Life Lessons from Martial Arts.

Did you know that Sean is a 4th Degree Black belt? He started when He was 12 years old and received his 1st Dan in Portsmouth, from Grand Master Sun Woo Park at Park’s Taekwondo School.  Bellow is one of his essays, published on February 2010.

Park’s Taekwondo School
Grand Master Sun Woo Park

Essay by Mr. Sean Tracey
4th Dan Candidate

Lessons from the Practice of Taekwondo

Lesson 1:
It is Better to Give than to Receive
When you’re stuck in life, try helping someone else achieve their goal first.

On the first day of special training for this new black belt promotion, a particular and interesting thing occurred.  The higher-ranking black belts of this group did not have anyone to assist them in learning their new Poomsae.   This situation became more critical when Grand Master Park informed us that his new rule would be that he would show us our new form just one time, and that afterward, we would have three opportunities to ask him to help or clarify the form or a move.  After that, we would be doing incremental amounts of pushups if we needed more help.

I think panic set in for most of us.  After seeing the form performed by our Grand Master once, it was time to try to remember it ourselves.  Mostly, blank-mindedness happened.  I could not remember past the first two moves.  I saw Mrs. Tracey and the two 5th Dan candidates, Mr. Scott and Mr. Wolfson with the same problem.  Frustration ensued.  Immediately, Mrs. Tracey approached me for help.  I sent her away, concerned that by helping her, I may lose whatever little memory I had of my new form, Pyongwon.  Later, when completely stuck in making any progress on my form, I approached Mr. Scott and Mr. Wolfson.  Likewise, they wanted nothing to do with me.  They thought, too, that they needed to focus and concentrate on their problem and not mine.

Mrs. Tracey then began to help the 2nd Dan candidates with their form.  “Might as well be useful, since I’m going nowhere with my form,” she must have thought.  Seeing this, I agreed, and began to help the 1st Dan candidates with their form.  A miraculous thing happened.  By doing something productive and not focusing on our own difficulties, Mrs. Tracey and I became more relaxed, less stressful.  On subsequent attempts at our form, we both experienced better results and greater memory and success with the moves of the new form.  By helping others, we were in fact, helping ourselves.

At the beginning of our training that day, Grand Master Park told us that as we grew and progressed in Taekwondo, we needed to be concerned less with our own technique and more involved in helping other students with their learning.  Little did we know that we would experience firsthand the reality of that lesson that same day.  When I related this story to Grand Master Park some days later in his office, he went on further to say that whenever he has a student that gets “stuck” with a Poomsae or technique, that he tells them to stop doing it, stop thinking about it, or to stop trying and do something else.  Or, another idea is to just continually do the part of the form you do remember.  At some point, almost magically, you may have a “break through” and remember the rest of the form.   This has happened to me.

Lesson 2:
A clear, uncluttered mind is best for learning and performing.
Pushups as an Aid to Teaching and Learning

Grand Master Park has also said on more than one occasion, that pushups always help one to learn.  Why is that?  Is it just that the threat of having to do lots of pushups and the difficulty of doing them is a deterrent to poor performance?  Or is it something more?
Perhaps, it has something to do with the way the mind and body work together?  When the body is doing the pushups, the mind becomes naturally more focused and clearer.  Doing pushups breaks the habit of “thinking too much” about the Poomsae or technique, which anyone who has played golf, for instance, knows is the worst thing to do if you want to have a good, natural swing.

When you think too much, you slow down the natural mind-body connection.  You short-circuit the natural state of constant and instantaneous communication between the mind and the body.  Your mind is trying to tell your body what to do, but in fact, the mind supplies this information too slowly or too late (especially with something that happens as instantaneously as a golf swing).  Similarly, when you “think too much” or too hard when doing Poomsae or when sparring, you will undoubtedly, not perform your best.  You will not be fluid, spontaneous, natural.  Your movement will be stiff, premeditated, and unnatural.

Lesson 3:  All Boats Rise with the Tide
Higher levels of advancement and achievement become easier to attain if everyone advances.

In the Buddhist tradition there is a teaching concerning a type of being called the Boddhisatvas.  These beings are not of this earth, no longer human, and clearly on their way toward complete enlightenment.  But they are not yet one in the same with the Buddha, not fully participating in Godliness.  First, they must assist others—humans—on their path to enlightenment.  Much like the angels that are described in the Christian tradition, who also have one foot in heaven but a continuing interest in the earth and its people, these religious teachings are clearly pointing to an important truth.  It is not enough for one to become enlightened by oneself.  There is no true pleasure or attainment in that, since we are all part of one in the same being.  The Hindu religion has the same philosophy, and describes it as the Atman/Brahman duality.  Atman is the whole, the cosmic consciousness.  Brahman is the part, the human.  Neither is complete without the other.

It is the understanding of the practitioners of Transcendental Meditation (TM), introduced by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, that as more people meditate, it becomes easier for everyone, even non-meditators, to become enlightened.  In TM, in years past, it took more than a decade of practice for one to be ready and eligible for what are known as “Advanced Techniques”.  Recently, however, with more people meditating, the time frame to Advanced Techniques has decreased.  The Maharishi described this as a result of the raising of the level of the cosmic consciousness, in which we all participate.  He compares the phenomenon to quantum physics, wherein even sub-molecular particles, reacting independently and separately, affect one another positively or negatively, perhaps vibrationally.

In our own Taekwondo school, I believe I’ve seen something that approximates this phenomenon.  It appears that now, since the school has more Masters, and the general level of the practice of Taekwondo in our school has elevated, it has become easier for new students to advance.  Their training, techniques and understanding is faster, more effortless.  In a conversation with Grand Master Park about the differences in the practice of Taekwondo now, as compared to when I first studied with Master Kohee Shin in 1972, he related a story about sparring in the 70’s.  Even world-competitor black belts rarely used jumping spinning kicks.  Now, every green belt practices these kicks.  Over time, perhaps because of the shared “consciousness” of the multitude of Taekwondo practitioners in the world today, it has become easier to achieve and learn more advanced techniques.  It seems true that “all boats rise with the tide.”

These are the recent lessons that I’ve observed through my practice of Taekwondo at Park’s Taekwondo School.  I wish I could say that I have fully “learned” these lessons, and have assimilated them into my life and my beliefs.  But, in fact, they are somewhat esoteric and hard to “master”.  I hope to continue to observe and absorb them, to grow in my understanding of these truths and concepts and be more able to apply them to other aspects of my life.

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