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.