Very late at night on June 23rd (or is that very early the morning of the 24th?), the Burning Phoenix bus departed Salt Lake City for Estes Park, Colorado, to attend the Sereff World Camp. The 17 passengers had a merry ride, with special thanks to Mrs. Gemmell, who led the expedition, and Mr. Ashwood, who drove the bus.
Estes Park is in the mountains of Colorado at roughly 7500 feet, and inhabited by multitudes of birds, butterflies, hummingbirds, and ground squirrels. Our mornings began with a short outdoor warmup where we were able to observe the sun rise over a nearby peak — it was a beautiful location, though hot and crowded.
Opening ceremonies were held Sunday evening, where we played a couple of group games and were divided into teams. The teams would be competing for points and each others’ mascots. Team 1: The Bear. Team 2: The Elk. Team 3: The Ram.
There were Taekwon-do students from Wyoming, Colorado, Australia, Michigan, Utah, Alaska, and other parts of the USA; one man from Puerto Rico; and one brave non-USTF member from Missouri — roughly 80-100 people in all.
Most of these were black belts, meaning that — Mrs. Gemmell aside — Burning Phoenix students had to be on their best etiquette.
“World Camp, and out-of-state events in general, are always a great place to learn/practice the full formal etiquette of Taekwon-Do. People traveling for the first time learn about things like etiquette at meals, and standing for the highest ranks…. Even students who are familiar with some of these basic rules can brush up on the subtle details, like ‘What rank should I stand for? Do I wait for the highest rank in the room to eat, or just the highest at my table?’” (Ms. Bunch)
General camp activities would include the earning of Ducks or Cupcakes (for performing Good service or being Bad), and a ‘murder’ game (brought to you by the Australians), where a few winking murderers caused amusing and dramatic deaths.
“The murders were one of my personal favorite things about camp, I loved how everyone was plotting their death!” (Ari Schjelderup)
The first day of training began with a 3-hour session with Sr Grand Master Sereff. It was an honor to be instructed by him, and the class continued efficiently with high energy. He took us through kicks and patterns, switching between the two. It made us think, and broke up the usual repetitiousness of patterns.
The second training session was led by Sr Master Steadman and Master Bosse. We split into 2 groups, one to work on sparring drills, the other to work on kicking and speed exercises.
I believe it was this day that started the Good, Bad (Just Sayin’) chant and subsequent t-shirt trend.
“When we first got to camp I was sort of scared because everyone looked like normal people (the first day), but I knew that they weren’t! It was all intimidating when everyone was lined up the next morning. But as Myra said ‘It’s good to remember that even though we take Taekwon-do seriously we have to be light and playful some of the time.’ Everyone’s attitude really helped, and it was not as frightening.” (Ari Schjelderup)
Session 1: Team Captain Teaching
We split into our teams, then the 3 team captains of the 3 teams led us through 3 different hour-long sessions in the morning. Team 1 had us set up patterns with application (1 person plays out the pattern, striking and blocking against real opponents), team 2 did team patterns and sparring exercises, team 3 chose to do step-sparring (including a brief introduction to the Australian versions).
Session 2: Junior Teaching
3 junior black-belts taught these sections. Ms. Ashleigh Ray took us through patterns-in-a-box and progressive patterns, Ms. Fitch took us back to the useful basics of Ho-Sin-Sul, and the 3rd session was sparring exercises (like belt grab).
The entertainment for the night was 2-fold. First we had storytelling by Master Birch from Australia. We learned how the Kiwi bird lost its wings (sacrifice & courage), why the year has longer and shorter days (with a music/dance number), and he told us how he began Taekwon-do (how TKD started in Australia).
“I loved [World Camp and] Master Birtch’s stories, especially how the three islands of New Zealand came to be.” (Ms. Tabert)
Following this great session, Ms. Armstrong performed violin for us — Irish jigs, Lord of the Rings, and You Are My Sunshine.
Today was a day of wonders. Our morning session consisted of 3 hour-long sessions with 3 of the 4 Grand Masters of the USTF. This time we separated by rank to get the most out of our training sessions.
Grand Master Renee Sereff went through some patterns and kicks with the color belts, and covered kicks and stories with the black belts.
Grand Master Winegar, Director of Technique, corrected stances and several techniques, and instructed us color belts to use our techniques in our patterns; with the black belts, he went through kicks, then focused on a I-Dan pattern move-by-move. He also talked about loyalty, and being in TKD as an artist versus an athlete.
Grand Master De Baca, in his quietly impressive manner, had us practice a mix of step-sparring and ho-sin-sul, where we picked techniques from various patterns and he showed us creative applications.
“My favorite part of camp was getting to sit at the feet of the Grandmasters and learn that the road through tkd is not always easy but through perserverance and having an indomitable spirit it is always possible to keep moving forward. When you are through moving forward you help others to see that potential in themselves so that they can learn and grow too.” (Mrs. Ashwood)
“I loved training with all of the Grand Masters and hearing their stories they mixed in with the lessons.” (Ari Schjelderup)
“Finally being taught by [the Grand Masters] and hearing them speak, I am able to see how they’ve made this organization grow, and how they can inspire the same enthusiasm they show in their students and their students’ students.” (Myra Schjelderup)
After this wonderful intensive training (we could have gone on for hours with those amazing instructors!), the afternoon was free time, some relaxed, some went and walked around town.
The night’s entertainment was Siamese Sparring, where 2 souls were bound by belt and leg with white belts and sent into the ring to fight to the death… or, well, just fight, if they could. Unlike tournament or even class sparring, this was light-hearted, full of laughs and very few injuries.
We started with a hike to a waterfall/rapids, for some really excellent pictures, then for the afternoon session we experienced International Day.
Mr. Bradley of Australia took us through sparring exercise requirements they use in Australia, which were a good deal of fun.
Master Birch of Australia showed us some excellent knife-defense ho-sin-sul. (He makes them all look so easy!)
Mr. Castillo from Puerto Rico covered the speeds of movements in Taekwon-do (regular, slow motion, fast motion, consecutive, continuous, and an extra one he called natural). We practiced in-stance, and moving through Sitting and Walking stance, with punches and kicking.
The event for the night was, sadly, Closing Ceremonies. Awards were given, certificates and gifts presented, and everyone said goodbye.
Winner of the Winking Murders most creative death: Ms. Moormeier.
Winning team: Team 1. Go Bears!
“The thing that I’ll remember from camp [is] Grandmaster Sereff thanking me for helping Ani up to the line to get her certificate.” (Ms. Tabert)
“[I] enjoyed travelling into town on the last night with a bunch of the high ranks and other adults. We went to a pub and enjoyed a relaxed evening of talking and playing pool. Well, most of us didn’t play pool, Master Birch, a couple of his students, and one or two of our own Masters were playing pool – I didn’t dare ask if I could play, and there was just the one table.” (Ms. Bunch)
More goodbyes and some disaster cleanup preceded our departure, then we were on our way back to Utah. This awesome trip has come to an end.
Sadie Ashwood: I liked all the stories people told. The Australians and the Grand Masters had great ones. …All the new people we met will now know how awesome Burning Phoenix is!
Natasha Tabert: [I loved] getting to meet new people, how different countries did things….The bus ride was fun… switching the head phones between five of us getting our headsets tangled while we were switching songs on our iPods and phone.
Stacey Ashwood: General Choi and Sr. Grandmaster Sereff truly had a vision in mind when they started putting this organization together. With the way the world is today, it was reassurring to see that values like courtesy, integtity, and family are still important and trying to be shared.
Ari Schjelderup: I loved meeting new people in TKD, making new friends, and also becoming better friends with people in our own school.
Melanie Bunch: [It's] interesting to see how different other schools are, both from other countries and even from other states. I was one of the few people without any embroidery on my I Dan belt, because apparently not all schools practice the “Cho Dan” probationary period of First Degree Black Belt. The Australians had slightly different step sparring. Master Birch also warned that in his school, anyone who yawned at him would get 200 push ups.
So it’s fun to recognize the differences even in our closely-knit group, and maybe see things you’d like to adopt, or be happy that YOUR school doesn’t do that.
Myra Schjelderup: I will always remember how inspired I felt at World Camp — by the number and enthusiasm of the campers, and the amazing presence and knowledge of the Grand Masters.
Burning Phoenix TKD with Grand Masters Sereff