Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Mind of a Warrior: The 5 Codes of Tang Soo Do

Briefly, for those of you who were curious, the lack of any updates for the last week is an example of what I mentioned previously. When I'm doing things for my own sake, I have a tendency to ignore them if I feel like I'm busy or am not really up for it or any other minor excuse. I just found myself going to bed without writing up an new post.

This is a habit I want to break. Too much of my time goes to waste because I just didn't feel like doing something. In my pursuit of becoming a better martial artist, I can't keep doing things the way I have. So, from now on I'll be trying to update here M-W-F at midnight. Feel free to pester me if I fail to meet this schedule. Now, with that out of the way, onto what I wanted to talk about a week ago! It's gonna be a long one to make up for my laziness.

Many martial arts styles have a core code of conduct that is taught to the students. These teaching are intended to create the mindset and moral rigidity expected of practitioners of that particular style. Therefore, in order to be as great of a martial artist as I can, it makes sense that I would have to follow such a creed. My personal martial arts foundation is Tang Soo Do, so it is only natural that I use that styles teachings as my starting point.

In Tang Soo Do, there are two sets of moral doctrine: The Five Codes, which describe behavioral rules, and the Seven Tenets, which are traits that a practitioner should strive to achieve. Because of their more vague nature, I'll be devoting more time to the tenets individually, but today I want to outline the Five Codes. They are:

1. Loyalty to Country
2. Obedience to Parents
3. Honor Friendship
4. No Retreat in Battle
5. In Fighting, Choose with Sense and Honor

I would like to note that these are as they were taught to me, in English, in a school unaffiliated with any of the international organizations. Being a Korean style, that means there is a chance that someone reading this has been taught 5 slightly different translations, which could have different meanings. It happens.

As a student of TSD, it is my responsibility to understand these codes and internalize them as part of my own world view. That isn't to say that it's always cut and dry, though. I'm going to break down how I, personally, interpret each code.

The first code, loyalty to country, is pretty interesting. As a kid, the idea that you could be disloyal only really manifested itself in the concept of treason, someone who goes out of their way to betray their country. However, as I am now (supposedly) and adult, the intricacies of this statement are a little more numerous. I'm not a soldier, I am a citizen. As a citizen, yes, I shouldn't commit treason. Duh. But I also shouldn't ignore my country. Being a loyal citizen means taking an interest in what is going on in my country, and caring about how I can help. I'm a good little sheep most of the time. I pay my taxes, I obey the law, I avoid selling nuclear secrets to Iran. But I also believe that our public schools are in need of a structural overhaul, I believe that your ability to be treated at a hospital shouldn't depend on your income, and by the first code, it is my duty to try and help my country be the best that it can be.

I am not an overly political person. I won't get on here and rant to you, my few, dear readers, about what I think is right or wrong in America, but I do feel strongly that, especially to adhere to the first code I must not only care but act on what I care about. That is what it is to be a loyal citizen.

The second code, obedience to parents, is much less vague. Historically speaking, eastern cultures have put a significant amount of emphasis on filial piety (go high school world religions and cultures class!). In the context of growing up learning TSD and having to recite the codes every class, I can also understand why a martial artist should respect and obey their parents. Being indignant and disrespectful to your parents can in many cases, but not all, lead to immorality, something which should be the antithesis of someone studying something as structurally rigid as martial arts. Teaching bad kids how to better beat up on people just sounds like a poor life choice. I did specify that this is not the case 100% of the time, as it's not uncommon for the parents to spread harmful habits to their children, but even if your parents aren't the most perfect of human beings, it is usually a good call to listen to them. Though, I will say that you should trust in your judgement. If you think they're telling you to something that you shouldn't, sometimes you're right.

Now, onto the third code: Honor Friendship.

Many of you reading this who know me well already know how strongly I care about my friends. We  all do, on some level. That's what being a friend means. However, a lack of honor in friendship is something I've had the unpleasant experience of dealing with in the past. I have yet to find the source of the quote, but it sums up the concept quite nicely: "The saddest thing about betrayal is that it never comes from your enemies... It comes from friends and loved ones." To be a friend is to give someone the gift of trust and violating that trust is one of the most heinous things you can ever do to someone. I like that this code exists, but I really don't like that it would ever be considered a necessity to spell out for people.

The fourth code is another one that can be misleading. No retreat in battle doesn't mean you aren't allowed to take a step back. I've found that a lot of what we think of as "running away" isn't really what we think it is. Got a hard class? Think you might fail? To drop a class, change your major, to change your careers isn't retreating from that battle, as much as it might feel like it. A fight and a battle are different. A fight is something between you and your goal. A battle is a few hundred things between you and your goal. Never lose sight of what your real battle is. The daily battle of life is to be happy. That has to be the first and foremost battle you fight. That could mean having the courage to talk to someone about why you're not happy. It could mean you have to stand up to a bully. It could mean you need to spend 10 minutes every day making silly faces at yourself in the mirror to make yourself laugh. Picking your battles doesn't mean picking when to back down, but what's just a fight in the bigger battle.

Finally, number five. In fighting, choose with sense and honor. This one is kind of self explanatory. Think about your choices, and when push comes to shoves, choose the right choice over the easy choice. That's all there is to it. Now, as a particular friend is fond of reminding me, there is no such thing as a fair fight, and I agree. If push comes to shove, you need to do what it takes to win, but winning honorably means, more often, that both parties get to fight another day. It means not bringing bystanders into your fight, and treating your opponent with the respect they deserve.

These five codes of conduct have been, for the majority of my life, a subconscious metric to which I've held myself. However, that doesn't mean I've always succeeded, nor that my interpretations of the codes and the situations were accurate. To be the best martial artists I possibly can, I can't assume I am already following the codes. A portion of my daily training will include reflection on the codes and how they apply to the things going on in my life.

I know this one was the longest post I've written, and kudos to anyone who stuck it out to this part. A lot of this particular post was my personal feelings on the codes, and I'd like to hear what you guys think. If you have any reflections on the codes, disagree with part of my interpretation, or have a story you'd like to share about trying to follow these or your own personal doctrine, leave a comment bellow!

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Ideal Martial Artist

In the early stages of this type of endeavor, a clear understanding of what I intend to achieve can only make the decisions along the path easier, or at the very least less vague. Therefore, I have to pose the question:

What is my definition of a martial artist?

If my end goal is to be the best martial artist, I can't just sit with a vague idea of what those words mean. Do I want to be an Olympic gold medalist? Do I want to win an MMA title? Maybe I should be the hermit in the mountains, doing nothing but meditation and practicing all day, every day. In the end, it isn't so important to me that other people recognize my greatness, so long as I have an adequate appreciation of where my skills are, where I've come from, and where I have yet to go. So, to return to the question, I must define what a martial artist is in my mind. I've narrowed it down to three aspects.

The first aspect is simple: one must practice martial arts to be a martial artist.
Next, a martial artist must constantly work to improve their craft.
Finally, a martial artist is one who takes the craft seriously.

The next step is to understand what it takes to bring these aspects to their extremes. The best martial artist is not one who no longer feels the need to practice, but has built a solid foundation and routine that does not end. This naturally flows to the third aspect, that a martial artist is constantly trying to improve. This means that they are looking at all aspects of themselves and looking for ways to improve. This, in my opinion, is what leads to the second aspect.

The mindset of a martial artist is different than the mindset of someone who knows martial arts. Over the last few years, I transitioned from the former to the latter, a man who knows Tang Soo Do but never practiced, rarely thought about it, and hardly ever sought to improve upon it. Here, my friends, is where I am going to be focusing my efforts.

Another way of phrasing this topic is to say that a martial artist must have the mindset of a martial artist, and to be the greatest martial artist possible, one must never leave that state of mind.

That sounds nifty, but what the hell does that even mean?

For starters, that ideal is different for different styles of martial arts. Tang Soo Do is different than Krav Maga is different than Wing Chung. However, most of these styles do have a core set of values built into their teachings by which a student can seek to become the ideal practitioner of that style. As this particular post has gone on long enough, I will address the core values I intend to follow as a practitioner of Tang Soo Do in my Wednesday post.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Where I'm Starting

My instructor would frequently remark that there wasn't much worse than an out of shape martial artist, and after having spent a significant amount of the last few years on my butt and eating poorly, I can definitely attest to that. Thus, my endeavor is going to begin with changing my lifestyle into not just something healthier, but to allow for the best physical conditioning I can manage.

I've started things similar to this before, though not with as clear an intent. In the summer of 2010, I weighed 170 lbs. While working at Sesame Place, a fortuitous series of events led to what I assume to have been on the order of five hundred Twix ice cream bars to be given out to the employees. One of my coworkers handed me a box and gave me the ambiguous order "do something with this." Eventually, I found myself sitting in the back room about to eat my eighth bar when I read the packaging. There were about 360 calories in each bar. I was hungry enough to eat maybe another three or four of them, after having already eaten over 2500 calories in about a half our. No amount of sugary goodness was going to make me feel okay about that, so I put the box down. I went home that day and looked in the fridge and took stock of what we had. I changed my diet and carefully considered the foods that I was eating. Two months later, I was down to 150 lbs.

College took a toll on me after that, and I put on weight over the next few years. In January of 2013, I weighed 180 lbs. This time, though, a more childish inspiration took over. I had spent the entirety of my winter break attempting (and more or less succeeding) and consuming every Batman animated media produced since the 1990s. This was a lot of Batman. As a result, I found myself noticing a little voice in the back of my head going "come on, do it, be Batman." I started exercising 5 days a week, doing weight lifting three days a week and running two days a week. I went back to a similar diet to the one from 2010, and over the next six months I lost 35 pounds.

Then August rolled around. I took a series of trips and got out of the habits I'd built up. It is now May of 2014. I put on 10 lbs (though I've been told I look healthier now), and have lost all of the strength I built up. While not what I'd like, and not something for me to brag about, I have definitely proven that I at least know how to make the types of changes needed to make significant physical growth possible.

I have returned to my routine of serious exercise, though I am try a different regimen. Whereas last year I focused on 5 by 5 lifting workouts and separate days for running, which in the end only produced mild results over 6 months, I am lifting more frequently (still only 5 days of workouts) with 3 by 10 structure, am running every day, and am including significantly more core exercise. I am on a reduced carb diet consisting of a buttload of eggs, milk, and fish. I'll be posting some specific workout info later on, including day 1 pictures I took on Wednesday (I really hate taking pictures of myself, but I felt it was necessary).

Martial arts is, obviously, a physical pursuit, and you can't just know the moves. I can't curl 25 lb dumbbells 10 times, I can't bench the bar+60 lbs, I can't squat the bar+70 lbs. It doesn't matter how perfect my technique and form is, I simply can't hit hard, I have minimal endurance, and I'd probably break easily.

There may be very little worse than an out of shape martial artist, but at least I have no where to go but up from here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Journey Begins

The date is May 7th, 2014.

I am twenty three, to be twenty four next month. Like most twenty-somethings fresh out of college, I've recently struggled with getting my bearings. Job hunting, considering graduate school, working and trying to find some sort of direction have all made this first year of "adulthood" pass by like a bad hangover. I have until now been very hesitant to make any sort of decision regarding what I want to do with my life. Nothing has really struck me as better than anything else, and making a choice would feel like turning my back on any number of opportunities.

I have spent a significant amount of my time lamenting over my options and my indecision. In an effort to take a step forward, I have been trying to evaluate what it is that is important to me and how I can use this information to make sense of my situation. This recently came to a head in several ways, one of which is this blog.

Today, I became inspired during a discussion with a friend of mine. With my advice and support, he recently turned his lifestyle around and has gone from a depressed, 250+ lb unemployed man to one of the greatest success stories of fitness and mental health I have had the joy of knowing. One of the passions he and I share is combat. He practices weapon fighting (his current favorite being the naginata) frequently and has a keen interest in traditional martial arts, whereas I have practiced Tang Soo Do, a traditional Korean martial art, since I was five. It was the knowledge and experience I gained from this history which allowed me to help him find his direction and focus, which caused me to think that perhaps the key to those things for myself lay there as well.

Thus, I began to think about where I stand as a martial artist. I have practiced sparingly over the last several years, I am out of shape, and I have never competed in a tournament. I have, however, achieved the rank of third degree black belt. In Tang Soo Do, my next test would gain the title of 'Master', but there are some politics between myself and that test. While my instructor could test me and give me the degree and title, it wouldn't be "official".

So where does that leave me? Well, it leaves me with ground to cover, that's for sure. But merely using the training as a side activity will make it just that much easier for me to fall into my old habits of slacking off. If it's just a thing to do, I may not do it. What I have always had a knack for, however, is taking things to extremes. The more absurd I make my task or goal, the longer I tend to stick with it, which finally brings me to this blog.

I am going to begin training to become a world class martial artist. I will eat, sleep, and breath this goal. Within what I can do, I am going shoot for being the best martial artist in the world.

And I'm going to put my progress right here.

Thus begins my journey. I am excited and a little scared. This blog makes me accountable to something more than just my own conscience, which is more pressure I've had associated with my training since I entered high school.

Today is May 7th, 2014. It is the day I take the first step.