Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Retrospective of my Taekwondo Training

 Bodan Essay by Patricia Lennon                       October 2015

It’s all about the journey

As soon as I became a Bodan, I felt that I should somehow be “different”.  I was a little nervous at first – wondering “what” exactly should be different about me.  Soon, I began to notice some changes.  A small “error” in class felt “humongous” to me!  How could I do that?  I am a Bodan!  Then, something kicked in.  Maybe it was the beginnings of an indomitable spirit.  I responded to my error, with tenacity and determination – I would not let a misstep throw me off.  Instead, I trained harder.  I was almost glad I had made a
Gyeongju Plains-Home of the Hwarang Warriors
mistake, because it gave me the opportunity to strengthen my “will”, and focus my mind.  In martial arts, we are taught that our focus needs to be in the moment, mindful and aware.  You have to move on to the next moment, the next move, maintaining the positive energy that we call Ki.  Ki is the energy that flows through us – giving us an indomitable spirit.

As I move closer toward Black Belt, it seems that three specific martial arts concepts seem to be unfolding for me.  They are the basic martial arts teachings of “mindfulness”, “Ki development” and the “indomitable spirit” that we are called to internalize during our recitation of the five tenets of taekwondo.

Reflecting on these concepts, it becomes clearer to me that this is a life long journey – a process, which does not happen overnight, and which demands that I have patience - with myself, and with the training process.

A journey requires patience, and, I believe, patience requires courage.  Therefore,  I en-courage myself!  I remind myself that I will be a black belt soon!  I accept the many responsibilities that come along with this process – two of which are to train harder than I think I can, and to show good spirit!  I know that the “good spirit” that we are encouraged to show is more than a loud kihup, or throwing hard punches, blocks and kicks.  I believe it has more to do with “taking full custody of one’s life”, which is the journey we are on.

The journey is a personal one.

I suspect the changes in the transition to Black Belt will be subtle, gentle stirrings - 
felt subjectively, before becoming externally apparent.  We train for ourselves, first and foremost.  Not for outward appearance or appreciation.  The journey is a personal one.  Although we train together – and we do form bonds – we have a common purpose, and that is reason enough for such bonds to form.  We encourage each other, sincerely and enthusiastically, passionately and compassionately – always reveling in one another’s progress. 

We are truly “team mates” and “school mates”, yet always on our individual journeys.  Like a family, its members bound by many things - yet always and forever - walking their own paths, learning their own lessons, in their own ways – struggling, facing road blocks, overcoming them, mentally, physically and spiritually – challenged, and strengthened by the challenge.

Each small hurdle overcome adds another small muscle to one’s memory – until it becomes unforgettable – forever a part of us.

We are people on a very similar journey - kindred souls, lovers of an art – one in which the artist moves into - and flows with - at their own pace – an art that moves the body.  I am sure dancers and yoga practitioners must reap similar rewards.  Martial Arts, Yoga, Dance – they are all artistry in motion!

Taekwondo is an art form that puts you in touch with your strength – your inner ki strength – and your outward physical strength.

My authentic spirit yell

I think that finding your own kihup, your personal, authentic spirit yell, is part of this path we are on.

When we visited Chosun Rockland to participate in their women’s self defense class, we encouraged the women to “kihup” when they hit the target.  I noticed that some of the women were noticeably quite uncomfortable with yelling out the word kihup.  I understand that this, in part, could be because they’ve never done it before.  They may never have spoken the word “kihup”, no less yelled it, loudly, in front of a group of strangers. 

I remember the first time I let out a loud kihup.  Up until that day, I had probably whispered my kihups.  As white belts, we were taught that we needed to kihup in order to get more power into our moves, and in addition to this, it “showed good spirit”.  And our training had much to do with “spirit”.  After all, an indomitable spirit is one of the 5 tenets of Taekwondo.   So I would try to kihup, but I really didn’t know how.   I loved the translation of the word – “spirit yell”.  I really wanted my spirit to yell.  And I noticed that some people had louder spirit yells than others.  I had a feeling that it didn’t matter so much how loud my kihup would be.  But I still had some apprehension about it.  On this particular day, I did actually kihup quite loudly.  I remember that I was quite surprised about what had just come out of my mouth.  Just then, one of the black belts that I had been training with regularly, Master Sammy Testa, gave me a “thumbs up”, and ‘a look’ that said something like “you go girl!”.   She had witnessed my very first real kihup!  I won’t forget that day.

One Buddhist teaching says – you are already what you are seeking to become.  With this in mind, I think that the ki energy and indomitable spirit is already in me.  And that Taekwondo is a path which can lead me to this energy, this life force.

It reminds me of the art of photography.  The photographer sees something, and wants to savor it.  It’s already there… in its natural state.  The photographer snaps the photo… and goes back to the dark room … and develops the film – at first it appears that there isn’t anything on the film – but slowly – the image starts to appear – and, as if from nothing, there is it.  It was always there – the photographer just had to develop it.  And so it is with my ki.  And my indomitable spirit.  I am slowly but surely developing these aspects of myself – through my training.  Uncovering what is already there.  I look at Taekwondo as a true art form.  I realize it is a form of self defense – but for me, on a daily basis, as an integral part of my life, it is also an art form.  And in this way, it is much like music, or sculpture.  Artists have said that the music, or the statue – was already there – in its entirety – the image of it was in their mind’s eye, and they just needed to uncover it. 

And so it is with my spirit yell – not so much the actual yell that comes out of my mouth, but more, the place where the indomitable spirit within can find it’s voice, and express itself, authentically. The voice within that yells out – I have trained really hard!  I am a Martial Artist!  I am a White Belt! ... a Yellow Belt!......I am a Bodan!  I am a Black Belt.  Finding that voice is the source of my training -- developing my martial arts voice - my ki -  my indomitable spirit

The Warrior’s Path

Since I am practicing the Eastern tradition of Taekwondo, it follows naturally to investigate some of the philosophy at its foundation.  Zen is a basic philosophy behind the martial arts.  The Samurai warriors practiced Zen as a way of life. 
“Mushin” is the essence of Zen.  It is Mindfulness.  Mushin is a peaceful state of mind – one of pure mental clarity.  This is the way of the martial arts warrior.  It is, indeed, a peaceful way, and we are “defenders of the peace”. 

We encounter other warriors on the trail - humble warriors, who walk softly on this path – ever mindful of past travelers, and future ones.  In some, their “Ki” is almost visible.  And when you speak with others, their “spirits” practically yell out.  It is not the “kihup” sort of  “yell” that I am referring to, but a more subtle kind - an indomitable spirit, which has truly developed with much hard work, perseverance, and passion for their practiced art.

Our pilgrimage begins at the Dojang.  As with any traveler who dares to take a road less traveled, it will not be smoothed, nor tamped down by previous travelers, because there are relatively few. 

We are all homeward bound warriors – and when we meet our fellow “HoBo Warriors”, we humbly bow to one another – out of respect, and comradery, and reverence for the noble cause that we are all defending, and recognition of a similar spirit. 

We are martial artists, we continue to train, journeying from the dojang, to a place within ourselves, growing in strength, developing our martial spirits, and then, journeying back again, to the dojang, the place where we, together, strengthen our spirits. There, we gain strength and courage, and fine tune the balance - between strength and gentleness, courage and humility.


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