Soo bahk do
Traditional Korean martial art
Soo bahk do
We all know the person: a glass hits the floor and they react as though it’s the end of the world. It’s not the end of the world, it’s just broken glass on the floor.
During training, our instructors expose us to stressful situations. In the controlled environment of the dojang, and under careful watch, we are pushed further and further outside our comfort zone. Our training takes us to places we would otherwise choose not to go, and to places the average person will never venture. Experiences such as sparring against a senior Dan member or presenting a hyung in front of a panel of Masters helps to condition our approach to how we handle stress.More accurately, through our training and the situations we find ourselves in, we learn how to prepare for stressful situations and how to respond appropriately.
Through our training we learn how to prepare for stressful situations and how to respond appropriately.
Over at Thin Difference, Jon Mertz looks at the differences between the concepts of reacting vs responding. He sums it up by explaining how “our emotions take a central role” in our reactions, while responses are “guided less by emotion and more by logic”.
Regular, meaningful training gives us the tools necessary for remaining focused and alert when under pressure, as well as helping to build an awareness of our surroundings. It gives us the confidence to know every stressful situation has a solution, even though the answer may not be immediately apparent. Whether you react or respond to a situation influences your levels of stress. Reacting with emotion and without considering the facts can often inflame a situation and make it worse. A cool, calm and thoughtful response based on logic, however, allows you to see your problems clearly. Our emotions often cloud our thoughts and restrict our ability to find a solution. If you choose to push the big red PANIC! button and allow your emotions to dictate your reactions when the stress levels rise, you risk missing the obvious solution. To the martial artist, reacting instead of responding represents a lack of understanding and a lack of control.
Our traditional approach to martial arts training, with high levels of repetition and a thorough attention to detail, gives us a firm understanding of our techniques. The first time someone throws a punch at us can be quite confronting, but with time and effort we learn to respond in an efficient and effective manner. Gradually our confidence builds until attacks are met with techniques that flow with ease and an apparent lack of effort. By conditioning the mind and body to respond according to the circumstances we find ourselves in, we learn not to react out of fear or surprise, but instead to respond with well considered and effective techniques.
Responses contain reasoning - Jon Mertz
Responding should also mean your actions are commensurate to the problem; ie, you don’t go too far. When we do go too far, we generally describe our actions with the term overreacting, which in itself says a lot about this discussion. You won’t hear many people say they over-responded to a situation, because the idea of responding to something generally implies there was thought and logic applied to the action.
Under the guidance of our instructors, Soo Bahk Do training prepares us both physically and mentally for many of life’s challenges. The skills we learn in the dojang can, and should, be carried into our everyday lives. As a martial artist, we must seek ways of implementing these lesson into every aspect of our lives for the betterment of ourselves and the community around us.
Here’s an uncomfortable fact; if you study a martial art, you’re going to get injured.
As instructors we do everything we can to minimise the chance of injuries happening, but the nature of our training means eventually you will suffer some level of pain. The injury may be self inflicted through poor preparation, pushing too hard or going too far. Alternatively it could come as a result of getting hit by someone else. This may be of your own making, or you may have been completely innocent in your actions. Our training puts us directly in the way of strikes, punches and kicks, so it is inevitable that sooner or later someone will get hit.
The important thing to be clear about is the severity of the injury; is this something that needs to be dealt with by a medical professional, or is it something that you can manage yourself? There is no hard and fast rule on this, and is something each student makes a decision on based on past experiences and through assessment of the nature of the injury. Discussing the injury with an instructor or other students can help, however the decision to act, or not, needs to be made by the student. Some injuries will obviously require medical assistance, such as open wounds, broken bones or dislocations and generally any injury to the head and neck.
The first thing you need to do is acknowledge you’ve been injured. It might not dawn on you until the morning after a heavy training session, or it might be painfully obvious the minute it happens. Give your body an opportunity to recover from the initial shock or trauma of the injury. This could include stepping out of class for five minutes to assess the injury and determine your next course of action. It might also include taking a couple of days away from training to allow the injury to settle down and/or seeking professional medical advice. It is important however to let your instructor know the extent of the injury, and then decide on your return to training. Not if, when.
There is strong evidence to suggest continuing your training throughout the recovery of an injury is more beneficial than waiting it out by sitting on the couch, watching Netflix and eating your body weight in chocolate. The secret here is to be smart about your training, and not to assume you can continue in the same manner as you did before the injury. The term ‘train smarter, not harder’ rings true here, and if you decide to ignore this rule, you are destined to enter a never-ending cycle of injury-upon-injury.
Our style of martial art, and the philosophy we take to our training, encourages students to train well past their peak physical ‘best before date.
Our style of martial art, and the philosophy we take to our training, encourages students to train well past their peak physical ‘best before date’. Take a look around the dojang, and you will find very few students fit into the 16 - 30 year old ‘athlete’ category. We attract students from all walks of life, and as such there are myriad variations of ability and limitation. Don’t take a week off just because your injury restricts you from being able to kick over knee height; the person standing next to you may never have been able to kick over knee height, but they’re still training.
Injuries also don’t have be to all bad news. Often an injury results through the repetition of poor technique. Yes it may take a few years, but eventually our bad habits catch up with us, and your injury could well be the alarm bell sounding on a certain skill or movement that you need to fix. Once you have the injury under control, work with your instructor to identify the cause of the injury, and develop a plan to avoid it happening again. Not only will you prevent further injuries, you’ll also improve the technique that created the problem. You will also have a greater awareness and understanding of your own body mechanics; knowledge you should then start applying to all other areas of your training in an attempt to identify future injuries before they happen. These small setbacks need be looked upon as opportunities for greater, long term growth.
If you’re injured, or returning from an injury, it’s best to discuss your return with your instructor who will be able to help you with your recovery. If you decided to ‘tough it out’, ‘suck it up’ and ‘soldier on’ on your own, then it’s exactly that; you’re on your own. Your instructor is there to help you and to ensure you get the most out of your training, so include them in your rehabilitation. In the end you only have one body, so listen to it. But at the same time, don’t let that little voice in your head convince you that your sore knee is career-ending. Unless it’s a highly trained medical practitioner, that voice is nothing more than the phenomenon of human laziness crying out for more couch-time and less dojang-time. Banish it, grab your dobok and head to the dojang.
Simple truth, brutal honesty
The 8 Key Concepts play a significant role in the mental, physical and spiritual training of all Soo Bahk Do practitioners. They may be set as class themes, used by instructors to help explain techniques or simply hang as a constant reminder on a dojang wall. While seemingly straightforward, a closer look reveals these eight concepts are far more complex and layered than initially thought.
A skilled instructor is able to connect a philosophical theme, such as one of the 8 Key Concepts, to the physical component of a class, thus strengthening the connection of mind and body. Themes such as Shin Chook (relaxation and tension) and Wan Gup (speed control) have relatively obvious applications, whereas a concept such as Chung Jik (honesty) may be a bit harder to implement into a regular training session. The idea and meaning of honesty is well known and accepted, including its subtle nuances that can sometimes be hard to explain, but are nevertheless understood. How can we translate something so simple, yet at the same time immensely complex, into a martial arts class?
When teaching children, a clear and simple explanation is needed; ‘Don’t lie, always tell the truth.’ Short, simple statements that are easy to grasp, and ones that are likely well rehearsed by parents everywhere. For older children and teenagers, the black and white simplicity of honesty begins to fade to shades of (often confusing) greys.
Withholding information can be important for safety. Take the following example: A child is home alone and a stranger phones asking to speak to an adult. The child says their mother/father is busy and cannot come to the phone right now (Child and Youth Health - Telling Lies). Technically the child has lied to the stranger, but has kept themselves safe by not disclosing that they are home alone. As adults the simplicity of this is obvious, but for children they can sometimes have difficulty discerning when it is and is not appropriate to withhold information.
For children, incorporating honesty into training should be kept to simple ideas. Have the students perform 10 push-ups, and explain that honesty is important; it doesn’t matter how long it takes and it’s not a race. It’s easy to drop a few repetitions and finish after seven push-ups, just so they’re not last, but by doing this, they are only cheating themselves. By reiterating the importance of doing the right thing, even when it’s hard, and by encouraging them to work through to the end, we strengthen their understanding of honesty and show them the benefits of being an honest and trustworthy person.
As adults however, the concept of honesty can take on a much deeper and philosophical meaning, but only if we’re willing to ask ourselves tough questions that demand us to look inwards for the answers; answers we may not be willing to accept.
A knife-wielding attacker, a shadowy figure stalking you down a dark street or a drunken thug in a bar looking for a fight; such situations are, sadly, a daily occurrence in modern society. When faced with a volatile situation, the genius of the human body provides us a massive injection of adrenalin, giving us super-human strength for our fight-or-flight response. Adrenalin surges through the body like a bolt of lightning, and then in an instant it’s gone, leaving you drained and exhausted. Hopefully by this stage the problem has also gone, but if it hasn’t, this is when the honesty of your training is put to the test. When every muscle in your body is depleted of energy, the moisture has gone from your mouth, your legs turn to lead and tunnel vision sets in, this is when you get a glimpse of the truth of your training. In this situation no excuses can help you, and it’s here that the brutality and necessity of being honest to yourself hits home. It’s near impossible to recreate such scenarios in the dojang, so we are forever playing the ‘what if’ game to prepare for it. Our instructors provide guidance in our training, however only we can know if we are honestly pushing ourselves enough to progress, prepare and fully benefit from their instruction.
If we’re fortunate such a moment will never come. If luck shines on us we will train for many years and never need to put our skills to the test. Sometimes however luck is not on our side, and through no fault of our own we find ourselves face-to-face with an evil that does not care if you are not ready.
Will such a moment bring years of training crashing down around you? Will your self-image be crushed before your eyes in the realisation your half-hearted efforts just weren’t good enough? Or will it empower you? Will it strengthen your resolve in the face of evil and forge a spirit stronger than you imagined possible, overcoming the adversary you’ve been preparing yourself for, without ever knowing what it would be?
The foundations you lay in the dojang today will greatly impact how you respond to such situations, and only you can determine this outcome.
Honesty finds us, and we find it, in the deepest depths of our training. Are you willing to be honest with yourself about your efforts? Are you willing to see something in yourself you don’t like, to confront it, and do something about it? Will you like what you see when your true self is exposed, when the excuses and fallacies are stripped back, leaving nothing but raw emotion and a glimpse of your potential - fulfilled or otherwise?
The American author Saul Bellow asks ‘Does truth come in blows?’ To this I say yes, it does, but the impact of those blows is determined by how you prepare for a situation you cannot predict. Our instructors provide us guidance and wisdom, but it’s up to us to train with honesty and the courage to ask ourselves the toughest of questions, and answer them honestly.
Bellow, S. (1959). Henderson, the rain king. New York: Viking Press.
© 2018 Sydney Moo Duk Kwan. Est. 2014.
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