I always enjoyed Sunday morning hapkido class led by John Gregg. As an adult, I’ve never really been a church-going man. I have nothing against church or those who attend services, but it simply has never resonated with me. The closest I’ve come to having a deep and moving spiritual-religious experience at church was when I used to cover shifts at the local Catholic church’s Perpetual Adoration Chapel. I’m not Catholic, mind you, but I have a very good friend who is. He knew I was a meditation enthusiast and he recommended the Adoration Chapel to me as a nice place to sit and be of service while doing it. It was a great experience. John Gregg’s classes had, for me, a very similar feeling to that place. They were my Sunday morning service, so to speak, a way to reset my mind and start the next week feeling clean and focused.
On Sundays in Annapolis, the buses run on a shorter, later route, only going to the major stops. I was still in my intentionally car-less stage of life and I had recently moved just far enough outside of downtown that the bus was not coming to my stop, but I was unaware of this fact until I waited and waited and waited, but no bus. I wanted… no… I needed to get to class. It was where I found my center. It was my church. I started to get agitated and I knew I was too far away to walk to class on time. This was before cell phones were as common as they are now and I didn’t have one, so I walked to the nearest payphone (Google this if you don’t know what it is) and called a taxicab (pre-Uber/Lyft days). Again, I waited and waited, but no cab. I called another and told them I was in a hurry. I waited, growing more and more impatient, and the cab finally showed up. It took me to the dojang and, by this time, I was in a foul mood. I was (almost) late and the cab cost me about ten times what the bus would have cost.
I entered the building and walked up to the second floor where the dojang was. I took off my shoes and walked inside. I bowed hastily and scurried my way across the mats to the changing room in the back, past John Gregg who was doing his morning tai chi routine, calm and focused like a stork stalking a fish from atop a rock in the middle of lake, poised, serene, and aware. I came back out, now ready for class. John, who normally stayed relatively quiet until it was time to teach, looked at me and asked, “Are you alright?” Startled, I replied quickly, “The buses don’t run where I live. I didn’t know that. I had to call a cab. I’m running late.” On and on I went. He just looked at me and let me talk. When I finally finished, he calmly said, “That explains the dark cloud that followed you in.” I paused and stepped back from myself for a moment. “I’m the problem,” I thought.
It had not occured to me until that moment that I was changing. Before hapkido, if someone saw me walking around with a dark cloud around me, they likely would not have noticed. It’s just who I was. Something had changed though. I was lightening up. I was happier. I was different. This moment of weakness was a regression and John was, whether he knew it or not, pointing out to me that I was no longer a miserable and depressed person because the “dark cloud” that followed me in that day was now unusual because I had changed. Furthermore, I didn’t want to be the dark cloud in John Gregg’s class. This was my church and, in this moment, I had desicrated it with my presence, my attitude. His relatively benign comment slapped me awake. “Get over yourself,” I thought. “It’s time for church.”
Robert Van Valkenburgh, Co-Founder of Kogen Dojo & Taikyoku Mind and Body