I had two interesting conversations recently. At first they seemed to be on different topics. However, in my mind I saw a connection.
The first conversation revolved around the serenity prayer.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
In Tae Kwon Do, there is much we can control and some we cannot. Our size, for example, we cannot control. However, how much or how often we practice we can control. Our flexibility, we cannot control immediately, but we have the power to change it over time. And then it hit me - the wisdom is not just knowing to accept what we cannot change, but understanding that what we can change may not always be immediate. In this world of instant everything, time and patience are often forgotten. A black belt is not earned overnight, but over months and years of investment and dedication, just like a successful career, a degree, or a successful marriage. In fact, any relationship requires understanding that investment and power to develop and improve, despite setbacks.
The second conversation involved understanding how to execute a particular technique. The student understood everything that was said, and even every step in the process. However, the sum of the parts - the correct and successful execution of the technique, step by step, required more. Immediate understanding, a.k.a. "being a natural", is not something over which we have control. However, perseverance to practice in order to help that intellectual understanding become a feeling which we can internalize and take ownership for, that is something that we can change.
Labels of "smart" and "dumb", "slow" or "quick learner", should not define us. We should not accept such titles, though we may not be able to control if people use them. However, we can change whether or not those labels are apt. Over time, we can move beyond the rote steps to find inner truths about Tae Kwon Do and ourselves. And that is what makes Tae Kwon Do a martial art.
Why do I practice?
This is a question that all students ask themselves at some time. The answer often changes, for some from month to month, and for others from day to day. The struggle to continue to move forward and progress can sometimes be daunting. The dream of a new belt can motivate students. The desire to be better than others can be a drive, too. The greatest inspiration is the desire to be better than oneself - to recognize and tap into one's own potential.
At my level, as a 5th degree black belt, I find motivation in a few places:
My teacher - I want to make him proud and be worthy of his guidance
My students - I want to make them proud and to model for them a path
Myself - I want to be better than I was a month ago, or even yesterday, and only hard work on a consistent basis has the potential to yield that result, which, if done well, will successfully fulfill the previous mentioned factors.
So, as we head into the fall, I wanted to send out some guiding motivation to those who, like me, are involved in the continual struggle to be my best.
As always, thank you.
Recently, some former students have reached out to me either through email, stopping by, or even returning to practice. Some students have been away for a few months, and others a year or more.
My goal in opening our studio was not just to teach Tae Kwon Do, but to create a place where people want to be. I get to thank my teacher for providing the safety and security of friendship and "home" by striving to provide the same to others.
These multiple communications indicate to me that I am on the path to success. However, I realize that this accomplishment was not at all achieved alone. I have had the consistent luck and support of great individuals and families to help build and foster this community. To all of you, I say thank you.
May we continue to find the best in ourselves while helping others do the same. Have a great summer!
A mother recently asked me what I am teaching her son. Well, in the simplest terms, I am teaching him how to kick, punch, block, free spar, and practice traditional movements. I am teaching him how to fight (the martial) and how to respect his body, tradition, and Tae Kwon Do (the art). Our school of Tae Kwon Do is a true martial art in that the fighting that is inherently a part of our contact sport is not the sole focus of our practice. We pursue improvement and self-awareness. We strive to learn how to be better than ourselves. There is no scoreboard or referee pressuring us. We practice an art with the hope that as we uncover its many secrets and layers, we gain insight into our own complex secrets and layers. As we get to know our bodies - our most immediate interaction with the physical world - we develop an understanding and relationship with our bodies, and our selves. Black belt, or any belt, is not a goal, but a step in the process of realizing our potential and becoming the better person that we aspire to be. Does her eight-year old son learn all this? I hope so. Can he articulate it like this? I doubt it. Does he play basketball a little better since he first put on his uniform? His parents think so. Has he learned to face his own adversity with more courage and confidence? We all see that that is so. Does he know how to defend himself? Yes. Does he know how to gain perspective and how to protect his heart? Definitely more than he used to.
I think most importantly, I have seen this young man internalize the desire to improve and be better. His belts are not merely trophies to collect, but personal victories to work for and to use to gauge and self-reflect on his progress.
I hope that I am teaching my students what my teacher has taught me - I must love myself, but only hard work, respect, and focus will help me love myself humbly and deservedly. Thus is the art of Tae Kwon Do.
Wow! It is December already! Holiday season is in full swing.
In my family, we do not give presents on birthdays or holidays. For these times of celebration, we spend time together and celebrate. We do give gifts to one another, but not when we are "required" to do so. Instead, when the mood hits us, or the right gift presents itself to us, we buy things for one another. The "requirement" or the "amount" are never part of a Magi-like calculation. We try to give and receive in the spirit of the intention and our knowledge of the relationship of giver and receiver.
So, what does this little query of mine have to do with Tae Kwon Do? Well, I am lucky enough to get up every morning with the responsibility of teaching something I love to people of all ages whom I love. There are few gifts greater in the world. I view my relationship with my students and their loved ones as a privilege and responsibility. I am so lucky to have people share of themselves with me; so I must ensure that I honor this gift. Respect is a two-way street. Our studio is filled with individuals who honor and respect one another, the place where we practice, and the art of Tae Kwon Do. No one will find me a greater gift this holiday season, and I am lucky enough to receive this gift almost every day of the year. Of course, there are always challenges before me and in our community, but there is nothing special about me which would cause me to believe that I deserve an easier path than any one else. My clouds always have the silver lining of being a Tae Kwon Do instructor with high caliber students. Thank you.