My practice of Taekwondo is a cultural and philosophical pursuit (OK, some may claim that I say that only because I can’t fight nuts, and am only using that as a cop-out. Very well then, I can’t fight nuts. Acknowledged and admitted. Let’s move on)
As mentioned, my pursuit of Taekwondo is a cultural and philosophical thing. It’s a way I explore and pursue creative expression. I’m more Art than Martial, perhaps. And in that pursuit, poomsae, to me, is to Taekwondo what poetry is to English. A way to express myself (yes, I can write poetry, in case anyone is wondering; not that they would)
But some would say, “how can you call that self-expression when it is so structured and unwavering? Why not just “do it my way?”. And yet, every artistic pursuit must have its structure before one can transcend and go beyond that structure to free and independent expression.
Without structure, how can there be free expression? Without cold, how will one know warmth?
And to explore any art form, and master it, one must go into its depths, to touch its soul, before one can even begin to transcend it. To touch only one aspect of an art, and then to call that aspect the whole of the art, is to call what is merely partial the Totality.
Perhaps for some it is sufficient. But not for me.
Perhaps it is an impossible goal; but it is worth striving for. How else shall a man live, if not in pursuit of something so “out there” and yet at the same time so “in here”?
So poomsae is a structure and platform; it enables me to go beyond, to transcend itself, to go…where? I don’t know. And that is the joy. The joy of discovery.
I remember once practising Sanchin, Tensho and Seiunchin (yes, katas from Goju-ryu) with two other instructors from two different disciplines: Goju-ryu and Silat Gayong. We had never trained together before, although we knew the katas. We were at a multi-sport camp, prior to a major biennial multi-game festival. After a full day of activities, the three of us gathered at a beach, just chatting and stretching a bit. The other coaches (soccer, hockey, volleybal, track-and-field, etc) were also hanging around. Those guys must have thought we were obsessed martial kooks. I mean, after a full day’s activities and these guys are still doing martial arts? C’mon!
It was evening, and the sun was just setting. There was a little hush over the place (or so it seemed after the three of us did some breathing exercises) Then we started moving into Sanchin; no dynamic tension, just slow rhythmic breathing and movement, like Taiji, but a bit “harder”.
We moved in unison, the three of us. First Sanchin, then Tensho, and finally Seiunchin. We breathed, we moved, and the sun was setting. It was very meditative, and it was beautiful, meaningful. When we finished, the other coaches were silent and hushed (At that time, I liked to think that they were moved to breathlessness by our total awesomess, to quote Po, the Kungfu Panda). Not because we did a good job, but because we thoroughly enjoyed the practice and because we seemed so meditative.
But more importantly, when we finished and looked at each other, we knew that we CONNECTED during that performance, and we were awed by that experience, knowing that somehow through an act that was merely physical, were connected at a level that could be called spiritual.
It was almost like…worship (Blasphemy!)
Since then, I have sought to find kindred spirits with whom I can practise in such a way, although I have not met with much success. But it is an experience I shall not soon forget.
To me, poomsae is a meaningful practice. It is a dance of rhythmic motion where I express myself, and it is a song of the soul where I sing my heart out. Fanciful? Perhaps. But it is, after all, MY Taekwondo, and I choose to do it this way, and not just the “kick-kick, punch-punch, go home” way (nothing wrong with that, mind you. Just not my cup of tea)
So, yeah, I can’t fight nuts, but heck I sure can dance!