1999 World Martial Arts Hall of Fame Induction Celebration
In 1997, Sensei Phong received the esteemed honor of nomination for the Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into the World’s Martial Arts Hall of Fame. The international recognition for his dedication to martial artists from all different disciplines was truly a milestone in Sensei Phong’s career.
In 1998, Sensei Phong received another nomination into the World’s Martial Arts Hall of Fame. This time, the council of the World’s Martial Arts Hall of Fame nominated him, it’s Founder and President, Dr. E.A Moore, personally contacted him.
Sensei Phong and I traveled to Cleveland, Ohio on March 26, 1999 to attend this honored function. It was a long plane ride, about 4 ½ hours. Fortunately, it was a nonstop trip. We got our bags and hailed a taxicab. The taxi driver was funny. He kept asking questions about who we were and “Do you know…?” naming other famous martial artists. He also offered to take us back to the airport on Sunday. He was amusing. We did not think that we could survive another cab ride with him although it was only for 10 minutes!
We checked into the hotel and quickly found the itinerary for the night and the next day. That night, there was a social in the hotel tavern where we stayed. We arrived late into Cleveland. We had not eaten dinner yet. We made a quick stop to say hello to everyone there and were off to dinner. We hoped we would come back in time to talk to others there. Unfortunately, everyone had a busy and early day on Saturday. When we made it back, there were only a few people there. We just decided to call it night and get some rest.
Saturday morning proved to be extremely busy with activity. Martial artists of all styles and disciplines were strolling in the main lobby of the hotel all dressed in their traditional practice clothing. We found our way to the main registration and exhibition area. We signed in and took a few photographs. We me many other martial artists but neither of us really know who they were. It was a very pleasant exchange.
Shortly after registration, everyone met in the main seminar room for group photos and more socializing. The organizers of the event introduced themselves and started the events for the day. Sensei Phong was not scheduled to teach until 12:00 PM. It was still early for us. We walked around a bit and met some fellow martial artists from California who knew of Sensei Phong and introduced themselves. Others from all over the United States, who knew of his name and reputation, also introduced themselves when they heard he was there.
High noon. It was finally time for Sensei Phong to teach his seminar. I looked around the room and saw a large class. I did notice something peculiar. A lot of them were wearing shoes. This made me take a good look at the floor. “Yikes!” I thought to myself, there is no mat! Just plain bare commercial carpet like that we have in our front lobby area. “This is going to hurt. All I have to do is survive for another hour.”
Sensei Phong decided to teach a Han Bai Duong Vietnamese Shaolin Kung Fu seminar. He started with some simple and strike techniques. “No throws, no pain” I thought. I had no such luck. Sensei Phong quickly moved from the basic blocks to throws. The class was immediately impressed and wanted more. Sensei Phong responded with advanced punching and kicking techniques. I began to miss our mat at home so much. I was extremely busy all the time. I was Sensei Phong’s Uke. I operated the video camera. I helped the participants with the techniques Sensei Phong taught. The hour went quickly and I was fortunate enough to survive the techniques without injury. Afterwards many people came forward to thank and congratulate Sensei Phong for a great seminar and to invite him to teach at their schools.
Later that night, we dressed for the celebration dinner and arrived at the reception promptly at 6:00 PM. We were one to the first people there and enjoyed ourselves as we met many new people and some of our new friends. Around 7:30 the event organizers started to let people into the dining hall. The largest group first. There was group as large as 94 people. Since we were only two, Sensei Phong and I, we were one of the last people seated. To our surprise, the organizers had another treat in store of us. They immediately escorted us from the door to the head table on the stage in front of everyone else. Only the organizing members and distinguished guests were seated at the head table.
During the dinner, a local vocal group and several jazz musicians entertained us. Following dinner, Dr Moore called for a solemn audience as he prepared a memorial service for all the great martial artists that we had lost the year. Sensei Phong was called upon to represent Aikido’s lost of Doshu Kisshomaru Ueshiba and O’Sensei. This was a touching and unforgettable moment.
Soon, the presentation of awards and inductions started. The most outstanding children martial artists were inducted first. Several exceptional demonstrations of martial arts were given as an intermission between the children’s and adult’s induction service. There were approximately 154 adults honored for their excellence in the martial arts.
We attended the celebration from beginning to end. We shared in people’s joy as they were honored, one by one. We finally left the dining hall at 1:42 AM. We spent a total of almost 8 hours at the celebration dinner. The night was not quite over yet. Several people were outside waiting to take pictures with Sensei Phong and to get his autograph.
When we finally made it back to our room, Sensei Phong was still a bit excited and found it hard to sleep. I, on the other hand, was extremely exhausted and could have slept for days.
Sunday morning we met with Dr. Moore and the rest of the Council of the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame for the official signing of all the documents and awards that Sensei Phong had been honored with. Sensei Phong received another invitation to teach at next year’s Hall of Fame induction.
We checked out of the hotel at 10:00 AM and had several hours before our plane departed. We decided to take in some of the sights Cleveland had to offer. We visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Neither of us being the big music fan, we were done with the tour in about 20 minutes. We called for a cab to take us back to the hotel and to the airport from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. To our surprise and amazement, the cab driver that picked us up was the same one that had driven us from the airport to the hotel! Our cab driver proved to be as happy and talkative as before.
Fortunately, the plane ride back to Los Angeles as a quick and pleasant one. We are now safely back home and looking forward to next year’s activities.