Consider this the obligatory paragraph where I promise to be better at blogging and keeping the site updated.
I want to share with you some of the things that are going on with me right now. Nothing life-threatening, but it is impacting my training.
So, I’ve been suffering from a skin condition on my hands for the past year. It makes them ugly (blisters and peeling skin) and painful. I went to the doctor last summer and got nothing but a steroid cream that helped the symptoms, but did nothing to fix the real problem.
Holy Crap. I’m doing really poorly on my blog this year. I’m going to try to do better, I promise.
Until I fulfill that promise, here’s an update on what’s going on with the school and me. Continue reading “Update”
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”
Any new endeavor has to begin at the beginning. The beginning of martial art training is learning how to stand and how to move. Next month we’ll talk about movement. This month: Stances.
Speaking from experience, the best thing a new martial artist can do for themselves is to work hard on their stances. There are four basic stances that I teach to new students:
- Gimah Jaseh (Horse Stance)
- Gong Kyeok Jaseh (Offensive Stance)
- Jeon Gul Jaseh (Long Stance)
- Crane Stance (Hak Jaseh?)
Stance training has several benefits. For beginning students, those are primarily: leg strength, mobility, self-discipline, and balance. Let’s look at each position in detail.
Gimah Jaseh or Horse Riding Stance is a training stance common to most Asian martial arts. Beginners should stand at attention (feet together) and step out with the left foot to about one-and-a-half times their shoulder width. As they drop into the stance, the hands make loose fists and come, palm up, to the sides of the rib cage. Toes should point directly forward, and knees should remain behind the toes. Your goal is to have your femur (bone between the hip and knee) be parallel to the floor. Back should remain erect with the low back relaxed (not hyper extended) and shoulders should not travel forward of the hips.
Gong Kyeok Jaseh and its opposite Bang Eo Jaseh or Offensive and Defensive Stances are starting positions for self-defense techniques, sparring, and other activities in Kuk Sool. The best way to learn Gong Kyeok Jaseh is to make a line on the floor and get into a good Gimah Jaseh with your toes on that line. With your right foot, step forward until half of your foot is past the line. Pivot the left foot on your heel until your toes are 90° from their starting position.
Once your feet are in the right position, your back hand (right in this case) is open, palm down, and in front of your navel with about a fist-width of distance between your abdomen and your thumb. Your left hand is extended in front of you with your hand palm down, fingers closed, at shoulder height and the elbow almost straight. Just reverse the directions for Bang Eo Jaseh.
Jeon Gul Jaseh or Long Stance is very similar to Gong Kyeok Jaseh. The key differences are that the back foot is farther away from the front and the back knee is straight. The distance will depend on your mobility and anatomy. Your front femur should be parallel to the floor and shoulders will be forward of the hips to keep the low back relaxed. To attain the proper depth of the stance, you will need to learn to relax your hips (hip flexors, glutes, adductors, etc.) This position is done on either side.
Crane Stance – I’ve never heard the Korean for Crane Stance, but the Korean word for Crane is Hak, so it might be Hak Jaseh. To practice Crane Stance, stand with your feet together and lift one knee until it is above your belt. The toes on the raised leg should point straight down. The standing knee should be slightly soft (not bent, but not locked either.) Hand position in this stance varies. If your shoulders are tight, practice a Long Block (Gam-A Mak-Gi) with the hand on the same side as the lifted leg in a fist, internally rotated so that the elbow is out, and thumb is roughly in front of the groin, and the opposite hand in a loose fist in front of the nose below the level of the eyes. Elbows should be nearly touching but with as much space between them and your body as you can make. Alternatively, you can block high and low by using an open hand block on either side, hand on the lifted leg side above the eyes with the palm facing out, and the opposite hand, palm down, with the middle finger almost touching the inside of the lifted knee.
A fifth stance that’s not strictly for either self-defense or training is Cha Ryeo or Attention Position. You simply stand with your feet together, hands clasping your belt with index fingers making a triangle under the knot of the belt. When you get into your Attention Position, check your posture from top to bottom, making sure that you are lifting the back of your head, not the front, shoulders are relaxed, hips are level (low back comfortable), knees soft, and feet (heels and toes together).
Remember that the Korean philosophy of Um and Yang applies to stance training like everything else. As a refresher, Um is the soft, dark, female energy and Yang is the hard, bright, male energy. In Western culture, we tend to exhibit more Yang energy and less Um, so don’t be surprised if you need to focus more on that aspect of your training, or if it comes harder to you than the more physical Yang side. Practice your stances so that your body becomes strong and pliable, stable and relaxed, immovable and mobile (um and yang).
Practice your stances until you know the names of them without stopping to think. You also want to be able to measure your stances (by checking visually) and know where they need improvement. Practice moving from stance to stance smoothly and cleanly. Make adjustments when you need to, but make it your goal to hit your stances correctly.
There are other stances that we learn in Kuk Sool Won™, but these are the ones that I focus my White Belts on. They are the easiest to understand but offer some good physical challenges to beginning students.
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.
I am sometimes contacted by people who want to learn something very specific: say, tai chi, yoga or cardio-kickboxing. I have done these activities in the past, but I don’t teach them. Not because they don’t have benefits. They do. Strength training, cardio-vascular work, and the rest all have their place.
I have problems with pursuing these activities on their own, and I’ll outline them here and tell you why I think that a well-taught, comprehensive martial art program is better than these activities in isolation.
If you don’t know, tai chi is a very meditative, slow motion exercise that was based in martial art. It has evolved and become something different now, but you can still see the motions there. When someone comes to me asking about tai chi, they aren’t usually asking my opinion. These people know that tai chi will give them the exercise or meditative practice that they want. All they want from me is to tell them where they can learn it.
A lot of martial artists practice yoga. It helps with relaxation, stress relief, lengthening the muscles, balancing strength and so on. I was told the other day by a well-meaning person, that having a yoga studio near their business would be more synergistic for them than a martial art school. They had decided that martial art was about one thing and not another.
So, wanting to learn yoga is not a problem. Wanting to learn tai chi is not a problem. As I see it, the problem begins when martial art students, or anyone really, decide that one mode of training is what they need. The a priori belief that yoga will or will not help you is a problem. The belief that you need to cross-train in something else (other martial arts, strength training, running, whatever) limits you.
Instead of coming to a martial art school and asking about learning tai chi, it would be better to keep an open mind and ask about the benefits of tai chi and whether they apply to the system being taught.
Experimentation is the solution. Approach your training, and your life, as a scientist. If you read an article about something that sounds good to you, feel free to try it. Experiment with it. If it helps you in some way, then add it into your routine. If not, don’t feel bad about leaving it out.
Another important thing to realize, whether you are looking for a martial art school, a church, a physician, or a chef; the style or system that they use is always secondary to their own personal philosophy and personality. If you are a sensitive person who does not like being yelled at, going into a martial art school that has a militaristic style is probably not a good fit for you. Likewise, if you are a thinking person who wants to actively participate in your wellness and healing, going to a traditional physician who is not interested in holistic practices is probably not going to work for you either.
When you decide to do something like enroll in martial art classes, you should check out websites, research the style or system, and understand the basics of how that martial art works (stand-up fighting or ground fighting, kicking and punching or weapons, do they use pressure points and joint-locks, etc.) More importantly, you should spend some time talking to the instructor, other students and/or other parents. The emotional and intellectual climate of the school is much more important than the number of stripes on their Black Belt (or red belt, or whatever).
Finally, can a martial art program really do everything that a strength training program, yoga class, running program, and self-defense class can?
Here’s the thing. Yoga, tai chi, and other martial arts (Kuk Sool Won included) have roots in Eastern religion and philosophy. This is a problem for some Christians and Muslims. For instance, there are certain practices (bowing specifically) that are misinterpreted as having religious meaning, when they are entirely social. Certain concepts in these practices (like “prana” or “ki”) can also be interpreted through religious doctrine.
The reason that martial art practices are associated with these religions were several. First and most obvious was self-defense. In times and places where resources were scarce, monks often had to fight to protect their lives. One of the precepts of many eastern religions is the reverence for all life. These monks wanted to live themselves, but not at the cost of accidentally taking another’s life. They practiced martial art so that they wouldn’t accidentally kill their attackers.
Second was fitness. Young monks who spent many hours in sitting meditation were prone to digestive problems and muscular atrophy. If they didn’t do something intensely physical, they would develop serious health problems. Master Gene Gause posted on Facebook recently his views to the effect that martial art forms were a technology created to allow practitioners to get exercise, continue meditation, and practice martial art all at the same time. Many of the movements, ridiculed as impractical by the modern “practical” martial arts crowd are all about mobility and strength training. Incidentally, most of those same people who talk badly about traditional martial arts will spend long hours in the gym with barbells, kettlebells, and weird machines with cables and pulleys doing very impractical movements that have nothing to do with martial art training.
Don’t get me wrong. As I wrote above, strength training has a place, but I believe that place is primarily remedial. For instance, I am struggling with learning to do pull-ups. I can’t do them. So, I built a bar in my back yard and I practice them. Eventually, when I can do pull-ups, I won’t practice them much any more, but I’ll climb trees, walls, hills, etc. Pull-ups are remedial exercises so that your body can learn to climb. Climbing is an important physical skill to have, I think.
Pushing, pulling, squatting, jumping; these are all practiced in a well designed martial art program, just like they were in the temples in China, Korea, and Japan hundreds of years ago. We may not train to “attain enlightenment” like the Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists back then. Even so, by approaching our training scientifically; researching and testing our way through what our community has to offer, we can become much smarter and more functionally healthy than we are now.
As always, I appreciate your comments and thoughts. Dissenting viewpoints are welcome, trolls are not. Thanks for reading.
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.
These are just some notes and interpretations from the past six months of training. If they help you, cool. If you disagree or would like to expand on anything, feel free to do that in the comments. Discussion is always welcome.
Don’t use the body to power strikes. Keep stance and body still like a tree trunk.
- Practice hyung slowly and precisely keeping body still and focused.
- As the movements become easier and more precise, speed the movements up.
- Make recovery from strikes as quick as the strikes themselves.
Good workout is not necessarily good practice
The old edict to “work smarter, not harder” is along the same lines at this. Of course good workouts are important to our physical health and well-being, but they are less important than good practice. Practicing the correct moves in the right environment allow us to magnify the effects, not only of our martial art, but of our training time as well.
Working the body hard develops strength and conditioning. Good practice develops skills and develops the body into a healthier, smarter organism. Both are important, but both are not easy to accomplish.
Good workouts are easy. Any fool can go outside and work out until their body gives out. When we apply intelligence and creativity to workouts they become even better.
Good practice takes time. We have to practice practicing. Good practice develops the mind and spirit as well as the body.
Enjoy your stop
This, I believe, was said in jest by Master Sung-Jin Suh. It refers to the habit of building what I think of as “micro-pauses” into your hyung (forms). These stops are not “enjoyable” in any rational sense of enjoyment. They usually involve deep stances, physical and mental stamina, and some level of physical discomfort. Enjoyable to martial artists, but not to the untrained (or under-trained).
Stop and Go
The “Rhythm of the Hyung”. For normal practice, we want to think of adding our microscopic pauses, with immediately moving on with the hyung. This rhythm contrasts with two other rhythms.
- Stop/Stop: The Rhythm of Teaching and Learning. This is the rhythm that we use when we are checking everything in our form. We’re not practicing the hyung itself so much as every position inside the hyung.
- Go/Go: The Rhythm of Self Defense or Combat. This movement pattern requires no conscious thought and happens spontaneously.
Make your forms longer and bigger
As we increase in rank, it seems that there is a natural tendency to make forms smaller, tighter and more efficient. I am learning what feels like the opposite mode of training now . By making our forms take more floor space, and more time, the character of the forms seems to change. Rather than being a race to the finish, they seem to become almost an environment, or a vehicle of some sort. Of course the physical demands are different, but the mental state required differs as well.
Strikes below shoulder level.
Not a lot to say about this one, but it is surprising how hard it is for me to retrain myself to do this.
Five Minute Technique Practice
- DBN- Up to DDMK 5 min
- JKN – Up to EIJAS 5 min
- KSN – Up to JPES 5 min
And no, I’m nowhere close. I need more practice.
Kicho Hyung 4: turn then strike, hands only, not body.
This illustrates a movement pattern that repeats throughout the hyung. “Preparing” the strike before turning and striking (below the shoulder).
Baeki Hyung Stance in 18 movement Dahn Bong
Baeki Hyung has a Go/Go rhythm and thus different stance requirements. This unique stance deviation works well in Kicho Dahn Bong.
Hands free on jump kicks.
By releasing the hands from rigorous positioning we can use them to power jump kicks and maintain balance throughout kicks. We still are conscious of not over-extending ourselves, but we are not quite so worried about hand position during the actual kick.
Problem with cat stance is not cat stance. It’s long stance.
In several hyung, there is a pull back from a long stance into cat stance. It was easy to get the cat stance position wrong until the long stance position was fixed. Once we do that work, the cat stance fixes itself.
Bong strikes horizontally most of the time.
Even though there are vertical and diagonal strikes in Kuk Sool Bong training, most of them happen horizontally. By disciplining ourselves to keep our horizontal strikes horizontal and not “almost”, we see a big difference in hyung and dae ryuhn.
So these are some of the things I’m working on fixing in my training. There is always lots to do in Kuk Sool. We always Need More Practice.