PUERTO RICAN SOO BAHK DO
MOO DUK KWAN FEDERATION, INC.
During the visit to Puerto Rico, Sa Bom Nim H. C. Hwang was met at the International airport by the nucleus of the Puerto Rican Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan. Sa Bom Nim Pedro Vangas, formally and warmly greeted Master Hwang, Master Frank Bonsignore, and myself to the "Isla del Encanto" (the enchanted island). It was a very appreciated trip for me, since my roots are in Puerto Rico. Having lived there and exposed to our rich Puerto Rican culture, it was with great pride in my heart to be a part of this historic trip.
Sa Bom Nim and Master Bonsignore were very happy to be reunited with Mr. Richard Morales, who had been with the Moo Duk Kwan since 1984. Mr. Morales, you may remember, had a tremendous struggle with Puerto Rican authorities in order to be legally recognized on the island. After several very expensive court battles, Mr. Morales was issued a license to organize the Puerto Rico Moo Duk Kwan (see U.S. Federation newsletter, vol 11, number 3, Sept. 1990, "Puerto Ricans struggle to establish the Moo Duk Kwan"). Pull out that old copy of the newsletter and revisit Mr. Morales' struggle, which in many ways, parallels Grand master Hwang Kee's struggles during the early years of the Moo Duk Kwan in Korea.
The arrival of Sa Bom Nim H.C. Hwang was a realization come true, not only for Mr. Morales, but also for Sa Bom Nim Vangas. Master Vangas has a long history of involvement in the Moo Duk Kwan. As a matter of fact, he was my instructor while I was stationed in the Republic of Panama for several years. Although Master Vangas had become separated from the "Moo Duk Kwan" and had lost his affiliation with the U.S. Federation, due to his instructor departing Panama; he continued to teach the "Moo Duk Kwan" philosophy, and now with a "reunification" will continue into the same into the future.
The trip was well organized, and there was not a moment when we felt alone. Instead, Master Vangas, and Mr. Morales made us feel as part of the "Moo Do" family that is present on the island. At the airport, we were introduced to Mr. Jaime Lazu, who eventually would not "ever" leave our side. Well, only to sleep...! Mr. Lazu, who is Kyo Sa certified, currently runs the largest school on the island, and has some very interesting ways of dealing with diet and health matters (sorry Sa Bom Nim... I had to.)
After literally putting our bags down, off to dinner, and a meeting with the nucleus of the Puerto Rican Moo Duk Kwan. Working out details in Spanish, and then translating them into English can be... no IS... very difficult to say the least. My hat off to Mr. Morales, and Master Vangas who accomplished this with great ease. Of course, it wasn't a matter of should we join the Moo Duk Kwan, it was a matter of ... how soon and do we have your "bendicion" (blessings). After the first dinner meeting, off to bed for some rest, anxiously waiting for the "wake-up" call from the front desk.
The following morning we were again met by the PR nucleus, and were escorted to a vehicle for some quick sightseeing of the island. Having lived there, I was really looking forward to the changes since my last visit, over 10 years ago. We were driven to Old San Juan, a very historical part of Puerto Rico, where it's initial discovery by Juan Ponce De Leon, a loyal governor of Christopher Columbus, in 1492-93, has left its Spanish influence on the island for hundreds of years. Visiting the old city was refreshing for me. I was happy to point out the old Catholic school I attended when I was a young boy, and explained how I would convince the nuns to let me and my American friend go fishing at "La Puerta de San Juan" (Old San Juan Gate). Remember I said... convince. It was enjoyable to see the neighborhood where I had once chased after my father, and in the rush tripped, fell and ended up crying in my father's arms. Wonderful memories! The highlight was visiting the old Spanish forts at San Cristobal, and the famous "El Morro" of the old walled city. After a tour of Old San Juan, off to lunch at a typical Puerto Rico cuisine eatery. Enjoyable to say the least. I must tell you... the chicken did melt in my mouth... que cosa!
Later that evening, we reunited at the hotel for the clinic/seminar. Although it was not a very large group, Sa Bom Nim H. C. Hwang would later comment on how enjoyable it was to be able to instruct those in attendance. The clinic started with traditional opening, warm-up, and a basic display of Ki Cho techniques by those in attendance. Sa Bom Nim H. C. Hwang then instructed a clinic on basic Ki Cho, and explaining the philosophy behind the Moo Duk Kwan, and the concept of connectivity. I'm not sure if the looks on the faces of the participants were of shock or of amazement. Probably both. Sa Bom Nim Hwang had demonstrated every move and technique several times during the clinic, assisted by Mr. Morales, Sa Bom Nim Bonsignore and myself. Needless to say ... the parents, friends, and loved ones in attendance seemed to continue to keep their mouths open for some unknown reason? The clinic was impressive, and those in attendance were really amazed at Sa Bom Nim's skill and demonstration of Soo Bahk Do.
After the clinic, every single parent, friends, and loved ones made it a point to get "very" close to Sa Bom Nim Hwang, and coach, beg, and politely ask for a photograph with him. Sa Bom Nim Hwang graciously accepted every offer. The dan and gup members present were even treated to Sa Bom Nim's trademark kick. It was impressive to see how the concept of connectivity and family was so easily understood by those present. In fact, I believe the Moo Duk Kwan will grow very fast in Puerto Rico. In the hispanic culture, the very foundation of the culture is based on family, and I believe that is why Puerto Ricans will adhere to the philosophy of the Moo Duk Kwan, the "connection."
Having family in Puerto Rico offered the opportunity for me to share the Moo Duk Kwan experience with them. My cousin, Rafael Bonefont, and his son Christopher were in attendance. Christopher, who studies Tae Kwon Do, seemed to be converting very quickly and kept asking his father ... "Papi, where is their do jang?" I have to keep in touch! After the clinic, dinner and some free time to experience the sights and sounds of the Puerto Rican night life, and of course... Casinos!!!!!!! I didn't lose any money, but I don't about Sa Bom Nim Bonsignore... I forgot to ask. Anyway, we had to call it an early night, because the following day was already filled with activity.
The next morning, Mr. Lazu arrived on schedule, and off we ventured into the island. We were invited to spend the day at Master Vangas' house in a beautiful coastal town called Manati. Known as the interior of the island, because it is just outside the metropolitan area, the area is known for its beautiful coastal beaches. We were not disappointed. We were taken to a beautiful beach front, where the inlet to the beach was surrounded by coral castles and foamy surf. It was a spectacular site. It was even suggested that it would be a great site for a summer camp. I agree! After the short coastal tour, we were welcomed by the Vangas family at their wonderful house. It had been years since I had seen Master Vangas' family, and it was a real pleasure to see everyone again. We had lost contact during "Operation Just Cause", the invasion of Panama by U.S. Forces in December 1989, my family and I were evacuated from Panama, 3 days after the operation. Master Vangas and myself were very much involved in the pre operation stages while we were both employed by Uncle Sam. Master Vangas played a very important part in its post operational stages as well. A true patriot!
We were all treated to a wonderful outdoor lunch and homemade Chinese fried rice. Of course, the afternoon was spent talking about the future of the Puerto Rican Moo Duk Kwan, and the very, very spicy hot sauce that Mr. Lazu had brought for Sa Bom Nim to savor. IT WAS HOT!!!!!!!!! We ended up bringing back several bottles. I think Master Bonsignore has plans to buy land on the island. That summer camp may become a reality!
That same evening, Sa Bom Nim had to depart, and off we went to the airport. It was a very emotional experience for Mr. Lazu, who had met Sa Bom Nim in Korea during the 50th Anniversary celebration, and could not get over the fact that Sa Bom Nim had remembered him and his son from the Korea trip. After seeing Sa Bom Nim off, it was back to Manati.... but not for more sun and food... but for some surprise training!
Master Bonsignore had been tasked to evaluate Mr. Morales, and review general knowledge with Master Vangas. Needless to say.... it was a great workout! Did we sweat? Or what! Of course, I say surprise because neither Master Vangas or Mr. Morales were aware of what was to follow. Glad everyone ate earlier...! It was around midnight by the time we left Master Vangas' house. The thirst for more had been quenched, for now! Mr. Lazu took us back to the hotel and informed us that he would be waiting for us in the morning for our trip to the airport. He was. The following morning we were taken to the airport and sent on our merry way, with a couple of more super hot spice sauce bottles. Master Bonsignore and myself were very satisfied with the trip. And as fate would have it, I met my famous cousin on the airplane back to the U.S. mainland... my cousin is Tito Nieves, a popular latin singer. We didn't get to talk much because of the other fans trying to get his autographed picture, but I did secure a picture for Master Bonsignore. Master Bonsignore told me later that some co-workers were a bit curious about how he had managed to obtain a signed picture of my cousin. What a trip!
In closing, I'd like to thank Grand master Hwang Kee for the Moo Duk Kwan and our "Living Art" and Sa Bom Nim H.C. Hwang for inviting me to be part of this historical trip, for his guidance in the "Moo Do" philosophy and for being a continual source of inspiration. To Master Vangas, "Welcome Back", it was good to be on the do jang floor with you again. My sincere thanks for your kind and generous hospitality. To Mr. Morales and Mr. Lazu, you both are shining examples of the true spirit of the Moo Duk Kwan, can't wait to see you again on the island. Thank you for your wonderful hospitality, and warm brotherhood. I salute you... Soo Bahk!