Thursday, September 27, 2007

How Long Must I Wait?

Today, a friend of mine at work referred to me as a martial artist, and felt a need to correct him. "I don't think of myself as a martial artist," I said. "At least not yet. I'd say I practice martial arts, but I don't feel qualified to refer to myself as a martial artist."

And this isn't some sort of false humility or attempt to split hairs. It's truly how I feel. I work hard at learning my techniques and polishing my skills, but I don't for one second feel that what I do is art, yet. Some parts may approach art at times -- I think I bring something special to my forms, on occasion, that elevates them to something more than just a series of movements, for example. And there are times when I'm training, typically when I'm alone, that I feel a sense that I'm just starting to ... grow in some way.

But an artist? Nope. Not yet.

So I got to thinking, if not now then when? When does this transition from practitioner to artist occur? And I remembered something that Kwan Jhang Nim taught us when he came to Texas and taught some clinics a few weeks before Christmas last year. He was talking about the things a person must do in order to actually learn, the 7 stages of learning. As best as I can recall, they were:
  1. Look with the intent to learn.
  2. Listen with the intent to learn.
  3. Record and remember what you see and hear.
  4. Imitate what you remember seeing and hearing.
  5. Practice. Practice. Practice.
  6. Gain a higher awareness.
  7. Create something new.
I remember listening to these principals and being a little confused by everything after "practice practice practice." The first 5 stages are fairly obvious, and you can't possible advance and learn without engaging in all of them regularly. But the whole "higher awareness" thing seemed a bit ... well, not silly, but a bit too mystical for me to connect with. So far beyond me that it wasn't even worth considering. And yet almost a year later, I've begun to notice that sometimes I become ... different ... when training. My mind works differently. I separate myself from what I'm doing.

I've really started spotting this when I practice forms by myself. I've heard forms referred to as "moving meditations," and I think I'm beginning to understand what that means. Sometimes I find myself thinking about something completely separate and distinct from my form, and yet I continue to move and do the form's techniques without thought. Other times I'll be training with friends in a less formal setting and we'll begin chatting about movies, or music, or the news, while we're in the middle of forms practice, and we'll just continue doing the forms , conversing all the while.

Sometimes it trips me up, sure -- I'll get distracted, or suddenly I'll just go "ummm... wait.. what the heck am I doing again?" But mostly the practice I've engaged in has wired the movements into my muscles and as a result my mind is more-or-less free to go about other business while the form is being performed. Sometimes my mind just sort of disengages altogether and all I do is move for a minute or so. No real effort to think at all. Now, this is by no means how things are all -- or even most -- of the time. I don't have anything even remotely resembling the mental discipline to do this consistently. But it just sort of happens, on its own, on occasion.

I also really noticed this effect during my last couple of gup tests -- particularly in last Saturday's 3rd gup test. During line drills and forms I just sort of go ... blank. I just listen, and then do, and then move on to the next thing . It was odd -- I was talking to Sa Bom Nim after the test and I asked how I looked out there. He gave me some praise -- not so much as to give me a swelled head, but reassured me that I did well that day. And I told him that I honestly couldn't recall much in the way of specific moments during the testing until I began interacting with a partner. I have some sense of things from when I was doing forms with Kayleigh, but they're mostly impressions: getting out of breath. Slowing down and speeding up to try to maintain a good rhythm and stay as close together as possible. Being happy with my kicks at several points. But overall I was just ... moving ... without much thought. Even then, with the pressure and stress of testing. However, once I began working with partners on one steps, wrist grabs, etc. I have far more recall.


But anyhow, I think this means I've, after over a year and a half, begun to touch on the 6th stage of learning. I think this sense of separation, of detachment while training, describes "higher awareness" pretty well. Of course, figuring out what to do during those moments is another story -- I imagine that will occur over time. And I suspect that creating, true creation, comes from harnessing and using that higher awareness.

And that, of course, is when one becomes a martial artist. A practitioner practices, but an artist creates. So, I suspect I'll be practicing martial arts for a long time to come.

But my goal, someday, is to be able to call myself, humbly and sincerely, an artist.

Mood: Ready to go home (early day, I've been working for about 10 hours, and I can't leave the office yet -- have to wait for my ride...)
Now Playing: The Hold Steady, "Boys and Girls in America"


Meg said...

Just out of curiosity, are you a member of the Atlantic Pacific Tang Soo Do Federation? I'm asking because your principles sound like something Kwan Jang Nim St. James told us at the black belt test in Dallas last month.

Gregg P. said...

Hi Meg,

I'm a member of the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan, I don't know much about the A/P TSD Fed., but my understanding is that our organization is a bit more traditional than most TSD organizations in the US. Do you guys learn Grandmaster Hwang Kee's Chil Sung forms as part of your training?

Thanks for your note!