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.


Matthew Lawrence said...

This was a very interesting read indeed. Found a lot of wisdom through my journey in martial arts but you are right it is not for everyone. My wife for example is not suited to this type of journey she prefers her meditation and yoga. Please keep writing as I appreciate your work. Great blog thank you for the inspiration

Matthew Lawrence @ Kung Fu Philly

Ymar Sakar said...

It's easier to keep a hobby for life when it's something that provides life benefits. And I don't mean ancillary benefits, but direct benefits like health or flexibility or security. As in, standing straight fixing back problems so you stop paying a chiropractor to fix you, kind of health benefit. People want direct rewards, hierarchies, and linear progression. They can get that in their hobbies as well, if their hobbies actually provide a benefit, besides the fun. It just has to be self structured, and a lot of people don't like doing their own thing.

For external arts like TKD or anything that uses speed or size/strength, if a person doesn't use those powers in their normal life, it begins to feel like putting a lot of effort into this car that you never drive. A lot of people have cars that they drive, few have cars that they just look at cause it feels pretty and fun to them working on it.