Darcy Mueller joined Camas Soo Bahk Do last March, right before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the martial arts studio to close for in-person instruction, but decided to remain in her classes, which had transitioned to a remote setting.
Mueller was a bit nervous before her performance for the 2020 United States Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan Federation National Festival last fall, but her doubts disappeared once she began her routines.
“When she (performed), she was completely confident,” said Camas Soo Bahk Do instructor Anna Oulashin. “She placed first in her form (competition), and that’s pretty good for learning the form virtually. And she placed second in her board breaking (competition). Brand new to the martial arts, she broke two 1-inch-thick pine boards, which is pretty impressive.”
Mueller was one of 11 Camas Soo Bahk Do students who earned medals at the national competition, held virtually in November 2020.
The event attracted 335 nationwide participants, including 12 from the Camas studio, and featured competitions in two categories: hyung (a sequence of complex compulsory forms) and kyok pa (board-breaking).
Camas medalists included: Adiv Chaudhry (first place, forms), Elena Chaudhry (third place, forms; second place, board-breaking), Rina Chaudhry (second place, forms; second place, board-breaking), Jocelyn Drugg (second place, forms; second place, board breaking), Lucas Heinrichs (first place, forms; first place, board-breaking), Mueller (first place, forms; second place, board-breaking), Andrew Okerlund (second place, forms; first place, board-breaking), Sean Oulashin (first place, forms; second place, board-breaking); Charles Smith (first place, forms; first place, board-breaking), Mathew Siler (first place, forms) and Serena Siler (third place, forms).
“Everybody placed in forms and 10 of them placed in the board-breaking competition, which is pretty good (for) a small studio,” Anna Oulashin said. “(Their performances) totally exceeded our expectations.”
The students recorded their performances from their homes or the Camas Soo Bahk Do studio and submitted them to the federation for the competition.
“(In previous years), when (the competition) was in-person, my son and I and several of our top-ranking members would go,” Anna Oulashin said. “But, normally, our lower-ranking members didn’t go because it was cost prohibitive. So, for them to participate virtually at no cost was a win-win for everyone. Our federation indicated that (the 2020 event) probably had the highest participation compared to our in-person events.”
Soo Bahk Do is a Korean-based martial art noted for its explosive kicking techniques and dynamic hand strikes. More than 300 students have trained at the Camas studio since the late Robert Shipley III opened the business in November 1990. Camas Soo Bahk Do currently has 15 members, most of whom are Camas School District students.
Ellen Burton, Okerlund’s mother and a Camas City Council member, said Soo Bahk Do instructors are “excellent — dedicated, caring, highly trained professionals who go the extra mile for their students.”
Burton said her other son, as well as her husband, also train at the Camas studio.
“Everyone is both a learner and a teacher,” Burton said. “The advanced students participate in training the beginning and intermediate students, so they develop relationships and empathy while learning from each other. The program is tailored to each student, and when they do (take) tests, they are thoroughly prepared. When Andrew participates in regional and national tournaments, he realizes he is much better prepared than the other competitors.”
Remote training challenges teachers, students
When their studio closed in March, Anna Oulashin, Helen Bagnall, Smith, Sean Oulashin and Okerlund quickly transitioned their lessons to Zoom, which they’ve used ever since except for a five-week stretch in October and November when the facility was allowed to re-open for in-person instruction.
“To not be able to position (the students’) hands or position their feet (has been challenging),” Anna Oulashin said. “The mirror images of ‘left’ and ‘right’ have posed challenges. If you look at my floor right now, it’s got painter’s tape, the letters for ‘left’ and ‘right,’ for those that are challenged in those ways. In the studio, I could say, ‘Move this way’ or ‘move that way.’ But because there are some members that have those challenges, I have to say, ‘Move to the right,’ so I have an ‘R’ on the floor, and I have tape going off in different directions to symbolize west or southwest or southeast so they get a better feel on how to move for a form if I’m trying to teach it to them.”
Some students have struggled to find adequate space to train from their homes, but the instructors have compensated by modifying some of their instructions to create what Anna Oulashin calls a “bathtub training” mindset.
“In my daylight basement, I have enough room to do everything that I need to do, but I taped off the center part so I can show them, ‘You can still do the techniques in this limited amount of space. You just have to make some physical adjustments,'” she said.
“When we first started out last spring and last summer, a couple of (students) were training outside because there’s more room, but as we got into fall and winter, they transitioned inside. There are two families that have three participants each training together, so that posed a challenge because they had to make space in various parts of the house to be separate from each other. But we’ve overcome those challenges. We’ve had a couple people train on the treadmill because that’s the space that they have. People are training in their garage, and a couple of people are training in their bedrooms.”
Okerlund wrote in a school essay that he has “been enlightened on the techniques of communication, understanding (students’) strengths and their weaknesses, and most of all how to facilitate improvement and adapt” his teaching methods to the remote environment.
“The experience of teaching such a wide variety of students — some I have never even met in person, all with different natural abilities, struggles, backgrounds and successes — has helped me gain a fuller grasp of the potential that all people carry and how to facilitate growth in a challenging situation,” Okerlund wrote.
The students “are getting the hang of” remote training, but are “not really liking it,” according to Anna Oulashin.
“We had a ranked promotion (event) just before Christmas break, and obviously we socially distanced and had masks on, but to see their eyes light up when they saw their ‘family members’ was amazing,” she said. “All of us are saying, ‘We can’t wait to get back to in-person training and do all of the things that we used to do.'”