Three Kings I Knew

On Saturday, August 17, 2019, Grand Master Hafner became the first student of Sr. Grand Master Sell to test for 9th Degree Black Belt. At the conclusion of his test, he addressed Grand Master Sell, his students, and his friends in these words…

* * *

‘I speak in front of people a lot, but I don’t usually read. Just between us, I seldom even prepare. But I’m reading this today, because I’m only going to test for 9th dan once, and I don’t want to leave anything out.

I’d like to tell you about Three Kings that changed my life, and deserve the credit for me standing in front of you today.

There was a man with a vision – his name was Edward Sell…Senior Grand Master Sell, to his students.

Grand Master Sell was a true pioneer…a powerful man who relentlessly pursued his dream of building a national Tae Kwon Do organization.

His path and mine became linked together when I came to work for him in 1977.

Grand Master Sell trusted me to continue the work he had begun in Ann Arbor, when he sold me his school, this school, in 1979. I was only 22 years old.

There was a man with a skill – his name was Nicholas Cokinos.

Mr. Cokinos was a highly successful Washington DC entrepreneur, and brought sound, legitimate business practices to an industry that hadn’t yet found its way.

Mr. Cokinos became my business mentor in the early 1980’s. He showed me a larger life, and he empowered me to create the blueprint for my life that I follow to this day.

I sat at his feet for over 30 years.

There was a man with a heart – his name was Robert Smith.

When Grand Master Sell, my teacher, left for Florida, I was only 22 years old.

Master Smith, who had always served as an advisor to Grand Master Sell, adopted me…he made me his son.

With his gentle strength, he taught me to care. He taught me to serve. He taught me to love my students, my friends, my town.

These Kings, all now passed, live on in the man standing before you.

If you do a thing for a long time, it changes you. If you do the thing for a really long time, and if you love it properly, you change the thing. In my own small way, I’ve had the privilege of leaving my stamp on the martial arts.

I think it’s the greatest thing in the world to get up every day and go to work in a Karate school.

I never saw any other life for myself than this one.

I was a skinny, 16 year old kid, with hair down past my shoulders when I did my first low block…and now, I’m about to turn 63.

I feel really young…other than when I do my sidekicks.

Renee asked me what I would do next, after my promotion. I said, ‘Start all over at white belt’ – and I was only half kidding.

Here’s what I DO promise…

…to continue to work on my craft;
…to continue my pursuit of constant and never ending improvement.

You see, to me and my team…this is work that matters…spreading the word that: Karate is Good for You!

The list of people who deserve my gratitude is long. My parents, now deceased, who always loved and supported me; Bill Dean, for getting me started in Tae Kwon Do…and who has always encouraged me. To my friends, who have gone to a lot of trouble to be here today. And, to you, Senior Grand Master Sell…my teacher, my friend…you have become like a sister to me…thank you so much for this opportunity.

(here, Grand Master’s family joined him on stage)

And, to this bunch surrounding me now…I am the most blessed man in the world. I would lay down my life for each and every one of you.

Thank you, students and friends, so much, for being here and sharing the biggest day of my martial art career. I love you all…’