As part of my testing for 1st Dan in Soo Bahk Do I had to write an essay with the topic "What Does Soo Bahk Do Mean to Me?". The paper had to be a minimum 1,000 words.
In the past 6 months I've considered this topic, discarding many themes and mentally saving at least a dozen! I was all set for this!
Then I started writing it. I did a number of rough first drafts and found that it wasn't working as I expected. Some thought processes came across trite, just too time worn or obvious. Others were good ideas, but I got to the 300 word mark and found I didn't have enough depth to go the distance. Needless to say, as the date of the deadline approached I got more and more nervous! I should be able to bang off 1,000 words with no problem, but if anything my increasing nervousness was blocking the creative process. Every avenue was proving fruitless!
So I rethought my theme and tried another one. I wrote about 300 words in 20 minutes one evening and let it set. Two days later I opened the file up and re-read it. While my first draft needed some re-arranging I knew that writing at least 1,000 words wasn't an issue any longer!
That same evening I re-wrote the first section and completed the essay, producing just over 1,000 words.
I let it set another couple of days, then read it again with fresh eyes and mind. The edits that night produced a total of 1,169 words for the primary essay, well over what I needed. Life was good!
Starting this year, in addition to the main essay 1st Dan candidates are required to write an additional section about their participation in the Kwan Jang Nim's Vision Tour. No length requirement on this, just a description of what we have done to further the mission.
This also proved easy -- I just wrote about how I contributed to the school and to the Federation. It was harder to write it so it didn't sound like a list than it was to come up with material. This part of the task came out to 226 words, which is enough to describe real participation.
This also reminds me, Eric tests in 1-1/2 years and Patrick in 2 -- I need to encourage them more to contribute to the school and SBD in general, so that when their turn comes the writing will be easy.
What does Soo Bahk Do mean to me? If I had to select one word I choose "excellence".
Although a single word, "excellence" covers a lot of ground. First it describes our art, the way techniques are performed.
My instructor, Sa Bom Nim Daniel Bannard, teaches that there is a correct way to perform all techniques, and that way comes from Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee through the current Kwan Jang Nim, H. C. Hwang. Sa Bom Nim Bannard consistently teaches us the correct way to perform techniques, and some times demonstrates incorrect ways of doing techniques and quizzes everyone, including white belts, on which is right and which is not.
I had the good fortune to witness a Dan clinic two years ago. During the physical workout part of the clinic Kwan Jang Nin Hwang instructed Dan members in technique, using Kicho Hyung Il Bu as the vehicle for ensuring that everyone performed techniques in the same way, and by extension, taught techniques in the same way. It was impressive to see a large group of Dan members performing in synchronization, each an image of the others.
Other martial arts styles do not always put this level of effort into consistency. I have experience with a style in which a master instructor's three schools within 10 miles of each other taught techniques in three different ways.
Sa Bom Nim Bannard teaches his students to move and work together as a unit, just as Kwan Jang Nim Hwang did with the Dan members. This reinforces the group chung shin tong il, the message of performing our techniques in the same way, helping us to work together toward the ideal that the Kwan Jang Nim represents.
"Excellence" also describes how techniques are taught. Sa Bom Nim Bannard provides consistent, detailed instruction geared for the level and ability of each individual student. Beginning white belts are taught basic techniques and helped to become comfortable with performing actions that are not necessarily intuitively comfortable for many people. With each succeeding rank the lessons are refined and made more detailed, and more is expected from the student.
At First Gup the expectations are high, and in some instances it feels like I'm doing things far more wrong than right. But Sa Bom Nim Bannard works to help me become the best Soo Bahk Do practitioner I can be, using gentle instruction to correct my mistakes and positively reinforce my proper actions.
From watching that Dan clinic two years ago I understood where Sa Bom Nim Bannard gets his instructional style -- Kwang Jang Nim Hwang taught newly minted 1st Dans and seasoned 6th Dans with the same quiet style, teaching how to perform techniques and gently correcting differences. In my limited interactions with other Region 3 Sa Bom Nims I've seen evidence of this same style, so I have reasonable belief that Sa Bom Nim Bannard is not unique in this respect.
Before continuing let me briefly describe my martial arts career. I have practiced a variety of martial arts across an elapsed 25 years, including five styles of tae kwon do, hapkido, muay thai, and some kung fu, karate, jujutsu, and judo mixed in. I earned Dan rank in one style of tae kwon do and lesser ranks in the other styles.
It has proven an interesting journey in which I've enjoyed wonderful instructors and great martial arts styles, and dealt with less-than-wonderful instructors and styles that had little practical value or consistency. While my background does not make me any sort of martial arts expert, it does give me the ability to judge relative value, and to recognize and appreciate good instruction and style.
Art and instruction are two sides of a triangle. The third side is the student. Without solid art and instruction very few students can shine -- most of us are limited by the quality of the first two sides, the framework in which we learn.
In my past I have enjoyed wonderful instructors who excelled at imparting knowledge to their students. In some cases they were limited by inconsistent or fragmented styles, so while we were taught well, the material was lacking. An example of this is tae kwon do taught without emphasizing the huri -- performances can appear visually appealing, but are an illusion without true substance.
The converse is also true -- no matter now fantastic the style, without a good instructor it is no better than a poor style. An instructor who expresses himself by screaming at his students and belittling mistakes, or does not ensure that his students are learning the material correctly, imparts nothing of value and wastes both his time and that of his students.
The triangle I described isn't really a triangle -- it's the foundation upon which a student develops. That is the third part of "excellence" as I view it.
Any structure is only as solid as its foundation, so this sum of the whole is critical to the student's success in martial arts. Without the necessary foundation the student will never reach full potential.
Ten percent of my martial arts career has been spent in Soo Bahk Do training. Yet that ten percent is greater than the ninety percent that preceded it. As a result of my Soo Bahk Do training I am significantly stronger, faster, better than I was before I started. Colored belt training in our art has helped me excel more than Dan training in another style!
Is that the sum total of excellence? No -- there is a fourth facet to "excellence", one that isn't visible.
The many styles I have studied have taught me numerous ways to block, strike, kick, and manipulate joints. Punches, for instance, are typically variations on a theme. All are fairly similar to one another with little or no real differences (ignoring the huri). From a certain point of view Soo Bahk Do hasn't taught me anything new in punching -- Soo Bahk Do punches are indistinguishable from techniques taught me many years ago by a particular style of tae kwon do.
The Soo Bahk Do difference can't be seen -- it's inside me. Sa Bom Nim Bannard hasn't taught me anything new in punching -- what he taught me is when to punch and more importantly when not to punch.
At a recent colored belt testing during the questions segment, when asked about the Soo Bahk Do flag a six year old white belt said, "The fist is the yellow fist of justice. It's not the red fist of anger." He spoke further of not hurting people and of stopping evil people.
To the best of my knowledge Sa Bom Nim Bannard has never made any statements regarding evil people. But he does share the philosophy of Soo Bahk Do, a few words in each class. Enough that a small child picks up the real value of that philosophy and reiterates it so well in his own words.
That is what Soo Bahk Do means to me.
I have read through the Federation's published materials regarding the Vision Tour, and had the privilege of attending a session taught by Kwan Jang Nim Hwang two years ago. Especially since the Vision fits well with my personal philosophy, I have endeavored to do my part to extend the mission.
In the dojang I assist Sa Bom Nim Bannard whenever needed, including assisting in technique demonstrations, warming the class up, and helping to instruct the lower ranking students. A number of parents have brought children for instruction, and in talking to the parents and describing my relationship with my own children (who are Soo Bahk Do practitioners), have convinced several to take classes with their children.
I try to always provide a positive example for my fellow students, keeping my energy up to bolster theirs. I offer encouragement and do my part to make the dojang a positive place where students want to be. This is not only for existing students but even more importantly for potential students who come to watch a class or two.
Outside the dojang I mention my art to others, encouraging people to visit the dojang. I speak of the positive physical and mental aspects of training and especially mention the benefits to children, and for parents to establish and keep an open connection with their children through a shared activity.
11 April 2007
Copyright 1999-2008 Bryan Fazekas