Real Life Lessons From The Dojang

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Teaching the Pillars of Martial Arts

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

Honor (on-er) n. Honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions
Integrity (in-teg-ri-tee) n. Adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty

These two words are the major pillars of martial arts. Without them we are nothing more than a bunch of thugs with fighting skills. However it is ironic that even though these two items are so important in the martial arts, we rarely see a class about them. Sure they are talked about or mentioned in passing, but they are seldom taught as a specific lesson. So after pondering this for a bit, I would like to try and communicate possible ways of teaching these two items. 

Let’s start with honor, and when we go through this exercise use the definition above in order to shape your answers and opinions. Would you say an instructor—who has practiced martial arts for a long time and now claims to be a tenth-dan in a style that he or she does not teach or have any real affiliation with and now flaunts the title Hanshi or Grandmaster—is honorable? What if an organization comes around and promotes an individual to a high rank in an art that they are not affiliated with, doing the promotion strictly for political reasons, is that an honorable organization? 

Now take the exact opposite of that. What do you think of an instructor, who was legitimately promoted to a master position within an art he was associated with, and only allows himself or herself to be referred to as Sensei or Sabumnim and refuses to be called Master, Shihan or Grandmaster? Is that person reflecting honor? What if an organization promotes someone to a high rank based on a board of review from someone’s peers or an outside examination board, is that organization honorable?

There really isn’t any right or wrong answer because we have to look at the last part of the definition: “one’s beliefs and actions.” You see there are plenty of people who would think the first example is fine while others may not. It is strictly based on your own moral system. When teaching this lesson you must make sure that you leave it open ended so that the student can discover on their own—sometimes that is the best lesson of all. As Forest Gump might say, honor is as honor does.

So let’s move on to integrity. Integrity is a bit simpler in nature since, for the majority, we all subscribe to common morals of not stealing, not lying, not killing, etc., regardless of our upbringing. So when you have someone spread rumors about another or speak ill of them behind their back how much integrity do you believe that person would have? Would you say that person would have more integrity if they were brave enough to at least confront the person of who they are spreading the rumors about or talking ill about? Some would say so while others would say it is best never to talk ill or spread rumors in the first place.

You will find that most people who have no integrity or very little integrity are really cowards trying to supplement their shortcomings and one of the ways they do this is by perpetuating rumors. It is sad that even in martial arts there are those who call themselves Master, Grandmaster, Hanshi and Shihan, yet display no integrity at all by doing such things. 

As instructors, our first way of teaching this is definitely by example. However, we should be mindful to directly address the topics of honor and integrity and not just in passing. As students, we should listen close to those lessons, even if they are in passing, but moreover we must implement them into our everyday life. It can be as simple as walking away from someone telling you a rumor to something more involved like helping with a charitable event. As an instructor you should challenge your students, or if you are a student challenge yourself to try and find ways to exercise your honor and your integrity. Sometimes one act of random kindness can be felt all over the world.

One Bite at a Time

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

You can not be in the martial arts for a long time without hearing at least one Zen story. The one that I really like and that totally changed my life in the martial arts is the story of the student who wanted to become a master. 

Once there was a monk who was very skilled and very talented. He wanted to become a master, so he went to see the Zen Master, to study under him. He went to the Zen Master and he bowed to him and said,”I want to study with you to become a master, how long will it take?”

The Zen Master answered that it would take five years. The monk said, “Five years? Okay, but I am very, very good. I will learn very quickly. How many years will it take me?”

The Zen Master then told him it would take 15 years. The monk said, “15 years! But I won't sleep! I won't take breaks! I learn very fast, I will work harder and tire less than any of your other pupils, how long will it take me?”

The Zen Master now replied it would take 25 years.  "How is it each time I say I will work harder, you tell me that it will take longer?" the monk asked.

The Zen Master responded, "The answer is clear. When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there is only one eye left with which to find the Way."

In October I will be celebrating my 28th year in the martial arts. It is hard to believe that time has gone by so fast, yet I still remember first stepping onto the floor, like some people, wondering how long until my black belt. In the beginning it seemed like it would be a goal I would never attain. I had no coordination and I was so skinny that a quick change in the wind could knock me over. It was at that time that I figured that once my contract was up, I was done. When I told my friend about this, his uncle, who also became a teacher of mine, told me this story. It was then that I took my eyes off the “prize” and just focused on the training without worrying about the end result. 

Hours turned into days, which turned into weeks, which did turn into years and before I knew it, through both good and bad times, my perseverance paid off and I reached what I was hoping for. Now it was easy to persevere when things were going well, but the true test was when things didn’t go so well. I had a choice of either quitting, hoping something will just happen, or making it happen regardless of what it would take. I chose to make it happen. 

There is no such thing as smooth sailing. Whenever things start to take a turn for the worse, we tend to focus on all of our problems as being one big problem which, in turn, starts to make our overall goals seem too overwhelming based on the circumstances that we are in. An example would be a school owner who is trying to make a livable profit at his school but is being swamped with student enrollment being down and student retention being down. It seems to the owner that the only thing up is the cost of running the school. When this happens you must remember this question; “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is simple; one bite at a time. 

Instead of looking at it all as one giant problem, you need to break it down into smaller bites that you can work on. Above all, you need to keep working. Remember perseverance is not just standing still hoping that something good will happen. Perseverance is moving forward towards you goal and making things happen regardless of any obstacles you may face.

Teaching Old Dogs

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

About four years ago, I had two men walk into the school. The first man watches a class and decides that he is “too old” to be starting a martial art. The second man watches the class and decides he “might as well give it try.” Now let me describe the two gentlemen. The first man was in his early 30s, in decent health and decent shape. The second man was in his mid 50s, completely blinded in his right eye and missing his thumb and two fingers on his right hand.

Folks, this is a true story. When I asked the second man why he wanted to start martial arts, he simply replied, “I’ve always wanted to do it, but kept thinking I was too old. I finally got tired of being too old.” 

After talking with him I reflected on how many times I have used that same excuse to avoid doing something new in the martial arts or any other activity that may be deemed more for the younger generation. Now it is obvious that, more times than not, a 40-year-old will not be as flexible as an 18-year-old; a 50-year-old may not move as quick as a 16-year-old; and a 35-year-old may not be as physically fit as a 25-year-old. However, physical limitations can be overcome or worked around.

A good example is the July 2008 Taekwondo Times which featured Master Robert Ott, the creator of Kidokwan and a gentleman who is completely blind. Physical limitations were not a factor in his achievement of success, nor should it be in our own achievements. It is our mental limitations that cause the obstacles we just can’t seem to overcome.

So many times in the “real world,” we prohibit ourselves from accomplishing new goals because of three simple words, “I can’t because…” Yet, when we are in the dojang, these words don’t exist. They are not allowed to because our teachers won’t hear of it. You are never too old to try something new in the dojang so why are you too old to try something new outside of the dojang, be it a new job, new hobby or a new fashion style? The “Yes I Can” attitude shouldn’t stop when you leave the dojang for the evening. In fact, you practice that attitude at the school, but like anything else you need to apply that lesson on the street. The bottom line is that you are never too old, perhaps too lazy, but never too old. 

To show you that I have been practicing what I preach here, at my current age of 37, I just tried a Wushu class for the first time. I was thrown into the adult class where the oldest student, besides me, was only 23 years-old. I struggled and pushed and was sore for three days and too be honest, I can’t wait to go back again. I was explaining this to a co-worker who is one of those Lazy Boy recliner people who watches his sports and enjoys telling me I’m too old to be doing some of the things I do. He simply chuckled and said, “Well, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

I simply looked at him and replied, “Yeah, well you can’t teach a dead dog anything.”


Transform and Change a Life

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

I would like to start this month’s article with a quick anecdote about a kid who, for the most part, wasn’t on the right track to a good future. In fact, an incident happened where he beat another kid so severely that he left him for dead. What saved this troubled child from being a statistic in our prison system, was one man who pleaded his case and took responsibility of the child. The man was a Karate instructor who took the boy under his wings and after strict training along with positive mentoring, the once delinquent child became an instructor himself donating his time to teaching kids who would otherwise not have the means to take martial arts. Within that group of kids he instructs, he has trained several national champions. He has also gone on to form a charity organization that helps feed and clothe homeless children, was selected as an “Outstanding Young Man in America” by the Jaycees and is an ordained minister.  All this, just because one man decided to try and make a difference in a child most of society would just give up on. He transformed the delinquent child into an outstanding man of character.

During the month of July I attended a martial arts seminar, where the theme was ‘transformation.’ As an instructor and a student, I have found that the martial arts and its people transform themselves and others on a very personal level. Together we build relations with one another based on forging our bodies and minds through blood, sweat and tears. We have understanding of each other, because we all went through the same awkward process of the first martial art class, we have all woken up with the bruises and muscle aches from the previous night’s class, and we have all thought to ourselves at one time…why am I doing this to myself? Not many other activities can produce the same type of kinship as martial arts do.

Though the lessons taught and the techniques learned make us better people, the most wondrous part about it is that the transformation doesn’t necessarily come from all of that. For the most part it comes from the simplest thing you can do, such as a friendly greeting or even going up to another competitor and telling them that you really enjoyed watching them compete, regardless if they won or lost. Perhaps, it is just taking a few minutes of your time to show that you care. Have you ever worked with a new coworker or a classmate on a project and they totally messed it up? How did you react? Did you react at all? Our actions and non-actions transform others more than we realize. 

Transformation: Change in form, appearance, nature, or character. Every action we take has a rippling effect which we may or may not ever see. What if the instructor I mentioned in the first paragraph never intervened on behalf of the troubled kid? A simple act of kindness not only transformed the kid’s life, but the lives of others who have been taught by him and helped by his charity. 

Don’t let the story fool you though. You don’t have to be an instructor in order to impact a student’s life. Everybody has the choice to transform themselves and others through their presence in this life. We are more powerful than we give ourselves credit for. Every day our lives have an infinite amount of possibilities to make a difference in someone else’s life, if only by one simple act of random kindness.

Compete to Achieve

on MAR. / 23 / 2011 | 0 comments

by Jeremy M. Talbott

June 20th and 21st of 2008 marks the date for the 43rd Annual AKA Grand Nationals tournament, one of the oldest tournaments still running in the United States today.  Adults and kids from all over North America and Europe will travel to Louisville, Kentucky, the site of the event, to participate in this annual martial arts competition and with it just around the corner I can’t help but recall debates about competition in the martial arts.  Now there is always an ongoing debate somewhere on the internet about the pros and cons of having such events.  More than not, the biggest complaint I hear over and over from the con side of the debate is that these types of events actually degrade martial arts or causes the martial arts to become watered down.   I recently had the privilege to sit down with six young athletes who participate in sport martial art tournaments, just to see what drives them to do compete. (See upcoming September issue of Taekwondo Times for the article)

The more I spoke with them about competition, the more it reinforced my belief in how competition is very healthy and a much underrated part of the martial arts.   That is not to say that if your school doesn’t do competitions, then your school is no good, far from it.  What I am saying is that there are many good things that can come out of competition in the martial arts.  What better way to practice the building blocks success such as perseverance, self confidence, self discipline and respect than to be put in a situation where you have to utilize those building blocks to help achieve victory? 

And remember, victory is not determined on if you win or lose, it is determined on how you yourself have progressed as a person.  When you see that you are able to better yourself in just one area in life, utilizing these building blocks, you begin to apply them in other areas of your life like your job or school or personal relationships.  If you are like me, you are one of the many, many people who hate to do public speaking.  To help overcome the nervousness and fear associated with it, I simply resort to looking at it like a competition.  I practice what I need to present prior to the event so that it becomes second nature to me.  If it is something that will be cause for discussion I think of all the points and counter points that will be brought up.  Then, when the time comes, I just step into the ring and do my best.  After all, if I can jump around and yell in front of strangers wearing those crazy pajamas we call uniforms, then stepping up in front of my peers in a business suit really isn’t that hard. 

So if you have the opportunity, join in on a local event in your area, if nothing else just for the fun of it. Regardless if you win or lose, competition can always teach you something about yourself as a person, if you are willing to learn.  Sometimes, it is not always what you would like to learn, but, it will always be something that will allow you to grow. 

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