Achieving a Lifetime Goal and
Building Relationships Along the Way
By Keith Lohse
Records are made and broken, but credentials last a lifetime. After 42 years of training, teaching, lecturing, and mentoring the art, science, and sport of TaeKwonDo Chung Do Kwan, Grandmaster Brenda J. Sell achieved the lifetime goal of her martial art career, receiving the rank of 9th Degree Black Belt. Credentials last a lifetime, but so do first time records. Grandmaster Sell is the first female ever to receive the rank of 9th Dan from the World Chung Do Kwan and United States Chung Do Kwan Association (USCDKA). The road leading to this pinnacle point was not easy; Grandmaster Sell had to overcome many obstacles, but her accomplishments has paved the way for women to pursue their goals and dreams in TaeKwonDo. Grandmaster Sell attributes her success to her family, “I am truly blessed. My two sons, Master Ron Sell, Master Robby Sell and my brother Grandmaster Mark Begley are professional Instructors carrying on the family tradition. I am traveling on the path that my husband, Sr. Grandmaster Edward B. Sell paved for foreigners outside of Korea, to have the same opportunities that were only for Korean Nationals prior to 2001 when he became the very first person outside of Korea to test and receive the 9th Degree Black Belt. We work together, play together, and pray together. I want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, my husband Sr. Grandmaster Sell, my parents Ernest & Wilma Begley, our U.S. Chung Do Kwan members and all of those who have allowed me to impart my knowledge to them through seminars, DVD’s, tournaments, books and media. Giving back is an important part of my life right now – serving those who have allowed me to influence their lives so they can follow me as I follow Christ.“ Her personal quest began over four decades ago as a teenager. Her first TaeKwonDo lesson sparked her ambition towards becoming the first female Black Belt in her school. Once the goal was achieved, Grandmaster Sell continued to break records as the first female non-Korean Master, World Class Referee, and Grandmaster. Achieving the rank of 1st Dan was no easy feat in those days; it required a lot of hard work, perseverance, and taking a few lumps along the way. Grandmaster Sell explains what it means to achieve a Black Belt, “The Black Belt is a universal symbol of championship. True Black Belts realize that achieving the black belt is only the beginning, not the end. Black Belts who understand the life-long value of Taekwondo in building and strengthening the mind, body, and spirit set their next goal to Mastery, usually somewhere in the 4th – 6th Degree Black Belt ranks. Those who achieve the Master’s Degree are either content to stay there (usually due to age or life circumstances) or continue to set long term goals to become a Grandmaster – a lifestyle of daily development of the mind, body and spirit. The Master and Grandmaster Degrees are teaching degrees. The Degree or Dan (pronounced don) ranks start from 1st degree and end at 9th degree. Very few people even dream of achieving a 9th Degree. In the dan ranks time in grade is one of the major factors. Time in grade is the time you are required to wait between testing’s. Typically, you must wait the number of years of your next rank. For example a 6th Degree Black Belt must wait a minimum of 7 years to test for 7th Dan. In my case, it took 42 years of active day to day training to receive my 9th Degree Black Belt. In addition to longevity, testing for the upper Dan ranks (8th & 9th) require other factors that include contribution to the growth of Taekwondo through the National Association you represent, a thesis, and physical requirements.” Grandmaster Sell has devoted her entire adult life contributing to the growth of TaeKwonDo through building relationships. She understood early on that the organization’s success depended on its people. She spent the last forty years traveling with her husband and her two sons meeting thousands of USCDKA members around the country through seminars, small group workshops, and one-on-one mentorship. Her greatest contribution to the U.S. Chung Do Kwan Association was her leadership style. She shifted the paradigm model tightly held among many martial art organizations that held on to the traditional view of power, status, and control. She recognized that her success and the success of the organization were determined by the performance of people operating freely from direct supervision. She was able to put her vision into action in 2003 when she took the oath of office of President of the USCDKA.
Grandmaster Sell’s first priority was putting together an executive team that had a shared agenda and vision for the association, that embraced and valued continual learning, diverse views, mutual respect, and a teamwork model in action. Great leaders realize that the true value of any successful organization involves building a solid relationship with its people. The USCDKA has many members holding professional degrees in almost every field and Grandmaster Sell saw the need for the organization to grow both internally and externally. She developed clear roles and responsibilities and let the people doing the work be responsible for their assignments. Pushing responsibility down the line required Grandmaster Sell to develop a new operating style creating an environment where people could do their best. Her servant leadership style is based on quality and measurement that fosters genuine trust, real teamwork, and a quest for continuous improvement within the organization.
The United Sates Chung Do Kwan Association is all about relationships. Understanding people particularly in the martial arts business is incredibly important. The U.S. Chung Do Kwan Association reaches out to school owners asking them to be partners, as opposed to subordinates. The days of going at it alone are rapidly dwindling in an increasingly interdependent world. The USCDKA offers school owners a partnership and the opportunity to grow professionally, personally, and spiritually. The association sees itself as trustees who do things to create value for their members by bringing structure, consistency, institutionalization, while working together like a family. In this way each school owner becomes a trustee of the association, responsible for its growth and success. Grandmaster Sell understands the importance of nurturing relationships with members, families, and communities. She is a servant leader, and her leadership style coaxes people out of their comfort zone, and brings the idea of service to the forefront for their fellow members. Their humility enables them to act on behalf of others, to benefit for the greater good, and to grow the association. It’s a leadership style that just might change the martial art world.