Patrick and I created The Master Tree for Master Duer in the year he attained his mastership in Songham Taekwondo. While he worked on his mastership requirements, including intense physical, mental, and spiritual training, we worked on this piece together. Planning began in July 2012, after then Mister Duer was accepted into the American Taekwondo Association’s Mastership Program, and the project was completed in July 2013 as Master Duer received his mastership.
We presented The Master Tree to Master Rusty Duer and Mrs. Katrina Jensen at the August Duer’s ATA annual testing and picnic. Here is the paragraph I wrote that Patrick read, which we included with the piece:
“Inspired by the symbols of Songham Taekwondo and Master Duer’s embodiment of the values of his art, The Master Tree depicts the rock and tree that are the basis of our Master’s heritage in a setting reminiscent of his Willamette Valley. With our rolling hills and ever-present clouds, The Master Tree has grown leaning upward, as if to strive always for improvement toward excellence, but with its branches reaching also back to teach and shelter those who follow on this challenging course. With each branch comes a new level of mastery until the student becomes the fully-realized master of this form of martial arts. In the sky hangs the symbol to which we students owe our first loyalty, our school, and the example we always strive to emulate. Framed in cherry recovered from the packing crates that delivered materials used in the expansion of Master Duer’s school, the wood of this piece represents the vitrue that anyone can become a black belt no matter his or her beginnings. Within Duer’s ATA Martial Arts, we are all offered a chance to become more than we were.”
The Master Tree reflects the degrees a student may obtain within Songham Taekwondo. The smallest four clusters of leaves hanging to the left of the treetrunk represent the climb from first through fourth degree. To pass from fourth degree to fifth degree, ATA requires the student to make a life commitment to teaching as well as praticing Songham Taekwondo. So, to attain fifth degree, the student must make the step across the trunk to the next branch, the lowest and smallest on the right side of the trunk. From there, the branches represent the climb up to eighth degree at the tree’s crown. The entire tree represents ninth degree, the highest degree attainable within Songham and the degree held by our Grandmaster Soon Ho Lee.
For those of us who have not yet achieved our black belts, The Master Tree also represents our climb, with white belt being the smallest cluster of leaves to the left of the trunk, camouflage being the first official sparring belt and the point at which we must overcome a whole new set of hurdles to progress through the middle belts into advanced study. The topmost branch represents both red belt, the highest of the color belts for which we learn new material, and recommended black belt, the belt at which we must demonstrate a black belt’s degree of mastery of the color belt skills and ideals to progress to first degree black belt.
For both Patrick and I, the ideal that anyone can become a black belt no matter their heritage or apparent skill set is inspiring. Master Duer has helped many people, from small children to elders, find the best within themselves and let it shine. In designing and constructing the frame for this piece, Patrick looked first to Korean architecture and furniture for inspiration as Master Duer looks to Songham Taekwondo for the basis of his teaching. Then, using recovered wood, Patrick worked with the strengths and weaknesses of his materials to shape the frame in a process similar to that which Master Duer uses to bring out the best in each of his students. Thus, The Master Tree is framed in a piece of artwork of its own.