TKD: A Way of Life

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Black Belt Level Responsibility

on JUL. / 06 / 2011 | 0 comments

Aspiring Taekwon-Doists enter the dojang for the first time and typically view the Black Belts around them as possessing some ancient golden key allowing them to unlock a door to the mystical wisdom and power of the Eastern Traditions! While conceptually, this makes for great Saturday night “Kung-Fu” flicks, I think, in a more practical sense it is better to humbly portray us as the “elder keepers of knowledge.” For better or worse, the Black Belts in any martial arts school are oftentimes the most influential elements on the mat and since earning my rank as such in the early 1980’s never conferred with it the ability to levitate at will, it makes more sense to view our role with new students in a more pragmatic manner. I have seen the arrogance displayed by some senior students and this ultimately has a very damaging effect on those of lower rank. What I am writing about here today is Black Belt Level Responsibility!

Black Belt and senior students must set a proper example and reflect the schools’ standards of etiquette at all levels of interaction. When we fail, our juniors follow and as such the entire dojang risks being compromised. Leadership with humility is far more impressive than exhibitions of athletic skill and, as it turns out, a very important attribute for Black Belts to master. As Lao Tzu puts it:

“A leader is best when people barely know he exists, but of a good leader who talks little when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say, “We did it ourselves.”

No matter how many stripes we have on our belts, we are all students of TKD and must never lose that original sense of learning and growth. At my own school a particular student likes to compliment and imitate me on my forms practice, and while I appreciate this my answer to him is always the same, “I am also learning.” This is the only way that we can “grow up” our junior students. We must guide them gently and on their own time schedule towards mastery. We must meet them where they are and encourage their growth beyond such by example, not with words or worse admonishment! If they are the seeds we must be the nutrients that support their healthy growth towards the sun so that they may provide nourishment to those that follow. This is Black Belt Level Responsibility!

More than possessing sheer physical ability, the level of skill that I reference here compels us to act in ways that elevate others both inside and outside of the dojang, but without taking credit for doing such. The purpose of our training is to make us better human beings and when we lose sight of this we are no different than a person that has never trained in martial arts. This is how we move others in a positive course! This is our responsibility.

Tenets of Tae Kwon Do

on MAY. / 18 / 2011 | 0 comments

For convenience and ease of review, the Tenets of Tae Kwon Do are as follows:

    •    Courtesy
    •    Integrity
    •    Perseverance
    •    Self-Control
    •    Indomitable Spirit

In this latest installment, we will examine tenet number five: Indomitable Spirit. This tenet reflects a deep internal energy that is unconquerable. It is the strength of a will set on achieving a goal that is cast in iron and refuses to accept failure as a final outcome. Emphasis on “final outcome”.

Indomitable Spirit is closely tied to Self-Control as the latter; apart from carrying the meaning of “restraint” also compels us to carry out our thoughts and actions to our highest performance capacity no matter what the task. Clearly, we need self-control to maintain an unconquerable will or spirit!

When we set our sights on a goal of whatever size, inevitably, we will encounter resistance, failures and periodic setbacks.  It is almost as if the Universe intentionally sends us adverse circumstances in myriad forms to set us off track, just to test our will to succeed.  In truth, I believe that this is no coincidence, but that is a subject for another time.  Even though we may sustain derailments on our path to achieving whatever objective we set out to accomplish a final outcome of failure is not acceptable.

With that stated, it is important to spend a brief period on goal setting. There are big and small goals, but oftentimes we stop short of the finish line because we tend to set unrealistic objectives. For example, one can set a goal to run a marathon in 6 months time, but at present if you need to lose 50 pounds and give up a lifetime of drinking alcohol, smoking and staying up late at night your end objective is clearly overly ambitious and destined to fail except in very rare individuals. Instead, it may be more productive to commit to put an end to the bad habits, change your diet and engage in moderate exercise while not accepting failure at any level on the path to getting in running condition! That is Indomitable Spirit; it never gives in!

Completing the marathon is a great long-range goal, but the result of setting unrealistic goals not only undermines the end objective, but the lack of attainment can result in one giving up the activity altogether and never realizing their full potential! The important point is that we need to carefully and thoroughly assess our long and short-range goals. By using the power of reason and analysis consider incremental steps along the way that provide a challenge, but alone do not undermine the spirit of your effort.  Once the vision is set, commit to seeing your goals through no matter what obstacles arise.  The path to achievement is not always straight and many times we will need to alter strategy and maintain flexibility, but we never lose sight of the brass ring and we never surrender to failure or quitting as the final outcome!

Most of what I have explained above is basic, common sense but how many times do we stop to soon, make excuses and never accomplish what we desire. Getting back to basics is sometimes what a person needs to get squarely on the road to achievement.

The next post will cover “Perseverance”. Until then set your goals and employ the strength of your will power to see them through to completion!

One Test, One Belt

on APR. / 27 / 2011 | 0 comments

Earlier this month, my eight-year-old daughter successfully passed and received her high green belt. Afterwards, she told me that she wanted to collect all of the belts between white and black and did not want to ever “double-test”. Coming from a very boisterous and impatient child, I was quite (pleasantly) surprised that she vocalized this desire.

The period between colored belt tests at most schools these days have shortened to about every eight weeks making it possible for students to obtain a black belt in less than two years time. Of course, schools encourage promotion because advancement builds confidence and, of course, the fees collected help to sustain the school. This is all fine and good.

What concerns me here is not the frequency of testing opportunities or the fees due for the exam; rather, it is the desire to jump ranks. I find this especially bothersome in children. Call me “old school” if you wish, but what is the rush? If a kid starts lesson at 8 and becomes a black belt by the usual means is 10 really too old? Incidentally, teenagers and adults are not exempt from this desire to skip belts. In either case, my contention is that this practice is wrong and unnecessarily sacrifices the natural amount of time that it takes for technique to properly mature.

One of the lessons that martial arts study imparts is “patience”. If instructors and parents, as it may apply, encourage double promotion are we really sending the right message? What happens when the student that made it to black belt in record time learns that he or she must now wait a year or so before they are permitted to advance to the next degree? Do they have the commitment to stay the course?

In a culture and time where speed is the norm and mark of successful achievements in many a pursuit, I find traditional martial arts study a refreshing break from the frantic pace of a multi-tasking world. It brings a touch of the “ancient” world into the modern day and if done correctly, it causes us to slow down, to become more alert, more aware and yes, more enduring.  We need to focus less on the color of our belt and the number of hash marks displayed and more on TKD “quality control”! You will get there in right time; enjoy the journey, work within your increasing refinements.

In the case of children, parents have to be responsible, even if they lack martial arts experience and not push their kids to a symbolic level of achievement by way of sacrificing the quality and depth of lessons that each belt teaches. Older students need to be more self-reflective and work closely with their instructors to learn and refine their technique to the appropriate level. Instructors, must be responsible to their bottom-line, but should also be the final judge as to whether a student is ready to move forward.

One test, one belt!

Making The Run

on APR. / 20 / 2011 | 0 comments

A friend of mine, Kim, recently confided in me that she hit the proverbial wall in her training and preparation for her first marathon. Immediately, this put me in mind of the many obstacles that we encounter that really test our determination. Whether it is martial arts, marathons or any other endeavor that pushes us beyond our ordinary state of mind and physical ability, I think the basic problem is fundamental to our nature as human beings. Namely, we tend towards impatience and expect that upward is the only trajectory that our efforts should move. As long as everything is clicking along, we feel great, energized and want everyone to know how passionate we are about our achievements. Then comes the inevitable “off” day and we are deflated, feel pain and enter into an exchange of negative self-talk that goes something like this; “ Am I really cut out for this? God, my back hurts! I must be crazy to do this at my age!” Sound familiar? If we stay in this state too long the end result is that we either really fall short, get sloppy, injured or just plain give up before realizing our actual capacity to succeed.

What I would like to propose is a more realistic and useful approach that will give one more wind to carry on to the finish line.  

First, set realistic, incremental goals that you can chart and use as a roadmap. You cannot achieve a black belt in six months anymore than you can complete the Chicago Marathon as your first run. These goals amount to nothing more than empty wishes that set one up to fail.  Instead, of engaging in fantasy take the time to sit with pen and paper and set the goals that you want to reach. Evaluate them according to the SMART goals acronym:

S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Attainable, R = Realistic, T = Timely

This approach to achieving our objectives, whatever they are, gives us the what, when and how that we need to maintain focus, allow for setbacks, readjust and continue on our path. When we are objective about what we want to achieve and have it charted; suddenly, there is no room for negative self-talk and excuse making as your mental focus is positively redirected. This is important.

Another key component to achieving our goals is to remain detached from the outcome. This is counterintuitive, at first, and can be a goal in itself! However, being detached does not mean not being passionate. Quite the opposite! Attachments project negative fears, doubts and cravings but when we learn to detach, we are surrendering our efforts to the present moment. What we are doing in this simple shift of awareness is giving ourselves permission to act without concern for failure or any other negative outcome for that matter. Without these distractions we increase the probability of achieving our goals.

Kim, you can do it, just be SMART about it!

The Tenets of Tae Kwon Do “Courtesy”

on APR. / 13 / 2011 | 0 comments

In this last installment of the Tenets of Tae Kwon Do, we will explore Courtesy. Being well mannered is obviously a good trait to possess as it generally increases the quality of experience for all parties involved. Throughout life, we have occasionally experienced people that conduct themselves in a less than considerate manner and generally, found their company distasteful, crude and repulsive. For the most part, they lowered the quality of experience had for themselves and others. Our observance of this tenet as martial artists increases the frequency and likelihood of positive experiences for others and us, which, in practice, helps to build a more peaceful world.

In order to be effective in a true and authentic sense, courtesy must begin with self-respect; we must first take care of ourselves, before we can genuinely be respectful to anyone else that may come into our circle of contact. If a person is mostly discontent and self-loathing for whatever reason, I believe that they will equally be problematic for others, create needless difficulties and remain incapable of being sincerely courteous, as well. We all fall in and out of different mindsets over time and if you explore moments when you were simply in nothing more than a temporary bad mood, I think you will have found it difficult to be nice to others. In fact, probably the opposite was true at least until the mindset passed. This is human nature, but being a martial artist, places a demand on us for increased accountability for our actions. We must serve as model examples by observing our tenets truthfully. Doing otherwise is simply reckless and irresponsible.

Along these lines and because we commit to adhering to higher standards as part of our TKD practice, we are compelled to be respectful even as we experience our own mindsets that may otherwise cause us to be short, crude and discourteous to others. This is what is meant by discipline! It is easy to complain and be offensive when working through our own personal difficulties or problems, but as we shell out the negative effects of such for others to also experience (whether they are interested or not) we decrease the quality of experience for more people and further enslave ourselves in a web of turmoil. I hear individuals issue negative complaints and perspectives all the time, but what good does it bring? Misery loves company, I suppose, but that is not our objective!

Courtesy, like all of the tenets of TKD must be cultivated over time. It takes discipline, mindfulness and a commitment to regular, honest self-assessments and adjustments. Becoming a genuinely good person may come easier for some, but in all cases, it did not happen overnight. However, the more we learn to focus on the well-being of others the more we hasten our own progress and increase the general good. This is how we build a better world through TKD training.

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