Only when you meet Gary Muma will you begin to understand the long-time instructor’s philosophy about the sport — or rather, the art — of Taekwon-Do.
Unlike most sports, where athletes only have other athletes to compare themselves to, the ancient Korean martial art of Taekwon-Do is highly individual.
“I’m not too concerned with belt ranks,” said Muma, the owner of Northwest Taekwon-Do who recently earned his seventh-degree black belt. “My ultimate goal is to continue training and keep getting better.”
Muma explained that the “Master level” is more about self-improvement than rankings, and it is the mental aspect of the sport that drives him.
“When you hit 20 years of studying martial arts, new things begin to come into focus,” he said. “You still must train every day to maintain a peak level. But the only person you are comparing yourself to is you.”
Muma had been training an extra three hours per week for the past few months to get ready for his promotion ceremony, held Feb. 27 at his studio in Hood River.
He said that the key to long-term success in Taekwon-Do is conditioning and a deep understanding of the ancient Korean code that governs the sport.
“Earning a place within your belt class is much more than ego,” said Muma, a former competitor and senior judge who trained with the renowned Master Kim in Portland for many years.
“Once you reach the highest level, you focus on performing techniques the right way. And the more I improve, the more I can pass along to my students.”
Muma instructs approximately 100 students every week, and his subjects range from elementary school kids to adults — 15 of whom helped judge his Feb. 27 promotion demonstration.
“I demonstrated the highest seven fighting forms in the ITF system, including a series of power punches and kicks,” he said. “A lot of it has to do with hand conditioning and focusing on the target. And when I strike the target, I just try to visualize myself going through it.”
One break that Muma demonstrated was a seven-board break with a side kick. He also broke four of the one-inch-thick boards with a power punch. In the end, he passed with flying colors, and has no plans of slowing down.
“Now I’m only eight years away from the next one,” he said.