The Transformative Powers of Hwa Rang Do®
How Hwa Rang Do and the guidance of Grandmaster Taejoon Lee has changed me to be a bertter person.
Before I share with you my testimonial, I want to express how grateful I am and would like to thank Grandmaster Taejoon Lee (Kuksanim) for the past 6 years he has been living in Luxembourg, helping me to make tremendous changes in myself, and in both my personal and professional life.
I was adopted from Korea to Luxembourg at the age of 4 months, grew up all of my life here and like most adoptees I went through an identity crisis, searching for my roots, confused on where I belong, contemplating why I was given up for adoption, living my life with fears of abandonment and rejection. Lacking self-esteem and a strong sense of who I really am, I lost purpose and meaning in my life which led to me giving up and quitting easily whenever I was confronted with the slightest of hardship and smallest of challenges.
When Grandmaster Lee relocated to Luxembourg in February 2017, I recently enrolled in a 3-month program to the Hwa Rang Do Club here in Luxembourg. To say the least, put simply I was a mess; mentally unstable with suicidal thoughts, self-harming, severe depression, overweight, unemployed and had no goals in my life.
I was helping Grandmaster Lee in his relocation and adjusting to Lux Life which is very different from sunny Californian lifestyle. I remember our first conversation we had at his half-furnished home which had a big impact in my life! Not knowing at that time who Grandmaster Lee really was, that he had been teaching for over 45 years having taught thousands of students and have dealt with all sorts of issues and problems of his students, having heard every story imaginable, I thought my story was special. At that time, I shared my mental and emotional state with him, thinking it might surprise and even shock him, but something told me he might be able to help me. I used to go to therapy on a regular basis, seeing many different doctors and therapists, taking many strong medications for all the diagnosis they had given me, which I didn't question as I trusted them blindly as they were experts, professionals in their field. I cannot even remember exactly what we were talking about, but I know the only question that popped into my mind was, "How does he know that? He doesn't know me! Why would the therapists not tell me these things, which seemed so obvious to help me?"
What Grandmaster Lee did was not a complicated, convoluted, fabricated pep talk or diagnosis, he just simply told me the truth to my face, how I really was; that I was being a victim and that I was weak. Those precise words which I didn't like or want to hear. As Grandmaster Lee tells us all the time, “Truth hurts and is never pleasant to hear.” This shocked me so much because he was the only person who pushed me out of my comfort zone, my safe hiding bubble, forcing me to confront reality, the truth!
This conversation was the first time that made a real impact in my life that made me want to change. With being overweight, obese (highest weight 98kg with a height of 160cm), he told me to lose weight and said that I was “fat.” Another shock! No one had dared to ever say that to me, but once again that was the truth and that was exactly what I needed to hear.
Grandmaster Lee always told us from the very beginning that he didn’t come here to please us, but to teach and to help us be the best that we can possibly be. And if we don't like his way of teaching, then we could all leave.
Even though I spent much time with Grandmaster Lee inside and outside the dojang, he consistently told me the truth, and although it was not always pleasant to hear I knew that it was essential for me to truly change and improve myself, so I stayed and continued to follow his teachings. If this happened at work or anywhere else, I would have quit immediately, running away and not dealing with my problems constantly living in denial.
I had previously trained in Karate for many years, but even that did not last. However, being a student under the leadership of Grandmaster Lee there was something very different. At first, as a Korean adoptee searching for my roots I was very interested in the Korean Culture, and that was my main attraction to follow him initially because of his Korean Ethnicity. Also being a member of the club, I felt like I belonged to something. It was different than what I had ever experienced, there was a genuine sense of being a part of a real family. The care, support, and love that I received felt as though it was from my real sisters and brothers as they would always selflessly do as much as they could to help me grow.
Hwa Rang Do was the only thing in my life which I had not given up so easily even when being pushed or challenged in and outside the dojang, completely contrary to my normal pattern of avoiding and running away when things got tough. I began to understand that this martial art under the leadership, guidance, and mentorship of Grandmaster Lee would be the only thing up to now that could possibly save my life.
With a renewed sense of purpose to better myself I practiced hard, overcame many challenges during the weekly classes, as well as from the preparation and competition in the Annual World Championships. With time, I saw many physical changes, became more confident, and my overall self-esteem improved. In addition, I saw changes and improvements in how I was dealing and coping with my emotional problems and my mood swings. This change did not come easy and not without a price. Grandmaster Lee spent hundreds of hours of his precious time with me outside the Dojang for many years where I cried after every class overwhelmed with my emotions and insecurities. However, I was very stubborn to change and although I listened, I didn’t always follow what he told me to do. As a result, it took me a long time before I truly began my transformation.
In November of 2017, Grandmaster Lee invited me to become a member of the Teuk Gong Team (translates to special force team), which was the core leadership program in Hwa Rang Do where we learn to be role models and assistant instructors of the club. It was another big challenge and having low self-esteem I was not sure if I could do it. It wasn’t mandatory and he didn’t push me to decide, saying that it was all up to me to make the proper decision and that life is all about making the right choices. He didn’t invite me to be a part of TGT because my techniques were exceptional or that I was a good role model, but because he knew that I needed it to become a better, stronger person, with the potential to be able to help others in the same struggle.
It wasn’t an easy decision to make, knowing the high standards that Grandmaster Lee holds his students to, especially his TGT members. I also had to attend a special class for TGT once a week and assist in teaching at least one day per week, sometimes more. I was filled with many doubts and the fear of failure, yet I was excited in the possibility of what it can do for me. So, one belt later, upon receiving my purple belt, I accepted. Little did I know, how much it would change my life!
In the beginning, I didn’t know anything, but through the many hours of intensive training outdoors, indoors, in rain or snow Grandmaster Lee taught us to be strong in mind, body, and spirit. Many times, I thought of giving up and when Grandmaster Lee sensed our weaknesses and doubts, he pushed us to quit, telling us we can leave anytime and it’s better to do it sooner than later.
Grandmaster Lee always told us, “With greater the rank, the greater the responsibility.” I thought I understood what this meant, but I would soon find out that I had it all wrong. With each advancement in rank, I sensed greater confidence and began to be more critical of others, the students, and even my seniors. I thought I was doing my job well, but soon realized that I was quick to correct them on their mistakes without compassion and understanding, but just inflating my ego. This was nothing new as I was always quick to judge other people to protect myself which made me very defensive.
Grandmaster Lee helped me to realize that it was my fear and weakness that made me self-righteous and by being critical of other people, I would always have a way out as they would always fail to meet my expectations. He checked my ego every time it sprung its ugly head, humbling me and taught me to focus and worry about bettering myself and most importantly to first see the faults within me before I judge or criticize others. Every time when I complained about the faults and mistakes of others, he would always point out that I also do the same and that I must first fix myself before I can help others. This is one of the most important lessons that I have learned - to not blame or externalize my problems but to take ownership and be responsible for myself first and foremost. Then, after I have fixed my problem, then others will follow and this was what it meant to have greater responsibility; to be responsible and accountable for myself, and this is true leadership, to lead by example.
I persevered through Hwa Rang Do, but my work life was not good. I didn’t apply what I had learned into my professional life and at every little problem I was confronted with, I chose to quit. Grandmaster Lee told me that he never met anyone who quit so many jobs in such a short period of time and that I had to learn to take all the challenges as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes and not repeating them. However, although I tried my best to listen to what he had told me, I couldn’t do it and I continued to quit again and again.
I went to college to become an educator of children, youth, and people with disabilities. That was what I intended to do for my career, and I tried very hard to make it work, but no matter how hard I tried to motivate myself there was something holding me back and I became increasingly unhappy. And once again, Grandmaster Lee helped me to realize the truth.
I had always loved dogs and have two rescue dogs of my own when I met Grandmaster Lee. I also worked with a Korean dog rescue organization helping them to find forever homes for the dogs in Korea, which are mostly rescued from Korean illegal meat markets. This was my passion, but I was never confident enough to make it as a livelihood. Grandmaster Lee even told me when he first met me in 2017, that I should go into the dog business. I never thought in that moment that it would ever become a reality. He said that in order to succeed and be happy in life, we must not chase after money but find what we love and make it pay. He said that Dojoonim taught him that, “Man should not follow money, but that money should follow man.”
After 5 years of trying to make it as an educator and quitting so many jobs, in the winter of 2021, I finally got enough courage to open my own Dog Boarding & Pet Care Business. I could have never done it without Grandmaster Lee’s teachings and his support. However, when I told him what I was intending on doing, expecting him to be happy and excited for me, instead he once again told me the truth. He asked me if I was sure that’s what I wanted and then proceeded to tell me that being an entrepreneur, having your own business is the hardest thing that anyone can do in their life and that over 90% of the people who start their business fail in their first year.
Needless to say, I was once again shocked, but he was testing me. He wanted to know how committed I was and told me another lesson of burning all the ships. That, there was a general who invaded a foreign land by ships and upon landing he was confronted by an enormous army, and they were losing the battle. So, the general commanded his soldiers to burn all the ships so that they cannot retreat and had no way back home. With that, his soldiers fought fiercely and not only defeated the one army but all of the land, conquering the kingdom.
With the support and guidance in opening and running a business, Grandmaster Lee taught me many things. What we learn in Hwa Rang Do started to mirror in my personal and professional life. I used to be a quiet, shy, introverted person, but now I speak with confidence to clients, dealing with their issues and complaints. I love training the dogs and at the same time I am also able to teach the owners. I was finally happy doing what I’ve always dreamt about doing but was too afraid to start. I could have never imagined in my life that I would have ever been able to do this if it weren’t for Hwa Rang Do. Grandmaster Lee always told us that everything happens for a reason and only God knows exactly why; we could only imagine.
When I thought my life was finally falling into place and becoming more stable, on Feb 19, 2022, I had a bad accident during the Global Tae Soo Do Class with Grandmaster Lee. As I was assisting him while he was teaching a simple sweep, which he has done thousands of times, I took a wrong step with my right foot during the fall and broke my foot in 4 different places. It was a really bad break and I had to get surgery on the same day but being responsible for the dogs under my care, I refused the surgery being aware of the consequences and took care first of the dogs.
Next day, I went to the hospital to get surgery. It has been a long recovery journey with rehabilitation and reeducation. Lots of sweat, pain, and worrying not knowing if I can ever walk properly again. However, the most challenging part of all this was that I had to stop my business and had to survive with very little income. Grandmaster Lee, the Hwa Rang Do Club, my family, and close friends helped me through these difficult times, from emotional support, house chores, financial support, to just being there for my dogs and myself. Additionally, Grandmaster Lee took care of my youngest dog, Korean Jindo named Duyu, while I was unable to care for my dogs. And, on top all that, we discovered that Duyu had some type of diabetes and needed lots of medical attention.
As they say when it rains it pours. Life is unpredictable as Grandmaster Lee had always said and that bad things happen to good people all the time, but he also said that no matter how hard life gets, that God gives us the tools and the strength to overcome and by doing so that is how we become stronger and better.
I had to start learning to walk again, starting steps by step. If I didn't practice Hwa Rang Do, I would already have given up. But, since I was motivated to become better, I wanted to recover as quickly as possible. There were many setbacks I dealt with, nevertheless I was motivated to start assisting in the Little Tigers, Juniors, and Adult Classes again as soon as possible. Being Part of TGT, I wanted to be reliable to support my Team and help our students.
Then the Digital Championships came, and I wanted to compete in all three Divisions. I have been a Green Sash in Hwa Rang Do for a while and although I could barely walk, my foot still swollen, but I did my best to compete in as many divisions as my body allowed me to do. It was my duty as TGT, doesn't matter of the injury, that I had to compete and be an example for our students that with any limitation you can still compete and do your best. I also wanted to challenge myself.
I learnt so many things and grew in so many ways, I cannot express it all here, but I will share some of the most valuable lessons I have learned.
I realize now that I am never alone and that I am loved by many and if these things didn’t happen then I would never have come to realize the wonderful relationships I have with my family, friends, and now Hwa Rang Do which I cherish and immensely grateful for.
I realized the meaning and value of living a life of service and self-sacrifice rather than self-centeredness. “Why me?” has been the question which led me to self-pity and depression, but now I live to better myself so that I can be of greater service to others and of course dogs.
I know now that as long as I persevere and remain on the path, as long as I am strong and stay true, making the right choices I can accomplish my goals and improve my life.
Through my Hwa Rang Do experience with Grandmaster Taejoon Lee, I have stopped all medications; stopped receiving any therapy, lost about 30kg and still need to lose a little more, started my own business, and now I feel motivated each day looking forward to the possibilities. Grandmaster Lee helped me to realize the truth about myself and accept the worst parts of myself, then he taught me how to overcome them. And, that was the most important lesson I’ve learned is that when you love then you must be truthful, but also be strong enough to help and support to fight and overcome our struggles and challenges of life together. For me, this is Hwa Rang Do.
My recovery journey is not over yet. It will be a long time, but I am committed to making it happen as soon as possible.
My Hwa Rang Do Journey has also just started, and I am looking forward to studying and learning at my best to become a better person so that I can help others!
I am honored to learn directly from Grandmaster Lee under his leadership, guidance and mentorship, looking forward to many years to come, but especially the next year, as it is his Last year in Luxembourg! I thank God for bringing him and Hwa Rang Do into my life.
Thank you very much.
Your humble student
Véronique Mee Hee Wilhelm
Hwa Rang Do Club Luxembourg