23 June 2017

New ITF Taekwon-Do & Hapkido Gym: Soo Shim Kwan ◦ Seoul

Master Kim Hoon
After about two decades of running gyms in Seoul, Master Kim Hoon has decided to take a sabbatical and a well-deserved rest. Therefore, the 'The Way' gym has closed at the end of May. I have been part of Master Kim Hoon's gym for nine years and have taught ITF Taekwon-Do and other martial arts at 'The Way' for most of that time.

With the closing of 'The Way', I suddenly needed a place for myself to train, and also assist my students in their journey towards black belts and beyond.

At first I thought of getting a training space close by my home. However, 'The Way' dojang was the only ITF Taekwon-Do space in central Seoul; we often received international visitors that wanted a place to practise ITF Taekwon-Do in the city of its birth. I thought it would be a terrible shame not to continue to have a "home" for ITF Taekwon-Do in Seoul that is accessible to most people. Although I live in Seoul, I live on the eastern outskirts, which might be a little difficult to access for tourists and other people interested in ITF Taekwon-Do.

I therefore decided to find a place more centrally located. I found a rooftop one-room apartment that I think will do the job. It is located in the Yongsan District, which is in central Seoul, close by the Itaewon and Noksapyeong neighbourhoods that are well-known among foreign residents in Korea. During the pleasant summer months one can exercise outside on the rooftop, with Namsan Mountain and Seoul Tower in the background. And on rainy days and during the cold months one can train inside. The idea of a rooftop training space has always appealed to me as historically that is where many martial artists in cities used to practise their discipline.

Dr Sanko Lewis going through a personal exercise routine

Soo Shim Kwan ◦ Seoul will function as my private dojang where I can continue my own martial arts practise. I'll also use it for private teaching and to continue the monthly "Seoul Martial Arts Circle" workshops that I've been hosting for several years. My focus will continue to be Korean martial arts, with emphasis on ITF Taekwon-Do and Hapkido, but also Taekkyeon and Yusul when time allows.

I will move into the new premises early July 2017. The first week or so will probably be dedicated to renovations, but I plan to get training there as soon as possible and will spend much of my time during my summer vacation at Soo Shim Kwan ◦ Seoul.

12 June 2017

Ten Suggestion for Martial Arts Learning at Black Belt Level by Manuel Adrogué

My friend, Master Manuel Adrogué, shared the following ten suggestions to black belt level martial artist, which I thought quite insightful. You can read his full post here, and be sure to visit his website for more of his writing.

Ten Suggestion in Connection with Martial Arts Learning at Black Belt Level by Manuel Adrogué

My suggestion in connection with martial arts learning at black belt level is:

1) If you want to learn, seek for knowledge (that is the point of reading books), if you want to improve, train hard.

2) During the first 15 years of your training, become really good at one thing (do not diversify) yet do some cross training (but make sure you are learning your stuff at a good school: if you feel your punches and kicks are weak and no one is telling you, leave that place and do not fool yourself just because those surrounding you accept mediocrity);

3) Do not judge other martial arts you do not fully understand, and always suspect you might be missing something;

4) Invest training by repeating the traditional methods but do not accept tradition as something written in stone (notwithstanding, keep faith on things beyond your current comprehension if stated by a trustworthy person);

5) Someone who does not have superior skills will never lead you to superior skills not matter his rank or certification (let me remind you that martial art skills are essentially physical fighting skills);

6) After 25 years of training the same thing, cost of opportunity raises dramatically and for every hour you spend training the same stuff in an unrealistic hope to improve would be better spent in adding a new skill;

7) If you misdirect your energy on arguments over terminology, legitimacy, heritage or details about
style you are not getting any better and actually working for the evil industry by refreshing the "organized despair" Bruce Lee was talking about in 1970;

8) Loyalty in the martial arts is not a commitment to limit yourself to one teacher (when you start school as a kid just one teacher teaches you reading and basic math, but as studies get higher, more specialized teachers show up, and in university they multiply by dozens. I do not see any reason for high martial art education to be different);

9) If you are a martial arts books fanatic, at minimum try to double your readings with other books (for me it is some legal readings plus history/religion/politics but any serious area will work –hey, superhero stuff qualifies as serious to me) so that you develop your rational thinking and a different referential point, plus that is what you will probably be making a contribution to the martial arts world by knowing that extra material; and

10) If you have read all this up to this point, you are in danger. I recommend you try to get a life outside the martial arts (I picked a beautiful gal who gave us four kids and for those two reasons I have a great excuse to spend some time out of the martial arts). Pick a sport, an art, or something that will make you smile and live! The martial arts are highly addictive and will attempt to override more important aspects of existence: GOD, LOVE TO BE FOUND IN PEOPLE. Ridendo dicere verum. 

11 June 2017

Exploring the Definition of Taekwon-Do

On another blog, I stumbled onto this contemplation on the "Definition of Taekwon-Do" which I wrote many, many years ago for a little Taekwon-Do publication in South Africa. It was a surprising discovery to find my old writing on someone else's blog. Since it was never published here on my own blog, I thought I'd share it here now.

Exploring the Definition of Taekwon-Do

Reference: Definition of Taekwon-Do (ITF Encyclopaedia: Vol. 1, p. 21-23.)

In volume one of the Encyclopaedia, the definition of Taekwon-Do begins with the statement "A way of life." It would do you good to read through this section in the Encyclopaedia on your own. However, I would like to highlight and comment on some sections.

"To put it simply Taekwon-Do is a version of unarmed combat designed for the purpose of self-defence." This statement says much about how we should consider Taekwon-Do. Firstly it is a form of combat. It is, in other words, a method of fighting, battling or making war! The goal of this combat, fighting or war is self-defense. In Korean history, the Korean nation only went to war as an act of self-defence. This is the same in Taekwon-Do, only fighting when needing to protect yourself or your loved ones.

"It is the scientific use of the body in the method of self-defence; a body that has gained the ultimate use of its facilities through physical training and mental training." It is quite clear that Taekwon-Do training has two parts; physical training being the one and mental training being the other.

The definition continues to say that though Taekwon-Do is a martial art: "…its discipline, technique and mental training are the mortar for building a strong sense of justice, fortitude, humility and resolve." It is Taekwon-Do's aim to uplift the character. The Taekwon-Do Black Belt should courageously and firmly stand for what is right no matter the circumstances, and with humility. (Note how humility is defined in Taekwon-Do: Moral Culture, Part Two, C. Be Humble.)

"It is this mental training," continues the section, "that separates the true practitioner from the sensationalist content with mastering only the fighting aspect of the art." When a student asked his Grand Master 'What is the essence of Taekwon-Do training?' the Grand Master answered: 'It is just mind training.'

Because Taekwon-Do is first and foremost an art of fighting, it has the innate possibility of being misused. Taekwon-Do is a "lethal weapon" intended for the "rapid destruction of…opponents." It is therefore imperative that "mental training must always be stressed to prevent the student from misusing it." This mental training is known as Moral Culture in Taekwon-Do. A student trained in Taekwon-Do, but without the Moral Culture to govern it, is to be compared with a gun in the hands of a child!

How little time is spent on anything else but the fighting aspect of the art? Most Taekwon-Do classes focus only on the fighting aspect. There are many reasons for this, but I am not going to discuss them now. However, the Black Belt must, therefore, make it his or her self-proclaimed obligation to spend quality time at this mental training that is so ignored. This mental training is one of the reason we can call Taekwon-Do an "art of self-defence".

Added to self-defence is "health". General Choi says that Taekwon-Do: "…indicates the mental training and the techniques of unarmed combat for self-defence as well as health…" How pitiful it is when we teach people how to defend themselves against aggressors, but we neglect to teach them principles for healthy living. If we do not teach our practitioners how to defend themselves against an unhealthy lifestyle we can just as well stop teaching them to defend against an enemy, for both have the ability to shorten the life. Self-defence should be broadened to self-preservation, which includes protection from various forms of attack on one's well-being. Do you now understand the importance of something like "Health Principles" in martial art study? It is the natural overflow of studying an art of self-defence.

Taekwon-Do is also defined as a "scientific" method of self-defence. "[I]nvolving the skilled application of punches, kicks, blocks and dodges with bare hands and feet to the rapid destruction of the moving opponent or opponents." This says quite a lot about the characteristics of Taekwon-Do. As a scientific method, it should include the "scientific use of the body" through scientifically sound techniques. In other words, the use of "punches, kicks, blocks and dodges" should make sense scientifically. This means that their use should make sense both on an anatomical/biological level as well as be in coherence with the science of physics.

Taekwon-Do's technical superiority is clear when we consider its understanding in the fields of anatomy and biology in such teachings as "Vital Spots", "Blocking and Attacking Tools" and the "Training Secrets" and in its use of Newtonian Laws in such principles as the "Theory of Power".

What many overlooks is that Taekwon-Do's ultimate goal, as an art of self-defence, is fighting against "moving" opponents. As an art that relies on traditional physics, Black Belts should familiarise themselves with these theories of motion, balance and momentum in the context of human combat. The Encyclopaedia states: "Most of the devastating manoeuvres in Taekwon-Do are based especially on the initial impact of a blow plus the consequential additional force provided by the rebound of the opponents moving part or body."

When I tell students that Taekwon-Do has much in common with styles such as Tai Chi Ch'uan or Aikido they are shocked. This is because of an unbalanced understanding of Taekwon-Do. Clearly, they have never read the following sentence that follows on the previous quote: "Similarly by using the attacker's force or momentum, the slightest push is all that is needed to upset his or her equilibrium and to topple him or her." Does not this sound like something from an Aikido lesson? No, dear reader, this is basic Taekwon-Do theory and part of the "definition" of our art!

The final thing I would like to highlight from this section of the Encyclopaedia is that Taekwon-Do, which is "A way of life" should be natural and instinctive. "In the case of the students of Taekwon-Do who have been in constant practice or the experts themselves, they spend no time thinking, as such an action comes automatically to them. Their actions, in short, have become conditioned reflexes."

In conclusion, I hope that from the above, you as a Black Belt have become aware of some of the voids in your understanding of Taekwon-Do. Study these voids and through practice fill them and you will have attained the mind of a Taekwon-Do Black Belt.