In Debbie’s “second life,” she became a Black Belt in multiple Martial Art styles (Kuk Sool Won traditional Koren martial art and Tae Kwon Do), as well as becoming an instructor and running her own school in Texas. Below is an extensive personal timeline of her immersion into Martial Arts, followed by a collection of photographs from this period.
“I grew up in the age of ‘The Man from Uncle,’ ‘I Spy,’ ‘Blue Light’ and ‘The Avengers.’ That, plus being a tomboy, and wanting out of Sister Mary Joseph’s PE class in high school gave me the push to join that new-fangled Karate class the nuns let into the school, even if it was at 6:30 in the morning 5 days a week.
It was Tae Kwon Do and I trained for 3 years, initially every morning during the school year and in the evenings and the summers with the local club that sponsored the class for us. I ended up teaching the morning class after gaining rank and the instructors assigned not always making it at 6:30 in the morning. (Those dance classes I took in junior high school and being a tomboy really combined to give me what it took to succeed in martial arts.)
I went to an all-girl school and it was kind of funny that when the guys in the public schools found out I took karate, they wouldn’t have anything to do with me. The only guys in town that would go out with me were the guys in the karate class, and by then I out-ranked most of them!
I earned up to a brown belt before I went away to college. Missed testing for black belt under Jhoon Rhee because the instructor left Rhee’s group.
In college I trained in Americanized Tae Kwon Do with Allen Stein in Lubbock, Texas. Later, in Beaumont, Texas, at Lamar University, I found a Jhoon Rhee club and trained with Fred Simons. I missed that black belt test because it was scheduled on the same weekend as my wedding!
But I continued to train, and when I graduated I moved to Houston where I went back to Americanized Tae Kwon Do and trained with George Minshew and later Jimmy Tabares.
After finishing Occupational Therapy school, we moved and I began to get busy working and making a life for myself and my husband. Time went by I had a child and needed to lose the weight, so back I went to Karate. I found a traditional Tae Kwon Do Martial Arts school run by Master Shin Il Choi in Corpus Christi. Here, after five years of not working out, I got my splits back in three months, my 1st degree black belt in 12 months and 2nd degree in 18 months. Then we had to move to San Antonio.
My instructor in Corpus referred me to his friend in San Antonio — Master Sung Jin Suh — who was opening a new school. He didn’t want me as a student initially because he wanted a blank slate, someone with no previous martial arts experience. I called Master Choi and told him, and while they hashed it out, I worked out in an American Karate school at the YMCA and ended up teaching part of each class.
Eventually Master Suh accepted me and I began to train in Kuk Sool Won. It was a new style and I had to let go of my Tae Kwon Do black belt and begin again as a white belt again. Kind of hard. I did it on a gradient, training in both schools for a month or so and eventually, I let the Tae Kwon Do go and focused on my Kuk Sool. This was when I entered my 1st Kuk Sool Won tournament in San Antonio. I, and the boys, and our students have been in many since and would later paper the walls of our school with the medals we all won.
We moved again, to the Houston area this time, and there was no Kuk Sool school that was near enough to attend classes, so back to Tae Kwon Do with Al Garza in Dickinson, Texas.
Soon after, I went on my first trip to Korea on a Kuk Sool Won tour during the ‘88 Olympics. I met a Master named Barry Harmon on this trip. Months later, I saw this man standing in the doorway of a new karate school in my general area. This was to be My “home school” for the next 20 years: Kuk Sool Won Of Clear Lake, with Masters Barry and Coon Ok Harmon. My boys were raised in that school. We all thought the same way and spoke the same language, and when one mom wasn’t enough I had two Karate Masters to back me up.
We trained for years and I got my black belt (again). Alex got his at 14 and later Billy chose to test for his at age 10 (we didn’t push).
The Montgomerys opened their own school with the boys and I teaching and my husband running the office. Alex and I got our second degree black belts. We did this for three and a half years. When the boys went off to school I changed to a club and three years later just went back to working on my own towards my 3rd degree.
I went back to Korea in 2005 with Alex and one of our black belts on another Kuk Sool Won tour and competed. I got 2nd place in ladies’ 2nd Dan sparing and Alex got a 3rd place in 2nd Dan men’s Sword form (against Koreans!).Alex got his 3rd while in College and ran his own classes at the university. I finally got my third degree after clearing up a knee problem.
I sang the National anthem at the Kuk Sool Won Tournaments for many years. The last two years in Houston, I was allowed to sing the Korean national anthem too — a real feather in my cap! After Alex graduated he was encouraged to go to Korea to teach English for a year and I made another trip to Korea to visit with him.
It was not too long after that that I moved to LA to work on my singing, and my training has slowed some. Well, it’s not the first time and probably won’t be the last. But I’m looking forward to when I get to train regularly again!