“Martial Arts has helped me a lot."  Black Belt Pretesting Report: Fiona Schwall – Black Belt Candidate June 10th, 2017

“Martial Arts has helped me a lot." Black Belt Pretesting Report: Fiona Schwall – Black Belt Candidate June 10th, 2017

Tae Kwon Do gives me physical boosts along with mental boosts. Physical boosts are great. Tae Kwon Do strengthens my muscles so they are stronger and bigger than before. It gives me speed because my legs are a lot stronger now and can push farther. It also gets me swifter because I can dodge quicker and move quicker.

Mental boosts are just as good. Martial Arts strengthen my mind a lot so my brain is bigger and smarter. It gives me more bravery and confidence. My eyesight is quicker and stronger, and so is my hearing.

Once I was on the bus in 1st grade where I was sitting next to a kindergartner and suddenly started punching me. I used my Tae Kwon do blocks, then I realized I wasn’t so I grabbed his hands for him to stop, then he started to kick. I pinned down his legs. You think he stopped? Nope. He started HEADBUTTING me! I finally said “ stop! That hurts! “ and he stopped.”  There is no game that wants you to fight in real life.” I said. The bus driver heard and told him not to do that again. Also, my strength helped me endure the pain. This happened when I was a green belt.

Meditation is an important part of Tae Kwon Do. It has physical and mental boosts.

There may not be many physical attributes, but they are just as good as any other amount. Meditation helps your agility, sense it strengthens your legs and body. It gets your muscles to be used as a defense and/or offense. It doesn’t matter there are more mental boosts than physical, yet it is helpful. Meditation focuses your senses , so you are quicker at things. It gets you swift and speedy, too. It calms you a lot. Meditation also alerts you to any changes and/ or movements.

There was a time that I was mad at a game on the computer. I forgot what the name was. I was very mad because the computer was being stubborn.  I finally sat down on the floor and meditated for about five minutes. I was jumbled and frustrated and I couldn’t control myself very well. I felt a LOT better when I went back to the game. I felt very calm and collected, as if had turned into a whole other person over that small period of time. It happened about when I was a blue belt.

One another story. I was in class (6/8/17) and I was working on an assignment. I had trouble thinking about the topic I was writing about. I was just like” Yes! Finally an ideal! Noooooooo! I forgot it! I think I’m getting it again. UGH! NOT AGAIN! And on and on and on and on….. Eventually I felt like crying and giving up so I got out of my chair, pushed it in, sat on the floor, and got in a meditation position. I felt better already. I started meditating for a couple of minutes. I heard people saying stuff like “Move!”, ‘ Fiona, what are you doing?’,why are you meditating/”,’Can’t you meditate in your chair?”, ”I HATE WHEN SHE MEDITATES.”(the worst) and other various things. Eventually Julian (my friend) tapped me and said “Fiona, I think you will be OK now.” And I got up. I answered the "can’t you meditate in the chair" question by showing Maddie. (She asked it.)


If I had never taken Martial Arts in the first place, life would have been just crazy.

Above, when the kid started punching/kicking/headbutting me, I would have just sat there, surprised and full of pain. I would have eventually said “Stop!” but that would be a long time after he started. When my computer was being stubborn (again, above) I would have just sat and cried on the couch and put up a fit and destroy hope of happiness. I would do worse in school. I am currently in the highest group – “ The Cheetahs” – but if I hadn’t taken Tae Kwon Do or any kind of Martial Arts I would be in the “ Tigers, “ which is in the middle of the Lions (lowest) and the Cheetahs. Also, in Math, I would instead of being in Yellow group (best) I might be in Blue group (closer to Yellow than Green and Orange) but hopefully not Orange or Green. (the worst group to be in)

That’s how Martial Arts has helped me.

My name is Ian Wei-Hong Dempster. I am 24 years old. I am a college student, a first-degree blackbelt in Taekwondo, and a cancer survivor.

Please bear with me as I take this story back a bit. I didn’t start classes with Lorenzo until I was 18 years old, but I’ve been fighting all my life. In elementary school, I was almost always the shortest one in class, and other kids found it funny, took advantage of that, pushed me around, beat me up. I remember Stephen, my first bully, and I remember him making fun of me for whatever he could. The fact that I was smaller, the fact that I didn’t draw very well, the fact that my mother was Chinese, and the fact that I would cry when he said those things. And despite the fact that I got in a lot of trouble for it, I remember the feeling of when I started fighting back. At the time, I was a child, ignorant of things and fighting out of anger. I was sent to the principal's office over and over, and I’d built up this reputation as this boy who was fragile, but also volatile. Because “Hurt people hurt people”- a person who has been hurt by someone is likely to hurt someone else; and unfortunately that sometimes includes people who aren't involved in the conflict at all. As I got older, I learned that violence should never be the first reaction to aggression. I learned better, but I never forgot the power in my body and the feeling of a fight.     Skipping ahead a bit, I had just begun classes at John Tyler Community College. I was a bit adrift and found myself feeling a bit hollow, empty, as if I were missing something. To preface, my brother had learned under Master Gibson before I was even born, and my late uncle studied with him long before that, so Lorenzo has known my family for quite a while. I’d considered martial arts when I was young, but my parents’ work schedule made it difficult. I should say though, that I have always been interested in the different techniques and philosophies of martial arts, and all through high school, I’d educated myself on the ideas of different styles -Muay Thai kickboxing, Wing Chun kung fu, Escrima stick and knife fighting, as well as western boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling- they all fascinated me. Now that I was a young man with the independence of a job and a car, I wanted to pursue martial arts in a deeper way. And so, I started my 2 free classes… in a pair of skinny jeans. Needless to say, there were LOTS of reasons I was happy to have my own uniform.     So now I was exploring martial arts for myself. Being a bit of a perfectionist, some things clicked with me. Not many people know, but the patterns we perform in class, the katas, they exist as an encyclopedia of movement. The low punch in the first pattern Chon Ji should be exactly the same every time, because if you ever feel shaky or out of form, you should be able to refer back to that pattern and say THIS is how I should make that low punch EVERY time. When I first learned how to do a tornado kick (360 crescent kick), and I realized I could actually do this high-level move, I practiced for hours on my own, mostly in my backyard in the summer wearing pajama pants so I didn’t get grass stains on my uniform. I learned the respect that you can have for a sparring partner, an opponent, and how much you can look up to someone truly more skilled or naturally talented than you. This is hard to understand for some people, but when you take the anger and the hate out of fighting, when the two of you begin a match testing each other as well as yourselves, knowing that you do not actually want to hurt that person, there is a trust that’s built, and you legitimately bond through it. 

I fell in love with the science of fighting, and for a while, it was the main thing people used to describe me: “That’s Ian, he does Karate/Taekwondo.” The day I got my blackbelt is more prominent in my memory than the day I graduated high school (probably because I never liked high school). My brother came, and he and Master Gibson and my mother caught up on old times. My father was afraid to come because he thought he’d make me nervous, but he made sure to let me know how proud he was. After you get your blackbelt, you get a patch for your uniform that says “Instructor”. This is directly under the patch that reads “Grandmaster Lorenzo Gibson’s Martial Arts”. I take both of these very seriously, and as I was asked to teach young students -whitebelts, yellowbelts, and greenbelts- I tried to do my best to teach them the basics, the mechanics, solid foundations to build their movements on in the future, all while being mindful that I represented Master Gibson as both a student and family friend.  They say that you learn a lot teaching others, and I would absolutely agree. Teaching 5 children with the exact same words doesn’t always work, and so you have to adapt to them, explain in different ways, and try to think about what you’re teaching from different points of view. If obsessing over forms and kicks by myself gave my knowledge depth, then teaching others gave it breadth. Moreover, teaching is incredibly rewarding for me. When a student gets up during their belt test and does their pattern, and they do it well, and the audience applauds, their success is something you helped create. There is a joy in building people up, and in a way, their triumph becomes your triumph, their pride becomes your pride, and you never have to take anything away from them to feel that way. About five years of me being in Master Gibson’s class have come and gone, and I feel confident in myself. I feel strong. And, after having sparred a few of my friends outside of class, I know that at some level I do really know how to fight. But then I started feeling strange. It started with the occasional nosebleed when I did certain exercises on my own. Only very strenuous things at first - handstand pushups and heavy weightlifting. But then I had a staph infection in my skin. After that cleared up, I felt a tension in my right shoulder, and it progressed until one was visibly higher than the other. I was going to Patient First, but all they were doing was giving me antibiotics. Eventually, I even contracted Shingles. This was all incredibly strange because I rarely ever got sick, but problems persisted. Then one day an ENT doctor tells me I have some growths in the back of my sinus. They performed a biopsy, and soon after they told me it was cancer. Stage III Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma. Fairly rare, by some standards. By the time they found the tumor in the back of my sinus and top of my throat, it was the size of my fist. It was big enough that it was pushing on my spinal cord, and that pinched nerve was what caused my shoulder to hunch up the way it did. I went through chemo and radiation therapy. I lost the ability to eat by mouth, and so they put a feeding tube in my stomach. I lost the ability to talk, so I wrote down what I needed or played charades and hoped that my parents would understand what I meant. I was having so much chemo put in and so many blood samples taken out, that my veins started to collapse, and they had to put in a device called a port-a-cath which went into the artery under my collarbone and made injections easier. Radiation gave me what looked like an intense sunburn on my neck, so I had to be careful of how I laid on my back, but I couldn’t lay on my front because there was a tube sticking out of my stomach which hurt whenever anything touched it. I laid in bed with my thoughts for 9 months…

But I never lost my spirit. All through treatment, I kept humor through the ordeal, telling everybody I’d rather laugh about it than cry about it, and honestly making dark and usually inappropriate humor. Because it's just like taking a kick in the head. In a real fight, if you get hit, you can't stop just because you get hurt because the other person won't stop. Everyone has battles in their life, be they spiritual, emotional, or physical; the difference is in how they approach it, and I'm very fortunate to have (among other things) the mentality of a fighter.      Now the battle is recovery. I've been bedridden for a long time, and I have to build my body up again. It's not easy losing a part of yourself like that, not having the skill set you once did. I' self-conscious and constantly aware of the difference in my performance. But I can't stop. Because I hate losing.  If you're still reading, I can't tell you how to fight your fight, but I want to reach out a hand and let you know that we are all fighting. And that you should never give up.

From the archive - Richmond Magazine Article

Getting His Kicks

by Anne Thomas Soffee

June 1, 2012

 Illustration by James Callahan

Illustration by James Callahan

The Boy's first-grade year has been one of new experiences. In the interest of raising him to be well-rounded, we've added a lot of different lessons and classes to his repertoire. On Fridays, he has music lessons. On Thursdays, he did acting, though that's over for the year, as is his Saturday animation class. And on Mondays and Wednesdays, he does tae kwon do.

This is actually our second attempt at martial-arts training. When he was 4, he took a shot at mixed martial arts that didn't turn out too well. It wasn't the fault of the class or the instructor; he just wasn't ready for that much structure. But now he is 6, and believe me when I tell you that whether or not The Boy is ready for structure, Tad and I are ready for him to have some. More than ready, in fact.

After scouting out the local options online, we decided to check out Master Lorenzo Gibson's classes at Yoga Source in Carytown. He has been teaching for 30 years, and Tad liked what he saw on the training videos posted on the website. I followed a link to a separate site for Master Gibson's wildlife paintings, and that sealed the deal, because who wouldn't want their kid to learn from a seventh-degree black belt who can also paint a beautiful picture of a butterfly on a flower? This is what we're after! Well-rounded! We signed up immediately.

The Boy's whole demeanor changed the second he walked into the room. Maybe it was Master Gibson's even tone and calming aura, or maybe it was seeing a row of children his size wearing actual uniforms and colored belts. Whatever it was, it was serious business, and The Boy left all of his 6-year-old goofiness at the door. He took his place at the end of the row, in a Transformers T-Shirt and last year's too-short sweatpants. Master Gibson went down the row, and each child bowed. When he got to the end of the line, The Boy folded in half like a TV tray, then stayed there, with his forehead touching his knees, for a full five seconds. "How does he even do that?" Tad whispered to me in the doorway. Master Gibson patiently waited for The Boy to unfold, then he began the class.

The hour flew by. My kid was more focused than I had ever seen him. He did his best to follow along, even though a few of his classmates had been taking tae kwon do for some time, and for the most part, he kept up. I was relieved. Tad was beaming. The Boy could not wait to come back for more.

The second week, The Boy got a uniform of his own. Yes, he has to roll the pant legs three times, and the jacket fits like a hairdresser's smock, but proud doesn't begin to touch how he feels about it. As soon as he puts it on, he starts in with the kicks and the stances. Because he's a ninja. Or something. It's a thing.

I won't lie, one of my favorite tae kwon do moments is the way all of the kids come flying down the stairs when they're dismissed and race down the Cary Court sidewalk to For the Love of Chocolate. There's something so Beaver Cleaver about a swarm of children hitting the candy store after class that it makes me feel like maybe the world isn't such a terrible place after all.

Tad's favorite part, aside from his firm conviction that his son is no doubt on the path to tae kwon do stardom (if there even is such a thing), is teasing The Boy about the fact that he steadfastly refuses to strike at a pretty 7-year-old classmate when he has to spar with her. "He just smiles and bats his eyelashes at her while he politely blocks her kicks," Tad told me after one class I didn't attend. Then he asked The Boy, "Buddy, why won't you fight her?"

"I don't know, I just don't feel very confident doing that," he answered, the tops of his ears getting redder than the cherry sucker he'd chosen at the candy store.

I think he meant comfortable. And I am totally fine with that, too. If he decides that he wants to be a lover, not a fighter, that's his choice.

At least he already has some practice shopping for chocolates.

Great test videos | 2016

I'm always very proud of my dedicated students.  Here is a small compilation of last year's tests.