Brothers earn black belts on same day

STAYING FOCUSED—Jonathan Schwanz shows his skills during the Oct. 15 Soo Bahk Do testing at Rush Gym in Gardena. Schwanz and brother Conner both earned their black belts after a day of rigorous testing. (Courtesy photo)

By Gary Luster

Gardena Soo Bahk Do continues to produce martial artists as the local Soo Bahk Do studio had two more students test for advancement, this time to First Degree Black Belt.

Connor Schwanz, 14, and his brother Jonathan Schwanz, 16, both tested for their first degree black belts on Oct. 14.

Soo Bahk Do Master Larry Drehs said that the Schwanz brothers were homeschooled and trained in Soo Bahk Do with recent promotees Tristan and Tarrence Bryant.

Drehs said that both boys had to undergo a rigorous training schedule before being allowed to test.

“Soo Bahk Do requires that they train consistently the last six weeks before the test so six weeks prior,” Drehs said. “They need to train five days a week and in order to do that they train four days in Gardena and one day at Lomita.”

Drehs said that Soo Bahk Do was of great benefit to the Schwanz brothers, who both started training at age 7, as it gave them an outlet that they weren’t receiving since they were not attending a traditional school with playgrounds and regular recess breaks.

“They started training with the Bryant family,” Drehs said. “They were homeschooled with the Bryant boys and because the Schwanz boys were homeschooled, they needed some kind of physical activity.”

One challenge that the Schwanz brothers faced was the onset of the pandemic which shut down most indoor areas for the past two years. During the two years of COVID, the boys found it difficult to train properly and to the extent that they needed for the test. Fortunately, Drehs was there to help them.

“It was a challenge because we had the Bryant family which we were focused on first so both the Bryants and the Schwanzs trained with me on Saturdays outside at the park because the facility was closed and they couldn’t get enough training time in.”

The outside training paid off as both students achieved First Degree Black Belt status. Per the regulations of Soo Bahk Do, both students will remain at this rank for the next two years, assuming that they maintain their current level of training and expertise.

After two years, they will then be allowed to test for their Second Degree Black Belt.

“They have always been active all these years, for seven years they’ve been active but in order to test for a black belt, the training time and the commitment is multiplied by five,” Drehs said. “It just takes a lot of training time, a lot of discipline and also they’re required to do all their essays and all required paperwork several months before the test. They have been extremely proactive and very dedicated. Both have even been helping assist Soo Bahk Do instructors.”

As part of the promotion process, both Connor and Jonathan were required to submit written essays telling what Soo Bahk Do means to them.

Connor’s essay emphasized the commitment required for success in his chosen martial art:

In his essay, Connor said: “When I started Soo Bahk Do, it was for exercise, self-defense, and something to do for an hour. Now, taking my Cho Dan test, I see how it evolved from a Physical Education class into a commitment to the art. This commitment gave me key values for life. It gave me the ability to commit to something and to still do it even when I don’t want to. Being in Soo Bahk also showed me the importance of discipline, and how to follow instructions. It has helped me shape my body to be healthy. Lastly, it gave me the value of staying faithful to friends and instructors, no matter how hard times get.”

In his essay, Jonathan talked about how the constant training regimen helped him:

“This constant training has helped me hone my concentration and endurance. Needless to say, that is helpful not only in training but in life as well. Yes, I have gained aerobic endurance and physical endurance, but also the ability to endure through hard times to get to better ones. This ability to concentrate on a greater goal allows me to push through to the finish line. I can make myself go farther than I think and work harder than I know because of Soo Bahk Do.”

Soo Bahk Do, which is one of the traditional Korean martial arts, dates back 2000 years to ancient Korea. Its modern history begins in 1945 when Kwan Jin Nim (Grandmaster) Hwang Kee founded his first school under the name of Moo Duk Kwan.

Gardena Soo Bahk Do has been serving the Gardena com- munity since 1981. Soo Bahk Do emphasizes the philosophy to prevent conflict, both external andinternal, concentrating on anti-bullying and incorporating discipline and respect for one-self and others.

Gardena Soo Bahk Do has a strong focus on their five Moo Do Values. These values are considered the backbone in promoting Founder Hwang Kee’s ‘President’s Vision’ of improving human relations first through individual connections then to a broader view of national connections.

The values coexist with each other and each element itself strengthens the meaning and relationship with the other four.

The five Moo Do Values are: History, Tradition, Philosophy, Discipline/Respect and Technique.

Training at Gardena Soo Bahk Do not only prepares you to defend yourself, but also promotes self-confidence, which in turn improves the ability to perform in stressful situations.

For more information on Gardena Soo Bahk Do, or how to sign up for classes, visit their website at