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The DA(O)N of Taekwondo

October 19, 2014 , by Richa Pokhrel, 1 Comment
The DA(O)N of Taekwondo » My Dreams Mag
Diwakar 'Dan' Maharjan is probably one of the busiest men we could come across to meet, if only we get a rare opportunity for a rendezvous with him. He is a Taekwondo promoter stationed at Portland, USA from where he has developed a huge network taking the sport to various nook and corner of the world. While I tried to contact him for an interview in the last four weeks, Maharjan had travelled to three different locations including Australia and Canada. I had a hard time to fit in his hectic schedule for a talk over the phone. I finally connected and then began a journey of understanding a man with big dreams: The dreams that were born after an early stage of struggle against all odds.

B
orn into a time when Nepal forbade its citizens to learn and teach any form of martial arts, Maharjan has pushed through many obstacles to be a renowned and respected instructor he is today. Ever since a young age, he has strived to achieve his dreams irrespective of the struggles that came his way.
 
Maharjan is among the hard-working Taekwondo promoter and high-ranking Taekwondo masters from Nepal establishing several Taekwondo projects around the world. More than just teaching the form of martial art, he uses Taekwondo to create safe spaces for students to come together and learn. He has built bridges amongst different countries, helping students grow into model citizens and strive to be the best person one can be.

What makes Maharjan an inspiration is his attempt of breaking the stereotypes by enhancing non-traditional career path and the good things he has done for the sport. Even though he faced discrimination at the beginning of his career, he has turned that struggle into something positive for himself and the entire Taekwondo community. Now he holds a strong portfolio that is enough to define who and what he has become since the time he took Taekwondo seriously.

What is Taekwondo?

Taekwondo is a martial art that began from Korea centuries ago but became very popular throughout the world after the Korean War. This sport is not just about physical strength; it focuses on the mind and body, as well as discipline. According to the World Taekwondo Federation, Taekwondo “is one of the most systematic and scientific Korean traditional martial arts, that teaches more than physical fighting skills. It is a discipline that shows ways of enhancing our spirit and life through training our body and mind.”

BORN INTO A TIME WHEN NEPAL FORBADE ITS CITIZENS TO LEARN AND TEACH ANY FORM OF MARTIAL ARTS, MAHARJAN HAS PUSHED THROUGH MANY OBSTACLES TO BE A RENOWNED AND RESPECTED INSTRUCTOR HE IS TODAY.
 
Imitating Bruce Lee
 
 
Maharjan’s biggest inspiration for getting involved in Taekwondo was the famous Hong Kong-American actor, Bruce Lee. He got infatuated with watching his movies when he was growing up, learning to imitate Lee’s moves. Eventually, Diwakar and his elder cousin came across to meet a ‘guru’ (teacher) who would train them every day before the school hour.

However, his mother did not approve of all the fighting, as she didn’t think it was appropriate for good boys to fight. So Maharjan came up with a lie. He told his mom that he was going to early morning tuition to prepare for his School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams and instead snuck to Taekwondo practice every morning until he got caught. His mother was yet to disapprove but she ultimately accepted his son as a fighter.

 
WHAT MAKES MAHARJAN AN INSPIRATION IS HIS ATTEMPT OF BREAKING THE STEREOTYPES BY ENHANCING NON-TRADITIONAL CAREER PATH AND THE GOOD THINGS HE HAS DONE FOR THE SPORT.
 
His childhood wasn’t always easy for other reasons too. Maharjan was just nine-year-old when his father passed. Losing father at a tender age might have instilled him maturity. His father’s death spurred him to learn to persevere, work hard and stay committed to his goals.
 
A bout against discrimination
 
The Dan started his Taekwondo training in 1982 when it was just beginning to flourish in the country. He trained under Chief Grand Master Jay K Shin who is hailed as the “Father of Nepali Taekwondo.” When he was in Nepal, Maharjan worked very hard on his practice but the road was always slippery for him.

He often faced ethnic discrimination and there were times when people (including the ones from the so-called high social strata) didn’t take him seriously. He was barred from competitions not because he was incompetent but of his ethnicity. Yet he pursued taekwondo ignoring the talks behind or in front of him.

Following the footsteps of Shin, he moved to Unites States in 1994. He trained under Shin for few months and a year later, he founded his own Taekwondo center in Portland, Oregon. He still serves as the Chief Master there today.

 
 
A fruitful struggle
 
Maharjan’s brainchild US West Coast Taekwondo Hollywood in Portland didn’t have the best of the start because of language and cultural barriers. His first students were all American and there were times when communication did not go smoothly. But for Maharjan those barriers were too brittle. He turned the Portland centre as one of the best taekwondo training institutes as it could be. Almost all of his current staffers are former students who trained under him throughout the years.
 
 
Maharjan today boasts a long list of achievements which came courtesy his own hard work and dedication. He is a certified International Senior Master and a certified WTF First Class International Referee. He also completed the WTF Training Camp for the Beijing Olympics and was awarded the National Instructor of the Year (1998) by United States Taekwondo Union (member of United States Olympic Committee).
He is also the Referee Chairman for the USA Taekwondo Oregon; Founder, President & Chief Master of Maitri Taekwondo Dojang; and Tournament Director for the International Open Friendship Taekwondo Championships (IOFTC).
Diwakar is a seventh degree black belt which means he has spent many years practicing and perfecting his technique. Taekwondo has nine dans (ranks) that indicate the level of mastery and experience. Maharjan describes the different belt levels comparing them with the education system: "There is elementary school, middle school, college, masters, and then Ph.D." Diwakar is into the latter one.
 
Building Bridges
 
 
Diwakar has always been committed to sharing his passion of Taekwondo. Being an instructor, he has opened many doors for him to travel around the world and share his knowledge with others. Even though he faced some challenges when he was young, he helped start an organization that would bring students of different backgrounds together to compete in a friendly manner. In 2000, along with some of his former students and friends, he started the International Open Friendship Taekwondo Championships (IOFTC). None of the staffers working for the Championships are paid; rather everyone volunteers their time to put the competition together.
 
"Our goal is to take this event around the world and build friendship and exchange culture,” he said.Since 2000, he has travelled to various countries including India, Nepal, Hong Kong, UK, and the US. In the past few years, the competition has revolved around between Portland and various other countries around the world. This year, he and his family traveled to the UK.
 
 
He said the competition went quite extraordinary as many of the participants and referees were from Nepal. IOFTC has been receiving funding that would grant $3,000 to each Nepali student for airfare, lodging, and food. Sometimes when there isn’t enough funding, Maharjan, along with other IOFTC Board Members, pay out of pocket to ensure that the competitions take place. Throughout their 14-year history, hundreds of students have come together and created wonderful friends and everlasting memories.
 
Born Teacher
 
Before moving to the US, Maharjan taught Taekwondo for many years in Nepal at the National Sports Council and his own private school. He opened Maitri Taekwondo Dojang in Patan in 1990. He has made the Dojang accessible to all who want to join with fees not being a barrier. He tries to return to Nepal to visit his students, at least once a year.

Apart from the technical moves, Maharjan likes to teach students about discipline, respect and how to be a good person. “I love being part of the Taekwondo communities and families,” he said adding what he wants his pupils to be. “When my students begin their Taekwondo training, I like to see every one of them become better in their lives, better than instructors, better than Masters, and better than me.”

 
 
"WHEN MY STUDENTS BEGIN THEIR TAEKWONDO TRAINING, I LIKE TO SEE EVERY ONE OF THEM BECOME BETTER IN THEIR LIVES, BETTER THAN INSTRUCTORS, BETTER THAN MASTERS, AND BETTER THAN ME."
 
Since he spends almost every night at his school, his own kids have begun to join him. This has eased the pressure off him to spend quality time with children, training his children now seems to be a mandatory. His son, almost 12, and daughter, almost 14, are frequent visitors but they also compete in other sports.
 
Taekwondo in Nepal
 
 
The Nepalese government lifted the ban on martial arts in 1983. Chief Grand Master Shin introduced the sport to Nepal and helped them claim the country’s first and only Olympic medal in 1988 — but back then it was a demonstration sport. Shin also helped them win several medals in the Asian games. However, since the glory days of the late 1980s, Nepal has not attained any medals in Taekwondo in the Olympics.

According to Maharjan, Taekwondo used to be the No 1 sport in Nepal but it has become a past. He believes that a single person clinging on to the top post of the sport’s governing body for 30 years could bring no change. With the same people in charge, there has been a pattern of greed and nepotism.

“I’m hoping that they will change the system and it will improve,” he said.

 
"I WILL DO TAEKWONDO FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE LIKE I HAVE BEEN DOING FOR THE PAST 30 YEARS. I WILL HELP DEVELOP TAEKWONDO IN NEPAL. I HAVE BEEN HELPING AND WILL HELP IN THE FUTURE FOR MORE IMPROVEMENT TO GO TO THE OLYMPIC LEVEL ONE DAY."
 
His ideas for changing the system include bringing people with new ideas in, creating a practice space that would be clean and updated so players don’t feel intimidated when they go abroad to compete. He suggests the instructors to use new methods of teaching instead of relying on old school methods that focus on criticising rather than encouraging.

Maharjan wants nothing more than his students becoming the best they could be in Taekwondo. He is also very committed to Nepal and the students there. Maharjan is a modest man who loves what he does and will continue to do so. He said: "I will do Taekwondo for the rest of my life like I have been doing for the past 30 years. I will help develop Taekwondo in Nepal. I have been helping and will help in the future for more improvement to go to the Olympic level one day.”

To find out more about Diwakar Maharjan’s Taekwondo School in Portland, USA, please visit: http://portlandtaekwondo.com

 
In conversation with Richa Pokhrel.
 

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Categorised in: Interviews, Sports

One comment on “The DA(O)N of Taekwondo

  1. Richa P says:

    He is definitely an inspiration! A humble man with a big heart.

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