Saturday, August 09, 2008

Testing for Il Gup

Big day today. Having completed my latest 6 month waiting period, I've been invited to test for Il Gup (1st gup -- Red Belt with 2 blue stripes). This is the last rank before I am permitted to test for cho dan/blue belt, the Tang Soo Do equivalent of what people typically consider a "black belt." The common misconception is that being a "black belt" means you are finished, but infact it's more akin to being a High School graduate. Achieving the rank of cho dan simply demonstrates an understanding and ability to demonstrate consistently the fundamentals of our art. Post-dan training builds on these fundamentals to push us forward and upward.

Given that example, then, today is sort of like taking my SATs. A huge test, where I'm called upon to demonstrate each and every technique that makes up the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan curriculum on to my current rank. To whit:
  • Several dozen hand and foot techniques, in line drill formation. Single techniques and combinations
  • 10 Basic One Step Sparring Techniques (Il Soo Sik Dae Ryun)
  • 18 Intermediate One Step Sparring Techniques
  • About 20 or so self-defense techniques (Ho Sin Sool)
  • Improvised Il Soo Sik Dae Ryun and Ho Sin Sool
  • 12 forms (Hyungs -- 3 gicho, 5 pyang ahn, 3 chil sung, and bassai)
  • Several rounds of no-contact sparring (harder than it sounds)
  • Endurance horsestance punching drills (exactly as hard as they sound)
  • Terminology/philosophy/history questions
  • Breaking (two foot techniques, one hand technique, most with mulitple boards)
So, yeah. Big day. Test will probably run over 4-5 hours. I thk I'll be sleeping pretty deeply tonight.


Gotta say, watchng the opening ceremonies of the 29th Olympics in Beijing last night really put me in the right mindset for this test. The focus on precision, and beauty, and the seemingly endless series of contrasts of large and small, light and dark, many and one, fast and slow, and so on really exemplifies so much of what we strive for in our art. If I start to have a hard time today, I am going to try to bring to mind the image of those thousands of performers, wokring together with such precision and power and grace on the traditional Chinese drums, or while performing Tai Chi, or while dancing or moving together. I think that's an excellent source of inspiration, and of strength.


As far as preparation goes, I'm certain I'm ready for this test, at least in the broad skills and knowledge required. I've been spread so think over the past 6 weeks that I haven't been able to focus on the finer points of test prep as much as I'd prefer. My Korean terminology is shaky, and while I know my forms inside out, I still feel and rusty on some of the middle Pyang Ahns (Ee Dan and Sa Dan, specifically). I may very well freeze up or blank out on a couple of them, requiring me to bow out and try a second time. I may also screw up a line drill command or two.

I'm not going to sweat it too much, though -- I know this stuff, and I'm good at it. MY resources have been spread so think lately, tohugh, that I haven't been able to eat, drink, sleep, and breathe Tang Soo Do at the level I usually do. And that's OK -- my training has gotten every bit of attention I could dedicate to it, so I don't for one second feel I have not worked to prepare adequately. If I fumble a couple of times today, it's OK.


Anyway, as always test day comes with some papers. This time around I really feel like I punted on the papers -- I only received the invitation with the topics 12 days ago and again, just not enough time to devote to them. Still they cover the topics adequately, and as is my custom on this blog I have included them below.

How Do You Use Neh Khang Weh Yu Inside and Outside the Dojang?

A very large Oak was uprooted by the wind and thrown across a stream. It fell among some Reeds, which it thus addressed: "I wonder how you, who are so light and weak, are not entirely crushed by these strong winds." They replied, "You fight and contend with the wind, and consequently you are destroyed; while we on the contrary bend before the least breath of air, and therefore remain unbroken, and escape." -- Aesop, ~600BC

The principal Neh Khang Weh Yu, meaning "inside hard, outside soft," represents for me the concept of knowing when to stand firm in the face of challenges, but also knowing when to bend and adjust to forces you cannot resist. This concept is in many ways a synthesis of elements of both the 8 Key Concepts, as well as the 12 Tenets of Faith. By internalizing and focusing on adhering to these noble traits we can encourage Neh Khang Weh Yu in ourselves. In a sense, it is an example of the result that we can achieve by through training, discipline, and trying to adhere to the key concepts and tenets.

As for how I try to use Neh Khang Weh Yu, I feel this principal has very different meanings and uses for me inside the dojang, as a function of my training, as opposed to outside the dojang, in how I live my life. In the dojang, I see Neh Khang Weh Yu as most beneficial in helping me to not accept too much of myself too quickly. Between my steadily growing age and the steadily increasing demands of training as I've progressed, I've found that I need to simply accept that my progress will be slower, will take more time to sink in. In the Aesop fable, this can be seen in the way the reed accepts the power of the wind and bends to it. In the dojang I try to keep an attitude toward training, an attitude of Neh Kheng Weh Yu, that is similar. I try to accept that there are things I cannot just force to be right, that I must be patient and just move through, and that thinking of myself as flawless or more powerful than I am, or perhaps than I am ready to be just yet, can lead directly to failure. So, in this sense, I feel that in the dojang I use Neh Khang Weh Yu primarily as a way of encouraging my own attempts to focus on kyum son, in neh, and (as always, it seems) shin chook.

Outside the dojang, however, I feel that I try to use Neh Khang Weh Yu in a far more outwardly oriented manner, largely in the way in which I deal with others and in how I try to conduct myself. In this sense, Ithnk it is more akin to having a kind and generous spirit with others, but also having a solid and firm set of core beliefs on which to fall back when times get tough. I feel that our training helps to instill core values that can carry us through life, but also encourages us to be flexible, to not be so rigid in our dealings with others.
Again, if you look at Aesop's fable, we see how the oak tree can't help but judge the reeds by his own standards -- they are weak, and he sees himself as strong even though he's been destroyed by his own inflexible and unyielding manner. He's still blind to his own weaknesses, simply because he is too arrogant to see otherwise. Conversely, the reeds are confident in themselves and in their stature, their limitations, and their strengths. In many ways Neh Khang Weh Yu then represents our pyang ahn, the sense of confidence and peacefulness that comes from knowing our strengths and not feeling constantly compelled to prove them to others.


Discuss Chil Sung, Their Meaning, History and Relevance

The Chil Sung Hyung, meaning "Seventh Star Path" were created by Kwan Jhang Nim Hwang Kee. Created and first taught by Grandmaster in 1952, the Chil Sung forms are said to have been named for the Little Dipper, which has seven stars, and which terminates with the star Polaris, or the North Star. It is also said that the name Chil Sung refers in some ways to Hwang Kee himself, as his childhood name could be translated as "Star Child." According to the story one night, after having spent some "private time" with her husband, Grandmaster's mother went out and looked up in the sky, saw the North Star, and immediately knew that she was pregnant. When her son was born later, she named him "Star Child" in recognition of this moment. While I can't really find anything to support this anecdote, it makes for a pretty cool story nonetheless.

The seven Chil Sung hyung are designed to act as a guide and path for students of Tang Soo Do as they move through their training. This is why the Little Dipper, and specifically Polaris, are so relevant and meaningful a symbol of the Chil Sung forms. Much as the North Star guided sailors and other travelers on their long journies, the Chil Sung forms are designed to help us to move forward in our training. I feel that the lessons that we are taught through the Chil Sung forms are most evident in the manner in which these hyung combine slow and fast movements, soft and hard energy. These techniques encourage us to develop and integrate Weh Gung (external energy - fiery, with hard, explosive movement) and Neh Gung (internal energy - softer, slower, more relaxed and peaceful. Characterized by water), with the ultimate goal of developing our spiritual selves, spiritual energy, Shim Gung.


Anyway, wish me luck. Hopefully I'll have some nice pictures to show later.

Mood: A little tense

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