25 August 2015

Introducing the Potchefstroom Dojang's New Logo

The Soo Shim Kwan is very happy to introduce the new logo for the Potchefstroom Taekwon-Do Club (PTC). I started the club in 1998 at the North West University, in South Africa. It is out of the PTC that the Soo Shim Kwan (originally "Potchefstroom Regional Federation") was established in 2001, and so the PTC remains the Soo Shim Kwan's main dojang. The reason for this is twofold. First, as mentioned already, it was the birthplace of our federation; and second, it's affiliation with a university contributes to our goal of "an intellectual understanding and scientific approach to Taekwon-Do" (See the Soo Shim Kwan Charter). The PTC is currently under the great leadership of Instructor Philip de Vos who,  as a mechanical engineer,  continues this legacy.

The new logo was in part inspired by the logo of the North-West University, to indicate our long standing association with this institution. The green, red and blue colours are in darker hues, to echo the dark blue used in the Soo Shim Kwan logo, in which the "dark hue signifies maturity and wisdom." The colours themselves reflect not only the corporate colours of the North-West University, but also resonate with some of the colours used in the ITF Taekwon-Do belt system. The sparring figures, with one fighter throwing a punch and another a jumping back piercing kick, were chosen to symbolize ITF Taekwon-Do's balanced emphasis on both hand and foot techniques. The presence of the Korean calligraphy of the founder of Taekwon-Do, General Choi Hong-Hi, symbolizes our affinity to the style of Taekwon-Do that he orchestrated and its associated Korean heritage.

The first draft of the logo was designed by myself, and aesthetically improved by my once Taekwon-Do senior turned friend, John-Wesley Franklin. Copyright of the Potchefstroom Taekwon-Do Club logo belongs to the Soo Shim Kwan. All rights reserved.

14 August 2015

The Martial Arts as a Discipline and When It's Time to Stop Doing It

A while back I posted the following on 'The Way Martial Arts' -- Facebook page:

There is nothing wrong with practicing martial arts simply as a hobby and recreation. However, there is definitely a difference between those that practice the martial arts as a recreation and hobby, and those for whom it is a 'Way of Life.' When the martial arts become a 'Way', a 'Discipline', it becomes a wonderful journey of self-discovery and growth that transcends simply kicking and punching.

It made me think of my journey in the martial arts, which is in its 21st year currently. During this time I've trained with hundreds if not thousands of people, most of whom are not active in the martial arts anymore. The Taekwon-Do group I started with as a colour belt consisted of several dojang that had about 300 students. Of those 300, less than ten are still active in the martial arts that I know of. (The martial arts community is not that big, so it is not too difficult to keep track of the people that have been practicing for many years.)

My brother and I started our martial art journey together. Unfortunately circumstances have caused him to simply not have the time to devote to martial art practice. For me it was a little different in that when life threw its hardest curve balls at me, the martial arts provided a form of escape, a way to feel normal, a way to deal with the stress. When I went to the dojang, I could forget about not having money to pay my rent, or I could vent my anger through hard training, or I could alleviate depression through the endorphins released from exercise, or I could escape from my isolation through the interaction with fellow martial artists, or conversely sometimes when I wanted to get away from the people I lived with (I used to live in a commune) or the people I worked with, I could go to the dojang. The dojang became a sanctuary of sorts that helped with many problems. But, not all people find such comfort and support from martial arts training. For them it might be found in something else--another activity.

After my 2nd Dan promotion, the examiner gave a little speech to all the candidates. I still remember it, even after so many years has passed. He said that in life priorities will change. Some people, when they get married and have children, or might relocate, start a new job, or something else, and they might choose to give up the martial arts, and that is okay. I agree with him. The martial arts need not be a life long pursuit. For some people it is just a hobby.

However, it might be much more too. It might be a discipline. What the Koreans call "suhaeng" 수행. This is a type of practise, generally a physical practise aimed at mental discipline. For Koreans calligraphy, flower arrangement, or the tea ceremony, and of course many forms of martial arts, may be suhaeng. In Japan, nearly any activity can be considered such a discipline. The idea is to practise and practise and practise a particular activity until it becomes so ingrained, so natural, that it reflects the natural Do, the Tao. When you have mastered your craft to such a level, it has become much more than simply kicking and punching, pouring tea, arranging flowers, or painting characters on rice paper. It becomes a symbol for life itself. A type of meditation and a means to enlightenment.

Often times, when it was a long week, or I'm over worked, I might not feel like going to the dojang--to go kick and punch, to repeat patterns, to practise rolls and break falls, to do the same old basic motions that I have done thousands of times. Not to mention the hour long one way commute it takes me to get to the dojang: the fifteen minute walk to the bus stop, the bus ride, the train ride. After a long day at work that is not something I look forward to. Nevertheless, I go. I go because it has become part of me. I've been practising martial arts regularly for the greater portion of my life. It is a integral part of my life. It has shown me the value of discipline, of starting something and keeping at it, of not quitting even though I might feel like it. Recently one of my students who now joined the military posted the following on his Facebook feed.

The Army had me suffering from Taekwon-Do withdrawals. I miss the intensity, the spirit and perseverance of training in South Korea. In retrospect I can honestly say that Taekwon-Do has helped me tremendously to overcome and excel the physical and mental challenges that Army training has thrown at me this far. Every time I feel demotivated I turn my CTA or drill pad into a 'dojang'. When I run I turn my two mile into 'dojang'. When I shoot I turn it into 'dojang'. When I have to stand at attention I turn those 30 plus or 15 minutes into 'dojang'. When I have to control my emotions I think about those time I got kicked in the face, concussions, back pains, and kicked in the stomach while controlling my emotions in 'dojang'. I always talk about Taekwon-Do at every opportunity and training alone is not as fun. But this is one habit I never want to lose. Thank you Sahbumnim Kim Hoon and Soo-Shim Kwan for helping me achieve this.

He too had found the value in suhaeng. I won't be so brash to say one cannot find such lessons in other disciplines too, but the martial arts do present unique moments for growth. Having to control one's emotions after being kicked in the face is probably quite different from being pricked by a thorn while doing flower arrangement.

The martial arts is a unique journey. It is not for everyone, but keeping at it can definitely be rewarding. Priorities change and if that is the case for you, then be at peace with that. It is okay. Find your passion. One of my friends with whom I used to practise Hapkido, had a long struggle between Hapkido and his music (he is in a band). He couldn't find a balance between the two and eventually had to choose. He chose music. I'm happy for him, and although I know that he misses martial arts, the rewards he gets from following his music passion outweighs his lack in martial arts training. For him it is music that is his true suhaeng. Some people can find that sweet balance between multiple priorities. That is wonderful; but if you can't, it might be better to choose. It is better to follow the Pareto Principle, and focus on the few things that bring the greatest result.

22 July 2015

Introductory Workshop in Seoul

I'll be teaching an Introduction to ITF Taekwon-Do Workshop on behalf of the Seoul Global Village Center, Yeoksam Branch, in Gangnam, Seoul next Friday, 31 July. Participation is free but the space is limited. There is still some space left though, so if anyone is in the area and interested, please contact the Yeoksam Global Village Center directly via the contact details provided in the image below.

Martial Arts Lessons in China

During my recent trip to China I participated in a nine day long camp with (mostly high school and college aged) Chinese students, who I taught various classes. Among the classes I taught were basic martial arts -- a combination of Taekwon-Do and Hapkido. They enjoyed a lot. I focussed mostly on low kicks, basic strikes, and some joint manipulation.

With some of the older students who had a little Taichi Quan experience I did slightly more advanced techniques, including pushing hands drills.

In Korea where Taekwon-Do is losing popularity, Taekwon-Do is gaining popularity in China. Taichi Quan, it seems, is now associated with training for "old people". The opposite is the case in Korea, where Taekwon-Do thought of as a kids activity.

02 July 2015

The 'Soo Shim Kwan' Name

I recently saw a Bruce Lee interview again in which he advises one to become like water. Of course, this immediately made me think about our federation's name: "Soo Shim Kwan" [水心館]. The Chinese characters 水心 that is pronounced Soo-Shim 수심 in Korean, literally translates as Water-Mind.

Originally the name of our federation was Potchefstroom Regional Federation. At the time the federations in South Africa were named after the geographic regions they catered for. This changed in 2003. Many instructors had expanded their dojang representation well beyond particular regions. A chief instructor might have instructors with dojang in multiple provinces. It was then decided that federations need not be confined to particular regions anymore and so the original 11 federations in South Africa chose new names. As one of the original federation heads I knew exactly what name I'd choose, as I had already decided on a name many years before. (Read about the Soo Shim Kwan history here.)

In 1997 I had read an interview in Tae Kwon Do Times in which the Korean concept of Soo Shim was mentioned.

“It is, as the Korean people say, ‘Soo Shim’, water-mind; meaning one who practices the arts will be like water.” Byung Lee, 1997. "Legends of Korea : The Tree" (In Taekwon-Do Times. July.)

It very much resonated with me, and I knew that if I ever have the opportunity to start my own group, that is the name I'll choose as it represents my understanding and approach to the martial arts. These water analogies found in the works of Taoist authors and other Oriental philosophers and also implied in the teachings of great martial artists have always been very important to me. Now, as I live in Korea and study Oriental philosophy, I'm even more convinced about the appropriateness of the name Soo Shim Kwan.

Ironically, few Koreans are familiar with East Asian philosophy and not many know much about even Korean philosophy. When I mention the term Soo-Shim 水心 to the average Korean, they are unlikely to understand the philosophical meaning. One of the meanings of Soo-Shim, based on a different Chinese characters combination denotes the "depths of the ocean" 水深. This is often what Koreans think of when I say Soo-Shim. Another meaning of Soo-Shim, based on another Chinese character combination is "anxiety" 愁心. Unfortunately the study of Chinese characters is not part of the modern school curriculum in Korea anymore. It is, however, the older, more learned Koreans whom have studied the old Chinese characters that immediately grasp the philosophical meaning of our name 水心, and often nod in approval.

I provided a summary of the meaning of our name on our Philosophy page.

A very big congratulations for the great performance by Soo Shim Kwan's Horangi Dojang at the South African National Open Championships that took place in Randburg recently. Instructor Gerhard Louw reported that: "Out of 7 students we brought home 7 gold medals, 2 silver medals and 1 bronze. Maria Ramona Truter performed outstanding by getting 3 gold medals and Best Veteran female of the day trophy. I am extremely proud of you all."

Congratulations Instructor Gerhard, you and your team are hot stuff!

10 June 2015

Congratulations to the Potchefstroom Dojang

A big congratulation to the Soo Shim Kwan - Potchefstroom Dojang for their great performance at the 14th ATC Annual Invitational Tournament that was held at the end of May in Pretoria. Instructor Philip de Vos won gold for III Degree Patterns; Hatting Davel won gold for Special Technique Breaking, silver for Patterns, and bronze for Power Breaking; Adelle Wolmarans won silver in Power Breaking; and Riana Serfontein won gold in Patterns and bronze in Power Breaking.

Well done! You make me proud!

18 May 2015

My PhD Studies & the 5th International Symposium on Taekwondo Studies

Over the weekend of 9-10 May I had the privilege to attend the 5th International Symposium on Taekwondo Studies, sponsored by the WTF as a precursor to the 2015 WTF World Taekwondo Championships in Chelyabinsk, Russia, and organized by the International Associationfor Taekwondo Research, It was particularly heart-warming that at least three of the speakers at the event were ITF Taekwon-Do practitioners and scholars: myself, Dr George Vitale (who was a keynote speaker), and Dr John Johnson (who was one of the main organizers and master of ceremonies). The WTF Championships' opening ceremony also included an ITF Taekwon-Do demonstration. Later ITF and WTF practitioners demonstrated basic movements together -- a very symbolic act.

The reason for my attendance was to present a paper and a poster at the symposium that preceded the WTF World Champs. I represented the university where I work, and also Kyunghee University where I am currently enrolled into a PhD program.

My poster was concerned with the influences in martial art forms. I argued that understanding East Asian martial art forms as simply combat drills result in several problems. To solve these problems one have to consider other influences that contributed to the development of the forms, which include Daoyist exercises, folk dances and ritual practices, and East Asian conceptions of mind training through physical activity.

The paper I presented concerned another topic, namely pacifism and war ethics. The title is "The Paradoxical Pacifist Teachings of East Asian Martial Arts." Basically, East Asian martial arts admonish their members not to engage in fighting, or that the highest goal of martial art practise is not fighting. This is paradoxical since the core focus of martial art practise is combative techniques. I argued that the reason East Asian martial arts (as apposed to Western combat systems) teach combat avoidance is because they are based on the pacifist teachings of East Asian philosophies such as Taoism, Confucianism, Mohism and Buddhism. I furthermore continued to show ways in which this paradox can be overcome by means of normative ethics.

This paper is part of my research for my PhD dissertation, which I need to submit--God-willing--by October this year. I have finally completed all my coursework and a few weeks ago I wrote my comprehensive exam and obligatory foreign language exam. I'm thankful that I passed both, since nearly half of the attendees did not pass the comprehensive exam.

Unfortunately, because I'm so busy with work and studies, I'm not getting to write here as often here as I would like. For what it is worth, I have several writing topic ideas just waiting for an opportunity to be written.

01 April 2015

First Taekwon-Do Book to Be Made Available for Download

The very first book about Taekwon-Do was written and published by Gen. Choi Hong-Hi in 1959. This "lost" book will soon be made available to the general public.

Most people don't know about this book and very few have seen it. For most, the oldest resource on Taekwon-Do has been the 1965 book (also written by Gen. Choi), of which one can still buy reprints. The difference between the 1959 book and the 1965 book is not small, and it is not merely a difference in language, keeping in mind that the 1959 book was written in Hanja (Chinese characters) and Korean.

I have been privileged to have received an initial digital version of the first Taekwon-Do textbook and find it fascinating to notice that although Taekwon-Do was obviously very Karatesque at that time, even at this early stage we can notice some of the germs of what would become Taekwon-Do as a Korean martial arts -- for instance, several photos depicting flying kicks.

Me and Master (Dr) George Vitale
This year, 2015, on April 11th, on the 60th anniversary of the founding of Taekwon-Do, this first Taekwon-Do textbook will be made available for download as a PDF. The book will be provided by Taekwon-Do historian, Dr. George Vitale on his blog: HistoryOfTaekwondo.Org. Dr Vitale is an 8th Dan ITF master, and one of the foremost Taekwon-Do historians in the world. I had the good fortune of recently spending some time with him again. His passion for Taekwon-Do and its history is contagious, and him sharing this invaluable resource is typical of his character. He is on a mission to educate the world of the true history of Taekwon-Do and now you can be a part of that too, by downloading the first ever Taekwon-Do textbook. One particularly grand thing about it is that on one of the very first pages of the book you can also see the very first calligraphy of Taekwon-Do, written in hanja as  by South Korea's first president, Syngman Rhee. This historic work of art acted as the official approval of the new name "Tae Kwon Do", and what would become Korea's national sport and one of the most widely practised martial arts in the world.

Download Taekwon-Do's first textbook on 11 April 2015 in celebration of Taekwon-Do's 60th anniversary from HistoryOfTaekwondo.Org 

Congratulations to the Potchefstroom Dojang

Instructor Philip de Vos, with
Riana Serfontein and Adele Wolmarans

The Soo Shim Kwan is happy to congratulate the Potchefstroom Dojang with its recent victories at the 2015 Gauteng North & Northern Provinces Provincial Tournament that was held on Saturday 21 March 2015 in Pretoria, South Africa.

Instructor Philip de Vos again won gold in patterns. His students Riana Serfontein and Adele Wolmarans also won medals, gold and silver respectively, in their patterns division. Congratulations!