Written by Jin K. Seong
Philosophers, teachers and students have praised the benefits of martial arts training for centuries. The martial artist is in the business of improving not only the body, but the mind and spirit, because martial arts training demands commitment beyond “a good workout.” In return, the student who pursues martial arts with dedication and perserverence can expect to see benefits beyond the dojang. The way you pursue your time in one area of your life will shape your character in all areas. What I love about Kumdo is that it betters me as a person as well as a student of the sword. As I thought about the best way to share what I’ve learned over years of practice, I thought about the tangible ways that Kumdo training has improved my life. I wanted to share those thoughts with you.
In the dojang, as in life, we are bounded by time. It is said that Kumdo is an instantaneous art. Because it only takes 0.3 seconds to attach, a student canot take his eyes off of his opponent. The key to winning is concentration. Time cannot slow down, but the student’s ability to focus singularly on his goal can maximize the actions he takes in a finite period of time. By practicing Kumdo over time, the student improves not only the quality of his concentration, but also the amount of time he can spend focused on a task. In time, by remaining focused on the movements of his opponent, he learns to read his opponent’s intentions and act quickly. This is a lesson that will also serve him outside of the dojang.
The things that fill your time dictate the quality of your life, so make sure you choose worthy pursuits. Over the years, I have seen many students give up practicing Kumdo even when they see how much it benefits them. This is especially striking with younger students. As they progress in school, especially as they begin to apply for college, students worry more about time. They often give up their favorite activities, sleep less, or both. What they may not realize is that it doesn’t get any easier as the years go by. As they fill their lives with work and families, they will have less time than before. People have many reasons why they skip practice, including “not having enough time.” It is more accurate to say that they are not trained to use their time effectively with concentration. We cannot be slaves of time. We must learn to manage time with intention and concentration. We must learn to live every moment as if we are engaged in Kumdo sparring, with deep awareness of everything around us. If you think you lack time, do not give up on activities that you value. It is worthier to learn how to concentrate in the time given to you.
There are two types of judgement: judgement that comes from deliberation and judement that comes from spontaneous need. The world seems to value deliberation more than instinctive action. We are trained to think heavily over our decisions. There are many cases where stepping back to think about your decisions is the most rational course of action. Making decisions thoughtlessly, without considering the consequences, can be irresponsible when we have the time to think. However, life often thrusts us into situations where we don’t have the time to think. If we insist on mulling over our options, we can lose the chance to act. The consequences can range from mere disappointment to serious injury. In general, we are out of touch with our instinctive judgment. To improve as people, we must open up to spontaneous judgment and actively practice it. Kumdo training is one excellent way to do so. When sparring, you must constantly use your judgement to predict when and where an opponent will attack. If an opponent provides you with an opening, you must be ready to seize the opportunity with the speed of thought. This is not the time to deliberate. You will lose the match. Many people are uncomfortable acting spontaneously. They don’t trust themselves, and they fear making mistakes. Accept that you will make mistakes, but mistakes are the foundation of better decision making. Once students learn to trust themselves to act with spontaneous judgement, their minds open up and they free themselves to trust their judgement in other areas of their lives.
Everyone can dream, but dreams worth having don’t come easily. Life isn’t like a half-hour sitcom, where characters win everything they desire before the last commercial break. Worthy dreams demand our full commitment, hard work, and persistence. In a world of instant gratification, it is necessary to remember this, and to pursuit passions that demand more of us. Such dreams don’t come easily, but the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment we earn from fulfilling them elevates the soul. up. If you dream of practicing Kumdo, you should know that Kumdo is not something to practice only when you feel like it, with people you like, or when the physical and mental conditions are right. Your mind set is at least as important as your physical condition. With patience and persitance, you must build mental endurance, just like building muscles, so that you can progress despite your physical and mental condition. Endurance is a transferable quality; learning to stay the course with Kumdo will help you cultivate persistence in other areas of your life. Endurance is the key to not giving up easily, which then leads to achieving the goal.
Sparring with a master is like throwing an egg against a rock. Even though the master has several decades of training more than the student, the master expects the student to put everything into his or her attacks. Fear often prevents the student from delivering full effort. Remember, the result of throwing an egg against a rock will never change—the egg will always get cracked. Humans are different, though. Even though sparring with a master seems impossible at first, after many attempts, one will eventually learn how to maneuver better and to have confidence in oneself. The first step is to have the confidence to do your best, knowing that winning and losing are irrelevant. Your effort is enough. Only by having this faith in yourself can you improve.
At the same time, beware false confidence. A beginner can easily invest his or her emotions in the outcome of matches – and get overly discouraged or overconfident. If you base your confidence on the result of a handful of winning matches, in time you will come to realize that the foundation of your confidence is shaky at best. Your confidence shouldn’t depend on the successes or failures of the moment. Rather, it is something that you have been preparing for a long time from experiences of many trials and errors.
The impulse to demonstrate bravery is often at odds with the human instinct for self-preservation. Unless we’re true narcissists, we all feel fear, hesitation and doubt. Sometimes fear is there to protect us from danger. Other fears serve no purpose but to make us doubt ourselves. These fears stand in the way of us accomplishing our goals. True bravery is a conscious choice that comes only through effort and persistence. We must constantly train to break through our fear. It is obvious that bravery can be achieved by repeated training.
If you are too strong, you can be easily broken. If you are too set in your own ideas or way of doing things, time will leave you behind. Having flexibility means that your mind always has room to grow and to adapt to new ideas. This is the ability to control yourself and others. It may sound contradictory that you should be stronger by being able to bend. However, if you are truly flexible, you begin to see the people and situations around you as teachers, and your mind opens to accept the lessons they have for you. You adapt, and improve as a person as well as a student. This isn’t something you can fake. True flexibility comes from unmovable mind, which can be achieved by marial art training.
It is natural to be invested in the outcome of your decisions, lest you lose something important to you. The nature of Kumdo training, and the importance of making split-second decisions when facing an opponent, teaches you to stop worrying and fully commit to your decisions. In life, it is hard to stop worrying, but worry makes it even harder to solve the problems that already seem unsolvable. There is a saying that if you risk your life, there always will be another way to make living. Another adage states ‘I will sacrifice my right arm for your life.’ This is the spirit of the fighter who commits decisively to a course of action, someone who makes the conscious choice to pursue the right course in spite of the consequences. When making a serious decision, do not become so concerned with the outcome that you cannot arrive at a decision. You need to shake off your concerns and trust your ability to decide.
Promises come in all sizes. Many people forget that thesmaller promises demonstrate one’s credibility. Credibility is something that is very hard to build but easy to lose. Once lost, credibility is difficult to regain. If Sally is always late and always seems to have an excuse for her lateness, her friends may listen to her, but after a while they begin to judge her by her excuses. They will think that they can’t rely on her in matters big or small. Small promises are more important than big ones because people judge your credibility through small promises before they’re willing to enter into big promises with you. In time, we build a bank of trust with others based upon how we honor our promises. Even in Kumdo, before making a promise of not quitting, one needs to keep the small promise by coming to every practice.
To be dependable means that, once you have made a decision, you pursue it consistently to its logical conclusion. It’s a matter of choosing the long-term goal over instant gratification, and of ignoring distractions. For many, it is difficult to pursue any goal so single-mindedly. Sometimes it helps to think in terms of smaller, connected goals. When you’ve climbed one mountain, it’s easier to contemplate climing the rest of the mountrain range. You have faith in your ability to climb, and distractions start to lose their meaning in the face of your achievements. The thought of the larger goal energizes rather than daunts you. On the path of Kumdo training there are many distractions to be defeated: the temptation to skip practices, the fear that you aren’t progressing as quickly or as well as you should, frustration with your performance in matches or tournaments. If these distractions cause you even for a moment to back away from your task, the progress toward your goal will be weakened. You must move forward consistently and with faith. In this way, steady Kumdo training is the staircase towards volitional power.
Passion is the quality that raises a task from a chore to a calling. When did you last feel passionate about what you were doing? How did it make you feel?
To be passionate is to be moved by a higher purpose. It seems that many people lack passion in their lives today. They sleepwalk from one experience to another without committing too much of their emotional energy. But if you have ever discovered passion in your work or other pursuits, you understand that passion creates hope and boundless energy. Many people start Kumdo training each year, but not everyone is passionate about it. To those observing from the outside, the truly passionate Kumdo student may seem to just “fit” the training. They sacrifice other pursuits in order to practice, and they excel because they invest the time and emotional and physical energy the training requires. Their less passionate peers may envy their dedication without understanding how to implement it in their own lives. Another great thing about passion is that it’s transferable; to be capable of passion in one pursuit helps you to be passionate and successful in other tasks. As I look around the dojang, the students who are passionate about their training are generally the ones who have felt passion and succeeded in their work and other pursuits. They use their passion for Kumdo to reenergize themselves and give them a new perspective when they return to their other passions. They don’t practice Kumdo in order to become a professional Kumdo player, but rather to study how to be extremely passionate about something. If you do your best at given amount of time, you will be able to excel, which brings confidence and joy. Passion that is created without any effort can disappear easily but passion that is created by effort gives you the power to achieve anything.
The study of martial arts, and Kumdo in particular, requires endless, precise refinement from the student. You must correct your posture, your technique, and even your mental attitudes as the master brings needed refinements to your attention. This is the only way to improve; there are no shortcuts. In order to fix what is done wrong, you need to know what is wrong, what the cause of such wrongness is, and how to correct it. When a master corrects his students, many times people try to give reasons for their actions. In order to improve, however, you must be willing to accept and grow from the master’s feedback. The reason for your behavior doesn’t matter as much as how hard you try to correct your bad habits. If you don’t try to improve, you cannot direct yourself to future.You will be stuck in past or present. The present-day’s failure is not the problem; the problem is that you cannot improve yourself.
It is said that in order to live a plentiful life, one needs three things: a good occupation, a hobby, and a speciality. What is the difference between hobby and speciality? A hobby is something that you started because you liked it and you are still an amateur. On the other hand, a speciality is something that you have pursued to the point that you could make it your new occupation. I always recommend to new comers that they practice Kumdo until they are fourth degree blackbelts. My standard for fourth degree blackbelt is the point where Kumdo changes from a hobby to a speciality. There is a huge difference between enjoying Kumdo as a hobby and as a speciality. As people who lack in hobbies do not understand the ones who have them, people who lack in speciality do not understand the plentiful lives of the ones with speciality. When your understanding of Kumdo changes from hobby to speciality, you will recognize its true depth, and this realization will transform the way you understand the rest of your life.
Foresight means the ability to predict. If you can analyize a situation and envision probably outcomes, you will be well prepared for what life offers to you. There are many levels of foresight. You can predict how people will behave based upon past experience or you can predict how a society or a market will react to particular pressures upon it. Our minds constantly seek to see the future. If you train your mind properly, your predictions can be better informed. Your mind will learn to see predictable patterns in the big picture. You may think this type of foresight sounds like some kind of supernatural power, but deliberate Kumdo training will cultivate this ability in you, just as expert Go players can read beginners’ next moves. In Kumdo, blackbelts can read lower levels’ maneuvers. This is the result through repeated experiences, consistant concentration and observation, and self-control. Increasing your foresight though Kumdo training means looking through a 3rd eye that sees the substance withoutobsessing over individual details.
14. Eyeing objects
There are two ways to see: through the eyes and through the mind. Most of us look through our eyes every day, but it’s more difficult to look through the mind. You must practice foresight over time to understand this way of seeing. When you look with your eyes, you see what a person does. When you look through your mind, you understand what motivates his actions and therefore understand his essence. Kumdo trains you to see with your mind. If I were to practice Kumdo by seeing through my eyes, I might focus on technique, and trying to defeat the opponent with skill. I may win some matches, but I will never gain true proficiency until I learn to see with my mind. Instead of trying to defeat the opponent with power and speed, I need to dominate with potential energy and cool headedness. Do not obessess over victory and defeat: focus more on the essence of the training.
There should be temperance in real Sword or Kumdo training.If the purpose of your training is just focusing on winning, your training lacks a solid foundation. To progress, you must temper your desire to win with an honest passion for the training. You should practice with good posture and an unmovable mind. Just as there is a gracious way of talking, there is a gracious way of sparring in Kumdo. The way you carry yourself and handle your sword speaks to who you are as a person and a Kumdo. In Kumdo, how you perform is more important than if you win. You must seek to manage your ego and be sincere to yourself.
16. Knowledge and Wisdom
You may know how to write your ABCs, but how do you put words together to express the appropriate sympathy for a friend whose father has just died? Education gives you the tools to interact with your world; it’s up to you to judge how to use the tools to the desired effect. You can get knowledge from schools, books, newspapers and mass media. However, there is no text book or manual that teaches wisdom. Wisdom is the culmination of a life spent observing, practicing and refining one’s character. Even if a man is wise, he can’t teach another man wisdom, except by his example. Observe the example of those who are wiser than you, and live as if you were an example for others.