Taekwondo literally means “foot-hand-art”. Kwanjannim (Grandmaster) translated it more eloquently as “the way of the smashing foot and the crushing hand”.
2021 Black Belt test: L to R Joshua Orsag, Xavier Orsini and Julian Sanchez, and myself
In each of those translations, there is a common denominator of art or the way.
Do, or Tao, is the way to do something. In every culture we have ways of doing things. At Christmas, we wait till we are all together before opening presents. some families do it on Christmas Eve and some on Christmas Day. Regardless, we open gifts for Christmas.
In the Japanese tea ceremony there is a way to make the tea, serve it and drink it. In Korea, a drink is poured for you before you can drink. And yet it is still just a drink.
Mr. Sanchez axe kick
At work or school, there is a way we do our job. The profession teaches us how to do computer code, induce anaesthesia, perform surgery or create things. Each year in school or work is different than the year before and yet, it is the same learning and adhering to the principles of the profession.
In taekwondo class, we bow to flag, class and sabamnim. In each of these things we do, there is a way, the art of doing. We do many things with seemingly different goals. So we can spar, fight, break boards, do forms, use weapons and it seems like there are so many different ways to achieve the same goal. But is that really the case?
We often talk about how there are so many different kicks, punches, combinations and yet there is only one goal for all of them. After awhile in training, it becomes just a way to move forward.
Even though there are different martial arts, the common goal is learning the way of the warrior.
What is the purpose of having a set way of doing things? Through training we find that there are two basic stages of learning. The first is the intellectual understanding. It is when we learn to curl our fingers into our palm to make a fist, we practice striking a target with a roundhouse kick, we learn the steps in our patterns. We can say where the power comes from (three cardinal directions, and three internal forces). This happens in our brain. we create new neural pathways each time we practice the techniques and train.
The second is even more interesting. Once we have that new neural training,something very special happens to us. The hand just naturally makes a fist, without thought. The kick comes effortlessly driven from the ground, logarithmically increased in power through the body connecting with the pad, board or opponent. Just as we develop tough callouses on our knuckles and feet from training, our neural pathways also become calloused from repetition. Here is where true mastery begins.
Think of anything we have learned in school. At first, learning the abc’s requires so much effort and concentration. And then we find a song that makes it easy to remember! We memorize our multiplication tables and then one day our brain just does the math without thought. We learn how to integrate and differentiate in calculus because it is so much faster than adding or subtracting.
Once difficult things become effortless, we move away from an intellectual understanding to a more natural innate comprehension. Here is where we become something new, powerful and limitless.
It is in this discovery of our limits and exceeding them that we grow. We advance from white to yellow belts marking the change. Can you think of something you tried in the beginning thst was so hard? Maybe it was doing push-ups. Or perhaps how to tie the belt. Or maybe doing forms. And through training, it became something effortless. A new path, the way, is laid down.
Kimanja shae sitting stance
We grow with each belt earned in more ways than just getting new forms and kicks. We become faster, stronger and smarter. Our minds and bodies, especially the young students, grow in ability and power. We become something we were not just the moment before. It is in this process of irreversible change that we mature and grow. We create something that was not there before.
One of our youngest, Colton advancing
This transformation is codified in the Do, Tao or art of each martial art. It is at the core of what we do in our education! It happens in our careers, our relationships and friendships. It is what transforms us from children with moms and dads into moms and dads with children.
It is in the way we approach this transformation that is important. Taekwondo gives us the Do to approach not just fighting but all challenges in life. Can you think of a way training has helped in other parts of life?
Taekwondo provides us a template for all things in life. The belt we wear is not just for class. We carry what the belt represents into all parts of our life. We follow the way in school and work. It guides us in relations with family and friends. This is the way we follow for all aspects of life. Soon there is not one way to fight, another to break boards, and yet another way to do forms. Shaking hands with a friend becomes the same as sparring. Performing surgery becomes the same as cooking dinner.
Similarly in the beginning of training, we discover that there are countless kicks, punches, blocks and attacks. As we continue to train we find that there are only attacks and defenses. As we move further in training we find that there is simply breathing and moving.
The way, Do, is at the essence of martial training. It gives us a way forward in all parts of life. The tools of self defense guides us with every conversation, every deed in life. Fighting, breaking, and combat leads us paradoxically to forgiveness, kindness and love. This is the beautiful peace that taekwondo has brought to us.