Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Hellacious Sleepover, Test Prep, What is Mu and Why is it Important to Me?

Too damn busy to blog lately. So much going on, and just so many hours in the day....

A bunch of friends from my dojang and I went to see the World Combat League Friday night -- fights went until about midnight, and then a few of us hit Kerbey Lane Cafe for some late night breakfast and chater. Service was horrible and slow. Didn't get home until almost 2:30. When I got home, the dogs flipped out and woke everyone in the house up, including my daughter, who then proceeded to get so excited about her birthday party today that she couldn't get back to sleep, instead coming into our room every 15-20 minutes to let us know how excited she was and that she couldn't sleep. She finally dropped off at 4:30 or so, and I finally dropped off shortly afterward, and slept all the way until about 7:00, when the kids got up. Ack. And then there were the neverending preparations for the birthday party, the party itself, the afterparty, the sleepover party, and all the accompanying drama that is unavoidable when you have a bunch of 8 year old girls in the same room. Happily, by Sunday night everyone was so exhausted that I was able to just hit the pillow at 10:00 and sleep like the dead.

This week will largely be dominated by work (duh) and final preparations for my gup test this Saturday. Trained last night, and will train this evening and tomorrow as well. Will then take Thursday night off, and attend a test prep class Friday night to sand off any rough edges. I feel pretty much ready to go, but I need to keep focused or I'll start getting nervous.

I've also completed my test paper, and went a little more afield than on previous efforts, trying to stretch out and explore how much of the philosophy of Tang Soo Do I've managed to grasp, or at least glimpse, instead of just spewing what I read in the gup manual. I think it's pretty good. -- the writing could be tighter, but I like its sort of lope and flow so I've decided to let it be. If you' re curious, go ahead and read, below.

Anyhow, time to roll -- training in an hour, and I've got stuff to do in the meantime.


What Does Mu Mean, and Why Is It Important To Me?

Mu (or “moo”) is the Chinese character that appears on the flag and emblem of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan Association. It’s prominence on our flag is indicative of the significance of Chinese influences in our art, but its meaning encapsulates the core purpose of training in Tang Soo Do. According to Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee, “the primary purpose for studying and teaching Tang Soo Do is to prolong life beyond its normal means through the focus of preventing conflict both internally and externally; thus, creating world peace one person at a time.” Mu represents “prevention of conflict,” and thus Mu represents Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s vision for Tang Soo Do in our lives: a method to halt internal and external conflict, resulting in global change.

But how? That’s the real question, here, I think. How can training in our art have such a profound effect on ourselves and the world around us?

Some people look to martial arts as a great way of blowing off steam, releasing stress and tension through exercise. But the mental and physical relaxation brought about by physical exertion alone is temporary. Once the post-workout buzz wears off you’ve still got the same issues that caused the tension and stress – internal and/or external conflicts – in the first place. Training solely to relieve stress is sort of like treating a splinter with an ice pack: The pain subsides as long as the ice pack is in place, but once the numbness wears off you’ve still got the splinter. Since Mu represents the transformative goals of our art, it is obvious that these goals extend beyond getting sweaty and out of breath a few times a week. We need to look deeper.

An argument can also be made that training in self-defense and martial combat techniques eliminates external conflict by acting as a deterrent to violence (“Let him who desires peace, prepare for war,” from Vegetius Epitoma Rei Militaris, or, more simply put, “the best offense is a good defense”). While there is certainly some blunt truth in this argument, I think it is also very outward-directed, accepting external conflict as a “given” and failing to take our own internal conflicts and their consequences into account. While making ourselves strong and demonstrating a willingness to fight back when attacked may prevent us from being directly affected by conflict, it in no way addresses the existence of conflict itself. Instead, this approach focuses only on passively avoiding conflict through a show of force instead of actively working to prevent it. Once again, I think this is a fairly simplistic answer to a complicated question, and a perspective that fails to adequately reflect Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s far more inclusive beliefs about the world changing potential of Tang Soo Do training or the true meaning of Mu.

In order to better understand Mu and its importance, I think we have to look to the origin, nature, and consequences of internal and external conflicts. In doing so we can better understand the ways in which our training helps to prevent these conflicts, and better appreciate just how significant an impact prevention of conflict can have on ourselves and on those around us. As I see it, internal and external conflicts are intimately linked and interdependent. By this I mean that people experiencing internal conflicts tend to express these conflicts through negative external behavior toward others, while experiencing external conflict with others tends to bring about internal strife in one’s self.

For example, consider a typical bullying scenario. Usually a bully is a kid who is troubled or feels insecure for some reason – in other words, a person who is suffering from an internal conflict. The bully makes himself feel more secure by victimizing someone who is weaker than him – an external conflict directly caused by the bully’s internal conflict. Needless to say, though, this action in no way relieves the internal conflict. Because the victim wasn’t the cause of the bully’s internal conflict in the first place the bully still has the same internal conflict, and will likely continue this cycle of internal/external conflict, victimizing others in a vain attempt to quiet his own fears.

Worse yet, these cycles of internal/external conflict tend to propagate, like viruses. Consider the victim of the bully’s violence, above. In addition to the internal conflicts that resulted in the bully’s aggression, the bully’s victim likely feels insecure or frightened now, and justifiably so. And so we’ve now got a new person suffering from internal conflicts. This victim may very well express these new internal conflicts via additional external conflicts (violence, self-destructive behavior, you name it), which in turn can beget additional internal conflicts in themselves or others, and so on.

And so we see that internal and external conflicts are not simply individual, self-contained events. They are in fact part of a larger self-sustaining and self-propagating process that creates and ensures discord. Consider this quote from a more recent – though certainly less prestigious – source than Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee: Yoda’s warning in The Phantom Menace: “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” I’d only add that suffering in turn leads to more fear, bringing the process full-circle. This is, in essence, the exact opposite of Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s statement about the purpose of Tang Soo Do. Instead of prevention of conflict, we instead see the assurance of its spread. Instead of world peace, we instead see an unchecked cycle of self-perpetuating conflict that can lead only to widespread suffering.

But where does Tang Soo Do (and, therefore, Mu) come in? Well, a defining quality of interdependent processes like the one described above is that if you remove one part of the process, the other part necessarily tends to fail. Remove the internal conflict, and you in turn eliminate the root cause of the resulting external conflict. Prevent the external conflict, and you eliminate the source of a resulting internal conflict as well. In our bully’s case, if he were to recognize and take responsibility for correcting his internal conflicts then the resulting external conflict (the bullying behavior) would not occur. Likewise, if the target of the bully’s aggression were able to defend against or prevent the external conflict brought about by the bully’s behavior, they would prevent the formation of the additional internal conflicts that result as a consequence of the conflict in its victims.

As a classical martial art, Tang Soo Do is concerned with far more than martial exercise, and we are striving for far more than the simple physical benefits of training in a sport. Through physical training and discipline, coupled with our ongoing efforts to understand and embrace the philosophical underpinnings of our art (such as The 8 Key Concepts and Sip Sam Seh/Thirteen Influences) we prevent conflict both within ourselves and around us, thereby breaking the cycle by which conflict propagates.

It is clear that Tang Soo Do can aid in realizing Mu within ourselves, but how can it bring about “world peace one person at a time”? Can Mu propagate and spread like internal and external conflicts tend to? I think so, but not in quite the same way. The process by which inner conflict erupts and spreads into external conflict is essentially defined by the passivity of those involved. Experiencing internal conflict doesn’t force anyone to engage in external conflict with others. Doing so instead represents a failure on their part to choose to actively deal with their own conflicts, instead surrendering to internal conflict and allowing it to manifest in negative external ways. Conversely, failing to actively oppose external conflict – against one’s self or against others – virtually ensures additional internal conflicts in those that are impacted. As the (author unknown, often misattributed to Edmund Burke) saying goes, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” In much the same way, all that is necessary to ensure the spread of conflict is for people to make no effort to stop it in themselves and in others.

In committing to train in Tang Soo Do we take an active role in attempting to stop the spread of conflict within and through ourselves. No one is free from internal conflict at all times, and we are often on the receiving end of varying degrees of external conflict from those around us. Martial artists take an active role in dealing with conflict within ourselves and in the world around us in a constructive manner. Rather than passively letting conflicts work on and work through us, we instead work to eliminate existing internal conflicts and prevent new ones. As we progress in the arts, the preparation and confidence we gain in training can act not just as a deterrent to conflict, but also as a beacon to others. It’s in this manner that we can “create world peace, one person at a time.” We strive to “fix” ourselves, and then in demonstrating the benefits of our training in our daily lives we inspire and encourage others to do the same.

And so, what is Mu? In the final accounting, it’s the short and simple answer to “why?” Why do we train? Why do we study philosophy as well as technique? Why is it important? Why does it matter? The answer is, simply and profoundly, Mu.

As for why Mu is important to me, that’s easy. Given all that I’ve said prior to this, how can it not be? It’s important to me for my own peace of mind and enjoyment of life, and it’s important to me because it provides a method by which I can help my family live more happily in what is hopefully a better world. Mu represents some fairly lofty goals, but they are clearly worth the effort.

Like all of us, I am flawed. I tend to let internal conflicts – self-doubt, anger, frustration, you name it – run me in circles on a regular basis. Over the years I’ve certainly allowed my share of internal conflicts to erupt into external conflict in my life. But sometime late last year I realized that I needed to take a more active role in dealing with the negative influences in my life. I was spending far too much of my time passively allowing my internal conflicts to run my life. Once I recognized this as a problem, I started trying to take a more positive approach to things, to not dwell so much on the negatives all the time. I’ve got a long way to go, but I am dealing with the negative things in my life far better than I did just a year ago, so that’s progress. I am not as quick to anger as I used to be and I am getting better at ignoring my tendency toward self-doubt. I find I’m also getting better at letting anxiety go instead of letting it run roughshod over me.

What’s interesting is that, while I knew that I needed to find my way to a more positive perspective on my own life, I didn’t realize when I stepped into the dojang for the first time that Tang Soo Do was going to be the path that would help me to get there. As the saying goes, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” This was certainly true in my case, so in closing I’d like to suggest that my own experience in finding this art serves as a simple example of Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee’s vision for Tang Soo Do in action. In recognizing my internal conflicts and seeking a way to address them I actively opened myself up to training. In creating a place where people can come to train and in representing the ideals and goals of Tang Soo Do with consistency and clarity Sa Bom Nim Nunan acted as a beacon, leading me to the arts. When I was ready, my teacher appeared. And so now here I am, on the path, slowly learning and striving to understand. And so it goes for everyone, one person at a time.


Mood: Good
Now Playing: Snow Patrol, "Eyes Open"

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