continuing the Legacy
Teaching and training in the martial arts for over 50 years, Grandmaster Dave Wheaton is a revered instructor, mentor and coach to thousands of students across the country. His unique approach to mind/body training empowers his students to discover excellence within themselves and tap into their greatest potential.
GM Dave began his training in 1966 at the age of 16 in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do. Over the next few years, he studied a little Muay Thai, Aikido, and Judo. However, it wasn’t until 1970, that Dave met his first real martial arts mentor, Grandmaster Yi, Tae Hee. GM Yi had been a Taekwondo Combat instructor in the Vietnam War’s Tiger Division, where he taught soldiers a very intense style of hand-to-hand martial art called Chung Do Kwan.
Dave trained, taught, and opened schools for Grandmaster in Connecticut until 1976 when he moved to the island of Oahu and began teaching Taekwondo at the University of Hawaii. While in Honolulu, Dave was invited to train Hapkido under Grandmaster Sung Ok Hong, and he was immediately enthralled with the art. Grandmaster Hong was also an amazing instructor and gave his excited student as much knowledge as he could take in. For the next 5 years, Dave trained constantly, taking notes in his notepad anytime he learned something new. On one occasion in a private lesson, GM Hong asked Dave “where is your notebook?” Dave replied that he forgotten it. GM Hong shrugged his shoulders and popped a kung fu movie into the VCR instead of teaching. It was the last time he forgot his notebook.
In 1981, Dave moved back to Seymour, Connecticut. Soon after realizing that was not his path, Dave was approached by a large man who looked and sounded like a mobster of out the movies. His name was "Big Pete". “I know who you are,” he said. ”You’re that Karate guy, Dave Wheaton". He then motioned him over and said, “Get in the car, and let’s go for a drive.”
The man drove up to a building that Dave once taught Taekwondo in several years before and suggested that he open up another martial arts school. It was exactly as Dave had left it except for some dust. Big Pete said that he would rent to him for $150 a month and there was no deposit needed, but it was under one condition: Dave had to say yes right there and then. “Yes” came out of his mouth before he could even think about it.
With the support of Grandmaster Hong, Dave opened his very first Hapkido studio at 46 Main Street. Referring back to his detailed notes from the days training in Hawaii, Dave began organizing a written, detailed Hapkido curriculum. Dave eventually named the blended art “Dynamic Circle Hapkido” and founded an organization called Hapkido International to support it.
Dynamic Circle Hapkido is a formidable system of self-defense that combines kicks, strikes, throws, takedowns, joint locks and, at higher ranks, weapons training. The emphasis of the art is on flowing seamlessly from one movement to another, and focusing Ki (Chi) energy with the body so that the student, regardless of size or age, can instinctively respond with the appropriate measure of force required. DCH is taught all over the world, and has produced hundreds of quality Black Belts. Side note: Grandmaster Dave’s goal is to have 1000 Black Belts in his lifetime.
By the late 80's GM Hong had closed his school, and Dave was back on Oahu and opened up a Hapkido studio. Dave had been given the rank of “Master” (5th Dan) by then, and he had incorporated fitness classes into his studio as well. In 1996, Master Dave married a fitness trainer named Melodee and adopted her two sons, who trained under him. Eventually, all 4 of them were training and working together, teaching classes and growing the family business.
The family moved to Santa Barbara in 2002 and opened Martial Arts Family Fitness. You can read more about the family’s story here.
In 2012, Grandmaster Yi came to visit Master Dave’s school and at last was able to see his legacy continued on. GM Yi was very impressed by the Black Belt demonstration, noting that the Black Belts were good enough to work with the Secret Service that he had trained earlier in his career. During the Belt Promotion ceremony, GM Yi told a few old stories, miraculously broke a board with one finger, and then surprised everyone even further by awarding Master Dave the certificate of 7th Dan Grandmaster. It was a powerful and humbling moment for the school, and even more so for Grandmaster Dave.
Grandmaster Dave holds multiple certifications and ranks, including:
9th Dan Black Belt in Gene Hong Kwan Hap Ki Do
8th Dan Black Belt in Chung do Kwan Taekwondo
Appointed “Grandmaster” title under the World Taekwondo Chung Du Kwan Federation
2001 Golden Lifetime Achievement Award by the World Karate Union Martial Arts Hall of Fame
Of course, GM Dave still teaches to this very day. You’ll find him on the mat teaching Hapkido classes, a Taekwondo forms class, and a few packed kickboxing classes every week.
In addition to being a martial artist, GM Dave is a FAA Certified Gold Seal Flight Instructor, a winemaker, an amateur Paleo Chef. He lives in Santa Barbara with his wife Melodee, and their beloved poodle Fletch.