Friday, November 04, 2011

Why I Continued to Study Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan 
Past the Rank of Cho Dan

Note: This is the first of 2 essays I wrote as part of my test for Ee Dan (second degree black belt) in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan.

There are several primary reasons that I continued to train after I attained the rank of Cho Dan. The most obvious is the desire to continue learning more about our art. Training also offers me wonderful opportunities to spend time alongside my wife and children as we grow in the art together. And finally, continued training in Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan helps enrich my life by keeping me integrated with our NAC, Region 6, and TSDMGK communities. By being a part of these communities, and by working to help them continue to grow and thrive, I express my gratitude and help to ensure that others can benefit from these things as well.

More, Please

The desire to continue learning new material was one of the most obvious and significant reasons. Frankly, it never even occurred to me to consider stopping. My only desire after I received my new rank was to … keep going. Learn more. Continue. One of the things I love about Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan is the breadth and depth of the curriculum, and continuing to train and work toward my Ee Dan provided me with the opportunity to continue immersing myself in that curriculum. Once I’d learned I had passed my Cho Dan test I could hardly wait to begin learning new hyungs, sleeve grabs, elbow strikes, knife defense … MORE!

Without continuing I wouldn’t have the chance to feel the sense of accomplishment I get from learning a new form: from the early stages where I can barely manage to remember all of the individual techniques in order, to committing it to memory and beginning the difficult, sometimes frustrating process of getting it “right,” to the final steps of polishing it to the level of skill and proficiency that is required to demonstrate it at a tournament as well as before a Shim Sa for testing and promotion purposes. I love these challenges, and the hard work and dedication it takes to overcome these challenges. I can’t imagine walking away from them just because I’ve attained a specific rank.

Training with Family, Sharing with Our Community

One of the best aspects of training for me has been all of the time I have gotten to spend with my family on the mat. Testing alongside my daughter and my mother for our Cho Dans was an experience I’ll treasure for the rest of my life, and training with my wife and son to prepare for our Ee Dan test has been wonderful as well. I know that continuing to train in TSDMGK with my entire family – now including my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew – will continue to provide us with opportunities to create incredible new memories together. We all lead very busy lives, and having Tang Soo Do as a common shared experience really helps us all to stay connected with one another.

And then there’s simply being a part of a larger family, the Tang Soo Do Mik Guk Kwan community. From an organizational level, I’ve made many friends around the entire country through my participation in our organizational events such as Nationals, Weekends with the Masters, and so forth. I eagerly look forward to attending these events because they give me the chance to reconnect with these wonderful people.

Then there’s the Region 6 family. Again, I’ve made so many good, trusted friends here in Texas, and it’s always exciting to get together and catch up at local tournaments, or at red belt tests when Kyo Sa Nim Pugh’s students test alongside ours, or at the dan classings. We’re a very varied group here in Region 6, and it’s always a good time when we share fellowship with each other.

Finally, there’s our TSDA/NAC community. The friendships I’ve made here are incredibly important to me, and there’s just no way I can imagine not being an active part of that community, or perhaps more importantly of not having our dojang community and the friendships I’ve built there to help sustain me though tough times. Like everyone, my life can be a bit heavier to bear than I care to admit sometimes. This year, in particular, has been tougher than most.

Shortly after Easter, my oldest and closest friend died suddenly from an aneurism. I’d known him for 38 years, from the time he babysat me and my brother when we were young, to going out and partying in NYC as roommates, to him standing beside me as one of my groomsmen on the day I made the single best decision of my life, and finally to his accepting the role of godfather to my son Trevor. He was my best friend for decades, one of my wife’s closest confidantes, a dear friend to my mother and brother, an incredibly important part of our entire family.

His health was not good, so he’d moved here to Austin from New York to live with his brother, and as a result we got to spend some wonderful times together in the last year of his life. We knew he wasn’t well, but it looked like he had a several solid years to go. The aneurism came out of nowhere -- a complete, horrible shock. Losing him was devastating to us all, and without the support of my dojang family I don’t know how I would have coped those first few weeks. And without the chance to go in and train, to work through the grief in a constructive way, I don’t know how I could have coped the past 6 months.

And this is, again, why I love what we do here so much and why it never occurred to me to stop training, to stop being a part of this community. With the help of this dojang, and its students, I’m taking this awful event and channeling it into activity that helps me to release the anger and stress in a safe and healthy way, but that also brings me closer to my family and to my friends instead of turning away from them and retreating from the world to lick my wounds.

Better Lives, Better People

I can’t possibly be more grateful to Sa Bom Nim Nunan, to my brothers and sisters in the dojang and here in Region 6, and to the Tang Soo Do Mi Guk Kwan for the ways in which they’ve enriched my life. An essential part of expressing that gratitude is helping those things to grow and thrive so that others can experience them as well. And that, at the end of the day, is the most significant reason I continued to train after I attained Cho Dan.

I always tell people that, while martial arts is a terrific physical activity, what we do here is so much bigger than the simple, technical content of the curriculum and the physical acts of punching, kicking, and so forth. What we do creates better lives. What we do creates better people. Yes, it’s important that we develop ourselves physically and that we learn the skills necessary to defend ourselves if necessary, but those skills are just tools to extend what we’ve learned out into our lives.

To paraphrase something Master Nunan often says, I believe people are made almost entirely of flaws. We are all broken, each in our own way. I believe that by continuing to train, by continuing to work to extend the gains I make in the dojang out into the rest of my life, I am using the tools of our art to fix some of my own flaws. This, ultimately, is what I feel is the life-long goal of studying our art: transformation. And I know that even after over 6 years of training I am only beginning to scratch the surface of this process.

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