Tag Archives: Martial Arts

Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect … But it Sure Helps!


I’m counting the days now.  I have five precious days between now and then. I have a tad less than 120 hours between now and then.  I have two formal lessons between now and then.  I also have two children to teach, three scheduled appointments to attend, and six youth group children to lead between now and then.

This is something I’ve prepared for over the course of the past 11 years, more heavily over the past two years, but devotedly over the past six months.  Call it a hobby, if you must, but I call it a passion; I call it part of me; I call it dedication.  What is it that lives in my future, a breath away, anticipating my appearance?

In five days, I will stand with a group of peers, before an examination board of five members to demonstrate my abilities in Soo Bahk Do while seeking a rank promotion.  Soo Bahk Do, a traditional Korean martial art, is not a sport, so to suggest that my demonstration involves competition would be technically incorrect. However, on that particular night on the floor of the dojang, I will be in competition – not the competition that would bring to mind two rivals ferociously seeking to triumph over their opponent, but rather the competition that occurs within oneself. Instead of demonstrating superiority over my peers, I will be contending for outstanding execution  of all I’ve ever learned. I will be competing for my finest hour … er … three hours.

Competition. Does it conjure up a positive feeling?  If team sports, such as baseball, football, or soccer, have been part of your life, or perhaps part of the life of your children, competition can feel inspiring or motivating. Likewise, it can also feel discouraging or disheartening, probably depending upon the outcome of the event!  The same is true for those that compete in individual sports or arts, such as gymnastics, dance, golf … or martial arts.

Until recently, I’ve viewed competition as rivals attempting to triumph at the cost of defeating of the other. Both sides walk away; one having conquered, the other having surrendered. Personally, that has always presented a conundrum … how to feel completely content with that win, understanding that it came at a cost to others. At the heart of it, however, we discover that we compete with others, not against others, since we are all striving together to produce excellence. To give the opponent anything less than our best would be out of the question, as it would prohibit them from improving themselves.

Despite the fierce competition that comes from the outside, competition within ourselves can be even more intense as we know better than any other where our capabilities lie and therefore know when we’ve fallen short. While it’s true that we are typically our own worst critics, we can positively utilize that inner-striving to produce excellence. We can use both setbacks and success to improve ourselves. To use setbacks for the purpose of growth is called grace, and as we extend grace to others, we need to extend it to ourselves as well. To fail gracefully, while learning from the process, is a win. We can view our very best attempt as a win, simply because we attempted.

On my journey to this newest martial arts rank advancement, I’ve achieved so many smaller successes.  Previous rank advancements would be obvious achievements. But I’ve also learned the art of dedication and drive, the profession of perseverance and practice, the capacity to comprehend new material, and the ability to overcome adversity in training, Incrementally I have received lessons, beyond the techniques themselves, that I didn’t expect to learn inside the four walls of the dojang.

Soon I will take part in a dan classing where my technique will be showcased to five examiners. While I do not yet know the outcome of that event, I do know that I have grown through the process of preparation. I have developed in ways that far surpass my technique alone.  Fortunately, my instructor is more concerned about my development than my three hours on the floor.

Interestingly, that’s just how God works. He refines us from the inside out and cares about our growth through the process we call life.  Our striving in life mirrors our striving in the various arts and sports … and through both, we grow.

I’ve absorbed, practiced, and persevered. After all that, I still cannot claim perfection in technique. On October 11, 2013, I’ll be leaving the results to God. Like my instructor, He too is interested in the process of development and any lessons left to learn, He will be teaching me!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign

One of my greatest passions is practicing the Martial Arts.  Soo Bahk Do, a Korean Martial Art founded by the late Hwang Kee, integrates the philosophy, culture, and language of Korea, creating both an academic and physical aspect to the practice.  We are located in all six of the inhabited continents. Come give us a try. It’s definitely addicting!!


Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette


This picture was taken at Franconia Sculpture Garden in Franconia, MN. I’m a martial arts junkie so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’d strike a pose from Jin Do Hyung!  Soo Bahk! 


Cognitive Recalibration

[In the recent blockbuster hit, Avengers, Clint Barton found himself strapped down after Natasha Romanoff had won a fight with him so he could shake off Loki’s mind control.]


Romanoff: Clint, You’re gonna be alright.
Barton: You know that? Is that what you know? I got…I gotta go in though. I gotta flush him out.
Romanoff: We don’t have that long, it’s gonna take time.
Barton: I don’t understand. Have you ever had someone take your brain and play? Pull you out and send something else in? Do you know what it’s like to be unmade?
Romanoff: You know that I do.
Barton: Why am I back? How did you get him out?
Romanoff: Cognitive recalibration.  (pause on Barton’s part)  I hit you really hard in the head.

Cognitive Recalibration. Lofty words for a simple concept.

For nearly 10 years now, I’ve been studying the martial arts so it comes as no surprise to those that know me that an action-packed movie where the good guys win would draw my interest … repeatedly.

Hwang Kee, the founder of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan, stated that a martial artist is also a scholar, so while I train in the physical aspects of the art, I train in the mental aspects of the art also. including the related history, tradition, and philosophy of Soo Bahk Do.  One component to my training includes the Korean terminology for both the techniques and concepts.

It isn’t unusual to hear my instructor, Sa Bom Nim Dan Ellenbecker, call out the Korean words Shi Sun as I train in the dojang with the rest of the class. The words carry the meaning of focus or line of sight.  It’s an important concept and serves as a precept for all we do prior to executing a technique. Why? Simply because our intent will follow our line of sight. Looking left before striking left will very likely be helpful! This is common sense and while I’m very aware of the emphasis in the dojang, I sometimes find I haven’t engaged my Shi Sun in other areas of my life.

It wasn’t long ago that I found myself experiencing some difficulties in life. My struggle ensued for many months before I finally found the strength and courage to reach out to a few trusted friend to help me navigate the turbulent waters. The guidance I was given was varied, yet consistent; loving, yet firm; understanding, yet uncompromising.  One conversation stood out and continues to come to mind when I’m confronted with challenging situations.

Friend: You’re allowing your negative thoughts to determine your emotion. Change your thinking.

Me: I’m really down today. I feel broken.

Friend: I know … but if you continue to think that way, you’ll have a tough time changing your emotion.

Me: Where do I begin?

Friend: Don’t dwell on your issues. Watch a movie. Cook dinner. Take your kids to the beach. Think of anything other than your temporary troubles, even if only for 15 minutes. The more often you do that, the easier it becomes.

I took that advice. It helped, even if only for 15 minutes at a shot. Eventually I was able to sustain that for longer time periods as minutes grew to hours, and hours to days. In the end, however, it came down to my personal Shi Sun, my line of sight, as I determined the difficulty of walking one way while looking the other – or in doing one thing while thinking another. While he was stating it in simpler terms, my friend was instructing me to do mentally what Romanoff had done for her friend physically. Change your thinking. Cognitive recalibration.

From Side Stage

Yesterday was very unlike the typical Saturday morning – and it was a change of pace that provided an incredible learning moment.

I usually get up early, pry my youngest sons from both the wonder of their dreams and the warmth of their blankets, encourage them to find clothing choices devoid of holes that actually match, fix a light breakfast for us, pack uniforms, water bottles, snacks, toys, crayons, and coloring books, and usher them out the door and into the mini people mover in what can be considered nothing less than Olympic record-setting time.

Following that early morning flurry, we drive 50 miles south to a community center so the boys can partake in their martial arts training. They begin the hour-long instruction at 9:45 a.m., often still engulfed in morning-brain-fog when they walk in.  Normally my boys would attend their class, change into their civilian clothes, find their crayons and snacks and hunker down for a couple hours before departing for the journey home.

See … I normally help instruct on Saturday mornings, not just their class but the classes that follow. Like my sons, I’m suited up in uniform also, assisting in any way asked to help the classes run smoothly for the children. I don’t consider it work since I revel in those light bulb moments when the children suddenly get it! And it’s good for ME to learn how to break down a technique in manageable pieces so children can learn it.  In this, teaching becomes a growth opportunity rather than a task.

Yesterday, however, I was suffering through the eleventh day of a head cold and was feeling miserable in every aspect. Since I’m not one to often give in to illness, I packed my own uniform, filled my personal water bottle, and determined to fill my usual role.  As I drove those 50 grueling miles though, only able to draw breath through my mouth and struggling to get past the larger-than-life pain at the base of my neck, it came clear to me that I just might need to sit this one out and take on the role of a parent-spectator.

Fortunately the available instructors were willing to take on the classes without my assistance yesterday. And as I sat with the other parents, literally on a stage to the side of the room, I was able to observe my own kids without  simultaneously teaching seven others!

[Allow me to interject here that my two youngest sons

Eighth Gup!!

have been in martial arts training for only 8.5 months.  AND they are only 8 and 5 years old respectively. (Although, if you ask my youngest son, he is 5.5 years old, NOT five years old!) However, I have been training now for over nine years and am a little bit older than they are!]

As I watched, I struggled between that feeling of pride of accomplishment for what my boys did well and frustration for all those techniques that I wanted to jump out of my seat to fix for them! If you know me, you know that refraining from what I want to say and do is probably one of the most difficult tasks for me. So I sat, side stage, and watched. And watched. And watched …  with that feeling of both pride and frustration growing within me, each battling to be triumphant.

Summing up the conflicting conversation occurring between Pride and Frustration?  It might sound something similar to this:

P: Wow! He really knows the pattern of this form!!

F: Lower your front stance!  Place that block over your front leg!

P: Hey! He’s paying attention to the instructor and responding accordingly.

F: (the next moment) Hey!! Pay attention to the instructor and respond!

P: Nice kick!

F: Don’t forget to chamber the back hand. Keep your guard up.

P: Amazingly, they are starting to look like leaders in this group!

F: Get your weight on your back leg. Fix your line of sight.

And so it goes.

If you’re a parent, if you’ve ever taught children, even if you’ve ever just observed children at play, I know you’ve been there. There is a sense of wanting to fix things for kids, whether or not they are your children, but ESPECIALLY if they are your children. And when you sit side stage and are rendered unable to do that, it can be challenging at best to remain in-check. I DID still learning something, sitting there off to the side. I learned the role of parent-spectator: how to help build their confidence while silently noting areas for future growth (all while keeping quiet); how to encourage with just a look of approval as they glance over hoping to see just that; how to support an instructor by being present in an appropriate manner; and how to trust that the instructor also has your children’s best interest in mind.

Most importantly I learned that sitting side stage, the role as parent-spectator is also THAT of a student! Lessons exist if the mind is open to learning them. There exist many other times in life where circumstances necessitate that parents are the main instructors for their children. However, enrolling children in any type of program where we are NOT the instructor, not the coach, not the tutor …. it necessitates a little bit of letting go and a lot of trust. And in sitting side stage, we might just get more than we paid for, provided we assume our proper role.

Then gauntlet has been thrown down. Are you willing to take it up, Parent-Spectator? Come sit alongside me and learn lessons alongside your children.