MICHAEL ECHANIS always wanted to be a soldier. He was born in 1950, the son and nephew of veterans of WWII. So when he graduated High School in 1969, he immediately enlisted in the US Army and became a Scout/Observer (which was an Infantry MOS in the sixties.)
Within his first year of service, he was promoted to E-4 (Spec4) and completed the first phase of the Special Forces Qualification Course but, for some reason, wasn’t selected to continue. He then volunteered to go to Vietnam.
He had only been “in country” for two months, assigned to the newly formed 75th Ranger Regiment, when the patrol he was with was ambushed.
All seven men in the patrol were badly injured, Echanis having been wounded in the ankle and foot. The only one still capable of fighting, Echanis earned a Bronze Star with “V” (for Valor) and the Vietnamese Cross for Gallantry for his actions that day, saving the lives of his teammates and fighting off the enemy until helicopters could arrive.
He was evacuated back to the US and spent seven months recovering from his injuries before being discharged over his objections due to the severity of his injuries.
He was twenty years old and all he had to show for his life-long ambition of being a soldier was fifteen months in the army, a CIB, a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, and a crippled leg.
Or was it?
While recovering from his surgeries in San Francisco, Echanis was informed he would be discharged. Seven years into the Vietnam War, the Army simply had no use for an infantryman with a crippled leg.
It was during his seven months of recovery that Echanis first read about the Hwa Rang and decided he would rebuild himself into the modern incarnation of an ancient sect of warriors.
The Hwa Rang
The Hwa Rang were an order of warriors in the ancient Kingdom of Silla which had died out about 1000 years before Echanis was born. Boys from good families were chosen and educated in the Confucian and Buddhist classics and taught martial arts by a monk named Won Gwang. This was at a time when monks trained in martial arts to protect themselves from bandits and monarchs, a tradition that began at the famous Shaolin monastery.
He created a code for them (another common feature of warrior orders…consider that St. Benedict wrote the “rule” for the Knights Templar) called the “Five Precepts For Secular Life”, which emphasized they were not monks and involved five main rules:
- Show allegiance to one’s sovereign.
- Treat one’s parents with respect and devotion.
- Exhibit trust and sincerity amongst friends.
- Never retreat in battle.
- Exercise discretion when taking a life.
Thus were the Hwa Rang created as an institution much like the samurai or western knights and, over the next few centuries, they grew in numbers and created warbands that were influential in many of Korea’s feudal wars.
They were trained in swordsmanship, archery, and other arts which came to be known as “The Way of the Hwa Rang” or Hwa Rang Do.
When Echanis thought he was healed up from his injuries, he went home to Idaho, resumed his studies of Judo and Karate (I’ve no idea which style.) But he soon grew dissatisfied with that training, still longing for a warrior commitment like that he had made to the Army or like that of the Hwa Rang.
He soon found himself in Downey, CA, outsides the dojang of Joo Bang Lee, where, the story goes, he was rejected as a student the because Dr. Lee was concerned that his war time experience had left him psychologically unsound and that such training would make Echanis a danger to himself others.
In the greatest tradition of the martial arts, Echanis then sat outside the school for three days until Dr. Lee agreed to talk to him again and he was finally accepted as a student.
He trained and eventually took over as head instructor at another branch of Dr Lee’s school, but quickly failed as an instructor of civilians.
You see…Michael Echanis wasn’t merely interested in teaching a martial art to men and women needing a good workout or even some self-defense training. He was interested in the creation of warriors, he was interested in living the legacy of the Hwa Rang.
Echanis then turned his attention again to the military and gave demonstrations to officers at Ft Bragg’s Special Warfare School. In 1976, he presented six classes to officers and NCO’s of the school, training them to instruct hand-to-hand combat as he had learned it.
He had gone from not being allowed to complete the training for Special Forces to being “Senior Instructor and Advisor to the US Army JFK Special Warfare Center for Hand to Hand Combat.” He authored books on the art he was teaching. He went on to teach instructors at SEAL Team Two where he was appointed “Senior Advisor and Head Instructor for the SEAL Team TWO Hand to Hand Combat/Special Weapons/Tactics School for Instructors” as well.
And he had done this AFTER being wounded and discharged from active duty, effectively ending his childhood dreams.
AND SO OUR STORY ENDS
But not quite.
Not being satisfied with his role as an instructor, the Last of the Hwa Rang discovered a need to go back to war.
Unable to re-enlist in the US Army, Echanis found another. In 1977, he traveled to Nicaragua and served with the Nicaraguan National Guard as an instructor and, possibly, in direct actions, as that country fought against a communist takeover.
While the details of his service there are classified or unclear, on September 8, 1978, he was killed in a helicopter crash along with another Hwa Rang, Nguyen van Nguyen, and Nicaraguan General Alegritt.
His service there was of such a nature that a few months later, President Jimmy Carter wrote a letter of appreciation to his family.
Short, sweet, and simple…if Echanis could do it, you and I can do it.
Deprived of whatever dreams you’ve possessed (or have possessed you) and abandoned by whatever it was you committed to, you can find new dreams, better dreams, and you can rebuild.
You can recommit to excellence and the Way and you can live the life you know you should be living on your terms.
POINT ONE: STUDY and THINK.
This is the rest of your life we’re talking about. Echanis had seven months in the hospital to think and read and decide what he needed to be. Don’t clutch at what is simple and available, determine what your soul aches for.
There’s a good chance its in your childhood among the things you always said you wanted to be when you “grow up.” There’s a good chance it involves being Heroic.
POINT TWO: DON’T LIMIT YOURSELF
Don’t limit yourself to what is practical. You know what’s practical? Tying your boots and going to work down at the plant.
Just fill out the application and pass the drug test. You can start Monday on swings.
POINT THREE: KNOW WHO YOUR DREAM SERVES
You serve your dream. You struggle for it, bleed and sweat for it, you wrest it from the void and you make it reality.
But who does your dream serve? What causes does your dream make larger and better?
If your dream serves only yourself, your name will be forgotten.
Which of us agreed to that when we were boys dreaming of a seat at the Round Table?