T. Carr – 3rd Dan
The beating heart of Taekwondo is not in learning kicks and punches, in the conquering of an enemy, or in the act of attaining a new belt. This art is about so much more – self-improvement and discipline, in avoiding a confrontation rather than succumbing to it.
Nor is Taekwondo anchored only in the ways and traditions of an ancient culture, the nuance of a Korean word, nor the act of a bow. It is about widening our horizons, being open to concepts and cultures we would otherwise be ignorant of. It is about being cognizant of the consideration of others, and being considerate in return. Taekwondo is about looking within for self-discovery, and using what we learn within as a lens to view the world without. As we strive to improve ourselves through conscious consideration, it is only natural to for these tenets to bleed over to our lives. These core beliefs do not end at the dojang walls, nor any walls for that matter.
The most iconic aspect of Taekwondo, beyond the ostentatious kicks, is perhaps is in breaking boards. But the act of breaking a board is not about simply splitting a piece of wood in two. It is about staring at an obstacle in the eye, and having the courage to act. It is about confronting that clinging, crippling doubt that resides within all of us, the voice in the back of our mind telling us that we’re not strong enough to do this. It’s about proving to ourselves that we have the focus, the discipline, the sheer force of will to shout for ourselves and the whole world to hear, “Yes, I can do this!” So that in the end, the piece of splintered pine that lays at our feet represents the courage to meet all obstacles in our life with the courage to act, and the character and discipline to temper that act with consideration and restraint.
Training in the way that we do is not something that should be undertaken lightly, or done without due consideration, as the will to act alone is a dangerous thing. We must be conscious of the consequences, and we must be willing to accept them. We must realize that just as the board once broken will never again be whole, so too will an assailant never again be whole. The harm we inflict, no matter that it may be whole and pure intentioned, is indeed a dangerous thing. Therefore, it must only be exercised with the greatest respect for others, where the abstinence of direct action is far worse than physical intervention could possibly be. So, while we train our mind and our body to act, possibly with violence, we must also train our spirit to accept this path only when necessary. We must be open to alternative ways to dissolve or de-escalate situations that may not be immediately obvious to all, and we must seek them out wherever possible. While we seek to be mindful of those around us, to consider the harm our action and inaction may inflict, to weigh possible consequences where possible before executing an action, we must also strive to achieve a harmony. This balance of training for violence and striving for an intuitive inner peace is at the very core of Taekwondo.
As we train to better ourselves, it is natural that we seek to act with only pure intentions. We must look within and make the personal choice to do the right thing, to take the path that is morally true, even though it may be more difficult, or at odds with the best choice for ourselves. We cannot be honest with our lives and the world without first being honest with ourselves. True morality stems from this internal harmony, and the patience of being at peace with oneself and one’s surroundings. The search for this harmony is not simple, the path is not short, but every step along it is rewarding. One must humbly seek to do the right thing always and without thought of reward. Knowing the right way forward, especially finding a solution through resistance to pursuing the moral option, requires reflection, respect and patience.
The role of patience in Taekwondo, and in our daily lives, cannot be overstated. Patience with ourselves to learn at our own pace, giving ourselves time to grow, to stretch and move beyond our preconceptions is integral as it takes an abundance of time. Learning new and increasingly difficult Poomsae (forms), kicks, stances and other techniques is not quick, nor easy. In the martial situation, it bears noting that patience and humility to find a non-violent solution to an encounter is important. After all, all that is determined from winning a fight is who loses least.
Beyond the physical, patience with others, and the world around us is no less important. When we embrace that the world and our relationships will at times outpace us, when we accept that tension is sometimes the natural result, when we understand that conflict may at times naturally arise, we must breathe and center ourselves to find harmony. There can be no meaningful balance without harmony.
Perseverance is best defined as possessing the courage to fail and the will to keep trying, especially in the face of that failure. We must accept that failure is merely the opportunity to learn, as we seldom change our ways when met only with success. In this way, we never truly fail, and we always succeed, but only if we never fail to try. The impossible is only thought to be impossible until it is possible. We never thought flight was possible until the Wright Brothers had the courage to dare, and equally important, the uncompromising will to keep trying despite their failures. So too we must dare, and we must have the courage to fail, and the will to continue trying. The strength to pick oneself up from the dirt to try again is the foundation upon which all great deeds are built upon.
As we incorporate all of these beliefs into our lives, we strive to find balance between these ideas, our lives, and our world. The Indomitable Spirit is the culmination of that balance. It is not about not being defeated, but that any such defeat simply does not matter because we have the perseverance to keep trying. It is the depth of character that drives us to learn from that failure, so that we are never defeated as each stumble along our journey only serves to strengthen us. When things do not go our way, we have patience with those surrounding us and ourselves. We have the integrity to do the right thing, and the confidence to do it. As we climb the path forward, we must always lift as we climb, and help those around us. As we learn as a student, we must also teach, for we are all of us are both students and teachers.
Taekwondo is as broad as it is wide; the physical techniques cannot be mastered in years, and its principals cannot be fully explored in a lifetime. Nonetheless, the journey toward understanding and living it is both rewarding and worthwhile. But this is a journey without end, that demands commitment, as we are not students of Taekwondo only when we are within the dojang walls. We must believe, learn, teach, and seek out balance, even when it is challenging to do so. As we work towards finding that balance in the chaos of todays world, the serenity and harmony we find dwelling within the essence of Taekwondo is indispensable.