How do you get to Carnegie Hall?
How do you get to the world championships next year?
Coming to class is always the first thing. If you don’t come to class at least twice a week, you’re not going to be in a good spot to do well in any tournaments next year. Twice a week, minimum. Period.
It’s time to set your goals!
The ninth of March is the anniversary of the founding of Kuk Sool as the traditional martial art of Korea. Fifty-nine years ago, our Grandmaster, In Hyuk Suh, organized and systematized Korea’s indigenous martial arts, becoming one of the most important figures in Korean martial art history.
This anniversary is the perfect time to reflect on the past year and make plans for the next. Continue reading “March 9th is the WKSA New Year”
Have you ever thought about your responsibilities as a member of society? What do you owe yourself and the other people in your life?
I know that some people find the idea of social responsibility irritating and even pretentious. I don’t. Maybe it’s the writer in me, Continue reading “Fundamental Questions”
My last post ended with me saying that Kuk Sool Won™ of Muncie might not be the right martial art school for you. This post will tell you why we probably are the right school for you.
When people come to me looking for a martial art school, I always ask them why they want to learn a martial art. These are the answers that I usually get:
- Social Interaction
- “It’s just something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Kuk Sool Won™ in general, and Kuk Sool Won™ of Muncie specifically, focuses on self-defense instead of fighting. What that means to me is that our focus isn’t on sport or hurting people, we focus on helping them. If someone comes to you with aggressive intent and you have no training, you have only your instinct and fight or flight response to call on. When you have martial art training, you have choices. You can decide how to respond to aggression and use the least possible force to keep yourself safe, potentially saving your aggressor from harm as well.
I’ve been practicing Kuk Sool Won since about 1999. I met the grandmaster that year and had the opportunity to take a seminar in which he taught us Zen meditation. (”Zen” is a Japanese word, also used in Korea, that comes from the Chinese word “Chan”, which means “meditation”.) Even though Zen is a Buddhist tradition, there is no religion involved in the meditation practice. It is a tool to focus the mind, maybe to refresh the connection between the mind and the body, and to develop some control over the body’s autonomic functions. When Zen is practiced, new thresholds of physical ability are achievable.
Since that year, I’ve had the privilege to attend many of Kuk Sa Nim’s lectures, both public and private. Unfortunately, I haven’t learned any “secret” techniques like walking through walls or over water. What I have learned is that the ultimate goal of the best martial artists that I know is to become the best people that they can be. Not just physically the best, but the smartest, the fastest, the calmest, the happiest, the most polite, the most fulfilled people on the planet. That is self-defense, and that is what we’re teaching at Kuk Sool Won™ of Muncie.
Are there people in Muncie that need help being the best possible people that they can? Yes, all of us. We all need help. I saw a statistic the other day that Indiana is one of the least fit states in the Union, and Delaware County is one of the least fit counties in the state. I think it’s obvious that when the body is unfit, the mind and spirit are also unhealthy. The lessons we have to teach at Kuk Sool Won™ of Muncie can turn things around. Muncie can become a lighthouse for the rest of the state. Indiana can be an example for the nation (rather than stumbling behind the rest of the country with a pathetic “me too” attitude.)
Maybe this sounds idealistic. Maybe I sound like a wannabe guru or something. When I talk about our little school helping, it has nothing to do with me personally. It’s the message, not the messenger. There is so much information available to each of us now that we don’t have to rely on teachers as dispensers of knowledge. What we need is the community of a school and the atmosphere of learning to keep us motivated and moving forward. You need that, and I need that.
So, should you and your family be members of Kuk Sool Won of Muncie? Only if you care about yourself and want the best for your family. Only if you want to be an example of what humans can be and accomplish if they apply themselves. Only if you have the desire to see how much you can grow and to explore the limits of what your body can do.
I’m not a guru, whatever that means to you. I’m a martial art teacher, but more importantly, I’m a martial art student. I’m better this year than I was last year. My students are better this year than last year. You can be too.
If you are a student of mine or a reader of this blog, then you know that I’m working hard on endurance training. That’s what this article is about.
There’s a kind of “hierarchy of needs” to martial art training. When we come in as a White Belt, everyone has a different level of talent, knowledge, acquired skill, and conditioning. I didn’t have much talent, but I had some knowledge and a little skill from earlier martial art instruction. My conditioning was generally poor.
What should happen is that, regardless of talent (or genetics), knowledge, skill, and conditioning should increase roughly proportionately. Depending on the person and their training habits these qualities may not improve as they should. Sometimes due to injury or illness (or laziness) a quality might actually decrease as the others increase.
It’s actually not uncommon to see this in martial art teachers. It happened to me. We can become fixated on teaching and growing our school, and not train like we should. Our knowledge may increase, even our skill, but conditioning takes a back seat. It is a dangerous place to be. When your conditioning is low but skill is high, it becomes easy to get into a position where injury is not only possible, but likely.
At any rate, as we progress in all three martial art qualities, there is a kind of logarithmic curve to our progression. You might remember that at White Belt, you had to do a lot of extra exercises to get “fit”. You didn’t know enough martial art to really get a good workout. As you go up in rank, that changes. You might find that lifting weights and stretching is unnecessary. My opinion is that to a trained martial artist, weight lifting and stretching are remedial activities. You might uncover a weakness that needs to be addressed and weight training can fix it. Otherwise, proper martial art training should be intense enough to keep your strength, stamina, and flexibility where it needs to be.
With all of that said, I based my plan on studying that I’ve done the past few years. I like Scott Sonnen’s work because he thinks in numbers and data like I do. The outline below draws heavily on his published work.
Basically, I’m going to fix my conditioning by focusing on martial art training. I’m using my hyung (form) training, and dahn juhn ki bub (ki breath training) to work on my conditioning. I’m using a heart-rate monitor to guide my training and measure my endurance. I’m also using a spreadsheet to keep track of the numbers.
The idea is to train for recovery and for breath control. To teach my body how to recover, I’m doing hyung until my heart rate reaches maximum (from a formula), then do working recovery exercises (based on the chi gung-like breathing of dahn juhn ki bub along with relaxing vibration techniques) until my heart rate comes down to 65% of that. I repeat this three to five times depending on how much time I have.
Another big part of the training is teaching my body to control its breathing. By doing dahn juhn ki bub with a square breath (that is inhale, hold, exhale, hold) for longer and longer counts, it will be better able to function in oxygen debt without becoming anxious. It’s made a big difference so far.
In the seven weeks until my next test, I plan to do this training three or four times a week. If you want to help keep me honest, drop me a line and I’ll share the spreadsheet with you.
I tested over the weekend, and while my conditioning was still way under par, it was better than a month ago. I was able to continue testing. It wasn’t pretty, but I finished. I’ll let you know in June how things go these next two months.
The idea of “secret techniques” in the martial arts has always fascinated people. Verbal tradition, urban legend, movies, and television have all perpetuated the idea that there are secrets that allow martial artists to achieve near super-human powers with the right training and practice. Like all legends, there must be some kernel of truth to these stories. I know that I’ve seen some amazing things in my martial art career.
Unfortunately, martial art instructors have been known to invoke the “secret technique” to excuse their inability to make certain techniques work. (”I could do it for real, but I’m not allowed to show that to students.”) This behavior is an indicator that you are in the wrong school and that you should extricate yourself as quickly as possible.
As a Kuk Sool Won™ school owner, I tend to stay away from mystical descriptions of my art and how it works. That said, I do concede that there are some keys or “secrets” to succeeding in Kuk Sool Won™. This article lists the secrets that continue to be instrumental in my understanding of Kuk Sool.
The list is comprised of physical attributes, techniques, and other qualities that made it uniquely hard to prioritize. Here, as I understand them, are several “secrets” to Kuk Sool Won™.
Dahn Juhn Ki Bub: Breath Exercises
Kuk Sa Nim thought that these exercises were important enough to share them in the textbook. That alone should be a major clue that we need to practice them. Practically, dahn juhn ki bub introduces us to self-discipline. When we control our breathing, we learn to “hack” into our parasympathetic nervous system. As far as I can see, blinking and breathing are the only two activities that can be controlled by either the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system. By controlling the breath, we can calm ourselves, excite ourselves, and trigger altered states of consciousness. When we learn dahn juhn ki bub, we open the door to these possibilities. As we apply it to our practice, it helps us make that switch to the non-verbal, creative side of the mind that is lightning fast and intuitive, critical qualities in a self-defense situation.
Meditation: Mind Exercise
I’m becoming convinced that meditation powers the body in some way. My understanding of this is incomplete, but I notice that when my meditation practice is solid, my techniques work better, my understanding of them comes quicker, and my forms flow better.
You, Won, Hwa (Circle, Flow, Harmony)
Circles – If you can’t figure a technique out, look for the circles. The circle (or a part of a circle) is the core movement of every joint in the body.
Flow – “Like water running downhill,” your techniques should flow from you to your partner, and your partner to the floor.
Harmony – Push when pulled, pull when pushed. Strength against strength means that brute force always wins. Use intelligence, practice, and awareness to overcome inertia and work for the best possible outcome for all involved.
Focus on one aspect of Hyung at a time, one piece at a time. I used to try to practice all of the hyung bub while doing my entire form. Now I break my forms down and practice small bits at a time, over and over, focusing on one of the five rules at a time.
Eyes: bright and clear
Mind: calm and focused
Body: soft (low, stable, supple and relaxed)
Feet: slow and precise
Hands: fast and controlled
The stronger your stance, the better everything else will look and feel. Only as I’ve gotten older have I realized how I could feel a difference when doing something simple like walking across the floor when my stances are strong. If I lay off training for a while, I can feel the difference. Practice your stances a lot.
More than any other single physical attribute, strength will determine your likelihood of prevailing in a self-defense situation. Of course, strong and smart is better than strong and dumb. Strong and mobile is better than strong and immobile. In Kuk Sool, we practice lots of physical qualities. If we have a basis of strength to work from, it makes everything else easier.
Etiquette boils down to consideration of other people. Humility is essential, as well as respect and understanding the rules. Etiquette in Kuk Sool combines these qualities and weaves them into a culture of mutual respect and decorum. Respect of individuals, groups, organizations and places conditions the student to think synergistically.
Not sexy; cliché even. But there is no faster, better way to excel in your martial art training than practicing what your instructor teaches you. When you practice, it’s like putting money in a savings account. It not only stays there, but it also grows. Your skill can only grow with cultivation, and personal practice, outside of regular class, is the only way to cultivate your martial art.
These are what I think of when I think of Kuk Sool Won™. What about you? What secrets do you know that I forgot to mention? Email me or let me know in the comments below.
Most people like the idea of being a martial artist.
It sounds cool, and honestly it is cool. What we don’t like is getting started and actually doing the work necessary to become a martial artist. Beginning is the hardest part.
Most of us remember gym classes from high school where everyone seemed to know what was going on except us. Martial art classes can be even worse. The clothes, the language, the yelling: everything is weird. My hope is that this post will allow you to begin to familiarize yourself with at least some of the exercises that you will do in martial art class. If you come to Kuk Sool Won with a basic level of strength and fitness on which to build, you’ll be more comfortable and more likely to succeed.
That said, you don’t need to be able to do any of this before you begin martial art training. I have both kids and adults begin all the time who can’t do even one push-up. Beginning is the key. You can’t get to Black Belt if you’re never a White Belt.
10. Meditation: Strong Mind
Meditation calms you down and gets you ready to learn. We don’t practice it every day, or even every month during class. It’s one of the things that we simply don’t have time for in the two or three hours that we’re together every week. Meditation is crazy important for traditional martial artists, but we have to discipline ourselves to do it outside of class.
I recommend Wayne Dyer’s little book about meditation called Getting in the Gap. It comes with a CD (or a download code) in the back with guided meditations and makes it ridiculously easy to learn.
9. Butterfly: Groin, Core, Balance
The Butterfly is a simple position for kids, but harder for adults. Sit on the floor and place the soles of your feet together. Pull your feet into your body as close as you can. You can use your hands. Allow your legs to relax and your knees to fall toward the floor. Hold the position until any discomfort eases and then lean forward (from your hips, not from rounding your spine).
A good exercise is to sit as straight as possible and put both hands on your knees and press down. If you are mostly sedentary and over 30, this will be challenging. Do not recline or rest with your hands behind you. If you want to rest in this position, lean forward and rest your hands on the floor.
8. Yoga Plow: Core, Back, Balance
Lie flat on your back and lift your legs toward the ceiling. Depending on your level of conditioning, this might be challenging in itself. If it’s not a problem, continue lifting your feet towards your head. Your hips will rise off the floor and your spine will round as you try to bring your toes to the floor behind your head.
It doesn’t matter if your feet reach the floor or not. The exercise will teach your abs to work, your back to relax, and begin to teach your body about balance. Be gentle with yourself and keep trying.
7. Horse Stance: Groin, Feet, Ankles, Legs
Horse Stance is a training position. It’s hard, it hurts, but it makes your legs crazy strong. Start with your legs about one and a half times your shoulder width apart. Bend your knees as much as you can while trying to keep your knees over your feet and your toes straight ahead. Clasp your hands in front of you for now (that will change during class, but you don’t have to worry about it yet.) Your goal is to have your femur (the long bone between your hip and your knee) parallel to the floor. You’ll have to work up to that.
Start with holding the position for ten seconds and then resting. Once that’s not a problem, bump it up to twenty and then thirty seconds. If you watch television, you can practice during the commercials. Discipline yourself to hold the stance for one complete commercial. When that’s not a problem, go for two, and so on.
6. Wall Stretch: Groin, Calves, Core
Find a section of a wall that is relatively free from obstacles for about the width or your outstretched arms from your waist down to the floor. Lie down on the floor with your butt pushed up against the wall and your feet pointing straight up toward the ceiling. Slowly, spread your feet as far as you can.
When you reach your limit, stay there for a while. If you bring a book, you can relax for quite a while in this position. If you have low back issues, you might want to use a couch cushion or something similar to elevate your shoulders and upper back.
Every so often, treat yourself to an increased stretch by using your hands (or ask for a friend’s help) and lower your feet a few inches down the wall. The closer to the floor you get, the more intensely you will feel the stretch. You can use blocks, pillows, or supports of some kind to keep your feet from falling too quickly if you want.
5. Wall Stands: Hands, Wrists, Shoulders, Core, Balance
Find a space on your wall where you can stand against the wall without touching pictures or windows. I like to use the back of a closed (and locked!) door. Your goal is to do a hand-stand (not head-stand) and rest your back against the wall. You’re going to start slowly though.
Begin by kneeling while facing away from the wall. Place the soles of your feet flat against the wall and your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Slowly, walk your feet up the wall as high as you can go. Work on holding this position for ten seconds at a time and work up as on the other exercises.
Your back will be happiest if you keep it flexed forward (what gymnasts call a “hollow-body” position).
4. Romanian Dead-Lifts: Glutes, Hamstrings, Feet, Balance
You don’t need to use any weight for these, but you can if you want. I sometimes have my students just use a small pillow or something to give them focus.
Stand straight with your feet together. You are going to lean forward as far as you can while you lift one foot off the ground behind you. Ask someone to watch you and make sure that you are keeping your hips level. Your tendency will be to allow the hip on the side of the leg that is airborne to rise. Don’t allow this to happen.
At the midpoint, your spine and your femur should be parallel to the floor. Try to keep the motion down and the motion back up smooth and easy. Clench your butt cheeks hard on the leg that’s working when you come back up.
3. Pull-Ups: Arms, Back, Hands
Most department stores and all sporting goods stores sell pull-up bars now. If you buy them new (and not off eBay) they will come with decent instructions for doing pull-ups.
In the mean-time, practice with what you have (not a closet rack, they won’t hold.) I like to place a (sturdy) broom handle between two stable surfaces and use that. You can use filing cabinets, tables, saw horses, anything that will support your weight. Use your feet and legs to help you in the beginning, but wean yourself away from that as soon as possible.
2. Burpees: Core, Arms, Endurance
Start by standing straight with your feet together. Squat down and touch the floor with your hands at about shoulder width and jump your feet all the way back until your legs are straight. It’s okay if your feet separate a little. Do a push-up (see below) and then immediately jump your feet back up to their starting position and stand up.
Begin with sets of five (do five in a row). If you can do three sets of five repetitions, then do six. Bump yourself up slowly until you can do five sets of ten.
1. Push-Ups: Hands, Wrists, Chest, Back, Core, Endurance
One of the best exercises for martial artists, and the most often done incorrectly. Begin by standing straight with your feet together. Crouch down until you can put your hands on the floor outside of your knees. Step back one foot at a time. Keep your stomach tight (hollow body) and your neck neutral. The middle finger on each hand should point directly ahead or just to the outside (11:00 on the left hand and 1:00 on the right.)
The insides of your elbows should point directly ahead so that when your elbows bend, they will bend toward your feet, not out to the sides like wings. Ideally, as you go down, your elbows will brush your ribs.
If you can’t do even a single good push-up, you’re not alone. Even most martial artists will have trouble doing them this way. That’s okay. Be strict with yourself. While you are learning, it is better to elevate your hands than to drop down on your knees (so-called “girl push-ups”.) Begin training with your hands on the seat of a chair, the back of the couch, the bathtub, kitchen counter, whatever. As long as it’s sturdy and you won’t slip. Stairs are actually perfect since they give you a built-in way to increase the resistance as you get better. Simply go down a step when you can do ten in a row with no problem.
Regular push-ups on the floor not a problem for you? Go to the stairs and place your feet on the bottom step. Work your way up the steps backwards until you can to ten with your feet as high as they’ll go.
These are just a few of the exercises that we do at Kuk Sool Won™ of Muncie.
Actually, one of the first things that new students learn is another set of exercises that every Kuk Sool Won student worldwide practices. It opens your body up, massages every joint, and gets you ready for martial art training.
Until that time, you can use these exercises to get yourself ready. Remember that you don’t have to have any level of fitness to begin training. There are no age limits, no handicaps that prevent you from training. If you want to train, but are concerned for whatever reason, give us a call. We’ll be glad to see what we can do to help.
I’ve talked in the past about how our area of the state and country has produced a lot of great “fighters”. If those guys were training today, you can bet that they would be doing Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) and wrestling in addition to kickboxing and Karate. All of these “Combat Sports” are considered “realistic” martial arts.
When we see these aggressive, highly trained people pounding each other bloody on our televisions, we can’t help but believe that their way must be the right one. Look how much punishment they can dish out and take! Properly executed BJJ techniques look like magic and are very impressive.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the organization that arguably began the Mixed Martial Art (MMA) craze, has changed radically in the twenty years or so that it has been around. In the beginning, it was simply a contest to see which martial art was the best against other martial arts. Royce Gracie, the son of one of the founders of BJJ, dominated that first competition and many thereafter.
Over the years, due to factors such as pressure from prominent politicians and public outrage over the violence of the spectacles, the UFC has added more and more rules. In my opinion, while this has served to decrease the amount of blood in the ring, and rendered fewer immediate injuries, it has only increased the violence.
As a promotional agency, the UFC and similar organizations have a vested interest in prolonging matches and making them more interesting for the viewers. By adding gloves, limiting strikes and holds, adding weight classes, and limiting the time of the rounds, they are taking the matches farther and farther away from “reality”.
Traditional martial arts tend to be looked down upon in the MMA community at large. However, m
any of the bigger names, people who came from traditional martial art and received their core training there, still talk about the benefit of traditional martial arts. You can even see elements of their martial art in their MMA fights.
The way that I think about it, traditional martial art is about balance. Often symbolized by the Um/Yang or Yin/Yang symbol, traditional martial art is about much more than fighting. In addition to physical balance, traditional martial artists learn to balance work and family life, personal time and time with others, training time, etc.
Master Barry Harmon often says, “You may never have to defend yourself with Kuk Sool, but you have to get out of bed and go to work every day.” He’s talking about balancing the intensity of your training with the needs of your life outside the dojang (training hall).
MMA is very popular now. I’ll bet that almost everyone has at least seen it when surfing through the channels on TV. Even if you didn’t stop and watch, you were aware of it. Not everyone is aware of traditional martial arts and the impact that it has on the practitioners’ everyday lives.
If you want to train to fight, there are several good places in town. If you want to train for a better life, a more balanced and healthy one, then a traditional school like ours might be a better choice.