July 23, 2024




An introduction to Virgil Lee Dortch, HapKiDo Instructor/Coach

An alchemist is often thought of as someone who attempts to perfect
and purify precious metals, particularly gold. But, I prefer the
second definition; an alchemist is a person who transforms or creates
through a seemingly magical process. It’s my belief that by that
definition, coach’s and instructors perform alchemy every day.

Barry Gordy‘s “The Last Dragon” premiered in 1985. In the film Taimak,
who played Bruce Leroy Green, gave a generation of black 1980’s babies
a standard of martial arts excellence to shoot for. My interest in
martial arts started that year. However, my first martial arts class
didn’t take place until two years later.

A new martial arts school
called Choi Kwan Do opened up in our community and offered massively
discounted promotional memberships. My parents signed me up and I was
at home in the Dojang from day one. Choi Kwan Do is a striking based
Korean Martial Art with roots in Tae Kwon Do. However, my time at the
school ended when the promotion came to an end, but my interest in
training continued to grow. I checked out every martial art book that
my school library and our public library had to offer. It became a
regular thing to see me on the bus with a martial arts book in hand
reading as I rode to and from school. My classmates even nicknamed me
“Bruce Leroy” after Taimak’s character in “The Last Dragon”. It was
initially said as a tease, but effectively became both a nickname of
endearment and warning.

Around 1990, I came across the book “HapKiDo
the Integrated Fighting Art” written by Robert Spears. The description
of the book is “Hapkido, the “way of coordinated power” is a total
martial art, containing the throwing secrets of judo, the striking
aspects of karate, and the locking and breaking aspects of aikido.
This is the definitive work on this multifaceted system, considered by
many to be Korea’s deadliest fighting art”. I was hooked; HapKiDo was
the most complete system that I had seen. I was so impressed by the
art, that I pushed my Dad into registering me for classes with a
HapKiDo club in a neighboring city. I wasn’t let down at all, they
seemed to be able to go wherever the fight went. Once again I had
found a place that I belonged. However, after a few months and the
realities of driving distance & tuition I found myself once again
without a school or a direct instructor. But the experience became
tattooed in my mind. I decided that once I was in a place of
disposable income and control of my time, I would find a school and an
instructor to learn from. Into the 1990’s I began focusing more of my
attention on sports in my community. I played basketball, football and
competed in track & field.

This lead to me playing on a nationally
ranked AAU Basketball Team and being a state finalist in Track &
Field. I earned collegiate scholarship offers in Track & Field and
continued compete throughout my college career and for a couple of
years afterwards. In 2005, I used my foot speed and good hand eye
coordination to earn the opportunity to play football with the Rome
Renegades, a now defunct former professional football team in the
American Indoor Football League. My journey in traditional sports as a
competitor came to an end after my 2005 football opportunity, but
along the way I learned numerous coaching skills that I used to
successfully coach youth athletes afterwards. This lead to me taking
both Boys and Girls Track & Field Teams to the State Finals, a Girls
Basketball Team to the Elite Eight in the State Tournament and
coaching a Soccer Team that went undefeated for three consecutive
seasons. Amid my time coaching, tragedy struck my family in 2016. My
younger cousin, who was like a nephew to me, drowned. It was a
shocking reminder of how fleeting life can be.

While mourning his
death, the tattooed experience from childhood flashed back to me and
reminded me that I promised myself to return to HapKiDo, when I had
the income to spare and the time to commit to it. I had both, combined
with a new take on the importance of living life in the now. I began
to look for HapKiDo Dojangs in the area and found Black Knight Martial
Arts (BKMA). Ironically, they had a multi-month promotional program,
which I signed up for. But this time when the program came to an end,
I knew that it was a new beginning for me. Over my six years at BKMA,
I have grown from being a nearly 280 lbs guy who tries to muscle his
way through everything to being an effective practitioner to now
serving as a 220 lbs Black Belt Instructor.

For me the process of going from joining a martial art to earning my Black Belt to now
serving as an instructor, has felt like an act of alchemy. As my lead
instructor Grandmaster Nils Onsager put it recently, “Martial arts has
changed you”. Getting to this point has required a good bit of
unlearning, but my background as an athlete and a coach has made me a
better instructor and being an instructor has made me a better coach.
It’s my intent to share some of what I’ve learned along the way with

Virgil Lee Dortch

1st Dan HapKiDo