One of the things that I’ve been incredibly happy with as of late is the fact that our Taekwondo program finally has it’s own uniforms. Although Quiet Flame Taekwondo has been operating in Tokyo for over a decade, it started life as the Shinjuku Taekwondo Club, competition-training club run by a national team coach. Once that master left to build a university team however, over time with no strong leadership, the club dwindled down to just three or four remaining members. There were no uniforms, belts or any Dojang culture to speak of; just guys who got together to spar from time to time. I on the other hand only had one regular student at the time, (and no regular space) and as such, things were equally informal on my end.
After combining the Shinjuku Taekwondo Club with my no-named “club” (of one, haha) I simply ran it to keep it alive for a while, but as it started to grow, I came to realize just how many people were looking for an international, English-first place to learn Taekwondo in Tokyo. With that realization, I knew it was time to turn it into a proper dojang. The first (and biggest) challenge was finding a regular place for us to train. In Tokyo, rent is simply insane (commanding pricing of $3000 or more a month for even really tiny places) and as a small club practicing a minor version of an even more minor sport (the Olympic version of Taekwondo) there was simply no way we could afford a place of our own. As such, we bounced around from public space to rental space before settling on the space that the original Shinjuku Taekwondo club had. The issue with this was that we could only rent it 4 times a month, for two hours at a time- meaning that we could never have more than one evening class a week. Furthermore, as all of the residing Shinjuku-residing Taekwondo Club members had left and moved on, we could only have it for the duration of our current contract, and unless we got at least 10 new members who lived in Shinjuku, we were simply going to get kicked out.
As such, we explored the idea of a joint venture in a building in Ichigaya, and while that allowed me to open up more classes than I perviously could, the space needed to be shared with two other businesses, and in the long run that ended up creating more trouble than it was worth. Within about 6 months, we found ourselves once again out of a space. Looking back on it, at that point, the fact that I still managed to have a loyal students just blows my mind.
Thankfully however, within that time, I managed to get our first kid student, and with the help of his parents (to whom I will be eternally grateful) I was able to apply and get accepted into the US Embassy’s martial arts program. This gave me a regular dojo to use and our club something that it had never had before- a longterm home, and consequently, the chance to “build a dojang culture”.
Of all the things necessary to do, and challenges faced however, the last major hurdle was figuring out how to get uniforms. As aforementioned, Olympic TKD is still a minor sport here in Japan, and as such, the availability of quality uniforms is severly limited. In addition to that, the tradition of people wearing white lapels on their uniforms until black belt is all but non-existant in Korea and elsewhere in Asia, so finding white lapelled uniforms was even harder. While it took forever to figure out how to get them here, with the help of a friend running a dojang in the states, we finally got them. I finally had the pleasure of seeing everyone in a proper uniform, and training (along with my other students) in a uniform with our own club’s name on it. While that might be standard procedure for other clubs, for us, this was a hard-fought battle, and I can’t express how good of a feeling that was. It made everything official. It was happiness embodied.
While we still have a long way to go, the club’s size has been growing steadily, and for the first time ever I’m getting the chance to train people in the long run. I’m seeing people grow, change, and improve. I’m seeing lifelong friendships develop and I’m even seeing some of those friendships become more than that. It’s a beautiful thing.