Lessons on Terminology and History

with Dan Bernardo, Sabom

gunjaGunja "君子" (pronounced "kunshi" in Japanese) - Gentleman

Of all the things I get asked in regards to the history of martial arts, one of the most prevalent has to deal with the notion that Tangsoo / Karate, and even Ninjutsu were developed by poor farmers to defend themselves against the Samurai or other higher ranked warriors.  This isn't accurate at all.

Not only did the farmers have very little money, they also had very little time.  Most of them working more than 10-12 hours a day in the fields.  Certainly not enough free time in there to train in secret to create a deadly fighting system.

Instead, we find that all of these martial arts were created by higher class individuals... some very high class.  The Shinobi ("ninja") were Samurai (or employed by samurai), the most famous being Hattori Hanzō during the Sengoku era.

Most founders of Karate belonged to the noble class (“shizoku”) of warriors (“pechin”), ranging from the low warrior caste (“chikudun”) to the high (“peekumi”).

Some masters even belonged to the “oyakata” (lord), which was the highest of the privileged classes.  Some notable indivuduals being Matsumura Sokon who belonged to the Pechin class.  He was the bodyguard for the king.  Chatan Yara who was in the Chikudun Pechin class.

Motobu Choki was in the Aji class and had direct lineage to the king.  And of course Funakoshi Gichin was in the Shizoku class.

To quote Funakoshi...

 "空手は君子の武芸 "

"Karate wa kunshi no bugei."

"Karate is the martial art of gentlemen."

So let's look at this word, Gunja (kunshi).  The first Chinese symbol means Prince, Sovereign, Ruler, etc... while the second Chinese symbol means Child, Son or Seed.  Gunja literally means someone of nobility.

How often in the martial arts is this forgotten?  As martial artists, it is our duty to be noble gentleman.  This means more than just having good manners.  We need to be dutiful, trustworthy, respectful, honorable, truthful, etc...

Leave your foul mouth, big ego, showboating self at home... gentleman.

All calligraphy done by Master Dan Bernardo

Taeguk "太極" (As in, Taegukgi - The Flag of South Korea) is one of the many symbols seen as synonomous with Martial Arts.  It is the symbol used to represent the concepts of "Um" and "Yang".  In Chinese it is pronounced Taiji, with most westerners incorrectly calling it a "yinyang" symbol all while botching the pronunciation.  My good friends, let's get one thing straight... in Chinese, it's Yin and Yang pronounced "Young" and the symbol itself is called a Taijitu.

Okay, so what does it mean?  It literally means "Great Polarity".  Tae 太 literally means big, Really Big.  And Guk 極 is made of up two symbols, Wood "木" and Anxious or Urgent "亟" which lends itself to holding things on extreme ends of a pole.  Therefore, the symbol reflects the extreme polar opposites in nature.  Light, Dark; Hard, Soft; Fire, Water; Heaven, Earth; etc...  The taeguk symbol is the most widely known symbols for Taoism.  While it isn't difficult to imagine Korea showcasing Taoist culture, it is indeed important to reflect on this time and time again as martial artists and especially as Korean martial artists.  What exactly can we learn from the Taeguk when it comes to our Korean martial arts heritage?  Everything.

First of all, let's never forget that Korea is, was and always will be a melting pot of Asian influence.  It is evident in Language, Religion, Food, and of course Martial Arts.  Everytime I walk in and out of the Dojang and bow to the flags, I'm reminded of that melting pot influence.  I'm reminded of how big Tang Soo Do is.  It isn't just something one Korean man made up.  It's the amalgamation of countless martial arts masters in Korea, Okinawa, Japan, China, and who knows where else.  This reminds me exactly how much I still have yet to learn.

Secondly, in terms of the actual martial art of Tang Soo Do, the Taeguk reminds me of how my body moves most efficiently.  How to be hard and explosive when needed and soft and receptive when needed.  Reminding me that each technique includes both Um and Yang.  Recently, all of my classes have been focused on walking in Chun Gul Jaseh "Front Stance".  We've been really looking at the hip flexibility in moving efficiently, with proper directional power and stability off of the back foot.  To be able to relax the front hip to allow the body's center to flow forward making the step a natural movement and then pushing that (now rear) heel into the ground as your power comes up through the legs and hips, it's all Um and Yang.

And third (and lastly for now), we must always remember that balance is key to everything.  Our bodies are designed to work and rest.

Don't work yourself too hard, and don't rest too much.

All calligraphy done by Master Dan Bernardo

Listen, I grew up in the 80's and 90's martial arts culture. I have been called Daniel San more than you can possibly imagine. I've done more demo's to the Mortal Kombat soundtrack than even I can remember.

I started my martial arts journey when I was 10 at a tiny school in Belle Vernon, PA called Chon's Karate. I remember starting in the kids class, taught by Master Chon's daughter. I also remember there being quite a lot of Adults in the other classes.

I was always the kid who paid more attention to what the adults were doing than the kids. I spent most of my life surrounding myself with adults, whether martial artists, priests, monks, teachers, etc. So, I guess I never really saw the martial arts as something that only kids did, simply because I saw mostly adults doing it.

I didn't stay at Chon's long, and as I experienced different schools, grew older, and began teaching; I started to notice the kids more... and also... the different standards for the kids. I would ask myself, were the kids always this bad when I was younger? Was I this bad? Even still, Karate was something these kids were beginning to learn, and learn slowly because they weren't adults. And REAL karate was for the adults.

Growing up in this "post karate kid" age, I had heard so many stories of "back in the day" when Karate was too difficult and dangerous for kids.

But, I started as a kid.

Even still, with the schools being predominately kid oriented, Karate was still a hardcore civilian combat system that we were simplifying for the kids to grow into. Karate was still for adults.

Before the 1900's, Karate was more of a holistic practice. Incorporating joint locks, throws, grappling, kicking, punching, limb destructions, etc... It required serious body conditioning, and resistance training to make sure you were a competent fighter.

After the 1900's we start to see more specialization in the styles as sport and physical education oriented classes took priority. The forerunner of this movement was Anko Itosu, you probably know him as the guy who created the Pinan (also pronounced Heian[JP] or Pyongahn[KR]) forms. In October 1908, Itosu wrote a letter to the Minister of Education entitled, "Ten Precepts (Tode Jukun) of Karate". His goal was to capitalize on the new Japanese public school system mandaded in Okinawa by the Japanese government to bring Okinawan Tode (Karate) to the public, and make it a worthy asset to the Japanese.

The letter reads:

Ten Precepts of Karate

Karate is not of Confucian or Buddhist origin. Shorin and Shorei schools were originally introduced from China into Okinawa. Each of the two styles has its strength, thus both should be retained.
  1. Karate practice should be used as a means of self-defense and in order to protect one's parents and loved ones. It should be used to improve your health and should not be used for your own selfish interests or to deliberately hurt someone.
  2. The purpose of Karate is to train the human body to become as hard as rock and as strong as iron (steel). To effectively develop the hands and feet to be used as spears or arrows, and to develop a strong spirit and brave heart through continuous practice. If Karate were introduced at the elementary school level, the children would be well prepared for the military in the future. Both the First Duke of Wellington and Napoleon I discussed the concept of "tomorrow's victory can come from today's playgrounds".
  3. Karate is not learned over a brief period of time. To understand Karate more fully, one should practice seriously everyday for at least three or four years.
  4. In Karate the hands and feet should be trained on the 'makiwara' by striking it about one or two hundred times. This can be achieved by dropping or relaxing (without tension) the shoulders. Open your lungs (inhale deeply) without raising the shoulders, take hold of your strength (hold your breath briefly), grip the ground with your feet and sink your intrinsic energy (Ki, Chi, Internal Life Force) to your lower abdomen (Tanden).
  5. Karate should be practiced with the proper stances executed by keeping the back straight, lowering the shoulders, allowing the strength to develop in the legs, positioning the feet firmly on the ground and delivering the Ki through the tanden, while keeping the upper and lower parts connected throughout the movement.
  6. Karate techniques should be practiced repeatedly over and over a great number of times. The correct explanation (Bunkai) of the techniques should be learned and then properly applied to the given circumstances.
  7. Karate practitioners should decide whether the emphasis is on purely physical fitness training or only the practical use of the body.
  8. Karate should be practiced with great intensity and the concept of always being prepared to defend your self, as if on the field of battle.
  9. Karate should be practiced correctly and to develop the proper strength of technique. Do not over exert your self or over do it.
  10. Those who have previously mastered Karate have lived to an old age. This was achieved because Karate helps in the development of muscles and bones, helps the digestive organs, and improves the circulation of blood. Therefore, Karate should be introduced into the physical education classes and practiced from the elementary school level onwards.

Herein lies the beginning of "Karate for Kids".

But still, Itosu desired a PE karate system to develop strong young people, who could become even stronger adult Karateka. Karate was still something worthy for adults to study in terms of strong civilian combat.

The other week I had a student, an adult (I teach mostly adults), confide in me that when he tells people he practices karate they look at him funny because "Karate is for kids". WOW!

I blame the Karate Kid movies.

Honestly, I've spoken to far too many instructors who were around before that movie came out in 1984 who tell me afterwards, it was a flood of kids wanted to learn Karate.

Due to this popularity, especially here in the states, we got the "Karate for Kids" stuff.

And in effect, we went from "Karate"; to "Karate Kid"; to "Karate for Kids"; and finally to "Karate for only Kids"; in just 3 decades.

WHAT HAPPENED?? Is Karate really only for kids?

I believe aspects of martial arts is DEFINITELY for kids. And I enjoy teaching basics of martial fundamentals to kids. I love watching them learn balance, flexibility, coordination, focus, intensity, athleticism, acrobatics, etc...

But this is only a tiny part of martial arts. It just happens to be all they can really do at their age. As they grow older, the art must match them. Until finally as adults they should be in prime shape mentally and physically to undertake real Karate. That should always be our goal with teaching kids martial arts.

I see this happening in many schools around the world, specifically in Shaolin... but there are many schools that this isn't the case. As the kids get older, there isn't anything for them in their Karate curriculum. They move on to MMA, Boxing, Kickboxing, BJJ, etc... which is perfectly fine to be honest. I have nothing against these focuses. But it is a telling sign of the lack of real karate for adults being taught nowadays.

In conclusion, Karate is for EVERYONE. But like anything else we learn... it has to get more intense, more complicated, more holistic as the student grows. A 1st grader isn't learning calculus. Nor would we expect them to learn it. But basic addition means they are learning math. Similarly, a 1st grader isn't learning limb destructions, nor would we expect them to learn it. But basic stances and bio mechanics means they are learning Karate.

Karate is for EVERYONE!

Ever since the beginning of man-made things, we have had the "repair or replace" dilemma. A need or want coupled with the resources at hand creates a "thing" to fulfill that need or want. Someone wants to make coffee, the resources avaliable were used to create a "coffeemaker".

Then comes the sad moment when the coffeemaker stops working. Are we more likely to fix the coffeemaker, or trash it and buy a new one?

In times past, when the resources were not as readily available, and things weren't manufactured as efficiently and cheaply, fixing it was a more likely scenario. Nowadays... PITCH IT! (Is that a Pittsburghese saying?)

Our dumps are full of evidence that modern people would rather have what's Bright, Shiny, & New.

But this begs the question, is new necessarily better? No, of course not. Nor is older necessarily worse (or better). But the simple fact is, people are always more inclined to want the next thing. The newest phone, the newest car, the newest clothes, the newest tv, the newest house, etc...

So... how does this effect the Martial Arts?

One word, "Industry".

How many times do we hear the martial arts community called an industry? All of the time, right? I'm not going to point fingers and name names... (cough, cough, EFC, cough, cough) but there are quite a few reasons that the martial arts is now a multi-million dollar industry in the world.

And just like that coffeemaker, people are pitching their old ways and buying the new.

  • New curriculum
  • New uniform styles
  • New programs
  • New belt systems
  • New training equipment

Bright, Shiny, & New!

Don't get me wrong, I understand that change is inescapable. It is the only constant in this universe. And in many ways, things done in the 1500's (let alone the 1950's) may not be the most efficient things for modern day human beings.

I understand that our society changes, our psychology changes, our weapons change, and with that change we need to adapt. That's a fact. But this begs a question... Repair or Replace?

But before you answer that question, I want you to think about one more thing. Who is making the product in question? You see, the coffeemaker, for instance; if the company that made my broken coffee maker is an expert in coffeemakers, it wouldn't be the best decision to replace it with a coffeemaker made by a company that isn't an expert... no matter how cool the box looks, or how good looking the spokesperson is.

Likewise, if the company that made my broken coffee maker has no business being in the coffee world, it may be a better idea to replace it with a coffee maker produced by experts.

But here's the rub...

In the martial arts world, it is incredibly difficult to tell who are experts. I know that may sound as a shock, but ranks and titles are quite misleading in the modern martial arts "industry".

Because of this, just because some "expert" is selling a new curriculum, doesn't mean it's worth replacing your current curriculum. Likewise, just because your current curriculum was given to you by an "expert", doesn't mean it's not worth replacing.

So, Repair or Replace? At the peril of creating a false dichotomy, I would like to use two labels in regards to the martial arts world.

Community and Industry

I will let you define those two, or compartmentalize them however you see fit. But let me state that I see more Repairing happening in the Martial Arts "Community", and more Replacing happening in the Martial Arts "Industry". Keep in mind, when I say Repair I'm speaking of an evolution without straying from the old ways. A fix... but not a change.

The Korea Dangsoodo Association's purpose and mission is the preservation of the old ways and it is the goal of old school Dangsoodo to create real martial artists, from white belt to 8th degree black belt... we all train together. Therefore we Repair, not Replace.

Real martial is not a fad. It's not the next best thing. It's not Bright, Shiny, & New.  It's OLD, GRITTY, DIRTY HARD WORK.

Well, for most the reason is culture. To put it simply, in many cultures training was done inside... and shoes are taken off before going inside. It's not a whole lot more complicated than this. But I believe there are other, very important and often overlooked reasons for training barefoot.

Asian cultures are filled with subtleties that revolve around respect. So much so that you can seriously insult someone without saying a word. Wearing shoes inside a room where one could ruin the floors, or damage furniture, could achieve this level of insult.

I know what you're thinking, "But didn't the old timers train outside?"

Yes, and oddly enough we still see many pictures of Karateka from Okinawa training barefoot outside.

barefoot karate

So, besides the secrecy, the respect, the culture, and the tradition... why would people train barefoot?

I have a student who seriously injured a tendon on the outside edge of his foot. It's called the peroneus longus tendon (also known as fibularis longus). The peroneus longus is a superficial muscle in the lateral compartment of the leg, and acts to evert and plantarflex the ankle. Which basically means this muscle controls the ankles movement, and therefore, it's ability to provide structure and movement to the leg when pressure is on the ankle.

After his injury, it was incredible how little ability he had to create a solid power train from the ground. And it became even clearer to me how important the prehensile strength and flexibility of the muscles in the foot are for martial practice.

Shoes are designed to protect the feet, but they rarely are designed to strengthen the feet.

Because of this, I believe a great reason to train barefoot (at least part of the time) is to further develop the strength of the muscles and tendons in the feet.

Also, training barefoot toughens the soles of the feet. Making execution of a technique less likely to injure the practitioner if done barefoot. The last thing we need is to strike the opponent, only to find ourselves injured.

Cleaner?

This is another reason that I see often used for training barefoot and I don't fully agree with it. As a school owner, I disinfect our floor fairly regularly, and I do have a couple different programs that use shoes on the floor. I require the shoes be solely (haha, get it?) used at the school, to keep any and all dirt off of the floor. Therefore I'm actually more concerned with the barefooted people bringing in things like Athlete's Foot, Staph, Ringworm, etc... than I am with the shod people, so I don't necessarily agree with the cleaner theory.

Mix it up!

As always, this is something that deals with our style and our lineage. You will see most martial artists in China wearing shoes. And I'm sure they have just as valid reasons for why they do. There are valid reasons to train outside, in shoes, in regular clothes, etc... When the time comes to defend yourself or your loved ones, I doubt you will be in your uniform. The muscles in your ankles, legs, hips, etc. will all react differently to different shoes. It's necessary to make sure your body is able to respond in an efficient manner martially no matter what you're wearing (or not wearing).

RESPECT!

In the end, I believe the best reasons for taking your shoes off before walking onto the floor is Respect.

  • Respect the floor

  • Respect the culture of the school (or class)

  • Respect the instructor's preferences

  • Respect the history of your art

  • Respect your body and it's need to get stronger and more focused

  • etc...

I often see pictures of high ranking Karateka on the floor with shoes, and I often wonder what their reasoning is? And if they are disrespecting anyone? I also wonder if they are also wondering that?

And if they aren't... why not?

How often do you see a young charismatic martial artist who can do backflips, punch and kick at the speed of light, hurl guys back 20 feet with a sidekick or a punch, and can run circles around the older guys?  Quite often, right?  We tend to say they're in their prime, usually their twenties.  I'm 32 right now, so I am starting to feel my age creep up on me.

I can't just throw a backflip without warming up anymore.  So what does that mean about me as a martial artist?  Does it mean my ability to perfom is decreasing?

Well, it shouldn't.  Instead, it should be the opposite.

You see, when we're young we can rely on our muscles and incredibly high metabolism to perform our techniques.  The problem?  As the body get's older, we can't rely on those things anymore.  Instead we need to focus on making our technique structurally sound, or else it will cease to work as we age.

Watch this video of Kyuzo Mifune in his 70's drilling with high level black belts half his age, and sometimes twice his size.  This is a great display of Technique.
Pay no attention to the title.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pbv2vTBmLs

Will your technique age well like Mifune's has?  Maybe... maybe not.  We really don't know.

Here are two pictures of our Kwanjang Nim performing the same techniques at different ages, note the structure and biomechanics of this technique have actually aged well.

Structural integrity and reliance on proper power train and biomechanics has to be taught and enforced, or else the athletic students will utilize their current assets with no concern for the future.  Martial arts is a life study, afterall.  Look at all of the elderly that practice taijiquan, they are always more structurally sound than the young ones.

But we live in a culture of quick return.  It's almost impossible for a teenager to practice the same fundamentals over and over again so that their technique works properly and effectively when they're 70.  Good luck even getting a teen to sit and think about BEING 70.  Throw in the fact that most schools are incredibly focused on retention, and you get an environment where having kids, teens and young adults focusing on the tiny facets of structural alignment... just doesn't really exist.

Time goes on though, and if we truly want to call ourselves martial artists, we need to focus on the long haul.  We need to be patient, and focus on the little things.  After you read this, go watch some American Sport Karate, and ask yourself... will this age well?

Here, I'll help... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZSaSAf-Rn8

dobok-graphic

Dobok "道着" - Uniform

The Dobok which is called a Dogi "道着" in Japanese, is the Martial Arts uniform that we put on day in, and day out while practicing martial arts. But it wasn't always called this... in the late 19th century a man by the name of Kanō Jigorō was developing a cutting edge way of teaching Jiujutsu to the young, and to the masses in an educational setting. He was such an amazing educator that he toured all over Europe and the USA spreading his new teaching method. This method, became Kodokan Judo.

The uniform worn in Judo was called a Keikogi "稽古着".  Keiko means practice, and gi means clothing.  There is a picture of Kano wearing this Keikogi from 1920 taken at the Kodokan (Judo headquarters).  While spreading the Okinawan art of Karate into Japan, Funakoshi Gichin adopted Kano's uniform for his students as well.  And the rest is history.  You see, before Funakoshi adopted Kano's dogi, Okinawans practiced in everyday clothes, sometimes very little clothing in fact because Okinawa is a subtropical island.

And then there's the Dee 帯 (obi in Japanese) which didn't have anything to do with rank until Kano implemented it for competition purposes.  But that's another post, and something I've touched on before (see, Cho "初").

It is common practice in Budo (the Japanese martial art expression) to call the Keikogi by the name of the martial art, followed by gi.  Therefore and Judo practitioner will wear a Judogi, a Kendo practitioner will wear a Kendogi and a Karate practitioner will wear a Karategi.  This got translated badly into America where we just call the darned thing a Gi.  YUCK.  Don't be that person.

In Tang Soo Do it is called a Dobok because we take this tradition from the Japanese.  Our art is indeed a Moodo (Budo) practice, and therefore we wear a Dobok.  And because it is a part of Do, we have to treat it better than just work clothes.

I remember one of my tournaments I attended as a school owner, I was just out of college and very full of myself.  I showed up in a nice suit and tie that I just bought (and anyone who knows me knows how big of a deal that is) and Master Kim looked at me and said...

"You look good, but where's your dobok?"  "In the car", I said.  "Go get it!  That's the most important suit you'll ever wear".

This resonated with me, and still does.  I can't tell you how many tournaments I go to where Judges and Referee's are in Jeans and a T-shirt.  Some even have the audacity to wear ballcaps!  All while sitting there judging.  To me, that's a total lack of respect.  Not only for the participants, but to the art, to themselves, to the tournament director, to the friends and family and all guests.

After selling my school in 2008, I spent some time in a monastery in Big Sur, California.  It is a Camaldolese tradition which is a sub-order of the Benedictines.  And I got to thinking about the Habit worn by Monks, and the Dobok worn by Tang Soo Do practitioners are the same thing.

  1. They even everyone out, meaning everyone wears the same thing (with difference in color for rank), you cannot tell social class (aka, how much money you have) by the dobok you wear.
  2. They bind us together, meaning if a group of Tang Soo Do practitioners in their dobok were standing in a crowd, you'd know they were there with each other.
  3. The habit of the monks were actually work clothes that now have more meaning, the big Scapular worn over the tunic was an Apron from the Middle Ages, and we work, sweat, bleed, cry, break, bruise, etc... in our Dobok.

So the next time you put on your dobok, think about what it means to you.  And I ask you all to share a picture of yourself wearing your dobok.

Eung-Yong "応用" - Form Application

How many times do you hear the term Bunkai or Boonhae "分解 "?  You probably hear it a whole lot more now than you did 20, 30, 40 years ago.  I bet you hear it in regards to the application of forms (hyung/kata).  I know I am seeing it all over the place now.  It's the new fad.  But I'm seeing what appears to be some misunderstanding about Boonhae, and it isn't solely within the Dangsoodo (Tangsoodo) community.

Here is the problem, in Japanese and Okinawan Karate, the term Bunkai literally means "to take apart" or "to analyze".  It does not mean "application".  Instead, the term Oyo (which is pronounced Eung-Yong in Korean) means Application.  So, just to make sure you are with me...

Bunkai / Boonhae --> Analysis

Oyo / Eung-Yong --> Application

Got it?

Okay, so you should probably understand at this point that as one learns and performs hyung over the years, they are (or should be) analyzing the martial principles of the form.  This is Boonhae.  If you aren't doing this, you aren't actually practicing martial arts.  So, the practice of Boonhae and the practice of Hyung are simultaneous and inseparable.  In fact, most argue that the idea of Bunkai as a "distinct term" used by Karateka in regards to analyzing kata is a fairly modern invention.  Mainly from the advent of public teaching in Okinawa and the standardization of the styles within the Japanese culture, and even more-so... the advent of writing books.

Before karateka taught publicly, there were only a few students who trained seriously and for life.  The teaching was more "do it like this", with the student copying.  If a question was asked about why a technique was done, the teacher would ask the student to attack him, he would show the application, and then move on.  And many of the applications of the techniques were not taught until the student had so many years into training.  This accounts for the subtle variations taught within systems, and even how many students of a single teacher perform differently.  The idea of a codified system really came about after the push to bring Karate to the public.  Even the name of the art varied... Funakoshi himself went through 3 names with each of his first 3 books... Ryukyu Kenpo Karate (1922), Karate Jutsu (1926) Karate-do (1935).

So what does this all have to do with Boonhae and Eung-Yong?  Hwang Kee, in his Tang Soo Do Kyobon in 1958 drew an outline saying... 

무덕관에서는 다음과 같은 원간, 강령을 두고, 수양하고 있는 것이다.

In the Moodukkwan, we have the following curriculum:

Included is 진리탐구 , or "Seeking Truth".

Martial artists, no matter what style you practice, should constantly be searching for truth.  This includes the truth of your hyung.  Be very careful not to get caught up in FACTS.  Fact and Truth are not the same.  There is truth even in legends and myths.  So, when we are practicing our hyung... we should always be looking beyond the names or labels that could get us bogged down into one-tracked mindedness.

As I've said before, Mahkee doesn't mean "block". Therefore, if we only look at our hyung and apply only "blocking" principles to Mahkee techniques, we are limiting our martial progress.

Progress is the key word here.  Part of this Seeking of Truth is simply the natural progression of the Hyung becoming personal.  Every time we learn a new form, you are learning the basic movements, the vessel (so to speak).  This is the Omote "表" Bunkai, or Pyo "표" Boonhae... the Public or "face valued" Boonhae.  As we practice this hyung, the analysis becomes more in depth and our own.  This is the Ura "裏" Bunkai, or Dwi "뒤" Boonhae... the Private or "inside house" Boonhae.

In the end, it seems like the focus of extracting Eung-Yong from the Boonhae as something distinct from practicing Hyung shows the lack of martial principles being taught in forms.  As Funakoshi says in his Karate-do Kyohan  "Once a form has been learned, it must be practiced repeatedly until it can be applied in an emergency, for knowledge of just the sequence of a form in Karate is useless".

Think about it... How many forms can you perform?

Now, how many of those forms can you apply to a real fight in an emergency situation?

This is very important.

As Mabuni Kenwa (arguably the first to use the term Bunkai in written form) says...

"Breadth, no matter how great, means little without depth".

All calligraphy done by Master Dan Bernardo

Dojang Calligraphy by Dan Bernardo, SabomDojang "道場" - Place of the Way

The term Dojang is simply the Korean pronunciation of the Japanese is term Dojo.  We all have heard this term, and I would dare say that the majority of people have, at some point in their lives, set foot in one.  Or... maybe not?

Most places on the internet will define a dojang as a martial arts school, the place where martial arts training happens.  Whether that is Karate, Dangsoodo, Aikido, Kendo, etc.  Some will even use the term for Chinese martial arts schools, simply as a generalization.

But can we call each and every martial arts school in the world, a dojang?  I don't believe so.  And here's why.  Dojang literally means "place of the way".  But, what is this "way" it's referring to?  Well, historically it could be any way, as long as that way leads to enlightenment.  A Zen Buddhist temple where monk's and lay people meditate is often called a Zendo, but many still call it a dojo.  Where people learn the way of Bonsai (Japanese tiny tree cultivation) is called a dojo.  Where people learn the way of Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) is called a dojo.  Where people learn the art of Shodo (Japanese calligraphy) is called a dojo.

The dojang is a place where my better self lives.  It is a place where that better self is cultivated, nurtured, and realized.

But, simply because you have a bonsai in your room and you water it, trim it and shape it; doesn't make your room a dojo.  Similarly, just because you practice a martial art in your space doesn't automatically make it a dojo.  Interestingly enough, the concept of commercially run martial arts schools as businesses that employ an instructor full time by charging students tuition is a very modern (and dare I say, American) concept.

In just under one hundred years ago, the professional martial arts instructor was akin to either a college professor or military personnel.  He was either paid by the university to teach, or by the military.  And those who had small personal dojang's also had full time careers and taught in the off-time to students who paid mostly in labor, food, booze or bartered instruction in something else.  Money was rarely involved.

And if you go back further in time, most martial arts were only taught to military personnel.  You were a warrior and learned the art of war.  Karate was not created or made by peasants or farmers.  That is a myth.

Another interesting thing of note, for the most part the students managed the dojang instead of the instructor.  The students were glad to clean, keep track of paperwork, upkeep the equipment, etc. because they were there for the betterment of the dojang just as much as they were for the betterment of themselves.

Today?  I don't see this.  Especially here in America where the culture is completely different.  We want everything handed to us, and handed quickly.  How many times do you go to a gym and someone's sweat is still pooled on the bench you want to work out on?  GROSS!  Clearly someone didn't care about the gym or the other people in it.

The dojang is not the gym, it is not a wrestling room, it is not a boxing gym, it is not a place to just learn martial arts.  All of those things are secondary to the nature of a dojang.  A dojang is where you are completely focused on becoming a better you, in every facet.  Classical martial arts such as Dangsoodo have 3 aspects, Nehgong-Wehgong-Shimgong (External Power-Internal Power-Spiritual Power).  Most dojang are very good at teaching the first two, but that third is increasingly difficult.

Modern people flinch at the term "spiritual".  They don't want their religious rights violated.  And I agree with them.  A martial arts school should not be forcing students to partake in any single religion, religious ideology, religious ritual, etc.  But that's not what Shimgong is.  Shimgong is empathy, compassion, community, work, the very nature of interconnectedness and mindfulness.

  • When you sit with someone and simply listen, letting go of yourself and your desire to correct them.  This is shimgong.
  • When you jump in to help a stranger even if no one is looking.  This is shimgong.
  • When you clean the dojang even if your Sabom Nim hasn't asked you.  This is shimgong.
  • When you are easily able to hurt an attacker, possibly putting them in the hospital, but you choose to just subdue them without further violence.  This is shimgong.

It's because of this that many dojang in the past also functioned as temples, community meeting places, scholastic institutions, etc. as long as the main goal of the space was to help all who enter on their path to enlightenment.  This is why we bow when we enter, and bow when we leave.  The respect is of great importance because it is an extension of our better selves.  The dojang is a place where my better self lives.  It is a place where that better self is cultivated, nurtured, and realized.  It is the place of the way.

So.... do you practice in a dojang?

---

All Calligraphy done by Dan Bernardo, Sabom

文武 - Munmu

I know there are a lot of opinions about practicing martial arts.  I have my own opinions, others have their own.  And that's what makes the world a beautiful place, you know... diversity.

But when we create an opinion about something do we research as much as we can?  Or rather, do we base it off of a fleeting emotional response?  Or perhaps do we find reasons and/or evidence that support our already held-fast biases?  Does cognitive dissonance drive our decision making or are we open to the possibility of being wrong?

Martial arts is a physical activity, sure... but not solely.  If we only practice physicality (punch faster! kick higher! grip the floor!) than we are only practicing ONE part, not the whole.  Likewise, if we only study and practice the mental aspects (terminology, history, philosophy) than we are only practicing ONE part, not the whole.

Traditionally, in Asia, there is a concept so pervasive that even Kings and Emperors bore it's namesake. (See Emperor Monmu of Japan [697-707 AD] and King Munmu of Korea [661–681 AD])  That concept is Munmu 文武.  The first Chinese symbol 文, "Mun" literally means letter or writing.  This refers to practices such as Calligraphy, Painting, Flower Arranging, the Tea Ceremony, etc...  The second Chinese symbol 武, literally means stopping weapons/violence.  This refers to martial arts, or military (see Study with Sabom Blog Post about "武 - Moo")

To understand my opinion on the practice of martial arts, you have to understand this term.  You see, in Asian culture, these two facets of life are often seen as two sides of the same coin.  A martial artist should also practice calligraphy and philosophy, and a calligrapher and philosopher should also practice martial arts.  They were seen as complimentary and should be practiced together.

In feudal Japan, there was a term... "文武両道 - Bunbu Ryodo".  The third Chinese character 両, "Ryo" means "both" and the last character 道, "Do" means "way or path".  This term was used to describe someone who excelled at both aspects.  This was incredibly important, as Samurai wouldn't even be recognized for promotion if they weren't.

And I agree with this.  I believe a good martial artist should have both aspects of his practice consistent.  Sometimes I will hear that someone is a black belt in Taekwondo and when I inquire about their rank I ask, "Chodan, Edan, Samdan?"  Many times they look at me like I'm speaking gibberish.

But honestly, if you practice a Korean martial art, and you don't know how to say your rank in Korean, you may be missing the other side of the coin.

What's also incredibly important about this concept is that if one studies theories, philosophies, art, etc... one may learn more about one's own martial art from another's theories, philosophies, art, etc...  If one foregoes the study of history, one may continue to spread incorrect data.  On the flip-side, if one does write books, theories, philosophies, etc... or paint, make music, films, etc... about martial arts but does not train... one's work will suffer.

We live in a wonderful time.  The amount of information about history, terminology, pronunciation, applications, etc... readily available to us at our fingertips is STAGGERING!  There should not be any reason for anyone, no matter what age or experience to be confused or befuddled about anything martial arts.  And of course, if you are incredibly inquisitive... ask your Sabom Nim.

You're also more than welcome to ask me. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Shin Chook "伸縮"

shinchook-calligraphyI've been told I smile too much.  What kind of criticism is that?  As martial artists, we have a unique perspective on our body.  We have the ability to generate an awareness of it unlike most people.  Like other athletes (dancers, gymnasts, etc...) we know how to properly move our body to make it efficient in our endeavor.  However, we differ in that we have (or should have) a functional knowledge of how to disrupt that movement and effectively destroy the body.

It is this ability that helps us develop true self-discipline.  The martial artist can manipulate his/her body as he chooses (or at least, that's the goal... we get better and better with training).  And if we can manipulate our body; our mind and emotions are next in line.  Hence, martial artists are able (if they so choose) to develop contentedness.

Interestingly, this comes from balance.  If the martial art you practice does not employ a balanced curriculum (offensive and defensive, physical and mental, hard and soft, etc..) then you will struggle with this self-discipline.  When we talk about Tension and Relaxation we are specifically talking about a balance in the body.

伸 literally means to expand or stretch out; and 縮 literally means to contract or shrink.  Clearly, if a technique is too stretched, and unable to contract at the right time with the right amount of tension the technique isn't as effective (and of course the opposite is true).  This is very important, because not only does it allow us to employ power at the right time, but it also allows us to preserve energy when it isn't needed.

Funakoshi Gichin thought it was important enough to include it in his Niju Kun (20 Precepts)

十九、力の強弱、体の伸縮、技の緩急を忘るな.Chikara no kyojaku tai no shinshuku waza no kankyu wo wasaru na.Do not forget: the employment of power, the extension or contraction of the body, the swift or leisurely application of technique.

And Hwang Kee uses 伸縮 - 신축 (Shin Chook) specifically in his 8 Key Concepts.

So what is this "swift or leisurely application of technique" that Shin Chook implies?  Well, I see it referred to many different ways, but one that seems to come up quite often is "fluid".  I see a lot of people that see Dangsoodo and Karate as more rigid, and Soobahkdo and Taiji as more fluid.  But is that really the case?  When dealing with steels, especially for sword production, we are constantly looking for that perfect balance... a blade hard enough that it won't bend, but soft enough that it won't break.  So, for simplicity's sake, I'm going to talk about 2 distinct types of "strength" in steel.  You have tensile strength and yield strength.  Tensile strength is the amount of deformation the steel can take before it breaks.  Yield strength is the amount of stress the steel can withstand before it is permanently deformed.

Our bodies are similar in this regard.  When we perform a technique, we must have a balance between Tensile and Yield strength.  What this means is "Soft" does NOT automatically correlate with "Fluid".  Even though, many people think so.  Taiji is not "Soft", but it's balance of tensile and yield strength is good, so it looks fluid.  It only looks soft because the techniques are done slowly.  But the techniques are far from soft.  If I speed up a Taiji technique, it will look like what most people consider a "rigid" martial art like Karate.  Same the other way, if I slow down Karate or Dangsoodo, it looks like Taiji.  And it does, because there is a good balance between tensile and yield strength in the techniques.

"Soft" does NOT automatically correlate with "Fluid"

But everything comes back to fundamentals, where does power come from?  It doesn't come from speed or strength... it comes from stability.  So if I perform what looks like a slow, fluid movement, but my body isn't stable (aka, sliding my rear "stable" foot while blocking or punching) then there is no power because there is no stability.

When we practice our martial art, it is incredibly important that we remember to balance our technique.  We must remember that too much tensile strength means less yield strength, and too much yield strength means less tensile strength.  Using Shin Chook on our martial movements will help us bring this balance, and achieve a TRUE fluid martial practice.

sul-onwoodSul "術"

As we all know, diversity is a prominent aspect of humanity and our sociological constructs.  So it is of no surprise that there would be diversity within the martial arts community.  And this is, to be honest, a wonderful thing.  However... when is a martial art no longer a martial art?  When does a style or even a technique cease to be martial and become performance?

I know this may seem like a purely semantic issue, and at the risk of it being so I am going to be semantic.  I believe we often mistranslate this word... Sul "術".  In Dangsoodo you know this word within Ho Sin Sul, but you've probably also heard it in Chinese as Shu (Wushu), or any number of Koryu (old school) fighting arts from Japan as Jutsu (Kenjutsu, Iaijutsu, Aikijujutsu, etc...).

This Chinese character doesn't necessarily mean "art" as we would think of it in the West.  If you are an artist, you understand that there is much to be said about individualism, breaking free from styles, and different forms of expression that can be used within the medium you are using.  But that isn't necessarily what this Chinese character is expressing.

Instead, it's better translated as Method or Technique.  In this sense, it isn't the style of calligraphy you create, but the technique you use to put the ink on the paper.  In other words, it isn't how it looks, but how it's done.  In this sense, it isn't really the art but the science... the technique used to bring about a desired outcome.  Not the outcome itself (though the outcome determines the technique).

If we look at martial arts the same way, we see that techniques are designed for a specific purpose.  And that purpose isn't to look cool, or even meant for spectators.  It isn't a performance, unless you want to go back to gladiator times and enjoy watching people kill each other.  And no one wants that!

So when I see a true martial art, I see a speicific method of stopping conflict using applicable and sometimes violent physical body mechanics.  I see this in my Dangsoodo.  When I look at Fujian White Crane, I see another.  Goju Ryu, Uechi Ryu, Isshin Ryu, Shaolin Kungfu, Wudang Wushu, Taijiquan, Kenjutsu, HEMA, Kali/Escrima, etc... I see different methods/techniques to that same end.  And that end... is not performance.

If you're only twirling weapons around, it's not a martial art.

Let me put it this way.  On one hand, you have a handsaw... simple, sharp, designed to cut wood.  On the other hand, you have an electric circular saw... more complicated, sharp, powerful, also designed to cut wood.  So, you can see there are two different tools (such as two different martial arts) with two different methods/techniques to the same end (cut wood).  Now, if I tried to cut wood with a hammer, even a pretty sparkly hammer, I can even make the noises a saw makes while I'm hammering, it's still not going to work very well.  See, the hammer is the performance (or competition) martial art.  It has ceased to be martial.

It's imperative that we look at performance arts as performance arts, and martial arts as martial arts.  If you're only twirling weapons around, it's not a martial art.  Because you are using specific methods/techniques that are not designed for the martial end.  You are using specific methods/techniques specifically for competition and performance... not stopping conflict using applicable and sometimes violent physical body mechanics.

righteousnessRighteousness - "義"

The world is a nasty place, isn't it?  Full of criminals, liars and thieves.  Even today, in the 21st century we see an abundance of violence, hatred, and prejudice.

But we're different, aren't we?  We are martial artists, these things should not exist within the dojang, right?

"...we are always called to be teachers of Right Conduct..."

We are charged via our practice of the martial arts to ALSO practice our martial virtues.  In Dang (Tang) Soo Do we all memorize the 10 Articles of Faith, and for the most part they are pretty self explanatory.  But there is one that might not be so straight forward.

사제(師弟)간 의리(義理) 

Sajegan Uili

You should know this one as "Be Faithful Between Teacher and Student".

In the Tangsoodo Kyobon, Hwang Kee expands on this with...  의정(義情)으로 진리(眞理)를 배움.

Which in a nutshell says... "Learn the Truth (眞理 - "Truth") following correct Teacher-Student Protocol (義情 - "Righteous Information")."

So... "Righteousness" 義?  To be righteous in learning is incredibly important as a martial arts student.  And it's something we must never forget, even as we become teachers ourselves.  Because we are always called to be teachers of Right Conduct.

If we are true martial artists, we must always be perpetual students.  If we are not bettering ourselves, our students will only follow in our footsteps and quit when they "know it all" too.  And as instructors, we must always be bettering our students... not for our own personal gain, but for their gain, their success, their growth, etc...

And it is this Righteous student/teacher code that Hwang Kee really wanted to stress with this article of faith.  It is really the basis for the "Faithful" part.  He uses the Hanja 義理 which means Duty, Loyalty, Honor and Gratitude.  Never forget that a real Sabom is the example and this faithful relationship is a two-way street.  If we are loyal to our students, they will be loyal to us.

The world is a crazy place, with so much violence.  But if we live our lives with the virtues that our martial art's path has set out for us, not only can can we be a "Righteous" guide for our students, but a shining light to the world.

It may seem odd that a martial arts school would be the place where that craziness and violence doesn't exist.  But we at the KDA believe that the dojang is the place where all of the nastiness should get washed away.  Flooded away by all of the blood, sweat and tears from true hard work.  Training puts us all on an even field.  And through our suffering we are raised up to gentle-men and women.

(Read More about Gunja "君子"  - how "Karate is the martial art of gentlemen.")

il-kyuk-pil-sal

As soon as I tell people I train in Korean Karate they immediately respond with, "Oh, Taekwondo?"

So you can imagine how often I have to explain the difference between Dangsoodo and Taekwondo.

This past week an interesting topic was brought up that certainly needs more study on my part, but I had to share.  It's the difference between the three phrases...

"Il Kyuk Pil Sal"  -  "Il Kwon Pil Sal"  -  "Il Kyuk Pil Sung"

"일격 필살"  -  "일권필살"  -  "일격필승"     

"Ichigeki-Hissatsu"  -  "Ikken Hissatsu"  -  "Ichigeki Hissho"

"一撃必殺"   -  "一拳必殺"  -  "一撃必勝"

ichigeki-hissatu

It's easy to see that these come from Japanese influence, where Ichigeki-Hissatsu is the oldest phrase, meaning "One Blow, Certain Death" which has been translated as "One Attack to Kill".  This term originally comes from Koryu Kenjutsu (old school swordfighting).  Another term Ikken Hissatsu which can be translated as "One Punch, Certain Death".  These two pretty much mean the same thing, and the latter is seen more often now, especially in Shotokan.

In Dangsoodo we use the first, Il Kyuk Pil Sal.  This is an inherent philosophy in our entire art.  From Hyung, to Il Soo Sik, to Kyok Pa, and even Dae Ryeon... and it goes beyond defeating the enemy with one technique.

Because, we all know that killing someone with one blow isn't all that feasible.  I mean, it's possible, but not probable BUT I'M SUPERMAN!.  So should we be taking this philosophy literally?  Well, sort of... you see it's a frame of mind.  We all know that the longer the fight lasts, the chances of you winning decrease.  So it's very important that your anticipation, your preparation, and your mindset is ready to get things done FAST!

But the last one is more modern, and as far as I am aware, a Taekwondo development.  Il Kyuk Pil Sung mean "One Blow, Victory".  This invokes the competitive nature of Taekwondo.  It isn't about killing anymore, it's about winning, victory, sport.

I do see many Taekwondo schools still using the older phrase, but more and more I'm seeing the modernized version for the seemingly less "barbaric" version.  But this really is a huge difference.  And one that can be seen easily by watching the fundamental aspects of sport Taekwondo.  It's a sport, and that paradigm is antithetical to Dangsoodo.

naihanchiIf any of you have spoken to me about hyung, you will know that my absolute favorite is Naihanchi.  To me it embodies everything I love most about Dang Soo Do, and that is nitty gritty-close quarters trapping and grappling.

The meaning of Naihanchi is constantly studied, researched and debated.  Being that the earliest works we have that detail Naijanchi write it with Katakana (ナイハンチ) it is clear that it isn't a Japanese word that has Chinese characters in which we can denote meaning from.

The oldest known written references to Naihanchi are in the books of Funakoshi in 1922 and Motobu Choki in 1926.  Funakoshi attributes the form to Shorei-Ryu 昭霊流 (Shaolin).  Motobu Choki states the kata was imported from China, but is no longer practiced there.  He claims he learned the kata from Sokon Matsumura, Sakuma Pechin, Anko Itosu and Kosaku Matsumora which means the form is older.  There is currently no corroborative evidence (I know of) of this form being practiced in Chinese martial arts.

So why do I like this hyung?  Because there is a big link between Fujian White Crane systems and Okinawa-te (and therefore Dang Soo Do).  And Naihanchi is one of those hyung that really shows this link.  Don't believe me?  Check out this video of Fujian White Crane

Now watch this video of Naihanchi

You can see the grip and stance are aligned in the same fashion, the movements are brisk and short, but explosive and strong.  And Naihanchi is such an important hyung that it's practiced by the majority of Karate styles (along with a few others, Pyong Ahn, Bassai, Kong Song Koon and Seishan).

In Dang (Tang) Soo Do, the Boonhae (Analysis) of the hyung is often an afterthought.  Spending most of our time memorizing the hyung, and testing fairly quickly only to move on and memorize another, and another, etc... It isn't until many years into training does the Boonhae ever get addressed (or ever for many).  And while the actual performance of the technique is of course the first priority, it is only the surface.  With such a seemingly simple and short hyung such as Naihanchi, it's hard to imagine the depth of knowledge it holds.

And it's this depth, this wealth of information that is included in hyung that is the greatest resource for us as traditional martial artists.  Take some time, get to know the form... really KNOW it, not just memorize and perform using mimicry.  Know it.

Study with Sabom - "Waist Twist"

I've always been inclined to look at the little things. To contemplate intricacies rather than the big picture. My approach to the martial arts has always revolved around that very inclination. But I've noticed it becoming more and more important as I grow older, and my body isn't as young as it once was. The intricacies of a technique strike me as the very foundation of the application of that technique.

You hear the words Applicable, Functional, Tactical, etc... and when we are using those terms we are really looking at many different facets of the same thing. And that's the very common question, "Does the technique work?"

Well, it's a good question... but I think an over simplified one. A good definition of the verb "work" in regards to being used without an object is "to act or operate effectively." But to decide whether or not something "works" you need to know exactly what it's intended operation is.

For instance, you can swing an axe and a sledgehammer pretty much the same. But each tool cannot perform the other's job. The technique is much more than just the gross motor movement, but the intricacy of the weapon (hand position, foot position, sword, staff, etc...) So we have to ask ourselves, if I perform a reverse punch am I properly positioning my body to allow the punch to act or operate effectively?

If you work in any sort of manufacturing you'll know that there are many steps to making one thing. A properly made product is not just thrown together. It's a building process filled with planning and design and then assembly. I think of a reverse punch in the same way.

The planning and design are the pre-technique phases... making sure my range is correct, making sure my angle and line control is correct, making sure my timing is correct, etc...

The assemby is the technique being performed. With the foundation being laid first, aka my footwork and stance. Generating power from my feet up through my hip and out through my knuckles. And the process has to be maintained. Because if it isn't, the effectiveness of the act or operation is compromised.

This is is why I focus on the little things.

What are you blocking?

mahkeeMahkkee 막기 is pronounced "Uke" 受け in Japanese.  Anyone who practices a Japanese martial art will know what Uke means.  And in case you were wondering, it doesn't mean "block".  In fact, in many instances of it's use it means the exact opposite.  It means "to receive".  This is incredibly important because it may change the entire way you view "blocking", especially if you practice Tangsoodo.  You see, if you are blocking in a way that is meant to simply stop the opponents attack, you aren't understanding the full concept of Mahkkee.

... it doesn't mean "block".

These receiving techniques from Okinawa-te are much more complicated than just putting up a defense.  Think of trying to catch a baseball without a glove.  If you try to meet the balls velocity with force, you will more than likely hurt your hand.  Instead you cradle it, and receive it.  Now think if you had the ability to take that velocity, receive it, and instead of letting it disperse you used it to throw the ball back?  You wouldn't need to use much energy because you were taking the energy already being in use.  This is Uke... this is Mahkkee.

Let's hear it for the little guys!  With this understanding you don't have to be huge and musclebound to be able to block punches from people twice your size.  Does anyone remember how short Hwang Kee was?  Funakoshi, Matsumura Sokon, Anko Itosu... all short guys!

Many of you are probably asking, but what about all of those times my Sabom or Kyosa told me to block hard so to hurt the attacker on the defense?  Well, first of all, I'm glad you were paying attention!  However, you are only looking at part of the equation.  The concept of receiving a technique does NOT require you to be soft, you can receive the technique quite violently.  But you have to pay attention to where your energy is going.  If you are trying to force the attack in a direction seemingly contrary to it's initial direction, you aren't receiving.  However, if you can displace an attack allowing their energy to continue in a similar direction, you can do so with great amounts of waist twist and power.

If you look at many of our hyung, you can see that in most instances a block is followed by an attack.  This isn't an accident.  The defense is a receiving technique, gathering and displacing the attackers technique all the while following it up with an attack of your own.

Have questions about these applications?  Ask your Sabom, or even your Kwanjang!

All calligraphy done by Master Dan Bernardo

belt-systemI remember being a young boy, very impressionable, listening intently and soaking up all I could in the martial arts. There was one story I distinctly remember about the belt colors told to me by a kyosa.  The essence of the story was that through training, the white belt gets dirty and starts changing colors, and of course, the black belt was the dirtiest.  Vivid images of martial monks training in the woods with rope-corded belts flooded my brain in a romantic fashion.  Of course, it was just that; a romantic notion.  Through study and research I now have a different understanding of the belt itself, and the colors I came to accept as canon.

The idea of formalized ranking in any art form, whether it's flower arrangements or martial arts, is very comon in Japanese culture. However, it's clear that before Kano Jigoro, no belt system denoting rank or expertise in Asian martial arts existed.  It's also clear that Kano originally had two belts, white to represent kyu/gup ranks and black to represent dan ranks.  The different colors of kyu/gup ranks didn't come until the early 1900's.  But Tangsoodo is not just Japanese in origin, instead it comes mostly from Okinawa.  And the Okinawan karate systems had no belts.  It wasn't until Funakoshi (an Okinawan Karateka) moved to Japan to teach Karate in Japan that he adopted Jigoro's belt system for his new Shotokan karate curriculum.  The Okinawans later followed suit.

With that said, during the Japanese occupation of Korea, some of this Japanese influence filtered into Hwang Kee's philosophy on martial arts.  Which is why we practice Tangsoo DO "道", not Tangsoo SUL "術" (Pronounced Jutsu in Japanese).  The change from Jutsu "art, skill, techniques, tactics" to Do "way, path" is the result of the Meiji Restoration in Japan in the mid 1800's, where martial arts were evolving from combat oriented skills to centering on the personal development of the individual.  Kenjutsu became Kendo, Iaijutsu became Iaido, Jiujutsu became Judo, Aikijujutsu became Aikido, etc... Tangsoodo following suit with the "Do" philosophy, did also with the belt ranks.

 

It (Tang Soo Do) is a classical martial art, and its purpose is to develop every aspect of the self, in order to create a mature personality who totally integrates his intellect, body, emotions, and spirit." ~ Hwang Kee, Kwanjang

 

Sam_TaegukOriginally Hwang Kee had three colors of gup ranks, White, Green and Red.  Later in the 70's and 80's, American influence saw an orange and yellow belt added.  If you look at the KDA patch, you will notice that only five colors are used, these represent our belt colors.  In the Korea Dang Soo Do Association we have 4 gup belt colors; White, Yellow, Green and Red; as well as the Midnight Blue for Dan ranking.  The reason for these 4 gup colors is their presence in the original Moo Duk Kwan logo and cultural significance in Korea. It is important to understand that yellow is a traditional Korean color, used to represent humanity in the Sam Taeguk (pictured left).  This is one reason why we use the color yellow instead of orange.  Also of note; we do not include a blue belt denoting Chodan Bo.  Hwang Kee never implemented such a belt as this is purely an American change, therefore we do not include it.

So in the end, be proud that your rank and your belt color has history and philosophical intent behind it.  But most of all... make sure you focus on your technique.  Knowledge doesn't equal understanding, and belt color doesn't equal knowledge.  Get out there and train... train hard!

Tang Soo!!

bartitsuIt's clear that the modern concept of MMA derives from the combination of Eastern and Western martial techniques.  With the overlap being a coalescent for differing ranges of fighting.  I'm going to go out on a limb here, and say that Bruce Lee did not invent Mixed Martial Arts.  Neither did the Gracie's, nor Gene Lebell, nor anyone in the 20th century for that matter.  Instead, the first modern hybridization of Eastern and Western martial traditions seems to have occurred during the late 1800's, in Victorian England.  By 1854, Commodore Matthew C. Perry had opened the island of Japan to the Western world and Victorians were eager to explore and consume Japan’s exotic culture.

One piece of that culture was Jiu Jutsu, specifically the style taught by Kano Jigoro.  Kano toured Europe in the late 1800's and early 1900's spreading Jiu Jutsu; and later, his Kodokan Judo curriculum.  Amidst this cross-culutural period, an Englishman by the name of Edward William Barton-Wright worked and lived in Japan for 3 years, where he learned Jiu Jutsu.  Upon returning to England, he retired from his Engineering career and opened a Martial Arts school.

In 1899, Barton wrote an article in the London based publication, Pearson’s Magazine, entitled “A New Art of Self Defense.” In it he set out his system of self defense that he called “bartitsu,” an obvious melding of his name and Jiu Jutsu. While bartitsu was based mainly on Jiu Jutsu, Barton explained in his article that the system included boxing, kickboxing, and stick fighting.

Growing up in Tang Soo Do, I was exposed to a very clear dichotomy between traditional martial arts and the MMA movement.  Tension was always high on both sides of the fence, each thinking the other was bull****.  As with anything else in this world, we always perceive and interpret things with a lens of bias.  Psychologically, it is easier to become complacent and surround ourselves with an environment that supports our own bias.  But, as martial artists, this is the antithesis of what we should be doing.

“You must understand that there is more than one path to the top of the mountain”

~ Miyamoto Musashi

It is obvious that many in the Tang Soo Do community have become complacent with incorrect history and declining quality.  But I have resolved to make it my own personal goal to not fall into this situation.  I want to read and learn as much as I can.  Even if that means learning that I'm wrong, Thank you Ondrej Slechta!  What's more, we as Tang Soo Do practitioners must come to terms with our own MMA past.  Okinawa Te, Japanese Karate, Southern Chinese Kung Fu, Korean Taekkyeon, etc...  Tang Soo Do.

Hate, arrogance, ego, stubbornness; I'm not sure a martial artist can be successful by harboring these qualities.  It's okay to not know how to use a sword, don't claim you do.  It's okay to not know how to grapple, don't claim you do.  Instead, find an instructor that does and train.

Become a white belt again.  I guarantee it will make your Tang Soo Do better.

Sabom "師範" - Master Instructor

sabomMaster, we like that word.  It has so much meaning for us here in the West.  The word comes from the late Old English mægester "one having control or authority," from the Latin magister (n.) "chief, head, director".  In the late 14th century it took on a meaning referring to a degree conveying authority to teach in the universities.  The idea of "Mastering" something, aka "to get the better of" is from the early 13th century, and that of "to acquire complete knowledge" is from the 1740's.

The idea of control, authority, complete knowledge, etc... is a pretty desirable characteristic.  And we use this term a lot, Master Plumber, Master Pianist, Master Carpenter, etc... and when the Western world was taking note of the Asian martial artists, mastery was noticed and the term was used.

But what does Sabom actually mean?  It certainly doesn't mean Master, at least not in the sense we're used to here in the West.  Sabom is a term that comes from China where it is pronounced Shifan, in Japanese it is pronounced Shihan.  It is made up of two Chinese characters, "Sa" meaning teacher, and "Bom" meaning Model or Example.

Sa "師" is made up of two characters, 古 meaning Ancient or Classical, and 匝 which means Circle.  The idea is that a teacher takes things that are ancient, and surrounds you with them.

Bom "範" is made up of two characters, 車 meaning Cart and 范 meaning Law.  Originally meaning "Sacrificing to the road gods", this symbol now means Example or Model.

Some will confuse the term Sabom 師範 with the Chinese term for martial arts teacher Sifu 師傅 (師父), they are incredibly close in meaning, but the latter in Korean is pronounced Sabu 사부, and I find many Tang Soo Do practitioners incorrectly using this spelling.

So what is a Sabom if it isn't master?  Well, it's someone who leads by example.  Who is a model for students.  Not someone who gives orders from the front of the Dojang, but someone who trains regularly with the students, and of course is a Gunja "君子" or Gentleman.  A father-figure, a mentor, a guide, a leader, etc...  Not someone who knows everything, or has "mastered" anything.

A real Sabom is never a "Do as I say, not as I do" person.  It is a term of endearance, and one earned by the example one sets, not only in technique but life.

All calligraphy done by Master Dan Bernardo