Lessons on Terminology and History

with Dan Bernardo, Sabom

inneh - enduranceIn Neh "忍耐" - Endurance

Anyone who has studied Tang Soo Do has heard this word.  If you read your gup manual you know that this word means Endurance.  But what exactly does endurance in the martial arts mean?

Interestingly, each of these Chinese characters mean endurance by themselves.  But together, it shows much more than just endurance, but perseverance.  The idea is that one can endure something, but still come out pretty beaten up and in a worse condition than they were before.  But to persevere means to come through the other side better.  This is the point of In Neh in Tang Soo Do.

The first Chinese character should be relatively familiar to some of you, it is the character that in Japanese is pronounced Shinobi, or if put with it's usual partner "者", it is pronounced Nin, as in Ninja.  This character is made up of two characters, 刃 which means Big Sword, and 心 which means Heart.  The concept behind this character is that someone is holding a sword to your heart, threatening to kill you if you don't give them something.  So it is important to endure this and come out alive.  (And don't tell any secrets).

The second Chinese character is also made up to two characters, 而 which means Beard and 寸 which means By Law.  This is an interesting character as it get's it's meaning from punsihment. Literally, by law, you are punished by being forced to have a beard and forbidden to shave.  Again, similar to 忍, the idea is to endure hardship and hopefully come out better in the end.

What's very important is that we don't confuse "In Neh" with "fitness level".  In Neh deals with much more than "how long you can run", or "how many punches you can do in one minute".  It does no one any good to cheapen ideals.  What is more important is that during training, things get hard, they get boring, they get monotonous, they get stressful, etc...  It is at these moments, the moment when you think to yourself, "I just can't get this form correct!" or "I'm not learning anything anymore!" or "I can't do this anymore, I keep getting beat."; these kinds of moments that Perseverance needs to kick in.

"Nothing worth doing is easy."

"Easy come, easy go."

"Everyone can complain, but not everyone can get up and fix things."

"Excuses are like armpits, everyone has them and they all stink."

That last one is my favorite by the way.

When you're almost on your last breath, when you think there's no way out, when you think it's impossible...  FIND A WAY!

Cho (初) as in Chodan, the first degree of Black Belt.

I hear it all the time, I want to be a black belt. Schools all over the world claim to be "Black Belt" Schools. Offering programs designed to create "Black Belt" character, attitude, etc... But what actually is a "Black Belt"? Well... let's first look at the history of the word "Dan". The dan (段) ranking system used by many Martial Arts organizations to indicate the level of one's ability (expertise) was originally used during the Edo period for the game of Go. Where Kyu/Gup ranks are designated for students, and Dan ranks are designated for professional players. Kano Jigoro adopted this system into his belt ranking for Judo, which was then implemented by Funakoshi Gichin in Japanese Karate, and the rest is history.

So, with that said, let's look at the term "Chodan", and more specifically "Cho". Sure, it means first degree black belt. But let's look deeper at this Chinese character. It's made up of two symbols, "a Knife" (刀) and "Clothing" (衣). The idea behind this symbol is at the beginning of making a garment of clothing, you must first cut the fabric. Thinking of this, the Chodan rank of black belt is not mastery at all. It's the beginning of creating the martial artist.

You see, as colored belts, you are being taught the basics of the martial art. How to walk, how to breathe, how to move efficiently within the techniques of the art. As a First degree Black Belt, you should now be proficient enough with the basics that you can begin to explore the art more deeply, without the need to be instructed on how to perform basic stances, steps, blocks, strikes, kicks, etc... If told to perform a technique, there should be no thought, no question, just the correct demonstration of that technique.

This by no means is the end. It's only the beginning. So where did the idea of Black Belt meaning a master martial artist come from? Well, you see in the old days, the knowledge of the basics of the martial art really was required for Chodan. And so a black belt was quite formidable compared to someone with less experience. Nowadays.... not so much. This knowledge is replaced with expectations of effort, time, fitness level, etc... that the concept of "Little Jimmy's really putting in effort, he's earned it" has replaced the concept of "Little Jimmy demonstrates knowledge of all requirements, with no help from seniors or instructors".

So, you want to be a black belt? I want you to as well. But not the watered down facade of what a black belt is.

All Calligraphy done by Master Dan Bernardo

Hyung or Kata (型)

The Japanese symbol for Kata/Hyung is based on 2 characters, (土) "Tsuchi" which means "earth or soil" and (刑) "Kei" meaning "cuts with a knife".

The picture behind the symbol of Hyung is an Earthen Mold. And it's this idea, "a Mold", that the true meaning behind Hyung can be found. Hyung (forms) are practiced for quite a few different reasons in today's martial arts world, whether for traditional practice, entertainment or simply a part of belt requirements. But traditionally they were done to mold the student into a proficient martial artist. Hyung are designed to mold and shape our bodies, our movements, our breathing into martial bodies, martial movements and martial breath.

Because of this, the traditional form was compiled to preserve and teach specific lessons. In Tang Soo Do, we carry on forms from Okinawa, Japan and China. And it's very important that we understand that a form is like a textbook, and each form had it's author. And many of these forms are actually named after their authors.

Let's take for instance, Kong Sang Koon (공상군). This form was handed down to us from the Okinawans. Originally called Kusanku (公相君) named directly after a Chinese man from Fukien who is believed to have traveled to Okinawa to teach his system of fighting. When we practice Kong Sang Koon, we are molding ourselves to fight like Kusanku.

Another hyung we practice, Jinto, again comes from Okinawa. Named directly after the Chinese man Chintō (鎭東) a Chinese sailor, sometimes referred to as Annan, whose ship crashed on the Okinawan coast. To survive, Chintō stole from the crops of the local people. Matsumura Sōkon, a Karate master and chief bodyguard to the Ryūkyūan king, was sent to defeat Chintō. In the ensuing fight, however, Matsumura found himself equally matched by the stranger, and consequently sought to learn his techniques. And these techniques are what we practice in Jinto. When we practice Jinto, we are molding ourselves to fight like Chintō.

Keep this in mind every time you practice Hyung.

All calligraphy done by Master Dan Bernardo


Pyong Ahn hyung

These forms were created in Okinawa by Anko Itosu in the late 1800's and introduced into school systems in the early 1900's. They are simplified versions of forms already being taught at the time, such as Bassai and Kong Sang Koon (Kusanku). These forms are shared by tons of Karate styles, from Shotokan, Wado Ryu, Isshin Ryu, Shito ryu, Kyokushin, and many more. This is pretty common knowledge.

But what you may not know, is the order is different depending on the style. For instance, in Wado Ryu what we call Pyong Ahn Cho Dan in Tang Soo Do, is actually Pinan Nidan (Pyong Ahn E Dan). In fact, most of the Okinawan styles have our E-Dan, as Cho Dan. So where did the change come from? Tokyo, Japan... Funakoshi Gichin switched the order of the first two Pinan forms and used the Japanese pronunciation "Heian". He did this because the original second form was easier to learn than the first.

In Tang Soo Do, Hwang Kee agreed with Funakoshi and used this order as well.

All calligraphy done by Master Dan Bernardo


Ki (chi) - As in Yonggi (courage) or Kihap (scream).

The Chinese symbol for Chi 氣 is made up of two characters, (米) rice, and (汽) steam/vapor. The idea is "steam coming off of hot rice". We often think of Chi as energy. And in the west we tend to look at Chi as an external showing (screaming, hitting or getting hit hard, breaking blocks, boards, etc...). Or we tend to think of it as soft sustaining energy, as in Tai Chi. But when we only limit Chi to these two areas, we're missing the entire point.

Growing up in the North, where it actually snows, I'm fairly familiar with seeing my breath. Now let me remind you that Chi is steam coming off of rice. Does my breath look similar? Yes. Chi is BREATH. Because of this I want to tell you that you can kihap without screaming. grin emoticon Yes. Your kihap is not necessarily the sound you make, but the energy that comes from your danjun while you breathe and exhale.

This is why in martial arts we need to always train Weh Gong (external power), Neh Gong (internal power), and Shim Gong (spiritual power). These 3 are all facets of Chi. And never forget... if you're not breathing, your dead.

All calligraphy done by Master Dan Bernardo