On December 2 in Berkeley, California, Sean Owen was promoted to the rank of Chil Dan, seventh degree black belt. This is the rank at which the title “Grandmaster” is commonly conferred. Having the head of our school promoted to this rank is an important milestone for him but also for the prestige and status of our dojang as a whole.
The promotion was awarded by Grandmaster Ken Min, the founder and head of the University of California Martial Arts Program (UCMAP) in recognition of Owen’s decades of training and service in Tae Kwon Do. Min holds ninth degree black belts in both Judo and Tae Kwon Do and is a legend in the world of competitive martial arts, having served on the Olympic committee for Judo and been instrumental in the effort to make Tae Kwon Do an Olympic medal sport. He also gave Owen his Il Dan (first degree black belt) test in 1969, not long after he founded the program at Cal Berkeley.
For practitioners at River Valley Tae Kwon Do, this promotion validates something that most of us have probably felt, on an intuitive level, for a long time. When Grandmaster Owen was promoted to the rank of O Dan in 1984, that was a big deal, as fifth degree black belts were very rare in those days. This recent promotion reflects more than thirty years of practice and instruction that came after that, as well as the position that Owen holds within our school and the way that role is recognized in contemporary Tae Kwon Do.
As Grandmaster Owen’s student, it’s not my place to comment on the qualities that I think led to this promotion, nor to speculate on Grandmaster Min’s thought process, since I’m far behind them both on my journey along the Way. That said, I think we all know what we value in our school’s leader, and though those qualities and achievements remain unnamed here, we are fortunate and grateful to have benefited from them all these years.