What is the 50 State Challenge? Want to join the Challenge? Email me here.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Back to the Martial Arts Road Trip: Arkansas

I've been posting rants, training articles, and general weirdness for so long, I figure some (most?) of you forgot that this is actually a martial arts travel blog.

To recap, I had this idea for a martial arts travel project, and Iain Abernethy was kind enough to help me get it started.  I visited Sensei Kris Wilder in Seattle, Washington.  Then after visiting only one state, the project had to be put on hold while I visited my ailing instructor in Korea and opened my school.  Being busy with owning a school and starting a podcast, the 50 States Challenge fell on the back burner.

What's the 50 States Challenge?  Since most people probably forgot...

The 50 States Challenge boils down to three main pieces.
1.  I travel to all 50 states and find a martial arts school in each state to host me.
2.  At each host school, I teach something and I learn something to pass on to the next school.
3.  We support a charity chosen by the host school.

And then I blog about the experience here, illustrating how much the different styles and philosophies of martial arts have to learn from each other.

So after a long hiatus, I'm traveling again.  This time I went to Arkansas because one of my students was competing at NASTA Nationals there.  Not wanting to waste the opportunity, I also visited River Valley Martial Arts, supporting St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital.

If you've been reading my blog for more than a few seconds, you will not be surprised that it was not all seriousness.  I wanted to get the full Arkansas experience.

Yelling at Yellville!

Rocking a little at Little Rock!

Wait, what?

This little resident of Toad Suck was still learning how to fly.  He (she?) let me get pretty close before squawking a protest and hopping away.

It's okay, little guy.  I can't fly either, and I've been training FOREVER in bird years.

One of my first stops was Beaverfork Lake, where I snapped this picture of an old bridge.  It was built almost 150 years ago to cross Cadron Creek, where it stood until only a few years ago when it was restored and brought to this park.

<insert tortured analogy about building bridges to the past and future here>

That park was one of many picturesque places where I could have stopped.  Arkansas has a lot to offer if you're into the outdoors.  In June, it helps if you are not a wimp about the sun trying to kill you.  I'm pretty sure at one point I was more sunscreen than person.

It looks like Buffalo River, but it's actually a pool of my sweat after training in the heat.

Buffalo River National Park is especially interesting in that within its boundaries is the Rush ghost town.  It was once a thriving city because of its zinc mines, but as the value of zinc waned, so did Rush.  There are still some buildings standing, though.  Unlike most ghost towns, these buildings are protected by the National Park Service, so they are preserved better than most.

The houses were fenced off with signs everywhere forbidding entry.  I'm sure it wouldn't be safe, and certainly the buildings couldn't withstand much foot traffic, but that didn't stop me from wanting to explore.  I would really have liked to peek inside.

Then there's Pivot Rock.  If you brave enough hairpin turns, you can walk a wooded trail to see these weird rock formations that have been a roadside attraction for over a hundred years.

One of the upside down pyramid formations at Pivot Rock.

In North Little Rock, there is a place called The Old Mill, which is neither old nor a mill.  It's a replica built in the 1930's in the style of mills of the 1830's.  It has a little fame by being featured in the opening credits of Gone With The Wind.

It might not be real, but it's pretty!

The park around it was picturesque as well, not to mention teeming with wildlife.  There were ducks, geese, turtles, birds and fish everywhere.

Also not real:  all the wood in this picture.  They're sculptures.

Next up in my whirlwind tour of Arkansas parks was the one I was most looking forward to--America's only Taekwondo park.

This looks exactly like every picture I ever took in Korea.

The H.U. Lee International Gate and Garden is in downtown Little Rock, which by no coincidence is also the headquarters of the ATA, which practices Songahm Taekwondo.  It is so much like parks in Seoul, that I felt like I was back in Korea, once again running around in oppressively hot weather with a camera, loudly announcing "I AM A TOURIST" in signs that everyone can read.

The park even had haetae sculptures on either side.  These mystical dogs are creatures of justice trusted to protect the people from fire and natural disasters.  They're also the symbol of Seoul, and you can see statues of them in places of importance throughout Korea.

Haetae!  Who's a good boy?

Immediately past the gate, there are statues of taekwondo students bowing to greet visitors.  

Students greet visitors to the garden.

I had a lot of busy feelings at this park, when I probably should have been feeling more tranquil.  The feelings intensified as I came to the main display in the garden, a bronze bust of Eternal Grand Master Haeng Ung Lee and a giant lineage chart behind him listing the most prominent figures of Songahm Taekwondo.

I'm visiting a park honoring a style of taekwondo that I don't train in.  My kwan doesn't have a park, and probably can't afford the $1.4 million dollars that these guys paid to get one.  But if we did have a park, I would totally rather go there than here, so I guess I don't belong here.  Except that THE WHOLE POINT of me being in Arkansas right now is a project about tearing down the walls between different styles and letting us all help each other.  Focus, Carlson!  Get some good pictures now, and mull over it later.

Having mulled it over later, it was the laser focus on one style of taekwondo, centering on one particular lineage, excluding figures of other branches whose achievements and contributions were equal to or greater than some of the names that did get listed, that made me feel weirdly unwelcome.  By excluding other styles, I felt excluded, too, like this place is only for Songahm people.  The cynic in me wonders if that exclusion could have been the intent, to improve the influence of their style by essentially creating a giant ad for it in the form of a downtown park.  But I tried to enjoy the place in the spirit that it was probably intended--to honor something they care about and the instructor who made it possible, and welcoming visitors to share in something they love.

The centerpiece of the garden.

Despite my roller coaster of conflicting thoughts, I do recommend this place to any other wandering martial artists who find themselves in Little Rock, especially if the weather is nice and the sun isn't trying to melt you into a quivering puddle of sweat and sunscreen.

Very near the taekwondo park was a restaurant called The Flying Fish.  Not to imply that I didn't enjoy my meal there, but the most notable thing was the Billy Bass Adoption Center.  Remember those singing fish that were all the rage in the early aughts?  Well, I found them.  Like, all of them.

Walls and walls of retired singing fish.  With no batteries, thankfully.

I left for home early on a Tuesday morning, when there wasn't much traffic on the rural highways, and it wasn't too hot yet.

From a scenic overlook on a deserted road.

Usually when I'm travelling for Martial Journeys, I am busy.  I have more things to do than time to do them.  I frantically rush from one spot to the next, trying to get the right picture to make a good blog post.  But when I got here, I was done and headed home.  I took a minute to just enjoy the view.  It felt so weird to be on a highway alone, seemingly the only person for miles in any direction.  I supposed that people didn't have much reason to be there at that hour.  Except for me, and I was there enjoying that view because I do martial arts.  It's been a weird journey.

Two down, 48 to go!

Of course sightseeing was not the main purpose of the trip.  I'll get to the martial arts in the next post, but if you just can't wait to have more Martial Journeys in your diet, you can check out my podcast.  I'll have a new episode out before the next blog post goes live.