Etiquette, patience, practice
It’s Wednesday morning, and students straggle into the gym as second period begins at Silver Springs High School. They change into their martial arts uniforms and spread out into three rows, sitting on the gym floor to face Tony Reyna, the owner of Gold Country Kuk Sool Won in Nevada City.
Reyna reviews the three central tenets of the Korean martial arts system: etiquette, patience and practice — and that last one means not just showing up, but working hard, he reminds them.
Eventually the students stand and bow, and class begins. Over the next hour or so, Reyna will lead the group through stretching and breathing exercises, followed by some of the kicking and hand-striking movements that are fundamental in Kuk Sool Won.
Twice a week, on Wednesdays and Fridays, Reyna volunteers his time to teach Kuk Sool Won to students at Silver Springs, a continuation school located on Park Avenue in Grass Valley. But the weekly sessions are more than just a lesson in body conditioning and martial arts; they also help students develop less tangible skills — such as self-confidence, discipline and respect — that stay with them after they leave the gym.
“We believe if you have good etiquette and you’re patient and you work hard, you can do most things in life,” Reyna said.
Reyna has been living by that mantra since he began practicing Kuk Sool Won 36 years ago while in the U.S. Air Force. He earned his first-degree black belt in Kunsan, Korea in 1982.
He has been teaching Kuk Sool Won full time since 1993, and opened Gold Country Kuk Sool Won on Argall Way in 1994. The school offers classes six days a week for all ages and experience levels.
Reyna first met Marty Mathiesen, current principal at Silver Springs, several years ago when Mathiesen was the principal at Nevada Union High School. The two men connected again at the beginning of the 2014-2015 school year after a guidance counselor at Silver Springs reached out to Reyna about offering a martial arts class at the school.
Reyna agreed to try a session. He wasn’t sure what the interest level would be among the student body at Silver Springs, which primarily serves students who are considered at risk of not graduating high school.
However, Reyna remembers being impressed by the respect and energy the students brought to the class.
“I just realized that these kids are hungry for discipline and success, and they really got my heart the first time I taught there,” Reyna said.
He taught Kuk Sool Won once a week during the last school year. This year, he added another weekly session to cover more ground. He instructs a core group of about 20 kids this year; each one receives a uniform after they complete eight classes.
Participation in the class is voluntary, but the students must be caught up academically to participate. They also have to have good attendance and demonstrate positive behavior around campus, Mathiesen said.
He said the martial arts class not only exposes students to a new experience, but it keeps them motivated and engaged when they’re on campus.
“It’s another piece of our school that binds our kids, that makes it home,” Mathiesen said.
Though a few of the students in Reyna’s class had previous experience with or an interest in martial arts, the majority of those who participate joined to try something new.
“Skills are just good in life, so I thought, why not have another one?” said Bailey Webb, a sophomore at Silver Springs.
But the focus it requires to master the moves they learn in class also translates to other areas of their lives, from their study habits to the way they interact with their peers.
“Ever since taking this class, I’ve learned to be a lot more patient,” said Gus Anderson, a junior.
Kuk Sool Won’s emphasis on etiquette and self-discipline “is kind of like a permanent thing in your brain,” Anderson said.
“A mind set,” agreed Jesus “Chuy” Lopez, a junior.
Lopez and his sister Esmerelda both attend Reyna’s classes; they used to go to school in Sacramento, where they didn’t have this type of opportunity, Lopez said.
Studying Kuk Sool Won has helped both of them learn how to control their emotions.
“It’s pretty cool. We don’t fight at home any more,” Lopez said.
The students credit Reyna with helping them learn how to channel what they study in martial arts into their everyday lives. Senior Toshanna Smith said students feel comfortable talking to Reyna when they’re facing a particular challenge, academically or personally; Reyna will often ask them how they can use those central themes of Kuk Sool Won — etiquette, patience and practice — to handle the situation.
“Usually his advice is pretty darn good. If there was anyone that is a real-life Mr. Miyagi, it’s Tony,” Smith said, referencing the fictional mentor in the “Karate Kid” films.
It’s a conscious effort on Reyna’s part to create an environment where students feel comfortable. Reyna describes his own upbringing as “dysfunctional,” and knows how crucial a sense of structure and support can be for a young person.
He’ll often share personal stories about his background with the class, telling them how he decided early on in life that he wanted to get away from his rough upbringing and have a family, a secure home and satisfying career.
“That’s what I try to share with them, that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, that we can all have that,” Reyna said.
He encourages his students to pursue Kuk Sool Won outside of Silver Springs by offering them opportunities to attend classes at his studio for free; several students have already taken him up on the offer.
He said he first volunteered to teach at Silver Springs because he felt he could contribute to the school. But it’s the enthusiasm of his students that has solidified his commitment.
“Our whole life as martial arts instructors is supposed to be based around helping people and these are definitely young people who are wanting help, appreciating help and that just makes it very worthwhile,” Reyna said. “There’s been few times in my last 36 years that I’ve felt as fulfilled as I feel when I leave that school every week.”
To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4230.
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