Must the Instructor Always Wear A Dobok?

The dobok (and the belt) is not a talisman. It does not imbue its wearer with “special powers” that he did not have before donning the dobok. Still, it is a symbol of our Way…and really gets its meaning as we go through the bitter, the sweet, the sour and the spicy aspects of training and life.

White symbolizes purity, black symbolizes experience. As we train, as we learn and as we wade our way through the blood, sweat and tears, the dobok gets imbued with more and more meaning…indeed, with our very soul and spirit.

A new dobok, given to a white belt has yet to to “receive its spirit”, because the wearer’s own spirit itself has yet to be tempered in the fire of experience. That is why we as instructors have to teach them to respect their dobok and belt. As they go on their journey, hopefully they will gain lustre and strength through the tempering of training.

All true instructors would have gone through this and know what it means.

The sword of the samurai is said to be his soul…and yet a new sword is just so much tempered steel and nothing much else…except that it’s initial “spirit” would (I believe) carry some of the influence of the “life condition” of the master sword-maker at the time he made the sword. After that, the spirit of the sword depends entirely on the samurai himself. Likewise our doboks. The “spirit” of our doboks depend entirely on us.

If we take a frivolous attitude towards our training, then our doboks would not have much meaning for us. If we take a meaningful approach to our training, then our doboks would have much meaning for us.

Still, our doboks are just symbols…they are not “gods” that must be appeased at all costs. The meaning of our doboks is the meaning we give them. The man (and the woman) makes the dobok, not the other way around. So, while we must respect our doboks, we must not be constrained by a narrow interpretation of their meanings. As I said in another post somewhere, we must give our students Roots and Wings. Our doboks give us some of the Roots of our tradition, and at the same time, should encourage us to sprout Wings that free us to explore.

To me, training in the dobok is a time we connect with the Roots and Traditions of our Teachers, while training without the dobok is a time we give ourselvs freedom explore not only techniques and tactics, but also freedom of mind and spirit. 

Both ways are messages to our students: 1) Respect tradition and teachers, and 2) Be free and find your own Way.

Both must be present in a true martial artist.

There is some truth to what the ohters have said about “dobok = traditional Taekwondo”, while non-dobok (i.e. sportswear = sport Taekwondo)

Let me explain my perspective.

When I teach MA fundamentals (or when a class focuses on fundamentals), I always wear a dobok (or gi). Students will know when I’m dead serious and will brook no deviation from the standard. No talking, no running, no playing, no deviation. Keep quiet and do as I say (Not that I always succeed in this, but I try…lol). All in all, the class will be somewhat formal and a bit sombre and students usually dare not do much “out-of-the-box” or try new things. That’s what I want in a MA fundamentals class.

But when I’m focusing on sports fundamentals or tactics/techniques, then an informal (non-dobok) session works better. For one thing, *I* would not be so “strict-serious”. This relaxes the athletes. We know, of course, that stress interferes with performance. The very sight of me wearing sports wear relaxes them and tells them that they are expected to train and perform correctly, but they’re allowed to make mistakes, try new things, be adventurous.

My sport-focused classes are always loud and spirited and most times filled with students’laughter. My formal classes are somehwat more…well.. formal. Same students, different focus, different moods.

Dobok and non-dobok training…both have their uses…and a place in the modern instructor’s program.

Poomsae/Kata Is Like Poetry

Pyongwon Poomsae

Poomsae/kata is like poetry.

It’s about feel, about rhythm, about the beauty of performance.

Just as there are “expert” critics of poetry who can elucidate and pontificate on the merits. demerits and technical nuances of a piece of poem but who would never become poets themselves, who could never produce a piece that would touch the heart and soul of a reader, there are “expert” judges of kata who would never move an audience with an almost mystical and beautiful rendition of a kata.

A poomsae must be felt.

Perhaps that is why you would never (possibly) find a (theoretically qualified) kata or poomsae judge who can perform at that level. It would be a different story if a Rika Usami, or Luca Valdessi or Antonio Diaz became a judge after retiring from active competition. These are the people who “KNOWS” kata and feel it in their bones.

A too analytical approach to poomsae (just as with poetry) would render that poomsae “dry”. Like a poem, it could be technically technically “perfect”, fitting all the rules and requirements, but it would not be felt — by the audience.

That is the vast difference between good kata and GREAT kata (just like poetry and dancing)

And just because someone is a qualified judge (poomsae or kyorugi) does not mean he or she is a better Taekwondoist than you. He would certainly try to steer the game in that direction (making it seem he’s better than you), but now you know better.

You are on your own Path, your own process, just as he is on his own. There is no comparison.

Taekwondo must be felt. And if you “feel” it, then you are truly “doing” Taekwondo.

Namaste…

“You Will Always Be My Teacher”

MéditationYou will always be my Teacher.

Whether you have taught me Taekwondo, Aikido, Karate, Wing Chun, Boxing, or Jujutsu for one day, one week, one month or one decade, you had been my Teacher, and hence I will forever be tied to you in spirit as Teacher and Student.

No matter how old I get, or how good I get or how famous (or infamous) I get, you will always be my Teacher. It is a fact that cannot be denied. If you have even shared one morsel of knowledge and wisdom with me, and I have been enabled to take that morsel and apply it to be a wiser and more honorable person, then you have been my Teacher.

Moreso if you have taken your precious Art and share not only the essence of your Art but also your Wisdom, your Heart and your Soul with me, then you have been my Teacher, and forever more my Teacher you shall be.

I shall honor you as best I can, and never will I bring disrepute to your name. I shall try my utmost to make your name a fragrant perfume wafting through the circles that know me, and because they know me, they shall know you; and that you, my Teacher, produce Students of the highest character.

If I fail in this, it is only because of my own failure, and not because of the insufficiency of your Teaching.

And whoever you are, wherever you may be, know that if you have taught me some part of your Art, then you are my Teacher, and I bow deeply to you…and thank you from my deepest heart.

Namaste…Teacher.

Why Practise?

Why do you practice Taekwondo (or any other martial art)?

Because of money? Health? Fitness? Competition? Position? Politics? All are valid reasons.

But consider this…

When you’re sixty or seventy or eighty, would you still have a “life practice”? Would you still be practising your Taekwondo or karate or Wing Chun or Aikido, even if there were no longer any monetary rewards, or position, or “pangkat” or whatever?

Would you practise your art like those people who are designated “national treasures” in their respective countries, practising for the love of the art, and for the purpose of “Walking the Way”? (though I doubt that any of us would be designated “national treasures”…hehehe)

In other words, would you still be “doing” Taekwondo? Would you still have a Practice?

Think about it 😉

“You Must Leave”

There comes a time in your martial life when the Master says, “You must now leave this valley of ours, and climb the mountains beyond the horizon”. Sometimes that Master is an actual living, breathing person. Other times that Master lies within you.

No matter. At that time you can only kneel and give one last bow, and then you must leave, never to return.

But you carry the gratitude in your heart, till the end of your days on earth.

Ultimately, that is the Path of every martial artist.