Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Updating the Look, Endorphins, and more!

Bam! Shiny new blog layout and colors.

I had been using one of the default setting, which I liked very much, but it didn't let me do much myself. For example, you can now very easily follow and subscribe over on the right side of the page! No matter what I tried, I couldn't get that working right on the other setup. Now, you'll be able to keep up with my posts even if you miss the various bumps I put on other sites. Hooray for content delivery!

As you can probably tell by my excessive use of exclamation points, I'm in a good mood. Which is surprising, because I'd been in a pretty sour one for most of the last few days. I believe it was due to a reduced exercise schedule that I applied last week. Here's the scoop:

Whenever you exercise and train, especially when lifting, you are likely to eventually hit a plateau. You'll stop making progress, no matter how hard you work. Everyone is different, and you'll hit plateaus at different points for what you're doing. After about two months of working out, I hit a plateau, and for two weeks I didn't see any improvement in my lifting, which is frustrating. That's a really short time to hit a stoppage. Once you hit a plateau, there are many different theories for how to get passed them.

Strategy A: Muscle Confusion. The idea here is that, when you train, your body sees the most improvement when it has to adapt to knew motions, and as you repeat those particular exercises your body acclimates and gets accustomed to what you're doing. This results in, you guessed it, a plateau. To fight this, you simply switch up routines. This can mean changing the exercises you work as well as changing the structure. Doing 10 rep sets and getting nowhere? Bump up the weight and do a 5x5 regimen, or drop it down and do a 3 by 23. By making your body adapt to new or modified conditions, you can push passed a plateau and start seeing bigger improvements again.

Strategy B: Drop Sets. This one was shared with me recently. When you reach your point of exhaustion, you reduce the weight and do it again. For example, you do your 3x10 bench press routine, and on that last set you just barely manage that 10th rep. Take off 10 lbs and do another 10. Then take off 10 more and do it again. The thought is that your 3x10 brought your muscles to exhaustion, but you can squeeze more out of them by reducing the load. Working your muscles to exhaustion as frequently as possible is one of the core points of weight lifting, and if you plateau on your 3x10, adding drop sets pushes you up and over the plateau.

Strategy C: Recover. Lifting builds muscle by destroying the old fibers and building newer, stronger ones. If you're plateauing, the muscles being rebuilt aren't stronger than the old ones by the time you're back at the gym. When you're seeing quicker progress, you don't need to worry as much about this, since you're already giving your muscles enough time to surpass their previous state between workouts. To push past the plateau, you simply take some time off and let your body fully recover. This is the method used by athletes right before a competition, regardless of where they are in training. When you are actively training, your body is never at 100%, because it takes some time for the muscles to repair and your body's systems to get back into balance. I've even read articles about people using this method after plateauing, taking up to two weeks off from training, and returning to the gym and blowing their PRs out of the water.

I had tried muscle confusion for two weeks, and when I went back to 3x10, saw no change. I hadn't heard of drops sets until I'd already decided upon letting my body recover. Thus, I took a week off from the gym. I'll get back to you on if it helped, but here's where it ties back to my mood.

Exercising produces endorphins, the body's natural painkiller, and boosts norepinephrine production, which is a stimulant. I went a week without exercising, and come Sunday I was beginning to notice a drop in my mood, and it stuck with me through to today (Tuesday, at the time of writing).

And then I did pushups and some technique drills. All I did was put a little stress on my body and elevated my heart rate for about 15 minutes. I had downtime at work and I chose to use it. It doesn't take much, but it is just so easy to be lazy and inert. I stopped doing lifting for a few days and it made me less likely to do technique drills, and when I went long enough being lazy, I started to get sad. So don't be lazy, and don't be sad. Sad is bad.

I guess the moral of my little story here is that even when you rest you should try to be active if just for a little bit each day. Like I said last time, Lazy Me is a persuasive son of a bitch. He won for a few days, but in the end Active Me made a comeback.

If you'll excuse me, I'm going to go for a run. Oh, and hit that subscribe button on the right if you want to keep up with my goings on.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fighting Lazy Me

Today's a late post. I couldn't come up with anything yesterday in time update, but I refuse to let a monday pass without a post!

I've spent a good amount of time just blabbering on about what traits make for a good martial artist based on my knowledge of Tang Soo Do, but I haven't really discussed how I have been trying to improve my adherence to those ideas. Talking about something like I know what I'm doing can only really get me so far without trying to put some context behind it.

People like to say that the first step to fixing something is to admit that it needs fixing. In my case, one of the biggest issues I have is maintaining motivation. I can get all gung-ho about a project or an activity and give it a shot, but it tends to only be for maybe a week. This can happen for a bunch of different reasons, like wanting to take a break, getting bored with it, or just simply forgetting, but the outcome is pretty consistent; I don't like to stick with things. Tying it back to the Tenets, I will lose concentration, won't persevere, and lack self control. This isn't to say I'm incapable of such things. If I couldn't apply them at all, I'd never have tried to do anything in the first place. But over time, my diligence and discipline slip. For evidence, see my post count for July. 

This isn't an uncommon problem. In fact, I'd say it's exceptionally human for such a habit to persist. We love comfort. When given the option most of us choose the path of least resistance. Running is hard. Eating healthy is a pain. I don't feel like writing today. I would rather go play video games or watch TV. It's so much easier not to do things that it is to get off my butt and go work at something. 

To become a better martial artist in all things and to apply what I learned from martial arts to my life, I need to face this flaw and get myself under control. Will power is a wonderful thing, and learning to use it is important. That said, the question is obviously 'how?'

Like I said, the first step is awareness. If you are attentive to the fact that you are lazy, or are easily distracted by certain things, you can catch yourself when you are about to slip. Ignorance, either willful or passive, will guarantee that you'll lose your focus. 

The next step is to take a page out of the Art of War (bringing it aaaaaaall into context, booya!). Lay your plans carefully, and take your knowledge of your own tendencies into account. In this instance, I am my own enemy, and to win I have to best myself. In the battle between lazy me and active me, I need to structure the battle so that I have the fewest opportunities to be lazy. Take working out as an example. I know that, if I make it home from work and sit at the computer, I'm going to be done for the day. Video games and the internet will suck away my will to move and the day will be wasted. However, I pass the gym every day on the way to and from work. I'm already up and about, and I want to workout, so I bring gym clothes with me to work and go to the gym on the way home. It's far easier when I'm already there than once I'm in my comfy chair in front of that welcoming screen. If you recall the 5 heads from the Art of War, this strategy covers the majority of the bases. I know that working out is the right thing to do. I give active me the advantages of the environment and the time of day. I position the moment of choice when active me, as the commander, has more power than lazy me, and I provide active me the proper supplies at the right moment to be better prepared than lazy me. Any day I bring my gym clothes with me is a day I make it to the gym, and any day I presume I will change at home and then go is a day I am likely to skip.

While this has worked well for exercising, it isn't always easy to properly structure your plan. I'm still working on something that will work for my writing schedule. As you may have notice with this late update, I don't always have a post prepared in advanced. The last two weeks of posts were, in fact, written mostly in one sitting. When the motivation strike, I can get much done, but I have yet to find a way to ensure I have a consistent amount of that motivation. I have tried cutting distractions from my life, like certain video games and TV, but they eventually crawl back into my life. Additionally, I do enjoy them, so there is significant motivation to keep the distractions around.  

I think I'll end with this: people, myself included, are all too quick to to tell you how to do something. Everyone has a tip, a suggestion, or a trick to getting ahead or getting yourself in gear. There are two important things to remember when listening to anyone's advice. The first, that they are suggesting it for a reason, and second, that you need to understand that reason before you decide to heed their advice or ignore it. I find wisdom in what I've learned through my martial arts training that I am able to apply to the rest of my life. I am able to think about my actions and my plans in these terms, and that works for me. That's why I share them. If you're different, if you can't look at yourself in the same context that I look at myself, that's alright. However, wisdom can still be gained from listening. This is the only piece of advice that I will give that I believe you should absolutely follow. Find what works for you, from any source you can. 

"Absorb what is useful. Discard what is not. Add what is uniquely your own" --Bruce Lee

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Art of War: Laying Plans part Two

Last time, I introduced the Art of War and began discussing the first section, Laying Plans. Sun Tzu proposed that there are 5 factors, or heads, to be taken into account when making plans: Moral Law, Heaven, Earth, the Commander, and Methods and Discipline. While these have concrete meanings for military tactics, I brought up some of my own interpretations of how you can apply the 5 heads to martial arts training and actual combat. Today, I'm going to finish the chapter on laying plans.

12. Therefore, in your deliberations, when seeking to determine the military conditions, let them be made the basis of a comparison, in this wise:
13.(1)Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the Moral Law?
(2)Which of the two generals has the most ability?
(3)With whom lie the advantages derived from heaven and earth?
(4)On which side is discipline most rigorous?
(5)Which army is stronger?
(6) On which side are officers and men more highly trained?
(7)In which army is there greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

In any scenario where you find yourself planning ahead, it is best to try to apply these questions. Much like my examples from last time, these 7 comparisons allow you to evaluate who has the advantage, and therefore where you must focus your efforts. You may have the moral law, but when you're being mugged the enemy may have more advantages from heaven and earth and be bigger and stronger than you, so you must concern yourself more with exploiting whatever strengths and advantages you gain elsewhere. Do you think you can talk them down, an application of the 7th question? Or perhaps you are more highly trained and are confident your skill can compensate for an inferiority in strength. 

By first understanding what advantages and disadvantages exist, you can then establish the proper plan to maximize the influence of your strength and minimize the influence of your shortcomings. Here lies the true power of strategy and planning.

16. When heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules.
17. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one's plans.

These lines address the attitude one should have when making plans. Just as planning ahead can win your significant victories, so can rigid adherence to a preconceived plan in light of new information lead to defeat. Additionally, while many people hold fairness in high regard, there are times when it's ill advised to play by the rules. In sports, there are rules and regulations that one must follow. In life, however, there is no such thing as a fair fight. When trying to strategize, the goal is not to give your enemy an equal chance, the goal is to win. This holds true even when the enemy is yourself. If your particular plan is a workout regimen and you know that you have a weakness for sleeping in, staying out until 3 on a Friday will result in a wasted Saturday, so you you would best choose not to go out at all if you think you'd be likely to stay out that late. Or, you cheat. You stay out late, but you don't go to bed. Instead you immediately come home and spend those last few hours before dawn being productive, spend saturday training, and going to bed extra early. This way you get everything that you want, at the price of a good night's sleep. If that result is what you consider a victory, and you know you're more likely to follow through with that than to get up early on Saturday, by all means, do it.

18. All warfare is based on deception.
19. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far awar; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
20. Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
21. If he is secure in all points, prepare for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
22. If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
23. If he is taking his ease, give him no rest.
24. Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
25. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.
26. Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations before hand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculations at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.

This closing section is relatively straight forward. You increase you chances to win by thinking ahead and understanding the situation. Appear to be in the opposite condition and the enemy will be unprepared when the engagement begins. This idea applies heavily to actual combat as a martial artist. By properly tailoring what techniques you use, you can lure an adversary into behaving exactly as you wish them to. I'm a lefty, for example. I will often begin a match in a right sided stance, leading my opponent to expect more powerful strikes from my right and implying that I prefer that side. I'll trade a few strikes favoring my right, and when they go on the offensive, I retreat to a left stance and immediately strike with my better left side. 

Or, say you are held at knife point. As a rule, you should always surrender, assuming their goal isn't to take your life or harm your person. However, if the situation arises and you must defend yourself, the immediate thing you should do is put your hands up, palms facing them. This puts your hands in a ready to strike position without putting the attacker on edge, as it is a known "don't stab me" stance. This is your best shot at gaining enough of a chance to disarm the attacker. I want to emphasize, this is a worst case scenario, and I am not suggesting you always do this. This is a strategy to maximize you chance of success in the face of a superior threat, and assumes you will come to harm if you surrender. 

Thus concludes Sun Tzu's musings on the laying of plans. If you disagree with anything that I've said, I absolutely want to hear it. Best way to analyze a text, in my opinion, is to discuss it with someone who reached a different conclusion. I'll be returning to The Art of War at a later date, but next, something completely different!

I'd like some feedback on this. If you liked reading my little analysis of The Art of War, thought it was boring, or think I should try something else, let me know in the comments or on facebook.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Some Classic Literature: The Art of War

Yick. The 3 day weekend has me out of whack and forgetting to post things the night before. So, you guys get a midday post as opposed to a repost. Yaaaaay?

For those who do not know me very well, I am very interested in the sciences. The mindset of the sciences is very similar to my approach to martial arts: to learn anything, you must first accept that you do not know something. Along a similar vain, I believe the well known quote by Isaac Newton hold true to martial arts as well: If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants. As a martial artist, and in almost everything in life, we begin by being introduced to something, shown the rudimentary level information, and gradually increase the intensity and complexity of the pursuit until we are ourself asking the new questions. As my instructor once said, a black belt is just the new white belt. Once there, the advancement of your abilities lies in your own hands.

By looking at what came before, we are able to better determine how to move ahead. In martial arts, much of this is done in a teacher-student setting, but there are other ways to seek insight into martial arts from the past. One of the most favored methods is by reading, and today I'm going to begin to talk about a book that I, as well as historians around the world, have found incredibly useful.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is probably one of the most well known books in the world. Here is a selection from the forward to the 2003 Barnes and Noble Classics edition of The Art of War:

"Thought to have lived in the fifth century B.C., at roughly the same time as Confucious, Sun Tzu was born as Sun Wu--Sun was his family name, Wu his given name, and Tsu an honorific title. His family was part of a clan of experts on arms and fighting; in that era, clans and families "owned" information. just as in medieval Europe guilds fathers passed on specialized knowledge and training to their sons. Sun Tzu's teachings are most likely a combination of his clan's ideas and his own, as well as concepts associated with early Toaism."

Sun Tzu wrote The Art of War as a guide book for his ruling emperor to use in waging war. It was used by many ruling entities of China for centuries, and finally translated to French in 1772, and English in 1905. Since then, various translation have spread around the globe, and the book is studied by people from all walks of life. The nature of the text is such that, though written about waging war, the content itself can be applied to many different aspects of life, from business to personal interactions.

As a martial artist, much can be gleaned from The Art of War, both practically and philosophically. I am going to take segments from the book and analyze them in the order the are lain out in the text. What follows is my own interpretation.

I. Laying of Plans, part one

This section of the text describes the importance of plans and breaks down how to properly strategize for what lays ahead. I will not include every segment, but the ones that I believe hold the most information for discussion. For example, the opening sentence "Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the state" does not hold much significance in our discussion.

3. "The art of war, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions of obtaining in the field.
4. The are: The Moral Law; Heaven; Earth; The Commander; Methods and Discipline.
5,6. The Moral Law causes the people to be in complete accord with their ruler, so that they will follow him regardless of their lives, undismayed by any danger.
7. Heaven signifies night and day, cold and heat, times and seasons.
8. Earth comprises distances, great and small; danger and security; open ground and narrow passes; the chances of life and death.
9. The Commander stands for the virtues of wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, courage and strictness.
10. By Method and Discipline are to be understood the marshaling of the army in it's proper subdivisions, the gradations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditures."

These five aspects, as written, are very literal in their application to military action. Without faith in the emperor or their nation, solider may be inclined to disobey or flee. Knowing the weather conditions and taking the time of day into account has enormous implications for an operation. To apply them to ourselves as individuals and as martial artists, we have to draw connections between the explicit factors and the implicit traits within ourselves. Let's take, to start, the implications for planning a training regimen.

The moral law, as it applies to the individual, is faith that what you are doing is right, or at the very least necessary. The stronger the foundation of confidence in your actions morally, the stronger your convictions. This can be broadened to motivations as a whole, depending on the individual. If you find yourself more motivated by personal gain than morals, you must use that to your advantage to maximize your own conviction. Find what is most important to you, and use it to remind yourself why you are training, fighting, or struggling for what you want to achieve. 

Heaven, the natural conditions at a given moment, is significant for planning ahead for a plethora of reasons. Your daily schedule may limit you to certain times for training. The weather may forecast rain, preventing your run. Winter is too cold to swim outdoors, and in summer it may be too hot to strain yourself while exercising. Understanding the environmental conditions and how they will change over time allows you to maximize your efficiency. If you want to compete in a tournament in two months, consider your schedule, the common weather for the season, and what you need to accomplish in that time. Running in the mornings might be better for you because it will still be cool outside, and you can train indoors in the evening. 

Earth, the physically immediate conditions, takes into account the limitations set fourth by your current state. Is the neighborhood too dangerous to run through?  How close is the gym? What sort of training is available to you, and what isn't? What are your current limits when it comes to training? By thinking heavily on these conditions, you can plan the specific regimen such that best fits your current environment. 

The commander in this scenario could mean different things. If you are being taught or trained by someone else, do they have the traits of a good teacher? Do their values align with your own? Do you find that their attitude towards training is in sync with your own? Or, it is possible that you are your own commander. Do you trust in your ability to make wise choices? To hold yourself to the proper standards to achieve your goals?

Methods and discipline ties closely to the commander here. While you may not necessarily have an army to regimen, you to have priorities to structure. Is it your training that must take front seat to everything? Or is it a secondary concern to other parts of your life. Can your budget support a gym membership, or must you sacrifice something else in order to afford it? Careful consideration of other aspects of your life and your personal means is important in establishing a training regimen that can be sustained. 

In addition to this scenario, you can apply this structure to combat as a martial artist. When engaged in a fight or flight situation, consider the moral implications of what is happening. Is it right to stand your ground and fight, or is fleeing the proper response? Is it dark out? Did it just rain? The weather conditions could provide a chance to use different tactics to overcome your opponent, such as limited vision and slippery footing leaving you with an easier time tripping your opponent. How far are they standing from you? Are you in a narrow alley or an open street? Are they armed? Are you armed? These physical conditions limit or open your options for engaging the opponent. As for commander, you should take into account both you and your opponent's state of mind. Are they likely to leave you alone if you give them your wallet? Will they balk if you stand up to them? Do you trust yourself to make the right call in the amount of force used? The methods and discipline here are your priorities. Are you going to try to make an opening for an escape? How much of a risk are you willing to take to accomplish your goals, be it to subdue the enemy or get to safety? 

These five heads, as Sun Tzu referred to them, are the key factors in planning ahead.  My next post will finish my commentary on what the text discusses in regards to using said factors. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Show and Tell

As anyone who practices martial arts can tell you, one of the first things people will say when you tell them you do karate, martial arts, or whatever you refer to it as, is "Show me something cool!" The idea that martial arts are something to be shown off, demonstrated, or gawked at is, in my opinion, the downside to the increased exposure brought upon by it's use in media.

The influence of such things as Kung Fu movies, the explosive popularity of Power Rangers in the nineties, and the prevalence of comic book heroes in our culture have played a significant role in spreading interest in the martial arts. I myself dove head first into martial arts when I was five out of my obsession with the Green Power Ranger. The spectacle and performance aspect of a well choreographed fight scene is a wonderful way to enthrall the imagination of an onlooker, and has been invaluable in making the global martial arts community what it is today.

However, this spectacle breeds the misconception that martial arts are intended for such displays. That everyone who does Kung Fu makes the Bruce Lee noises (spoilers: it's basically just him, with a few exceptions), that we all do back flips and gymnastics moves, or worst of all, that a martial artist can just use their knowledge to look badass on the fly. 

With the exception of styles like capoeira, which incorporates gymnastics and acrobatics into their techniques, there is actually very little spectacle involved in pure martial arts. Don't get me wrong, there is a huge benefit in training in gymnastics as a martial artist. They use the same concepts of proper form, full body strength, and precise control, and the balance and understanding of how your body moves and can be moved that gymnasts learn can easily be applied to martial arts. However, there is almost no practical application to excessive leaps, flips, and the like in combat. 

In combat, flash means time, and the flashier the technique, the longer it takes to execute. Every moment you take to make a move is a moment you are handing over to your opponent to react. A good analogy is the famous shot from Indiana Jones. He walks up and there's a man doing all of these fancy flourishes with a scimitar. It's five seconds of showmanship. What does Indy do? He shoots the guy. If, instead of doing showy flourishes he had immediately lunged at Indie, our hero wouldn't have had the time to pull his gun and fire. In fact, the original script called for a fancy fight scene, but Ford was sick that day and just look at Spielberg and said "can I just shoot him?" So we instead see Indie go for the quick, clean, and efficient method.

In training, flourishes teach you finer control of your tools, be they weapons or your own body, and are useful in teaching you how to maneuver your tools in whatever manner is necessary. They are overly complicated to make the simple acts easier. 

Any experienced martial artist could, if they so chose, choreograph a fight scene or a move sequence to show off and look cool. But that's not really a demonstration of their skill. The better martial artist isn't the one who puts on the best show, but the one who embodies their style's philosophy, has mastered their techniques, and understands when and how to use their skills appropriately. 

Many of my martial arts friends don't tell people they practice, especially those who are black belts. It isn't because we aren't proud, but because we understand that what that aspect of our lives means to us is not at all what it means to other people. We could show off that jump 360 round house kick, break boards and cinder blocks, demonstrate fancy locks and throws, but to someone who has dedicated hours upon hours of time perfecting their techniques and training until they were sore and carefully picking apart what they knew to find their weaknesses, it's a very hollow victory to get the momentary adoration of a few bystanders. 

If your friend ever tell you they do karate, keep all of this in mind. To them, a challenge to show you something cool will be disappointing. Ask them instead to tell you about the style they do, what kind or training they do, and if they have anything useful they could teach you. I guarantee that they will be thrilled to share it with you. And who knows, that might get you interested in the pursuit as well.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Seven Tenets Part 3: Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit

To top off my discussion of the Seven Tenets of Tang Soo Do, we're going to discuss Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit. The two, quite obviously, go hand in hand. In fact, for a very long time I considered them to be redundant, as they can both be summed up by saying 'never quit'. However, there is an acute difference between the two.

Indomitable spirit is a refusal to accept defeat and to continue pushing forward.

Perseverance is the refusal to stop no matter the difficulty faced.

Essentially, Indomitable Spirit is a resilience in the face of defeat, while Perseverance is resilience in the face of resistance. There is some overlap, but there are, to me at least, clear instances in which only one applies. To best demonstrate this, I'm going to pull out a pair of anecdotes.

For my particular Dojang, our black belt tests involve a times 3 mile run with pushups, sit ups, and jumping jacks. As you go up in the ranks, you have to fit more of the calisthenics into the same time frame (the run stays constant). At the test for my second degree, I found myself pushing the time limit at the end of the run. Nothing too close to risk not passing, but enough that I decided to pick up the pace on the last lap. As it turns out, this was not a good call. Three-quarters of the way around the track where the test was being held, I passed out. I fell over, threw up, and blacked out for about a minute. I regained consciousness to my instructor saying my name and asking if I was alright. I don't think I spoke, but I nodded, got up, and walked the rest of the way.

To me, this is perseverance. I stumbled and fell, quite literally, but did not give up. I could have stopped if I chose. With a quarter of the track left out of sixteen laps, my instructor would probably have pitied me an counted it, even if I got back to the finish line beyond the time limit. However, it was important to me that I finish what I started with integrity. I finished in 58 minutes.

To contrast, the tests also include two other portions focused on techniques, knowledge, and skill. The first time I took the test, I passed the first to portions without a hitch. However, between week two and three, I had an accident. I, humorously enough, tripped over my neighbor's dog while playing with it and hyper-extended my elbow. Not damaging enough to break it, but enough to make me very worried about the test. I get to the last day of the test, my arm bandaged up. There's maybe twenty people crammed into our Dojang to watch the three of us test. I get through about twenty minutes before something we do jars my elbow. Suddenly, I can't move my hand and my entire arm is replaced with a sharp, stabbing pain. I'm forced, in front of everyone, with tears in my eyes, to leave the test, becoming the first, and to my knowledge, only student from my Dojang to leave any test without completing it.

I was upset for maybe three hours. I distinctly remember lying in my bed staring at the ceiling, feeling sorry for myself. However, eventually the disappointment and embarrassment melted away, and I just accept that what happened happened, and in six months I'll be able to test again. And, sure enough, six months later I passed with flying colors.

This is it indomitable spirit. The ability to lose. Everyone loses at some time or another, and it is how we deal with loss that reflects who we are. A martial artist will grow from their loss, understand what it meant as a reflection of themselves, and build upon that knowledge to achieve success in the future. For me, my failure at the test taught me to respect my body more. It is better to understand where to draw the line than to leap across it without thinking, especially if you intend for that line to move farther away.

These two traits together make up the mindset of a martial artist when it comes to adversity. When faced with a challenge, a martial artist will not abandon their task because it becomes too hard, and when they fail, a martial artist does not wallow in self pity or blame others, they accept responsibility and learn from their shortcomings.

These are the Seven Tenets, and they reflect the proper mindset and traits of a Tang Soo Do practitioner. One must maintain integrity, concentration, perseverance, respect and obedience, self control, humility, and indomitable spirit to truly embody what it means to practice Tang Soo Do. Different styles hold different traits to higher regard, but almost all styles have a core philosophy like this. As I continue my journey, I am sure I will encounter new approaches to the idea of a martial artist, and as I discover new things I will share them here.

So ends my discussion of the Seven Tenets of Tang Soo Do. For now.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Seven Tenets Part Two: Concentration, Respect and Obedience, and Humility

Returning to analysis of the Tenets, I wanted to knock out a discussion of three Tenets at once. The first of these is Concentration. So far as a definition goes, it does what it says on the tin. A proper martial artist is a person of intense focus. In a combat focus, a lapse in concentration can mean the difference between victory and defeat, or even between life and death.

However, training as a martial artist isn't solely about combat, but extends to all aspects of one's life. A martial artist is not only focused when in the heat of battle, but maintains a keen attention to everything he or she does. Work, training, people, and everything else that fills the life of a true martial artist earns their complete attention. Sometimes this isn't easy. Losing focus because of fatigue, stress, or extraneous stimulus is very common and easy to fall prey to. I myself am notorious as a professional distraction in the work place, though more so for others, and who among us has never stubbed their toe because they weren't paying attention?

Martial arts training serves as a means to heighten your ability to concentrate. My mother recently told me about sitting in on my first karate test over a decade ago. I was a very rambunctious kid, and was always quick to deviate from instruction in school and do whatever I wanted. However, the moment my instructor called the test to order, I stood still, eyes front, mouth shut, probably for the first time my parents had ever seen. Needless to say, that probably helped solidify karate in my life way back then, though it wouldn't be for another few years that it started to carry over into school work. It has, in my opinion, influenced my tendency for obsessive focus on things that interest me. When I read, for example, it is all consuming. I won't move until I'm done, even to eat.

While concentration is a purely introverted trait, the following two Tenets are far more interpersonal. Respect and Obedience is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult concepts to teach a student who doesn't inherently listen to teacher. Part of this is because for some, they interpret the combined Respect and Obedience as a lowering of their pride or ego.

"Why should I listen to you?"
"You're not the boss of me!"

Anyone who has ever spent more than five minutes around a small child probably experienced this at one point or another, and anyone who works as a teacher has experienced it every day in the classroom. What I found worked best for getting this concept across (at least in teaching karate) was to speak to them on an equal footing. You establish that you respect them. When that happens and they see you as something other than an oppressor, you can then ask them where they are. You're in class. As an instructor, we don't see the students as inferior being that need to be controlled, but as equals with whom we have the chance to explore their potential. The teacher is just a person who knows things and wants you to know them, too. While I cannot promise this approach is viable in all scenarios, I have had success using it myself.

What this demonstrates is my own, personal interpretation of Respect and Obedience. The first part is mutual. Respect is earned, and it can be lost. As a student, you demonstrate your respect for the teacher by obeying them in class. As a teacher, you respect the students by not looking down on them and being fair in your instruction. The same rule goes for all authority figures. In the setting you're in, there will almost always be power dynamic centered around authority. A martial artist treats those around him or her with respect, and obeys the proper authority in a given situation. When the respect for that authority is lost, the obedience is lost as well. It is knowing when someone has lost the respect necessary to deserve obedience that separates a martial artist from a thug.

The final Tenet, Humility, is an interesting concept to discuss. Tied closely to Respect and Obedience, one must first be humble to be able to obey. To have pride in oneself is important to a healthy mindset, but an expansive ego can only hinder you as a martial artist. A basic rule of life is that no matter what you do in life, there is always someone better. There is always another tier, another thing you don't know or haven't done. There are exceptions to this, but inherently only one at a time. The first step to becoming great is accepting that you have room to improve. Only then can you expect any sort of personal growth. Too much pride in something will lead to stagnation. Too much boasting will only serve to make your next loss more painful.

American culture is very clearly one of ego preservation. We are the home of 'everyone is a winner', as well as keeping up with the Joneses and the demanding of prestige and social acceptance. Grades, fashion, cars, toys, so much of our lives are consumed by the need to feel important, to feel proud. I am not going to say that it's all wrong, but many Americans have lost the ability to be humble. If anyone reading this has ever worked in retail, you know what I am talking about. Many people go out of their way to don the air of 'Do you know who I am?' whenever they feel even the slightest bit superior in a situation.

A martial artist avoids this. The mindset of a martial artist is one of constant self improvement, and therefore one should never assume that they are superior, that they are the best, or that others are on anything less than equal footing. It is through humility that a martial artist can ensure the most growth.

Next time, I'm going to talk about Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit, and will muse on the overall effect of obedience to the Seven Tenets.