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.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I'm Alive, I swear! Here's my thoughts on training

Well, turns out I'm terrible at self motivation when it comes to writing, though some of you probably knew that about me. I intended to continue to discuss the Tenets of Tang Soo Do, but given how much time it's taken me, I'm going to take this opportunity to change gears a little. Besides, assuming I ever get myself to write regularly, I can always return to the topic.

Today I'm going to talk a little bit about training. This will be the first of my more concrete discussions regarding martial arts.

 The crux of a martial artist's ability is how, and what, they practice. For me, from the ages of 5 to 19, I went to karate classes two to three times a week. These were an hour long, and we would focus on something different every day.

In my opinion, there are three kinds of martial arts training categories: technique training, forms (often called kata), and sparring.While none of these can be said to be better or more important than the others, they each intertwined with the others.

The simplest and easiest category of training is technique training. Put in the bluntest of terms, you do a thing over and over again. 50 punches, kicks up and down the floor, these drills are meant to focus on a specific block, kick, punch, stance or habit that you want to improve.

I love me some technique training. Unlike forms, that require more space and more time, drills are short and in general don't require much more than 6 feet of free space. Recently at work, for example, I would have a free 50 seconds before having to take a set of pictures. For 20 minutes I used those 50 seconds to do simple drills, specifically back fist + center punch in a front (or forward) stance, switching after I took the pictures.

The next type of training, forms, is a middle ground between the free-flow of sparring and the rigid repetition of technique drills. A form is a series of techniques put together in a certain order. They are usually about 25-50 moves long, and different style often have different forms. Similar styles, like Shotokon Karate and Tango Soo Do, will have forms that are almost exactly the same but taught with different interpretations. Forms are exceptionally useful in establishing proper technique while moving and teaching you how to tie certain moves together in sequence. Additionally, some forms are built around a certain concept or technique such that they prepare you specific situation, like fighting with your back to a wall.

Forms are one of the most heavily emphasize aspects of traditional martial arts. They are passed down from teacher to student and carry a significant amount of history to them. In my lessons, for example, we were required to learn the origins of the Pyung-Ahn forms. They were created by Master Udos in 1870 in the Hanan providence of China. He was Okinawan. The interesting part of this history is that these are the same forms that make up the bulk of Shotokon Karate. A friend of mine studies this style, and by comparing these forms as they are taught to each of us, we learned about they strengths, weaknesses, and mindsets of our individual styles.

The third type of training is sparring, practice fights between martial artists. In all honesty, sparring is my favorite training method. Unlike technique drills and forms, this sparring is inherently unique to the individuals participating. There is no preset order, to proper way to do things. It is the most restrictive training practice, however, as it is the only one you cannot do alone. Additionally, it is arguably the most dangerous, though in my personal experience more people get hurt in technique drills. The fact that you bring another person into the equation means that some amount of the content will be beyond your control. A lack of control on the part of either one of the participants (assuming you're only sparring one on one) could have serious repercussions for both people.

In my opinion, you cannot properly train as a martial artist without using at least two of the three methods. I refrain from saying all three because depending upon the point in your martial arts career, you may find yourself no longer needing to emphasize a certain aspect of your training, or be unable to find a partner to spar with. I, for example, can't spar more than once every few months at the moment, having no one conveniently located to spar regularly. I do, however, have ample space to practice forms and, as I mentioned earlier, the ability to practice drills more or less wherever I feel.

There is also a fourth component to training as a martial artist, and one which many people fail to partake in: physical conditioning. Martial arts is, at it's core, mastering the use of your body for combat. If your body is in poor condition, your martial art is in poor condition. Without strength, your strikes are ineffective. Without endurance, you may find yourself unable to defend yourself long enough to be victorious. All of the technical skill in the world can only get you so far, and if you wish to be the best martial artist you can be, you need to be fit. I (hopefully) will post pictures of myself from May, when I began this blog. I'll also try to post current pictures to show how far I have come, and hopefully I won't be embarrassed.

That's all for today. I look forward to hopefully posting more content more frequently. We'll have to wait and see.