My name is Andrew and I began my martial arts career in college.
Finding a Style
My first real experience was discussing martial arts with a friend. We were both students at the University of Michigan and we looked over the options:
- There was a karate place in town but it really looked hokey and ridiculous to me. The instructor was awful and it was really an after-school daycare for kids, most of whom looked to be 9-year-old black belts.
- There were some campus clubs but Aikido was the local rage and it didn’t interest me.
- Coming off the 80s Ninja boom, there were a couple “Ninjutsu” clubs floating around but I found them silly.
- There was a guy teaching traditional Chinese weapons, but I wanted to learn something to defend myself when I might not have a sword handy.
I’d resigned myself to either driving to Detroit or giving up entirely when a mutual friend mentioned he’d studied Kung Fu San Soo before he’d moved to Michigan. He was a brown belt, which was roughly 3-4 years of study. He offered to show us some moves and this evolved into a year or so of classes.
I found the style fantastic. The moves felt great and made sense. There are certainly many other fine styles, but this art really fit me well. I remember spending a whole night just going over the first lesson (Ah Soo #1) – there is really a lot of depth to the material and every motion had many levels you could learn.
The point of this story is not to sing the praises of San Soo, but rather to say that I found a style I liked and I really wanted to study it. Alas, our friend moved and the classes ended. I’d taken notes and practiced the Ah Soo lessons myself on a regular basis by myself or with the occasional human training dummy.
My friend had studied under the great Bill Hulsey of Bellflower, CA. Events transpired that I moved to LA a couple years later. Because of my job and where I lived, I couldn’t make it to Master Hulsey’s studio every night though I would have done so if I could. I only lived in LA for a little while but it was great to progress my training again, under one of the true greats of the art. Hulsey’s studio was just fantastic. Here is a sample:
I moved to Portland, Oregon for work and was initially disappointed that there was no Kung Fu San Soo instructor. The MMA/UFC/etc. boom was occurring and it seemed every corner had a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor who’d won 7th place in a regional tournament and was therefore opening his own studio. But no Kung Fu San Soo, or really anything similar.
I visited every single martial arts studio in the area. Even those that would have been a ridiculous drive from where I lived. I tried a small kung fu studio but the instructor was arrogant and training was at such a glacial pace that I began to wonder if he wasn’t stretching things out to keep me there as long as possible My wife wanted to try something and ultimately we joined a Kenpo studio.
The teacher turned out to be Dave Hebler, a 7th degree black belt whose certificate was signed by Ed Parker, the founder of the art. Hebler was fantastic – very fast and with amazing depth of understanding.
He had been teaching Kenpo for decades and I spent many long evenings under his tutelage learning how to move. I’d had a mental list of things I didn’t like in some martial arts styles (either because they didn’t work for me or they didn’t work, period). Kenpo had none of them, and so while it was very different than San Soo in some ways, I fell in love with Kenpo as well.
Unfortunately, after a few years, Hebler retired and moved away. The studio went under new management and closed a little later. There was no one else in Portland teaching Kenpo (at least near me – things may have changed since then).
I found myself without an instructor. Moreover not long after I had kids and considerable demands on my time. I really enjoyed training martial arts – honing a technique, working on the physical skills involved, and of course the great physical conditioning benefit.
I began to investigate distance learning. I looked at a wide variety of programs, talked to quite a few, tried a couple, and took a lot of notes. I eventually realized that no one had really created a central repository of programs, reviews, etc., and so I created BlackBeltDL.com
What were you thinking you would achieve with this site?
Someone asked that question to me in a forum. Simply:
- a directory of such programs. I honestly was very surprised how many there were and in such diverse styles.
- review of such programs. As I mentioned, I obviously can’t review them all but hopefully people can contribute. I’ve left the site settings so people can contribute anonymously and I don’t plan to censor any non-spam comments.
- advice for people considering such programs.
Imagine someone takes an interest in a program from an ad or something they see. They google and come across my site, and then read general advice on martial arts home study, my checklist of things to ask schools, compare that program to many others, perhaps look at my forum links (which I need to extend) and come to one of these forums and ask questions, etc. At the end of that, they’ll be much more informed about what they’re getting into. That’s really my only goal.