Was: Cleaning Day, Now: A New Day

This is a strange post to be writing.

Initially, I was going to request everyone’s help next month to spruce up the school. I wanted to take a Saturday afternoon in the middle of May and do some painting, plant some flowers, etc. Here’s the email that I sent to the Senior Center.

Hi Judy,

Thank you for getting the floor cleaned so quickly last week. I don’t like to complain. The floor is usually bad after the weekend, but it was particularly awful that day. Continue reading “Was: Cleaning Day, Now: A New Day”

A Look Back at Twelve Years

Tomorrow Kuk Sool Won of Muncie will officially celebrate its twelfth anniversary! We had our first class on April first, 2005. We didn’t have any regular students yet, we hadn’t finished painting, and we didn’t have the carpet down.

My little sister, Trinity was there in her new uniform, along with my kids and my wife, Shil Jang Nim Krystal. Continue reading “A Look Back at Twelve Years”

Martial Arts and Muncie Community Schools

There are no two ways about it: Muncie Community Schools are in trouble. I won’t go into my personal opinions, but the bottom line is that teachers and students are going to suffer through no fault of their own.
People are trying to get to the bottom of the financial situation, and people are working to move forward in some fashion, figuring out ways to keep the system afloat and working through the next school year. As a martial art school owner, I don’t have much to offer any of those people, but I may have something for the teachers and students who are affected the most in this crisis. Continue reading “Martial Arts and Muncie Community Schools”

Reblog: Students or Members?

I’m sharing a little post that I wrote a few months ago. Take some time to think about your relationship with your school. Taking care of your martial art school is an essential part of training.


 

As I work on longer, more involved blog articles, I wanted to take a moment this weekend to share some perspective with my students and parents. I have shared this before, but it’s important. Thanks for taking just a minute to read this post. Continue reading “Reblog: Students or Members?”

Why Everyone in Muncie Should Train at Kuk Sool Won™ of Muncie

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:

  • Self-Defense
  • Discipline
  • Fighting
  • Fitness
  • 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, Blackbelt Familyand 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.

Ten Exercises that will Make Taking Martial Art Classes More Fun and Less Scary

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 MEDITATEmonth 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 HorseStancefemur (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 atburpee-funny-pic1 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.

Master Jedi are known to practice "no-hand" push-ups.
Master Jedi are known to practice “no-hand” push-ups.

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.

Resources:

Wayne Dyer: Getting In the Gap 
Yoga Plough Tutorial
One-Legged Romanian Dead-Lift
Burpees
Push-Ups Tutorial

When You Care Enough to Train the Very Best

Adults of all sizes and shapes train in Kuk Sool Won I’ve practiced martial art for a while now. I’ve seen people of lots of different sizes and shapes train. I’ve seen very fit, athletic people who definitely looked the part of the martial artist, and I’ve seen men and women who would be considered obese do amazing things that almost defy reason.

As a society, we are struggling with an epidemic of obesity. Obese people, who by definition fall outside the range of “normal” are hesitant to take part in any activity that seems tailored for those who are fit and athletic. Fear, of course, is what keeps them away. Fear of failure, ridicule, self-loathing, etc. keep people from activities that could have life-changing benefits.

My school is made up of outliers. There are almost no students who fit the stereotypical image of “Martial Artist”. We’re all too heavy or too light, too tall, too old, too shy, too smart, too clumsy, or too whatever.

I have a lot of love and respect for Asian cultures. The Confucian ideals of putting the self last and elders and groups first gives them many advantages. One strength that we have here in the West is that we embrace the individual. In traditional martial art training, we walk a knife-edge of balance between honoring ourselves as people and honoring our teachers and the groups to which we belong. I think that understanding this duality is what makes American martial artists some of the best in the world. 

Likewise, embracing the duality of beginning an activity that requires fitness when one is not fit requires delicate balance. Using martial art training to help meet fitness goals is smart, but also just a bit dangerous. We have to stay aware of limitations until we overcome them. Martial art training, like other physical pursuits, can help with problems like anxiety, anger issues, depression, and social awkwardness. The trick is in knowing how to train to overcome those problems. A good instructor will be able to help you with those things.

A bad instructor will have no idea what you are talking about and tell you to “Suck it up and get back to work.” Or something along those lines.

We are NOT the right school for everyone. If you want to find out if we’re right for you, we offer a free, one week introductory course. You’ll learn about us as instructors, our martial art Kuk Sool Won, and meet and train with people like yourself. If after a week you want to walk away and try somewhere else, that is perfectly ok with us. After us, I suggest you try the Karate school that trains at the YMCA. They are good people.

Whatever you do, wherever you go, please don’t act out of fear. Joining a martial art school is an act of love. Love yourself and your family enough to explore that choice.2006 Martial Art Testing Photo

Americanized

KyoSaNim Ken

Have you ever hear someone use the word “Americanized” as an insult? Maybe not directly, but in an insulting way?

I have, and it’s getting harder for me to keep quiet about it when it happens. Here’s why.

When someone laments the “Americanization” of something, they are speaking from a culturally conservative point of view. They feel like the old ways are becoming extinct. American Popular Culture is replacing traditional culture. While I agree that this is a regrettable process in many ways, to blame this on America (as a whole) is lazy and misguided.

The thing is, this very conservative view assumes that Pop-Culture and maybe current trends and styles represent “America”.

The qualities that define America are much deeper than the disposable pop-culture that most people see as “American”. In my view, America is about:

  • Integrity
  • Passion
  • Innovation
  • Determination
  • Ingenuity
  • Exploration
  • Inspiration

Obviously not all Americans nor everything American have every one of these qualities. We need look no further than the early rape of the indigenous cultures of the American continents to see this. And it still continues. Those in power abuse their authority in the face of American ideals. Look up Leonard Peltier for an example.

Pop Culture is about none of these ideals. It is primarily about making money. Some of those involved in the creative side of things might be coming from a place of creativity (innovation and passion) but I see much more exploitation than anything else.

Our forefathers and mothers came here to make things better for themselves and their descendants. I know that I’m an optimist, but I still look at things in that respect. If we are to honor the best of what our ancestors stood for, then we should explore that spirit of adventure that they must have possessed.

We need to:

  • show integrity in our business and personal relationships.
  • learn what ignites our passion and build our lives around that.
  • live the spirit of innovation in our daily lives.
  • decide what we want out of life and exercise our determination in filling our goals.
  • use our ingenuity to make things happen.
  • explore possibilities in our own lives.
  • inspire our children to be better people than we are or can even conceive of being.

Finally, I humbly submit that the world needs more Americanization, not less. Not the fast food, plasticized, high-octane pop-culture, but the values that led people to explore and make things better. Not the pillaging of a continent, but the quest for a better tomorrow. Not glossy marketing, but close relationships and creativity. Not frantic homogeneity, but individual expressions of truth and honoring the same in others. That is the best of America.