Clearing Away Clouds: Nine Lessons for Life from the Martial Arts By Stephen Fabian

As a practitioner of the Martial Arts for the best part of my life, I am still amazed at the influence the art has on the spiritual lives of people and most commonly the young. It is in many instances their first point of contact with the personal face of spirituality.

Far removed from Sunday sermons, it is immediately a spirituality they can feel in their bones and understand innately. In the flight of motion one can feel their own energy mixing with that around them. They can learn to harness fears and problems through understanding the role of emotion in decision-making, and learn to keep their mind still in the midst of dismay.

While these lessons are best related in the context of battle, they are easily translated to life, and are accessible to anyone who embarks along the martial way.

Clearing Away Clouds relates the personal journey of Stephen Fabian, a Senior Advisor to the Shudokan Martial Arts Association, and one of the highest-ranking members of the SMAA Jujutsu Division.

With over 20 years training under the top teachers in Japan, his qualifications as an educator and martial artist lends this book great credibility. His ideas about Martial Arts are the result of pure experience. From the outset it is clear the writer understands his artform and is a generous source of knowledge.

The premise of the book is to illustrate the way nine key lessons contained in Martial Arts practice can bring about self-mastery in daily life. The writer takes the reader from his initial exposure and introduction to the Martial Arts, through his development to a point when the student then becomes the teacher.

Fabian traces his journey from a young college student first grappling with life away from home, to his standing as a professional working in a foreign country. The book illustrates how these lessons shaped his own life, whether in the United States, Brazil, or Japan, when he was both with and without a master under whom to study.

Part of the tale rests on this concept of taking authority over one’s life. As Fabian travels across various continents, he frees himself of reliance on a teacher figure and lets the world take its role. The main concern Fabian stresses throughout the book is that while the nine lessons are the basis for life inside the dojo, they should also become the basis for life outside the dojo.

He illustrates the lessons one must learn in order to attain mastery, regardless of whether it is the study of Martial Arts, tea pouring, flower arranging or painting. The lessons are presented as life lessons in nine chapters:

1. Embrace a Way

2. Accept Responsibility for Your Actions

3. Control the Breath

4. Focus

5. Develop Self-discipline

6. Train Hard, Seeking Aesthetic Refinement

7. Be Patient and Flow

8. Persevere

9. Cultivate the Mind of No Mind

While these lessons are certainly not new to many readers of the genre, what sets Fabian apart from other writers is his openness in using his own past experiences as illustration. Few writers of Martial Arts texts choose to elaborate on their own life experiences. Generally they will exercise traditional modesty and control of the ego (a battle that all experienced martial artists encounter at one time or another), but fewer still will bare themselves openly by retelling their own personal discoveries of important life lessons.

In Fabian’s candid account, some lessons came easy and some came very hard. He relates his pitfalls, successes and heartbreaks throughout the learning process, providing a more human vehicle for a reader’s understanding. This tact also lends Fabian the ability to deal with abstract Eastern concepts with a more practical approach far removed from the usual esoteric ponderings. He cleverly demystifies the mind/body connection within Eastern thought without losing the powerful qualities that focused attention in this area can bring.

Overall the book does great service in providing a comprehensive picture of the martial spirit and what the over-used term martial artist really means. The art in the practice revolves around the way that individuals use the lessons found in training to express their true spirit. They learn to view the world in a different way. They will see clearer and further, and recognise that the same beauty flowing through nature also flows through them.

Fabian quickly differentiates between the fast-food type of Martial Art school whose primary objective is the development of commercial “martial athletes” and the more traditional dojo’s or training schools that cultivate the true “martial artist.” Clearing Away Clouds does well to realistically present the personal metamorphosis occurring throughout martial training and relates the subtle shifts in awareness, in a way those new to the subject would understand easily.

It will certainly be enjoyable reading for anyone who has already started martial training as it seems the pitfalls encountered by a Westerner commencing a purely Eastern artform are quite universal, and I personally found it relieving to see that Fabian had experiences not unlike my own.

Clearing Away Clouds provides real life experiences of someone that has used the Martial Arts to help shape their life, and become a better person for it.

Reviewed by Robert Buratti

How Easily the Ego Can Seduce You

We’ve been seeing a lot of ego-centered attitudes flying around Washington with the deficit mess, the frustrating GOP presidential wannabes and in London with the unbelievable Murdoch fiasco.

Seems like the more power one has, the more the ego dominates: Me and my opinions are more important than the needs of others. There is no limit to the damage a powerful ego can cause, from the arrogant conviction that our own opinions are only right ones and everyone should be made to agree, to wielding and abusing responsibility and authority at the expense of other people’s lives and freedoms.

The ego could be the least understood of all our human qualities. It’s the “me” bit that gives us our sense of ourselves. This is not necessarily good or bad, except when selfishness dominates our thoughts, feelings and perceptions. A positive sense of self gives us confidence and purpose, but a more negative and self-centered ego makes us unconcerned with other people’s feelings; it thrives on the idea of “me first” and impels us to cry out, “What about me? What about my feelings?”

The purpose of the ego is to be in control, and so it keeps us focused in the realm of “me-ness.” It makes us believe we are the cleverest, best informed and most important, as easily as it makes us feel unworthy, unlovable and certainly not good enough to be happy. It is this misguided sense of self that is the root cause of so much distress, both in our own lives and in the world: wars are fought, families split and friends are forgotten due to this misunderstanding.

Fostering the delusion that only “I” is important, that me and mine must come before us and ours, the ego makes us believe we are something, that this something is different, special and unique, and that we are separate from everything and everyone else. When we become aware of our essential unity and oneness with all beings, then the ego becomes redundant and loses its job. It will, therefore, do whatever it has to in order to perpetuate its employment.

Creating the illusion that we are the dust on the mirror, the ego ensures that we believe we could never be so beautiful as the radiant reflection beneath the surface. Yet how extraordinary to believe that we cannot be free when freedom is our true nature!

Hypothetically, all we need to do is let go of the focus on “me,” of our sense of separateness, our need for distinction, the grasping and clinging to our story. But this is far easier said than done.

In India the ego is represented by a coconut, as this is the hardest nut to crack. Traditionally, the coconut is offered to the guru or teacher as a sign of the student’s willingness to surrender his or her ego and let go of self-obsession. Such a symbolic gesture shows that the ego is considered to be a great obstacle on the spiritual path and an even greater impediment to developing true kindness and compassion.

As we evolve in consciousness, we move from the animal-like state of preservation and survival to developing our own identity as a separate individual. In the process we become more self-centered. The next step is the development of the true individual — one who experiences no separation between self and other and awakens loving kindness. We always remind ourselves what the Dalai Lama said to us when we met with him: We are all equal here. The depth of this statement always connects us to our humility.

The need to reach the top of the mountain, to accomplish our desires and be successful, is the natural impulse to move toward experiencing greater happiness. The difficulty lies in believing that success means being all-powerful; we forget that there is a difference between being powerful in the sense of being egotistic and controlling, and being powerful meaning full of loving kindness and compassion. True power is not corruptive or abusive, as we are seeing in Washington and London; it transcends greed and serves for the benefit of all.

Meditation cultivates awareness so we are able to see the ego at play, how manipulative and self-serving it can be and how it easily dominates our behavior. Such a reflective practice gives us the experience of no separation and reveals genuine compassion.

How does your ego rule you?

By  Ed and Deb Shapiro

“A Killing Art – the Untold History of Taekwon-Do” by Alex Gillis (updated Oct 25, 2011)

A Book Review By Wee Sun, Ngiaw – Special Correspondent, TKD Times Magazine.

Those who had received their TKD training in the 1960s and 1970s, this book provides an informative insight into the geo-political and military history on the development of Taekwon-Do, featuring the pioneer Instructors spearheaded by General Choi

And it will definitely make an interesting read for those had started learning TKD in the 1980s, 1990s, and right up to the present moment. This book entitled, “A Killing Art – the untold history of Taekwon-do” takes the form of narrative stories of struggle for power and domination punctuated with allegations of bribery, corruption, assassination and blackmail. Some of the names of Korean Masters mentioned in the book may be familiar to some of us who had had the opportunity to have been taught by them.

Written by Alex Gillis, a Canadian Instructor who received his training from ITF Korean Instructors, this book, as the author admitted, is partly biography, and partly memoir streamed together, giving a seemingly bizarre account of how General Choi, during his pre and post ITF era maneuvered his game plans in exploiting his Korean Instructors and dictating to his advantage, thus claiming authorship to the founding of the art, though there were several ‘founders’ of the various ‘kwans’ (schools)earlier before him. [His 4th Degree was awarded to him by one of the earlier seniors in Korea]

Even more grotesquely descriptive were the stories of the involvement of KCIA, CIA and the famous cult preacher Sun Myung Moon and the Unification Church with some of the well-known pioneer Korean instructors in the United States. Plots and counter plots of assassination, and ‘gangsters’ ala mafia’ were treated as customary events during these turbulent times of Taekwon-Do’s historical development.

Some of the Korean Instructors [who are by now Grandmasters] are still alive to reminisce those tumultuous events, feeling morose at having had to experience such anguished moments of their lives. One of them is Grandamster Kim Bok Man whom I met recently in November 2008 with the assistance of a colleague who managed to trace him at his dojang in New Jersey

Grandmaster Kim had graded me in 1968 in Singapore YMCA where I received my early TKD training. And much to my surprise and awe, a picture of me in the group photo of the Grading test was found hanging on the wall of his dojang in New Jersey– after a lapse of 40 years!

Grandmaster Kim as some of you may know was considered the pioneer in introducing TKD in South East Asia. The book did mention that during the time when Gen Choi was the Korean Ambassador to Malaysia , Grandmaster Kim together with Master Woo Jae Lim ( now deceased) were instrumental in developing, formatting and refining the 16 original ITF patterns at the compound of the Korean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur under the starry eyes of Gen Choi.

Talking and listening to his stories after a lapse of 40 years was quite an experience, especially his emotional outbursts of lashing out at those who ‘betrayed’ him during those troubling periods.

The hard cover book comes with chapters creatively crafted under the headings of the tenets of Taekwon-do, such as indomitable spirit, courtesy, self control, and perseverance though the contents within this chapters may not lend credence to the spirit of this tenets, belying the scandalous and controversial series of events that had occurred since the introduction of TKD to the martial art world.

The changing of the guards under the helm of the Presidents of both the two world bodies of ITF and WTF was also marred with scandals and disgrace that were heralded as breaking news in the world of martial art, and TKD in particular.

In one of the chapters, the story was told of the Korean government officials raiding the residence of the former President of WTF and discovered millions of dollars in currency notes and expensive gifts and items being stashed away in the cupboards. It was reported that millions of government funds meant to be disbursed to the world body were kept by the former President. The rest was history as he was found guilty of corruption and CBT and was sentenced to jail. The current President of ITF was not spared either, as allegations of corruption and embezzlement of funds were reported in the inner circles of the TKD community.

For the past 5 decades or so, TKD has been tossed around as a political tool manipulated by the major players to forge their struggle for power, dominance and financial gain. The very fact that ITF has split into more than three world bodies bespeaks the lamented commercialization of the martial art. It was reported that WTF with its Kukiwon headquarters in Seoul, Korea, is also embroiled in such similar scandals.

When a question was posed to Grandmaster Kim Bok Man as to his purpose of pending visit to Seoul, South Korea in December 2008. he answered vaguely that he will be having some official discussions relating to TKD, about the condition of certificate issuance, inferring that another new TKD body might be set up.

On another piece of development, it was also reported Choi Jung Hwa, Gen Choi’s son, was in South Korea recently revealing some controversial information to the government officials accusing the current ITF President to be acting as a government spy for North Korea.

In light of such circumstances and development surrounding TKD, will the proposal for the unification of TKD ever become a reality or is it just an exercise in futility?

One thing is certain, there will be many steep mountains to climb, there will be more challenges to overcome, and last but not least, more concerted effort is needed in the ‘slaying of the beast’, and that is the EGO, if ever TKD is be free from the shackles of one-upmanship and territorial turf dominance.

For those serious TKD practitioners who nonchalantly continue to focus on the traditional and spiritual values of the art, making positive contributions in promoting goodwill and a sense of fellowship and camaraderie, there is still a beacon of hope to excel in the perfection of execution of techniques that this art offers.

Against the backdrop of continuing struggle for dominance and control for selfish gains, the serious practitioner has to be steadfast and disciplined, and diligently divorce himself from such temptations of ‘wheeling and dealing’. He has to come to terms with the realization that, viewed from spiritual perspectives, there exist the many dimensions of reality when one meditates and transcends the egoic self. He will then find the answers as to the much sought after secrets of happiness and life fulfillment

Some 2,500 years ago, a wise man became enlightened and preached to the world that LIFE in the relative world, there will be happiness and sorrow, love and hatred, richness and poverty, laughter and sadness, freedom and bondage, war and peace and all the dualities in living. In short, the wise man said, LIFE situation contains SUFFERING.

He further revealed the prognosis on the causes of suffering:

* Identification with a separate self;

*Attachment to the ego;

*Clinging to the permanency in life;

He then prescribed the cure for this suffering – in what we call the noble eightfold path.

Time constraint does not permit to go into details of this noble eightfold path, but perhaps one of the most important and cardinal concepts amongst them that, through the life long practice of TKD, one precept that one can cultivate and achieve is:

RIGHT MINDFULNESS – mental ability to see things as they are, with clear consciousness.

Every movement and step that we execute in our TKD practice is consciousness in motion, to be totally focused in the present moment awareness – the witnessing self observing the martial artist performing the art. Practiced progressively over periods of time, the martial artist and the art converge and merge into one wave of consciousness – the martial artist becomes the art in motion. (The Rig Veda of India’s vedic science also mentions about the Samhita of Rishi, Devata and Chandas having similar transcendental experience and spiritual understanding on the 3-in-1 consciousness)

Upon experiencing the transcendence on the boundaries of our thought, the many dimensions of reality give the notion that our body is just our re-cycled earth, our body fluids are re-cycled water, our breath is re-cycled air, and our thoughts are re-cycled information. Is there permanency in life that we need to cling so fearfully not knowing who we are, where do we come from, what is the purpose of our life?

One favorite past-time whenever traveling to places of sights and sceneries, is to visit the cemeteries and glimpse at the tombstones and the dash sign ( – ) in between the two dates. Therein lies the greatest revelation about our LIFE. Our lives are just a dash, pure and simple. We are mortal beings. And having realized this simple truth, we are a step closer to the secrets of happiness and the awakening to enlightenment.

For those who are interested in ordering the book, it is available at , now presently offering valuable discounts.

By: Master Ngiaw Wee Sun