Perseverance and my Tae Kwon-Do Training: A Martial Art Thesis


Alan Joffray 1st Gup (Corpus Christi, Texas USA)

Test Date: 1 June 2013

As written in Pil Sung!: Embodiment of the Tenets of Tae Kwon-Do by Master Gwen Hall, “Perseverance is that part of stubbornness in the human spirit that makes a man continue his efforts until he either wins or is beaten.”

Black Belts

New Black Belt Allan Joffray (left) his instructor Master Gwen F. Hall, 8th Dan (center) and Mr. Eddie Chambliss, 1st Dan (right)

When I first started Tae Kwon-Do training I was working full-time and at the age of 50, most people would think it would be foolish to start so late in life. I had decided in my mind that Martial Art training was a good way to learn self-defense without having to resort to weapons and would give me self confidence in my physical capabilities.

We only had a short time to train due to the fact that my wife, Julie, and I were planning on moving to Tucson, Arizona in a few months.   We started on November 15, 2008 at that time I was still working 50 hours a week Monday through Friday. Class was scheduled for Monday and Thursday nights starting at 6:30 pm until 9 pm.  At first I thought it would be fairly easy, but was soon to learn that it was going to take a lot of dedication and hard work to be able to accomplish the goals I had set for myself before we moved away. Within a short time my wife was unable to continue with training due to major problems with her neck. She had to have surgery due to degenerative disc issues from previous injuries and ended up having her neck fused.  It stopped her training at that point due to complications but she was able to earn her Yellow Belt.

As I progressed in the training and after the initial excitement of learning something new, I realized that I would have to rely on something that I have used all my life to make it happen.  I think back to when I was faced with tough times and how perseverance had pulled me through.

In 1997 I suffered a major heart attack at the age of 39. I had a triple bypass and went into a severe depression. It would have been quite easy to succumb to the depression and just walk away from everything and everyone, but I knew if I kept working at getting through it that things would be okay. I have always believed that when a person falls down, they should pick themselves up, dust themselves off and keep moving forward.  It is okay to remember the past because it does shape us somewhat but not to stay stuck in it.

I had to accomplish a lot of techniques and learn a lot of combinations and patterns while training before we moved. Not only did we train during the week, I would train on the off nights and weekends up to 6 times a week. By the time we left on September 1, 2009 I was a 6th Gup.

When we moved to Arizona in 2009, I could not find a TKD Dojang that was suitable to my needs, so I would have my wife digitally record me when practicing and make a DVD. We would mail the DVD to Master Hall and then she would call me and go over it. By doing that, I was able to not only to maintain my skill level, but to move ahead in my training.

In April of 2010 we moved back to Corpus Christi and restarted my training with Master Hall.  We went to 3 nights per week and an optional Saturday afternoon class. I would consistently make most, if not all 4 classes per week. Master Hall always counts the yearly attendance and gives a report and I am #1 or #2 every year.

Physical problems have been especially hard for me, and I have had to use not only perseverance but a lot of tenacity in order to keep progressing in my training.  I have had some medical issues that would have made most people just give up by now but all I could think of was how to overcome them.  I have had several steroid shots; one in my back due to a pinched nerve at the L5 and two in my right hip due to severe bursitis.  I recently have had to overcome a severely fractured radius in my right arm at the wrist, a plate with six screws reconnects it, as well as a major dislocation of the ulna.

Some examples of what I have had to overcome include, my right knee which had been injured in the past (surgery in 1981) and is mostly bone on bone.  Because of this, I am unable to stand on my right leg and bend my knee to make a sine wave. It is also extremely hard to balance when on the right leg alone. So, in order to make a sine wave, I actually make a small drop in my hip and waist (a slight forward bend ) to give me the momentum like a sine wave would. It took me about 2 years of trial and error to finally make that work and have been using that method since. It also affects my landing when jumping. I have to over exaggerate the toe ball, ankle, knee and hip flexing when landing. My right L stance is done on a 60 /40 because of the knee pain and I have to over exaggerate the flexing when stepping forward into a right walking stance. Due to the way my right hip works I am unable to lift my right leg out to the side very high, which makes for a low turning kick and a side kick that is just below the waist line. My hip also keeps me from being able to fully stretch my legs apart. So, I have learned to bend at the waist to my left when kicking to gain any height to my kick.

As I write about all these things it is astonishing to me that I have made it this far.  The medical issues alone should have made me quit by now. But that is what perseverance is all about, it is all I know and most of my life has been based on it.

Medical issues notwithstanding, the most crucial part of perseverance is the mental aspect. A person must believe in themselves first before perseverance can work. Once there is no doubt you can accomplish almost anything with enough persistence and tenacity.

In my journey over the last four and one half years I have gone from a person just trying to learn some self-defense and boost my self-confidence, to truly believing that I can become a Martial Artist. The road has not been easy physically nor mentally. Not that I did not believe in my mental acuity, it was believing that could I actually be capable of doing the things I felt that I needed to do to make it to 1st Dan Black Belt. I now know that I can but, there was one defining moment that actually made me seriously think I may not be able to do it.

I will never forget one night during class Master Hall was teaching me Blue Belt Combination #2. It consisted of 1 low front kick and 3 turning kicks; one middle, one inside, and one jumping.  I was absolutely unable to do it. I went home that night in quite a daze, for the first time in my training I doubted myself and was not sure I could do it. Realizing Master Hall would not attempt to teach me something that she felt I could not do. I knew I had to learn this and a lot more that were much harder to reach my goals. As I pondered my situation I kept thinking back to the hard times I have had in my life and have been able overcome. So, since I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, I decided not to give up.  There must be a way to achieve my goals. I practiced this combination over and over breaking it down into small parts just like learning a new pattern until it all came together.  As Master Hall has drummed into my head “… you do the best you can do for who you are – the only competition is yourself.”  It took me at least two solid months of training to be able to perform this one combination. I was able to finally do it by the time I tested for my 3rd Gup.  Funny thing is, as I have moved to more complex combinations I have no worry or fear anymore, I just do.

So I may not be the prettiest martial artist, or the greatest, but I will be the best I can be for me. When you really think about what a Martial Artist is, isn’t that what it is all about?


Pil Sung

Alan Joffray

1st Gup   GFH (9)-001060

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4 Responses to Perseverance and my Tae Kwon-Do Training: A Martial Art Thesis

  1. Jeff says:

    I love your story Alan. I am also a 1st Dan and your story rings a number of bells with my own. While I didn’t have any where near the medical issues you worked through, sometimes it felt like I would never achieve. Now I look back and see that I have come so far and much of that is because I just worked on one small step then the next, then the next.
    Thanks for sharing your story.

  2. Don Briggs says:

    Allan, while reading your story my left lower leg is in a cast and elevated due to ankle surgery I had on Monday (1/30/2017). The surgeon told me it will take close to one year for a complete recovery. I too am a student of Master Hall and have been involved with TKD since the early ’70s. The lessons she taught especially concerning tenacity , perseverance and Pil Sung have carried me through many many trials. Your encouragement has assured me that another victory is on the horizon. Other than my ankle I am fine. Even if we are incapacitated to the point we can’t move, we still have our mind. Our mental and physical techniques can remain sharp and improve by visualizing them. Thinking intently about every action summons up the neurological pathways that can make seeming impossible actions possible. This is how we learn and keep learning but only if we do not give up. Pil-Sung. Don Briggs

  3. Don Briggs says:

    Good morning Alan.
    I just re-read your article this morning and realized it has been nearly one year since I responded and a year since my ankle surgery. After the surgery my ankle and foot was immobilized for 3 months. I moved around my home on a scooter and crutches. At three months out I began a long process of physical therapy. I could not bear any weight on my left foot at this time. I soon went from a full cast to a walking boot. The boot allowed me to begin bearing a little weight, gradually I even began slowly standing on my healthy foot and chambering the operative leg in various kicking positions, working on balance and muscle control. At seven months, I attempted and succeeded in my first post op short mountain hike with my daughter to see the solar eclipse. It was a scary test and I brought along trekking poles for safety. The hike was a success and the eclipse was for me a symbolic transition from disability to recovery. At that time I could bear all my weight on the foot but my balance was still shakey.
    It is now nearly a year since the surgery my balance on the operative foot is much improved but not quite back to peak performance. Your article reminded me again of the tenacity, perseverance and patience that Master Hall lives and teaches as is most evident in your story. I am now most encouraged and determined to be the best I can be and hope to encourage others likewise.

    Pil Sung

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