Yes, I am still a member of Rayners Lane TKD for those of you who think I have dropped out of
training and disappeared of the face of the earth!!  Unfortunately, due to final dissertation time at
Uni, I have had to put my training on hold to concentrate on getting this done and dusted but I did
have the opportunity to keep my hand in during our recent visit to the US.

Our time spent in the US was very hectic but very enjoyable and we met some wonderful people. 
During our time in Virginia, we not only competed in the East Coast Invitational Championships but
had the privilege of a private tour of the White House, visited the West Wing to see the oval office,
luckily witnessed the arrival of President Bush on his helicopter whilst we were there.  We also just
happened to be in the same bar for lunch in Washington DC around the corner from the FBI building
and was hosting the private book signing for FBI employees of Louis Freeh the ex-Head of the FBI.
  We therefore saw him and also overheard him being introduced to the Head of Organised Crime
which caused Stuart and I to look at each other in disbelief and to check "did we really just hear that
?!!!".  Stuart suggested that if we saw any Italian looking men coming in, we should duck
immediately and take cover!!!

Master White, being in law enforcement, was particularly keen in meeting the man in question and
decided to chance his arm by popping over the road to purchase his book and try to mingle with
the FBI "suits" in the line to get it signed.  With his US Police baseball cap and sweatshirt, it was
a little difficult but he pulled it off and managed to get it signed by the man himself and I captured
the moment on camera.  This experience certainly made our day! 

We did seem to have a knack of being in the right place at the right time and that was certainly the
case with the wonderful people that we met during our stay.  Although I had met Dave and Annette
briefly during their visit to the Academy over a year earlier, it was very kind of them to generously
look after us at their beautiful home during our stay and it was a genuine pleasure to
spend time with them and their daughters Ashley and Haley, who were so polite,
respectful and well behaved!!!!  Dave and Annette have two daughters they should be very
very proud of!! 

Although Stuart had been friends with Tim for a while, communicating on the telephone,
messenger and via the IAOMAS forum, it was the first time they had met in the flesh and
it was fantastic to meet such a dynamic and colourful character!  We had great fun
during our time together and he was greatly missed when he had to return to Indiana
after the Tournament weekend. 

But I am rattling on now and running away with myself, let me reverse a little and tell you
a bit about Mr Melton's Virginia Martial Arts Academy, his students and his Tournament that we
had the honour of being invited to attend during our stay.  Mr Melton's Martial Arts School is
purpose built and to this end is an amazing set up.  I would recommend you take a look yourself on
his webcam on the
website which gives a live link into the Dojang!  What I was particularly struck
by was the immense respect that each and every student had for one another, not only their
instructors.  Even the very small children were incredibly well behaved and bowed to each other and
every member of the Academy when they entered or left after a training session.  One tiny little man
came up to us and bowed to us both and said hello in Korean!!  I was totally stunned by that one!!!
  In fact, the friendliness of Master Melton and his entire school was overwhelming.  They all went
out of their way to make us feel very special for visiting their school and very, very welcome. 

What I also loved about the place was the wall of mirrors across one side of the dojang.  Not
because I love to look at myself in the mirror (although Stuart may not agree with that one!) but
because it gave students the opportunity to check their form whilst performing technical training
or pattern training, something I always wish I could do.  Although what I think I am doing in my
head may be a huge disappointment if I could actually see it! 

The first night we arrived, Stuart and Master White held a seminar at the club.  I was video operator
for the evening and I was thankful for this role.  I was completely exhausted after our flight and the
time difference.  We had been up for about 16 hours by then!  Stuart was also shattered but dug
deep to teach his seminar and take part in Master Whites seminar straight afterwards.  I think we
were both seeing double by the end of the evening!!  

The Tournament was also a great experience for us both.  What struck me most about the event
was how patriotic the American's were.  You often read about it and see it on TV and being stiff
upper lip Brits we tend to scoff at it and are slightly embarrassed by such displays.  However,
experiencing it I can tell you, is very moving.  The Tournament kicked off with a rousing Star
Spangled Banner while everyone held their hand over their hearts and looked up towards the Stars
and Stripes.  It certainly brought a tear to my eye.  They clearly love their country and are very
proud of being American.  It is certainly something I wish we could learn to do.  Master Melton paid
a nice tribute to Stuart by putting him into the limelight in front of the whole tournament to make a
statement about his founding role in setting up IAOMAS. He introduced both Master White and
Stuart (as well as all the Instructors at the event) and knowing how Stuart dislikes being the centre
of attention, I could feel him squirm when he was made to step forward from the formidable row of
black belts, who were all lined up in front of the ready competitors and announced he had travelled
from England to compete and gave a short description about how they met.

The Tournament itself was very interesting as we were ITF and the Tournament all WTF entrants. 
Their forms in particularly seemed very strange in comparison to ITF ones and I am sure they felt
the same way.  I also very much enjoyed watching the sparring which was full contact with full body
protection.  However, it still seemed very different probably because they don't use their hands as
much as we do and are not allowed to strike the head in this way, only the body (though they can
kick to the head).  They also had two, two minute rounds which are continuous. A minute of full on
sparring would be enough for me!!

Stuart and I entered into the Forms Divisions for our grade.  I was very proud to represent our
Academy in the US and to have come away with the Gold in a completely different style of TKD. 
Stuart gained a Bronze in his section of Forms and also stunned the crowd in the Breaking Division
when he broke several boards, in several different styles, culminating in a jump reverse over the top
of my head.  That is trust for you!  Master White also had a very successful day with a Silver and
Bronze and both he and Stuart judged the junior breaking contest.  It was a great day, Master
Melton worked like a dog on very little sleep to ensure it was the success that it was.  We
celebrated afterwards when Dave invited all the judges and helpers for dinner and a good time was
had by all, even if we were all exhausted by then!!

Stuart also attended a training session at Master Melton's school.   Master Melton decided to have
every single student spar with Stuart, one after the other without a break.  With all the heavy
padding, it was hot work!!  Master Melton then decided to do the same with ground work!  Poor
Stuart, after a hard days sightseeing, he was as shattered as I was but handled himself more than
adequately!  He was as sharp and fast as always although he had a sore ear (ie. ripped and
bleeding) afterwards from the ground work - I think someone had tried to pull it off!!!

Probably the most dramatic part of our trip was towards the end when Master Melton announced to
Stuart that Master White was promoting him to Fourth Degree.  Stuart was shocked and stunned to
say the least!   It took Stuart a couple of days to mull this over as it didn't initially sit well with him
as he had not realised he was being graded during the four days he had spent with Master White. 
Stuart spoke with both Dave and I and asked our opinion.  I knew that Stuart was long ready and
more than able to pass a traditional grading for his 4th degree, has the in-depth knowledge of the
art that only an expert could possess, who's life is so completely immersed in TKD and fully puts
into practice every day each of the tenants that the art dictates that in my opinion, he is already a
Master!   As his grading was done without his knowledge, it showed even more that his talent and
commitment are not only on show for the hours the judges are grading but throughout every waking
moment of his life.  I was very proud of him for being given this honour and even more so when he
eventually accepted.

We also managed to do some sightseeing in Washington DC which has some of the world's most
iconic buildings.  As this was my third visit to the City and it rates as my personal favourite in the
US, I never tire of seeing again the beautiful Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Capital Hill
etc., etc.  It really is a stunning city and I would highly recommend it. Stuart took time to seek out
the Korean war memorial (as well as the Vietnam memorial wall), due to its historical significance
to Taekwon-do history, and it was indeed a beautiful tribute with the quote "Freedom Is Not Free"
as a reminder to the world of the scarifices the soldiers made for others.

It was sad to say goodbye to Dave, Annette, the girls and Virginia.  However, on to the Amtrak we
went to have some chill out time in New York.  After a 3 hour train journey from Washington,
passing through Baltimore and Philadelphia, we finally arrived at Penn Station in New York. Luckily,
our hotel was only a short taxi ride away as we were staying in Midtown Manhatten close to Times
Square.  New York was quite a shock after the relative tranquillity of Virginia and it took a bit of
getting used to.  The hotel was lovely, which I was pleased about as I had booked it!  We
immediately set out to get our bearings in the City and ended up about 100 yds away in a Bier
Keller, sampling the myriad of beers on their menu!! 

Naturally, we then decided to chill on our first day in New York!  The following day, we decided to
get a bus tour of the City which we did and checked out all of midtown including the Empire State
Building.   Pretty much the rest of the time we spent sightseeing including Downtown Manhatten
were we popped across to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty.  Took loads of photo's of the
Manhatten skyline from there and basically got soaking wet and cold!!!  That was the only day it
did rain and we were lucky for the rest of the trip.  We even took a tour over to Brooklyn and also
Harlem and a little of the Bronx.  We saved the last day for our shopping day and did our credit
cards proud.  I was particularly pleased when I got home to see a pair of trainers I had bought in the
US were 70 in the UK and had cost me 36!!!  We even found a Doll Shop were you could choose
your doll's hair, eye colour, skin tone and even record a voice on it, we bought one each for the kids
choosing a combination for each that matched their own hair, eyes etc.  They loved them almost
as much as I did during the two hours we spent choosing them and their funky little outfits!!!  We
had a lot of fun in New York but I have to say, having been to the City several times before, this
was my first visit since 9/11 and it is not the same without the World Trade Centre towering over
the City.  It was terribly sad seeing Ground Zero and remembering how it used to be.  Having said
that, the City has recovered and as you would expect, each and every person is remembered
around the site and at each of the fire and police stations we passed.  That was the second time I
had a tear in my eye during my US visit. 

To sum up our trip to the US, we first and foremost met some incredible people and made some
firm friends whom we hope to be able to extend our own hospitality when the opportunity for them
to visit the UK arises in the near future.  Secondly, we had a huge shock with the announcement of
Stuart's fourth degree and an immense amount of pride in the achievement.  Finally, we had lots
and lots of fun!!!!  Ate loads, drank a little :0) and walked and walked and walked our little feet off -
particularly in New York!!!!  Now we are back we have our 600+ photo's to remind us of our visit, a
beautiful fourth dan certificate for framing, lots of happy memories and a huge big Visa bill!!!! 

If you wanna see some more photos of the trip...
click here

by Gill Nightingale, 6th kup