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  • I ran around the block today. Considering that a few years ago I could barely walk twenty feet without stopping to catch my breath, running is quite an accomplishment. But I am not satisfied. As I finished my run the Korean words reverberated in my head, “Paek chul bul gul!” 

The phrase comes from my martial arts training. It is a rallying cry to go the extra distance, to ignore the pain, to reach the goal. My brother Jim taught it to me. He invited me to train with him at Kwon’s Do Jang in Paoli, Pa. I wasn’t too keen on the idea since I was already in my fifties and thinking, “A strenuous workout could give me a heart attack.”

    I barely knew Jim, we had just met a few years before. This was an opportunity to become acquainted with each other. I said yes. But Jim neglected to mention a few things. He was already a 3rd degree Tae Kwon Do Black Belt and he was also an instructor. He made sure the new white belt, his brother, would not get any breaks. I got no special favors from him. When I screwed up, and I did that a lot, the entire class would suffer. Everybody did extra pushups.

    Looking back on those early days, I am surprised at how out of shape I was. I would train twice a week, 3 hours a night. The classes consisted of exercising, stretching, learning defense techniques, practicing forms, and ultimately breaking boards. I went home each night exhausted. But I managed to move up in the ranks.

    One day Jim said, “Let’s go running after class on Saturday.”

    I balked. “Man, are you crazy! After work during the week, I attend 2 classes on Tuesday and Thursday each. Now you want me to attend a Saturday class too? And RUN?”

    He answered, “Yes. Paek chul bul gul!”

    So I ran with him. Slowly, he built up my endurance week after week. On a high school oval track I ran a quarter mile, then a half mile, eventually a full mile, then a mile and a quarter, and so on. My lungs would be on fire, my legs throbbing and rubbery. I had suspicions that Jim was trying to kill me. When I said that I couldn’t go on any further. He would scold me. He said that the black belt spirit never quits. He asked me if I was a warrior or not. When I became accustomed to the track, he took me to a state park. We ran up mile long hills in all kinds of weather!

    His prodding, pushing, cajoling, persuading reached down into my soul and brought to the surface the fighting spirit that I never knew I had. After 2 and half years of martial arts training in Tae Kwon Do I received my Black Belt at age 54. I had bypassed much younger classmates because I didn’t give up.

    Paek chul bul gul means literally means, “Bend 100 times but never break.” In English, Indomitable Spirit!

    My brother gave me a great gift that I still use today. Thanks Jim.
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