Andrew Johnson promoted to 9th dan black belt

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Andrew Johnson (above) of Garnavillo was promoted to 9th dan black belt following successful advancement testing at Jung's Tae Kwon Do Academy in Cedar Rapids. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker 

On Oct. 9 Andrew Johnson of Garnavillo was promoted to 9th dan black belt following a successful test of advanced physical and mental acuity at Jung's Tae Kwon Do Academy in Cedar Rapids.  

A fellow student first introduced the dedicated Tae Kwon Do practitioner to martial arts in college. In 1981, he began his formal training in northeast Iowa with Roger Clarke, who opened up a branch dojang in Elkader, a short drive from the Johnson family farm.   

Working his way up through the ranks and following his successful completion of earning his black belt, Johnson began teaching in 1985. His level of commitment has benefited northeast Iowa Tae Kwon Do students, from all walks of life, for the past 36 years. 

"I started as a beginner in March 1981 and began teaching in 1985. I was promoted to 8th dan belt in 2016, following a daily regimen of exercises, patterns training (forms or hyungs are different names for the ritualized training patterns) and academic study, which was necessary to prepare for the test,” he said. 

Johnson described the process of earning a 9th dan black belt. He explained, "Candidates for 9th dan promotion have to create a new pattern complete with a title and explanation of the moves, perform required patterns, break boards or bricks, and answer questions from test judges." 

"Grand Master" – a title given to martial arts practitioners who have trained and practiced for decades —can be honorific or held by active practitioners. "A 9th dan candidate should be able to perform any basic Tae Kwon Do skill with superior detail, and advanced techniques should be competent also," he added. "Observers should note that students at this stage of their careers are usually older. Realistically, acrobatic techniques are more common for younger students." 

Other factors are taken into consideration during testing. "Balance, focus, power, precision and grace should be apparent in the candidate's performance due to the thousands of hours of practice," noted Johnson. "The judges grade these factors. Candidates also need to report their teaching record and any activities they might have done to contribute to furthering the knowledge and growth of Tae Kwon Do."

Johnson had to revitalize his enthusiasm prior to testing. "I had much trepidation during the training leading up to the test," he shared. "I had undergone 18 prior promotion tests and my zest to endure another test was minimal. Many folks, including me, consider 9th dan black belt a fantasy or dream – in other words, unattainable or non-relevant. I struggled with those thoughts as I prepared. I came to realize that this test was essentially the same as all my other ones, only further along the path I was on. I decided that whatever title I might be awarded, my efforts are still the same. My value doesn't change and this should be my last test." 

The seasoned black belt experienced anxious feelings prior to testing. "I was very nervous. So, I said a prayer for strength and wisdom and put my fears of failure aside," said Johnson. "During the test procedure, I felt as if I was attuned mentally, physically and spiritually. I give credit to all my years of practice leading up to that moment. A great feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction came over me at the conclusion of the test." 

Tae Kwon Do has created favorable attributes that have spilled over into Johnson's life. "I started Tae Kwon Do as a callow young man. As I trained, I felt like the martial art gave me a method to grow, flourish and realize my God-given potential. This feeling I am trying to describe ebbs and flows, but has remained with me throughout my journey. When I began teaching Tae Kwon Do, I saw this same potential in other people also. Between teaching and practicing Tae Kwon Do, I find fulfillment and I hope to offer that opportunity to like-minded people. I discovered that a measured, regular, but not full-time practice regimen works best for me. I advocate others to adopt a similar schedule so as to fit Tae Kwon Do into daily life," he advised. 

Johnson's journey forward will include the same dedicated humble approach. He concluded, "I admit that two to three weeks after the test, I felt that I had reached a decision point. I had in fact concluded the full curriculum of Tae Kwon Do. However, my instructor, Jung Woo Jin, has provided an example of selfless engagement to Tae Kwon Do for years after his own 9th dan promotion. I can do no less. He has set the bar of achievement very high. Therefore, as a 9th dan student, I want to continue studying, training, teaching and innovating in Tae Kwon Do to the best of my ability."

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