597th Soldier uses eclectic martial art to harness confidence

By Mr. Zack Shelby (597th Transportation Brigade)August 11, 2016

597th Transportation Brigade Hapkido Instructor
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It all started in 2006 when his dad called into a radio show in Missouri, won a prize, went to the station with his son to pick it up, and saw a dojang behind the building.

"My father was actually kind of interested," said Pfc. Justin Parker, transportation management coordinator with 689th Rapid Port Opening Element/833rd Transportation Battalion/597th Transportation Brigade stationed at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. "He just wanted something for us to do together -- a father/son activity."

Parker, 15 at the time, was referring to hapkido -- a highly eclectic Korean martial art often conducted in a training hall such as the dojang he and his father saw behind the radio station that day in Missouri in 2006.

"We started there and I've been involved in hapkido ever since," Parker said.

He said that experience changed him for the better.

"With any martial art, there's a sense of personal achievement," Parker said. "With each achieved rank, you get more self-esteem, more confidence. You feel more comfortable in your own skin. I was a pretty awkward teenager so it really changed the way I see life."

Hapkido, especially combat hapkido, is self-defense for modern life, according to Parker.

"Combat hapkido takes its traditional routes and applies them to modern day," Parker said. "We apply a lot of wing chun concepts… it's a really eclectic martial art. We have all three ranges of defense -- long range, mid-range and close."

Parker added that his classes deal with standing techniques and (from on the ground) how to get into a more dominant position.

He also said that his classmates have developed camaraderie with each other because they are small and have to put each other's safety in their partner's hands.

"You have to have some level of respect for each other," Parker said. "You're dealing with techniques that can be potentially detrimental to joints or to your long-term health. You really have to trust who you're working with."

There are some arts you can practice by yourself, but hapkido isn't one of them, Parker said.

"You kind of need a live partner," he said. "Everyone reacts to pain differently so putting a joint lock on one person may be different from putting one on someone else. You have all those real-world complications and reactions that different people have."

Parker, who's been in the Army 18 months, said he was initially concerned that he wouldn't be able to continue his passion of hapkido because of his commitment to serve his country.

"It definitely was something I was worried about," said Parker, a southern Illinois native. He's also had to deal with the day-to-day life of being a Soldier.

Sometimes duty calls and he has to miss out on the occasional hapkido session, but Parker said he has been able to balance it out.

"It's always mission first," Parker said. "You have to tell yourself and the people you study with, 'hey I'm a Soldier first.'"

However, Parker, now an instructor himself, was able to find other instructors online in Yorktown, Virginia, only about a dozen miles from JBLE and he practices hapkido two or three times per week as part of a small class at Tabb Elementary School.

"We're always willing to have more people," said Parker, who achieved his first dan (a Korean team for grade or rank) before joining the military and continues to learn techniques through the combat hapkido curriculum. "You're always trying to better yourself and learn new approaches to doing things. I'd be more than happy to have anybody who wants to come check us out."

Hapkido has been a big part of Parker's life for a decade and he continues to get the most out of his sessions.

"I think the reason it's important for me is it allows me to be more confident in myself," Parker said. He also gains leadership skills as an instructor that he hopes will serve him well in the Army.

"It gets instilled in you as you take on more responsibility," Parker said of leadership skills learned through hapkido. "You have a responsibility to your students to teach them the proper way to do something to where you're not going to hurt your partner, but it would still be effective if they ever have to implement these (skills) in the street. It gives me a sense of security that I could protect my wife and soon-to-be son."

Parker and his wife of two years, Bethany, look forward to welcoming Isaac into the world in October.