It’s all about etiquette at Gold Country Kuk Sool Won |

It’s all about etiquette at Gold Country Kuk Sool Won

Students in the Turtle Tots class at Gold Country Kuk Sool Won learn self discipline and focus with owner and 6th degree black belt Tony Reyna.
Cory Fisher/ | The Union

Gold Country Kuk Sool Won

127 Argall Way, Nevada City


Each fall, kindergarten teachers have been known to ask their new students one key question: What’s the most important part about kindergarten?

Naturally answers vary, but when a student raises his hand and answers “etiquette,” seasoned teachers knows he’s a student of the Korean martial art Kuk Sool Won.

Now in its 20th year, Gold Country Kuk Sool Won in Nevada City has offered students a systematic study of traditional Korean martial arts. The practice covers the entire spectrum of traditional Asian fighting arts and techniques of body conditioning, as well as mental development and traditional weapons training.

But the most important lesson of all, says Kwan Jhang Nim (“grandmaster”) Tony Reyna, is etiquette.

While Turtle Tots students as young as 2 years old learn agility, coordination and muscle movement, the most important lesson is mutual respect.

“I tell my students that if they learn the value of etiquette, patience, practice and hard work, they can do anything in life,” said Reyna. “Everyone is treated the same here, from the newest student to the most accomplished.”

Reyna, who has practiced Kuk Sool Won for 34 years, also teaches classes at area preschools and for after school enrichment programs.

“Initially, the principals are concerned — they wonder if kids are going to go out on the playground and start kicking each other,” he said. “Absolutely not – again, it’s all about etiquette. I tell them, if they don’t have good etiquette, I can’t teach them.”

What’s key for young students is “jungshin,” he said, which is learning to focus your mind and heart in any given moment. Being focused, and “in the now,” he said, can apply to everyday life.

Jungshin literally means moral culture, integrity, truth.

“Traditionally, etiquette was taught by our elders,” said Reyna. “But families are scattered today, and extended families often aren’t nearby. In their place, I like to think I can teach students by example. In this fast pace culture, martial arts can be grounding.”

Reyna doesn’t hesitate to talk to parents and school teachers if a child is struggling. In fact, he was voted the 2014 Best of Nevada County Teacher of the Year by readers of The Union — the first non-public school educator to earn the title.

Reyna began his training in Kuk Sool Won while serving in the U.S. Air Force. In 1982 he tested for 1st degree black belt in Kunsan, Korea. In 2012, he was promoted to 6th degree black belt (master level instructor) and is currently training for 7th degree black belt. But that doesn’t keep him from enjoying the preschoolers in Turtle Tots, as they develop their agility, coordination and muscle movement.

“Kick a pad, not a friend,” he said. “This is a good outlet, a safe, structured environment.”

Of the current 350 students, 58 have current black belts, said Reyna, and roughly 60 are testing for first degree black belt — some of them former Turtle Tots. In fact, second generation Turtle Tots have started to attend classes.

Sandra Mathias said her 11 year old son wasn’t very social and wanted to come to Kuk Sool Won everyday. Today, at age 22, he’s a second degree black belt and teachers alongside Reyna.

“Tony guided him,” she said. “He taught him self-discipline and focus, and how to deal with people.”

Nehemiah Elliott says his five-year-old Turtle Tot saw “Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles” and wanted to try martial arts.

“He’s much more in control and respectful now and I’m already seeing a big change in his coordination, jumping, ducking and hopping,” he said. “Tony calls the kids short adults — he tells them, ‘If you act like an adult, I will treat you like one.’ The kids rise to that expectation, no matter what age. It’s all about etiquette.”

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at or call 530-477-4203.

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