Featured From the Archives: The Definition of Black Belt

It feels like I’ve done so many of these lately, but this will only be the fourth one ever. Still, I know you come here for new material, and I promise, I am working on that. (In fact, some of the observant out there may notice a new addition to the menu — Book Reviews. Check it out if you’re curious what I’ve got happening behind the scenes. 😉 ) But there’s a reason I decided to feature this post today. Tonight (right now, actually) is the annual WTSDA Region One Black Belt Test. And though I’m not there, I still want to acknowledge it. So this is my way of honoring those testing, of imparting the lessons I learned in my own journey. Yes, it is specifically geared toward martial artists, but give it a glance anyway — I think you might be surprised to find many of things apply to you whether or not you have ever trained.

 

The Definition of Black Belt

By Kisa Whipkey

(Originally Posted on 5/25/12)

 

I promised there would be posts about martial arts. And so far, I haven’t delivered. **2014 Note: Technically not true anymore. Disregard. There’s a whole slew of them in the index if you’re interested.** So, in honor of the annual WTSDA Region 1 Championship, (which I’m not attending for the first time in, well, ever! **2014 Note: Also untrue. I’ve now missed like three. And yes, that does make me a slacker. Thank you for noticing.**),  I present my first post dedicated to the martial arts. But be warned, my opinions on this topic can be either melodramatic and preachy, or poetically accurate, depending on whether or not you agree with me.

Regardless of which side of the fence you land on after reading this, here’s my interpretation of . . .

What it means to be a black belt

A black belt is more than the strip of fabric around your waist.

It’s helping those close to you because they need it,
not because it boosts your ego.

It’s knowing when to pick your battles and when to walk away.

It’s the dignity you have in the face of adversity,
and the grace with which you take criticism.

It’s the humility you show others,
and the respect you give to the people and
places that offered you this gift.

It’s the wisdom to realize that it’s better to be selfless,
but the strength to stand up for your convictions.

It’s the integrity you put behind your promises,
and the obligation to teach those that follow in
your footsteps these same lessons.

It is an achievement to be worn proudly,
but it’s not the color of the fabric that makes you a black belt;
it’s the attitude you present to the world.

–Kisa Whipkey
(Originally Posted to Facebook on May 17, 2011)

Shame so many forget that, or never bothered to learn it at all. So often, you’ll run into martial artists whose sole reason for training seems to be bragging rights; they’ve taken all these different styles (and mastered none of them); they’ve beaten X number of opponents to a bloody pulp in cage fights (proving their ability to brawl like a school-yard bully); they’ve won X amount of awards and trophies (Fantastic! So they’re basically a mockingbird attracted by shinies?); and they’ve done absolutely nothing of value to anyone but themselves.

Does the definition of black belt really have to be limited to the physical ability to kick ass? I don’t think so. True, you should be able to defend yourself effectively — why else did you learn to fight? But that’s not the main definition of the rank. You don’t need skill to be a good fighter. Luck, maybe, but not skill. Some people are simply born with natural ability, and the advent of technology has ensured that the rest of us can survive with little to no physical skill involved. So why go through the process of earning a black belt? Investing 2-4 years of your life, sweating and screaming in some archaic form of military practice? Because there’s more to it than that.

Being a black belt is a lifestyle choice, like choosing to eat healthy and exercise, or choosing to believe in the power of religious faith. It’s not about bragging at all. It’s about honor, dignity, respect, discipline, and integrity. No one said that being a black belt was easy. In fact, it’s usually the opposite. The martial arts were originally intended for the elite, for the warriors who protected their country (like our soldiers today), and was not offered to anyone and everyone. Attaining black belt was a grueling process that required dedication, physical prowess, and spiritual development. Something that’s been sadly watered down over the centuries. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it slip away into the forgotten realms of ancient history. We can still embody everything the martial arts was supposed to represent, whether we’re training or not.

I’ve learned that people who take the philosophical meaning behind the martial arts seriously, exhibit subtle traits you learn to notice — it’s the way they walk or stand, the way they present themselves to the world, the way they interact with others. Allthose things are the marks of a true black belt. And they are only gained if  the student is willing to pay attention. Each belt color represents a new set of techniques to be memorized, yes, but it also represents a new challenge that will refine their character if they let it. There are so many out there who only care about the fighting portion and completely look past the rest of it; becoming the black belts who puff themselves up with glorified victories, leaving nothing but an impression of arrogance and brutality as their legacy. Personally, I prefer meeting martial artists who are quietly proud and let their actions speak for themselves. Poise, respectfulness, and integrity are always more pleasant to encounter than arrogance, inflated egos, and superiority complexes. Don’t you think?

Simply put, the goal of the martial arts was (and is) to be the best person you could (can) be. Which is why the black belt spirit can be found even in those who have never trained. It’s in those who volunteer to help the homeless/disabled/elderly/anyone-who-needs-help. It’s in those that donate their fortunes to charities, enriching the lives of others while living modestly themselves. It’s in the teacher that goes above and beyond to help a troubled student reach graduation. And it’s in you whenever you choose to do the right thing instead of the easy one. Being a black belt is a commitment to values, whether you gained them from religion, martial arts, or simply had them imparted to you by your parents. You don’t have to wear a strip of fabric around your waist to be a black belt, you just have to be a good person who cares more for their family, community, or world than themselves. In my eyes, anyone fighting for a noble cause, who earns accolades with dignity and humility, or who presents themselves to their daily tasks of school, work, and socialization with integrity and respect is a black belt. An honorary one, anyway.

So the next time you run into a black belt/instructor who seems intent only on wowing you with their peacock display of achievements, smile and respectfully give them the ego boost they’re really seeking. Then walk away, safe in the comfort of knowing something they missed. That respect is never taken, it’s earned. And that strip of fabric around their waste doesn’t entitle them to it anymore than if they didn’t have it.

And to my fellow martial artists, please remember that being a black belt doesn’t end when you walk out the door of the studio. It’s a commitment that should reflect in every aspect of your life. Decide for yourself what black belt means and then embody that to the best of your ability. If you want respect, earn it. Don’t just do things to bask in the glory of a good deed.

That’s what it really means to be a black belt.

Life Lessons of the Martial Arts: Revisited

This week has been a little on the rough side. I’m not going to divulge the details, other than to say it’s not a week that will be remembered fondly. I’m actually still in the process of recovering from the emotional fall-out, and that generally includes a remedy of three things: chocolate, uplifting music that will bolster my shattered confidence, and remembering the lessons I learned while training in the martial arts. To that end, I’m going to do something unprecedented and re-visit a post I did about this time last year.

There’s a stigma in the martial arts that once you stop physically training, you’re no longer a black belt. While there is some merit to that argument — since, without practice, your self-defense skills rapidly become rusty — I humbly disagree. Those that learn the real lessons of the martial arts never lose them. They might not be able to do the most impressive jump spinning kick anymore, and they might not remember all their forms, but they still practice the things that make them better people, that make them black belts. Instead of an outward display, it’s internalized, crossing over into every aspect of their lives. So even though I’m currently on hiatus from my physical training, I don’t consider myself a former black belt. The intangible gifts I was given through Tang Soo Do are ones I’m grateful for every day, and they will continue to shape my life, my relationships, and how I conduct myself, whether or not I ever return to my training.

Which is why I felt this post needed to surface from the archives again. It’s not just an argument for why everyone should train in the martial arts, it’s a reminder to myself. These are things I strive to embody, and I know with absolute certainty that the situations referenced above would have played out quite differently if it weren’t for a few of these qualities. So thanks, Tang Soo Do. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

And since I couldn’t say it any better than I did in that original post, I give you:
 

Life Lessons of the Martial Arts

 

by Kisa Whipkey

(Originally posted on 3/1/13)

 
Last week I mentioned how I apply a tenet I learned in the martial arts to my everyday life, and since it’s about time I branched away from writing/publishing to show my other categories some love, I think that’s a topic deserving of elaboration. What I’m about to say won’t be news to any of you that have trained, but to those of you unfamiliar with the martial arts, it may be enlightening.

There are three reasons that automatically come to mind when someone says they want to start training:

  • Discipline
  • Fighting/Self-Defense
  • Exercise

And for the most part, that sums up 90% of anyone’s motivation for enrolling. But there’s a lot more to the martial arts than that. Yes, it will help your unruly child learn to respect their elders and shut their mouth without the aid of duct tape. Yes, you will learn self-defense and how to fight. And yes, you will lose weight and tone muscle from all the exercise. But you’ll also miss the much richer elements of personal growth that society never glorifies if you only focus on those three things.

I learned a long time ago that you can easily spot someone who’s made it to black belt. Partly because all martial artists have a certain way of moving; a certain poise and grounded familiarity with their body that screams “black belt” a mile away. And partly because of the way they conduct themselves. There’s a reason they say martial arts is a way of life. It’s because, by the time you reach black belt, your training has gone beyond the physical techniques and has become an ingrained part of your outlook on the world.

Every style has their own philosophies and tenets, but I think there are several that are universal. Not because they’re part of an unwritten code of martial arts brethren, but because they’re the principles that make someone a better person. Things that should be common sense but that have been lost over the years to the majority of society. What are they? Let’s take a look and find out.

Integrity:

In a world where selfishness reigns, it’s refreshing to find someone that actually understands this word. And I would bet that 9 times out of 10, that person is/was a martial artist. Why? Because this is one of the core principles instilled by training. It’s also one of the first that spills over into everyday life. Integrity can be anything from keeping your word, to doing what’s right even when it’s not easy or for your own benefit, to taking responsibility for your actions. This is an attitude that translates to success in everything from school, to personal relationships, to career. A person with integrity is someone that can be counted on, and that’s a sure-fire way to the top of any pack.

Humility:

The second tell-tale sign of someone who’s spent time in the martial arts is humility. People who have learned this have an easier time connecting with others. Nobody likes a braggart, and arrogance is a one-way ticket to alienating all your potential allies. Martial artists learn the fine line of being confident in their abilities without the need to brag. (Well, most do anyway.) And that translates into things like leadership roles, community involvement, and personal satisfaction. Just like integrity, humility is a trait that instantly earns you respect and appreciation, without having to demand it.

Perseverance:

News-flash: life’s hard. It’s all too easy to throw in the towel and just give up, becoming complacent with whatever hand you’ve been dealt. Getting a black belt isn’t easy, either. It involves dedicating yourself to intense workouts, potential injuries and having to hit the floor hard. A lot. You will get knocked down, and you will get hurt. But you also learn how to get back up, how to roll with the punches, and how to achieve any goal you put your mind to, one step at a time. I think the parallel should be obvious. You can apply that same philosophy to anything in life, be that earning a college degree, starting a successful business, or just being present for your family. With a little perseverance, anything is possible.

Situational Awareness:

Self-defense is becoming more and more important, especially for women and young people. So many horrible acts of violence could have been averted if the victim had been more aware of their surroundings, or had avoided putting themselves in danger in the first place. Yes, the martial arts are about fighting, but more importantly, they’re about learning how not to fight. They teach you the self-control to walk away from situations that are turning ugly, and they teach you not to do so many of the stupid things that get people in trouble, like going places alone in the middle of the night, taking drinks from strangers that you didn’t see mixed, or getting in random cars with people you don’t know. The first act of self-defense is knowing how to assess the risks around you; a lesson I wish we taught in schools.

Altruism:

This one may come as a little bit of a surprise to those outside of the martial arts family, but it’s actually a pretty big element in our training, especially the higher ranks. Most styles promote giving back to the community, whether that be the studio itself or the community at large. Some even use it as a criteria for advancement. Which is why you’ll find a lot of black belts volunteering in their communities. The idea of paying forward the time and effort that was given to you, of showing pride and commitment to the people and places around you, is one that translates well into other aspects of life. You don’t have to join the Red Cross, or Habitats for Humanity, or some other grand organization of do-gooders to make a difference. Simply volunteering in your child’s classroom, helping a coworker with a hefty project, or donating your time at a library/care facility will make the world a better place. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all learned that a few moments of selflessness can make all the difference to someone in need? Maybe we wouldn’t see so much violence then.

Those are just a few of the positive affects I’ve seen the martial arts have. Every student will choose the lessons that resonate most sincerely with their own lives, and may not need every one, but you can guarantee they’ll be given the tools just the same. Whether you’re thinking of enrolling your child in the local studio, or whether you’re considering it for yourself, take a moment to think about what I’ve said here. Remember that it’s not just about learning to punch, kick, yell and break things. It’s about learning to be the best version of yourself. If that doesn’t convince you the martial arts are worthwhile, then I’m not sure what will.

And to my fellow martial artists out there, what lessons have you learned in your training? Share the ones I missed in the comments below. 😉

How to Effectively Use Props in a Demo

It’s that time of year again– Dance season!

Those of you who have followed me for a while are already familiar with my obsession over Fox’s So You Think You Can Dance. It’s my favorite part of the summer and if it ever gets cancelled, I will cry like a four year old whose lost their favorite blankie. No joke. I really mean that. *serious face*

To me, it’s the epitome of everything I wish martial arts demo teams would emulate– athleticism (which, come on, has always been part of the martial arts), grace (again, always been there), theatricality (yep, now we’re getting somewhere new), storytelling (totally foreign territory for martial artists), and performance (what? What’s that?). So it’s not surprising that this week’s post was inspired by a routine from the current season of So You Think You Can Dance. We’re only one week past the auditions and already they’re providing examples of things every demo should incorporate. Which is why July was always ushered in with a resounding chorus of groans from my team– they all knew that when Dance was on, they’d have to watch out for difficult new tricks making sudden appearances in the choreography. 😉

But anyway, on to today’s topic– the effective use of props in a demo. (There’s even a visual example courtesy of SYTYCD.)

Props are one of those notorious trouble spots for demo team choreographers. Most teams will either avoid them like the plague or go to the complete opposite extreme and overload their demo with them. (A prop is anything beyond the human bodies on your team. It can be costume, weapons, set design, anything but your team itself.) I understand; it’s confusing stuff.

My first demo featured a massive dragon similar to the ones you see during the Chinese new year, except medieval style. It required 8-10 people to man the thing (the head alone took someone with a significant amount of muscle to operate) and basically upstaged everything else on the floor. Now, granted, I was 15 and just starting out, but still. I fell prey to one of the fatal errors I see teams make– I allowed the prop to be bigger than everything else, and the story/choreography suffered for it. I wasted valuable manpower, hiding those 8-10 people under a massive black tarp for the entire demo; I had people standing around doing nothing, staring at the dragon like it was an altar to the demo team gods; and I placed the storytelling emphasis on a prop, allowing it to carry the entire performance. Needless to say, we didn’t win. But it provided a valuable lesson on the purpose and utilization of props. A lesson I’m about to give you.

Props should never ever be the focus of your demo.

If you find yourself spending more storytelling time on the props and less on the choreography, you’ve crossed to the dark side of demo team hell and you may as well kiss that shiny trophy goodbye. Yes, props are visually fascinating for an audience (we’re all over-grown mockingbirds, distracted by shinies), but they’re completely ineffective storytelling devices. They’re static, inanimate objects that only take on importance when someone uses them. So to expect a lifeless lump of material to carry your entire demo is demo team suicide.

An effective prop is one that is completely integrated with the rest of the demo. It’s the supporting role to your starring actors, reinforcing your message and enhancing the story. Which brings us to our example. The following video is an inspiring piece by choreographer Christopher Scott. This dude’s my hero. Seriously. Not only is his choreography brilliant, but he’s a master storyteller, seamlessly using musicality, props and staging in an enviable display of how to make the most out of a large group of talented people. I’ve long been a fan of his League of Extraordinary Dancers, so his appearance on SYTYCD was a match made in heaven. But enough of my gushing; watch the video. You’ll see for yourself how awesome he is. 😉

Pretty cool, wasn’t it? There are so many things this video could serve as an example of, from staging, to musicality, to even storytelling. But today’s focus is props. So I want you to watch the video again and this time really pay attention to the way the sand is integrated into the dance, how it almost becomes a dancer in it’s own right. Christopher Scott not only choreographed the guys, he choreographed the sand as well! This conscious attention to the way the sand moved placed emphasis on the exact moments he wanted to highlight (staging), created a visual echo of the musical nuances (musicality), and reinforced his message of how humanity/man is tied to the earth (storytelling). That’s how you use a prop effectively.

(Travis Wall is another choreographer who brilliantly uses props. Case in point, the blindfolded dance from this past week’s show.)

Now, I’m not recommending using something as messy as sand. Most of us will never perform in venues where we have a clean-up crew following behind us, erasing all evidence of our performance in seconds. But you can still take the principles Mr. Scott used and apply them to your own demos, your own props. The important thing to remember is that every prop needs to have a reason to exist, and that reason has to somehow support the larger whole of the demo. So before including any prop, ask yourself these simple questions:

1) What does this prop enhance? Staging, Musicality or Storytelling? (If you can’t answer yes to any of those three things, you don’t need it. )

2) Does including this prop take away focus from something else in the demo? (Think my massive dragon that basically ate the rest of the performance. Choreography and Story should always be your main focus. If the prop distracts from that, it needs to go.)

3) Can I effectively convey my message without the prop? (This is the best test for whether a prop is holding you back. If it’s a crutch, your demo will fall apart the second you take it away. Ideally, you should be able to perform your demo without any costumes or props and still convey the same story to the audience. Yes, it will be a little less impressive, relying heavily on your team’s acting ability and the audience’s imagination, but they’ll still get it. Adding the props should only serve to make that message more powerful, not be a requirement for comprehending your tale.)

By taking the time to really think about how and why you’re including a given prop, you’ll subconsciously transform it into it’s own character, like Christopher Scott did with the sand. This shift in thinking will then allow you to fully integrate it into the rest of your demo in a seamless way, taking it from a distraction to a dynamic and important part of your story. And that’s the difference between having a prop simply for cool factor, and effectively using it. Any questions?

Story vs. Concept; A Demo Team Showdown

Recently, I found myself on the wrong side of an angry, pitch-fork touting mob after I eloquently shoved my foot in my mouth. (Turns out, there’s a fine line between snarky and jackass. Especially when it falls on the wrong ears.) And as I was being schooled by a student who naively believed I was a demo team idiot, I was amazed at how often the terms “concept” and “story” were used interchangeably, as if they were the same thing. I’m not sure if this is a common misconception, but since I was due for a demo team post, I figured why not take a moment to clarify the definitions and try to make something good out of my embarrassing mistake. And what better way to do that than to pit story against concept in an epic battle of demo team terminology. Sounds fun, no?

So, here we go! Contestants to your places, aaaaaaand…fight!!
 

Round One: Concept

 
Concept does not, in fact, equal story. If it was synonymous with any word, it would be theme. And what is theme? The point of your project. It’s the message or idea that you want to convey to your audience. Let’s check out some examples.

(These are some of the more common demo themes/concepts I’ve seen over the years.)

  • Video Games such as Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Etc. (I’m guessing there’s a secret sect of Comic-Con Cosplayer geekhood within the martial arts.)
  • Medieval Asian Warlords (Yes, the Asian part is particularly important. How else can you create something as awesome as a D-grade Kung Fu movie brought to life?)
  • The Korean and/or Association Flag (Especially prevalent in the WTSDA. Apparently, we have a lot of association pride. And unoriginality.)
  • Badass little kids taking over the world (Cute factor combined with awesomeness. Who doesn’t love that?)
  • The Matrix movie franchise (Does this really need further explanation? The Matrix was just, like, the most epic movie ever!)
  • Pretty much any popular movie franchise (Further proof of my statement on example one. Maybe we’re all nerds at heart?)
  • Women’s self-defense (The only thing better than badass kids is watching a bunch of girls pummel a bunch of dudes, right?)
  • Peace, Love and Unity, Man (Otherwise known as the undefinable, “high” concepts.)
  • The Elements (Because there can never be too many interpretations of wind, fire and water.)

(I hope by now you’re laughing with recognition.)

Despite my mockery, these are all perfectly acceptable examples of concept. I’ve used some of them myself. (There may or may not be multiple versions of Mortal Kombat costumes lurking in Dragon Heart’s demo team archives. 😉 ) The problem comes when that’s all there is to your demo. The concept should be the foundational element, the first spark of creativity. Not the entire focus. Here’s why; concepts are simple. They contain absolutely no allusions to the story they might evolve into, making them a two dimensional, cardboard cut-out experience guaranteed to bore the life out of your audience. Don’t believe me? Let me show you. A concept’s inception typically looks something like this:

Student One: “Dude, let’s do a demo about the Korean flag!”

Student Two: “Like, oh my god! That would be totally awesome!”

Ok, maybe that’s a little facetious, but it’s not that far off the mark. A concept is that first burst of enthusiastic direction, not the ultimate goal. Don’t get me wrong, concept is very much an important part of any demo. Not only does it provide the inspiration, it has influence over decisions like costuming, set/prop design, characters, and overall presentation as well. But it’s focus remains purely on technique, and will rarely impart any lasting impression or emotion on the audience. For that, you need story.
 

Round Two: Story

 
If concept is the idea, then story is the way you impart said idea to the audience. It builds on the foundation concept provides to create something with a far richer experience for everyone. However, story is often misconstrued to mean flash. As in, an overly theatrical fluff-fest that’s trying to compensate for a lack of technique. That, my friends, is sadly mistaken. And probably the reason story is given so little respect in the creativity division.

All those components that instantly scream flash– costuming, props, etc– are not actually controlled by story. They reside within concept’s domain. (Cheeky bugger, fooling everyone by pointing the finger at story.) The only thing story controls is choreography. Why? Because choreography is how you tell a narrative in a demo. The rest is bonus to help ensure the audience understands. But you don’t actually need anything beyond choreography.

Story is defined in the literary world as conflict. Meaning, there has to be something happening. A journey from Point A to Point B. I’ve gone on about this topic at length in my previous post, Storytelling for Demo Teams, so rather than repeat myself, I’ll provide an example of how story elevates concept. And how it doesn’t necessarily have to be complicated to be effective. (There’s only so much you can cram into a 5 minute span, after all.)

I’m going to use one of my own demos for this exercise– The Dream Sequence— which I have featured before.

The concept for this demo actually came from the music itself. (As do all my ideas, which many of you know by now.) I wanted to show a dreamy, ethereal world that matched the tone of the music. But since that isn’t enough for a competition-grade demo in my opinion, I needed a story that would deliver that message to the audience. So I created one about a little boy who falls asleep and finds the dolls he was playing with have come to life around him. When he wakes up, the dolls disappear. Literary genius, isn’t it? But that’s my point. No one said you had to be a master storyteller; you just have to tell something.

So, to recap:

Concept = dreamy, ethereal imagination.

Story = slightly creepy dolls coming to life inside a child’s dream.

See how neither of these statements is really that complicated or involved? And how, when combined, you end up with an idea that’s far more powerful and interesting than the concept alone? That’s the beauty of story. (If you haven’t seen the demo I’m referencing, take a moment to go watch it. I’ll wait. 😉 )
 

And the Winner is…?

 
Neither.

That’s right, our epic showdown actually ends in a draw. Anti-climatic, I know. But that’s because one isn’t better than the other. They work in tandem, not competition. The ideal demo is a balance of both, pulling from the strengths of each to create a wonderful masterpiece people remember for years. But, because the two terms are separate elements, it is possible to create award winning demos using only one of them. You can have a traditional demo that focuses primarily on technique, with no storyline, just concept. And you can create a moving, story-driven demo featuring absolutely no costumes, props or flash. (Technically, though, if you have a story, you have a concept, regardless of the addition of flashy elements. Concept can live without story, but story needs concept to survive.) The trick is knowing your ultimate goal and utilizing your team’s talents to their fullest. (I’ve given out a lot of helpful tips about how to do this.)

And remember, if you find yourself having to explain what your demo is about, you failed. (Harsh, but true.) Whether your aim is traditional/concept-driven, or theatrical narrative, your audience should always receive your message clearly. That is, after all, the entire point of demos, is it not?

Featured Image: Myusa Won Hwa Logo

Last week, I promised you art. This week, I’m making good on that promise (Finally! Right?) and starting a new series of blog posts– the Featured Image. This will be an on-going series where I showcase work I’m particularly proud of or that has some other reason for being of particular note. Since I’m offering the possibility of a logo design as one of the prizes in my blog-birthday giveaway, it’s only right to kick-off this new series with a logo.

So, without further ado, I present my best logo design to date:
 

The Myusa Won Hwa Logo

(which means “Warriors of the Original Flowers” in Korean, by the way)

 

Myusa Won Hwa Logo

 
This was a commission by Dragon Heart Tang Soo Do owner, Master Becky Rupp. Tired of the stories of violence against women that are growing ever more prevalent (along with violence against everyone), Master Rupp decided to take action, creating a curriculum designed specifically for women and girls. The martial arts have long been touted as a means of self-defense, but the sad truth is that the majority of techniques taught simply don’t work in the real world for women or children faced with a larger assailant. Master Rupp’s curriculum does.

She took aspects of her traditional Tang Soo Do training, along with influences from Larry Wick’s Split Second Survival and created a modified curriculum that plays to the strengths of “the weaker sex.” Charged with a desire to see all females armed with the ability to protect themselves and the wherewithal to avoid dangerous situations in the first place, she then offered it to her small Northern California community for free.

Since it’s a separate class from the Tang Soo Do curriculum taught under the Dragon Heart brand, Master Rupp wanted to create a separate, unique identity for it. That’s where I come in. I was hired to create a logo that reflects the spirit of female warriors, something both hard and soft, feminine and strong. The result is the image above.

I chose to use the lotus flower because it is a long held symbol for over-coming adversity, for strength even in darkness. I paired it with the flourishes to create a distinctly girly design. The addition of the sword is an obvious reference to warriors, and the high heels, purposely colored to mimic a certain famous shoe-maker (you know who I mean, ladies! 😉 ) are meant to represent a woman’s power. Stiletto’s have long been tied to female sexuality, but those of us who wear them will tell you that they’re also empowering (and hurt like hell!). Somehow, torturing our feet for the sake of fashion makes us feel stronger, prettier, and more confident. Which is why they’re perfect in the logo of a class that upholds those same ideals.

The color choices weren’t as complicated– red, because the bottom of the shoes had to be red and it’s Master Rupp’s favorite color; pink, because that’s the color of girly; and black to create the harsher lines meant to evoke an Asian influence. (Plus everything looks good with black!) I threw it all into a mixing pot, stirred it up for about 30 hours and voila! The Myusa Won Hwa Logo was born.

Master Rupp’s class continues to flourish, and she continues to offer it to the community for free, encouraging women of all ages to train. But nothing can operate without some sort of funding. I will be creating and launching a product line featuring the logo to help fund this worthy cause later this year. (Watch for the announcement!) In the meantime, if you would like to help keep this program afloat, (and hopefully someday allow it to expand to a region near you), you can make a donation to Dragon Heart Tang Soo Do’s non-profit sister organization, The Dragon Heart Foundation, whose mission is to help under-privileged and at-risk youth train in the martial arts.

And don’t forget, my giveaway is still running. You could win a custom logo design like the one above, or your choice of two other prizes. For every 100 entries I receive, I’ll add another winner slot. Meaning, if I get 200 entries, 2 people will win; 300 entries, 3 winners, etc. How’s that for added incentive? If you haven’t entered yet, click here. Don’t miss out!