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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, February 10, 2011

Trainas team up at Altamont Martial Arts
Air force officer and his wife teach ancient Korean martial art

By Zach Simeone

ALTAMONT — At the foot of the long and winding road leading into the Helderbergs, a new school for the ancient ways of self-defense has opened its doors.

Robert and Catherine Traina, a husband and wife from Knox, are in their second month of teaching classes at Altamont Martial Arts, now open at Altamont Corners, in the space between Bamboo Garden and Paisano’s Pizza Villa.

“Some schools are all about competition, sparring, fighting,” said Mr. Traina. “My belief and style is to discourage someone from fighting, teach them right from wrong.”

Said Mrs. Traina, “We figured Altamont would be a good place simply because there’s a large population of young people in this village, and you have the young population up on the Hill, and there’s very little to do.”

They hope that the school will appeal to people of all age groups.

“We’re there to help the parents with the kids, whether it’s outside with their friends or in school,” Mr. Traina said. “We act as a team, between the parents and us, to help the student become a better person. For adults, we do it for physical fitness, stress relief; everybody does it for different reasons. We don’t expect everyone to be a winner, but the students are going to be doing it for themselves, to become better people in their everyday lives.”

Mr. Traina, 39, works for the United States Air Force as a military police officer at Stratton Air Base in Schenectady. He is also a part-time Altamont Police officer.

Mrs. Traina, 38, works in the contract unit at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

They will train their students in three Korean martial arts: Tae Kwon Do, Hapkido, and Haidong Gumdo.


Robert Traina was drawn to martial arts as a boy, and began training at Northeast Tae Kwon Do in Guilderland when he was 14.

“It’s just something I was very good at, and I didn’t have to prove it to anybody else,” he said. “It’s an individual activity; it’s something that made me feel I was able to accomplish something. Doing basketball, baseball, it’s a team activity, which is good. But, at the same time, I needed something for myself, to improve my abilities, my confidence — that’s where it all started.”

In 2000, his instructor moved out of the area, and Mr. Traina took over the school.

Mrs. Traina, on the other hand, didn’t begin studying martial arts until she met her husband.

“It was mostly just practicality — to know how to defend myself,” she said. “I never honestly enjoyed Hapkido that much. It was something for me to do and to know.”

But discovering Haidong Gumdo, a style that revolves around swordsmanship, brought an entirely new level of enjoyment to learning martial arts for her.

“It’s just different; it’s not something you see every day, and it’s surprisingly not as combative as you might think,” she said. “It’s an art form. The patterns can be beautiful if you do it right.”


Tae Kwon Do, an integral part of South Korean military training and the country’s national sport, is among the most widely practiced martial arts in the world.

“It’s a way of life,” said Mr. Traina.

The oldest records of its existence date back to around 50 B.C., when Korea was split into three kingdoms: Baekche, in the southwestern part of the country; Silla, on the Gyeongju plain; and Koguryo, in the Yalu River Valley.

Painted illustrations of Taek Kyon, the earliest discovered form of Tae Kwon Do, were found in the Muyong-chong — a royal tomb of the Koguryo Dynasty. But the diffusion of this style throughout the country is widely attributed to the Hwarang, the Silla Dynasty’s warrior nobility. Their teachings, the Hwarang-do, were based on the five codes of human conduct:

— Be loyal to your country;

— Be obedient to your parents;

— Be trustworthy to your friends;

— Never retreat in battle;

— Never make an unjust kill.

As written in Tae Kwon Do: The Ultimate Reference Guide to the World’s Most Popular Martial Art by Master Yeon Hee Park, Master Yeon Hwan Park, and Jon Gerrard, “the literal translation of Tae Kwon Do is ‘the art of kicking and punching.’ Tae means ‘to kick,’ Kwon means ‘to punch,’ and Do means ‘art.’”

Now, the Trainas hope to further spread this widely popular art form, along with Hapkido, a style that makes use of several weapons as well as joint-locks and grappling, and Haidong Gumdo.


While he did a great deal of training locally, Mr. Traina also studied under Grandmaster John Pellegrini. In addition to founding Combat Hapkido, Pellegrini is the founder and president of the International Combat Hapkido Federation and the International Police Defensive Tactics Institute, as well as the founder and chairman of the Independent TaeKwonDo Association, and he is among the world’s most influential martial artists.

Mr. Traina has also trained with Grandmaster Jeong Ho Kim in the ways of Haidong Gumdo. Kim comes to the United States every six months, Traina said, visiting both the east and west coasts. He was last in the country in mid-November.

The grandmaster holds training sessions with instructors to disseminate new techniques, and oversees students’ testing to earn their black belts. Traina himself sits on the panel for black belt tests as well, he said.

In Haidong Gumdo, only Korean is spoken, Traina said.

“As soon as you walk on the mat, you’ve got to know Korean,” he said. “Commands, techniques, stances, performing, names of patterns — everything’s in Korean.”

When asked if there was a particular piece of advice from Kim that stood out in their minds, the Trainas responded in unison: “Big circles!”

“It’s not an ax,” Mrs. Traina said of the Korean sword. “You’re not just going back and forth. You’re always circling your body in anything you do with the sword.”

Said her husband, “When cutting with a sword, you need big circles, momentum…You’ve got to extend the elbows…You’re in the center of the circumference of a circle; you have to complete the circle.”

And there are strict rules regarding the teaching of Gumdo, he went on.

“With Tae Kwon Do, everything’s in a student handbook,” he said. “With Gumdo, it’s just like the old days; it’s from teacher to student. There are no books, and you’re not allowed to videotape anything…If you’ve got a question, you come back to your teacher.” If the teacher has questions, he goes to the grandmaster. “All my communication goes to Korea,” said Traina.

Students at Altamont Martial Arts will be able to seek help via the school’s website, www.NortheastHaidong.com, as long as they have their security code handy.

In Haidong Gumdo, students progress through a series of different weapons. Students will begin with a mokgum, a two-pound wooden sword; then move on to a kagum, an unsharpened, five-pound metal sword; and when they get their black belt, they purchase their real, sharpened sword.

“The only time you use a real sword is for practice-cutting with bamboo,” said Mr. Traina. “Bamboo-cutting represents bone; straw-cutting represents skin; and then paper cutting is done at all levels.”

But there is no actual sparring between students.

“It’s not like kendo, where you get swords, you get suits on, and you fight each other,” he said. “The Korean warriors actually perform and practice, so you’re executing these moves and patterns like the warriors did. There’s cartwheels; there’s rolls; there’s aerial jumps… You build a lot of upper body strength from this, because you’re continuously holding at least two pounds.”

Mr. Traina described another sword technique students can learn: candle-snuffing.

“Beginners start with one candle,” he explained. “We can do a downward cut straight down, stop inches from the flame, and you should be able to put out the candle. As you go higher and higher, we have multiple candles, one horizontal slice, you should be able to put out the candles.”

He has seen a grandmaster snuff out 20 candles at once with his bare hand.

These techniques and others will be taught in the heart of the village, teaching people of all ages how to defend themselves. As far as the Trainas are concerned, it is the ability to avoid conflict that exhibits true strength.

“Sometimes,” Mrs. Traina concluded, “knowing you could win a fight if you got into one is enough to give you the strength to walk away from one.”


Tae Kwon Do classes at Altamont Martial Arts cost $80 a month, and are offered four times a week; Hapkido and Haidong Gumdo classes cost $65 a month, each taught two times a week. Introductory classes for all three styles are taught on Wednesdays.

The school also offers the following discounts, ideal for families: Once a person has purchased a month of Tae Kwon Do for $80, he or she must pay only $10 for a month of Haidong Gumdo or Hapkido; for each additional family member, it’s $60 instead of $80, and $10 for an additional program.

“If there becomes an interest, and people are home during the morning times, we will offer morning classes as well,” co-owner Robert Traina said.

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