzling summers the whole class sometimes went outside to train on the front lawn of the church.  That training area was situated along busy Rt. 22, amidst many beeping horns and kihaps being shouted out windows by passersby.  It was always a favorite time for the young students.

Classes were held on Monday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings. In the

mid- 90’s, the school had about 10 Dans and three masters. There was an early class for gups and a later class for the seniors.  Master Kopf always taught the later class and the seniors rotated regularly to teach the gups. Other instructors who taught the gups and dans were Masters Kenneth Hilliard, William Kopf, Dawn Veign, Dave Marcarelli, Bob Fiondella, Guy Barnhart and later on, Andrea Kaman and Patrick Dunn.  The gups were mostly youngsters and a few adults who were lucky enough to train with their children.  What other sport activity could a mother work out alongside with her boys?  A few instructors had the privilege of teaching their children or their nephews.  The great advantage of having multiple instructors was that while they all had different teaching styles; they were all invested in helping the classes succeed.

The school had certain traditions over the years that could be a favorite, or possibly a less than favorite event for some.  Lesser traditions might be lying on your back while Master Kopf stepped on your abdomen.  Stretch class, back-to-basics classes in January, 100 sit-ups to end class and, of course, the famous thousand kicks at the last class of the year were some of the more regular traditions. Occasionally, we did a field trip to Brooksvale Park where we had to run over the park trails to see where someone’s younger self (Master Kopf) used to visit.  We performed many demonstrations throughout the years and manned a booth at the North Haven Fair to advertise for students.  

In 2011 there was a substantial change in the North Haven School.  New full-time karate schools had opened nearby with a lot of specialized equipment and after-school programs.  Our two-punching bag school in the church hall suddenly was less desirable for parents looking for childcare karate and karate birthday parties.  Many of our students had gone off to school and careers away from North Haven. 

We then made a unanimous decision to change the school status to a Karate Club for our remaining students, who happened to be all Kodanja.  Now, every class is a Kodanja class!  Over the 47 years in North Haven Master Kopf has promoted approximately 51 students to Cho dan, 19 students to Ee dan, 16 students to Sahm dan and 9 students to Master levels, most of whom are now 7th and 8th dans. Classes are open to all Mi Guk Kwan masters who would like to visit or attend at any time (with the permission of their instructor, of course) and over time several Kodanja who have moved into the area have come to train there regularly. Master Kopf always makes a point to thank his senior students for their help in keeping the school/club going for so many productive years.  He has repeatedly said that his students are his motivation to keep training while he is the inspiration for the rest of us to keep moving forward.  Not bad for a little program that started in a backyard!  


SBN Profile: Master Jason Barrs

By SBN Susie Cuseo (

“It keeps me out of trouble.” This is the reason SBN Jason Barrs states why he

continues training in Tang Soo Do. For over 30 years his friends and family think he’s crazy, but his answer staunchly remains the same. The discipline he’s received over those years was the framework that transformed his life inside and outside of the academic classroom as well as the dojang. He’s become a serious student in life and in the studio.

Master Barrs grew up in Waterford, CT attending the local high school and then Eastern CT State University where he received his Bachelor’s degree in History with the thought of becoming an educator. He then continued his education at the University of New Haven where he graduated with a Masters in Criminal Justice. He believed that he was on the career path in working the field of forensic science and cyber security in the private sector. He’s currently a Senior Vice President in Business Development for Carmanah Signs selling digital signage to the lottery industry.

Before his martial arts life began, Master Barrs was shown some hand speed drills

by his grandfather who was a Golden Gloves boxer in the U.S. Army. Like most kids he was fascinated in Bruce Lee movies. Since then, he’s had a love of being active and learning how to use his hands and legs to defend himself. In 1992 when SBN Barrs was 18 years old, he ventured into the WHAK New London studio and trained with then SNB Dave Sgro. He later moved to Willimantic where he trained with SBN Seth McCalaster for over 10 years. After his family moved in 2002, he started to attend Cornerstone School of Karate in Salem under the tutelage of SNBs Lear and Arbuckle. In addition to learning Tang Soo Do, he’s also been trained

in Judo for 15 years earning the rank of Nidan (2nd Dan) and most recently Brazilian Jiu Jitsu the last few years with his son, Matt. He’s found numerous benefits of both arts and how they accentuate his current art with the basic goals of falling, rolling, gripping, grappling, breaking balance and throws.

His experience in teaching self-defense started when he led a program in 2004 at CT College where he taught interested students as well as the U.S. Coast Guard

Academy cadets. Friends and family believe that he’s crazy for spending more than 30 years with Tang Soo Do and wonder why he still does it. His motivation stems from the fear that the body would become stagnant. It has played a positive role in his mental and physical health. He believes the most important aspect of being a martial artist and continuing to train is the discipline. The framework of respect and discipline he was taught has transformed his life inside and outside the academic classroom as well as the dojang. He became a serious student and his life path was more certain and clearer. SBN Barrs feels that he’s obligated to teach and give back to others and make a difference in the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan. He continues to teach students of all ages on some Saturdays at Cornerstone.

His focus has led him to strive for consistency and to break into new levels of performance. Outside of the studio, he’s been a lifelong basketball fan and practices shooting quite frequently. He has trained several years with his son, Matt, in Judo. Matt favored the sparring aspect of martial arts rather than learning forms and grabs in Tang Soo Do. Over the years, Matt excelled in sparring and continues to attend sparring sessions at Cornerstone.

Master Barrs is a dedicated 7th Dan martial artist as well as father and husband. He

exemplifies one of the Ten Elements of Effective Training that states, “Martial arts excellence can be and is achieved by young children, men and women, and the elderly, all it takes is discipline, dedication and desire.” Master Barrs has those characteristics in spades.

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