Martial Arts Teaching Tales of Power and Paradox: Freeing the Mind, Focusing Chi, and Mastering the Self By Pascal Fauliot ~ A Book Review (updated April 19, 2014)

A Book Review by Wee Sun Ngiaw

Last weekend saw me making a bee-line to the bookstores, scouting for a topical subject that I have been passionately involved in for the past 4 decades of my life – Martial Art. Literally speaking, it has left a deep cellular imprint in the genetic code.

The common martial art books found on the bookstore shelves are the typical guidebooks printed with glossy photos and step-by-step instructions interspersed  with some historical and basic philosophical background of the martial art and the author.

This paper back book entitled ” Martial Arts Teaching Tales of Power and Paradox: Freeing the Mind, Focusing Chi, and Mastering the SELF”.  caught my attention with its unique title and thought it would be refreshingly uplifting to write a preview and shared some thoughts on the different approaches towards pursuing martial art.

Most of us martial artists took up martial art for various reasons: –

–          for exercise and fitness;

–          for  self- defense;

–          for out of curiosity;

–          for improving self-esteem and confidence;

–          for instilling self-discipline;

–          as a hobby and pastime, etc;

Very rarely do we take up martial art for its aesthetic and spiritual values. On the contrary,  as we gain mastery and attain higher Dans , unknowingly and unconsciously, this self achievement has a delusional tendency to heighten our narcissism – the pleasure-seeking falsehood of the ego.

Yet the very nature of the cultural and traditional practices that we martial artists adopt in the dojang such as bowing, paying respect to the seniors etc, and the strict commands often employed with ‘militaristic’ intents, tend to portray a mistaken over-emphasis on the egoistic self, the unyielding demand to be respected, rather than ‘ RESPECT’  that has to be earned in effortless spontaneity.

As years passed and gone by, and gaining more proficient and skillful in the execution of the many movements, kicks and punches, getting promoted to higher and higher Degree (Dan), calling ourselves Masters, Grandmasters, and Supreme Grandmasters, after having exposed to all the grueling test of breaking boards, tiles and bricks, of free-sparring and getting our body bruised all over, our perspectives and outlook would have evolved, our motivations and aspirations would have elevated from the  physio-physical aspects to the quintessential and spiritual nature of the art itself.

Unavoidably, by the time this ‘shift’ dawns on us, some of us may have already reached our sun set years of age. But nothing is ever too late to unlearn and learn, for it is in the very word ‘learn‘, that it is the ‘earn’ aspect that our genuine respect will receive its glorious humility.

Inherent in the epistemology of martial art, therein lies the ultimate motivation -the  pursuit of Perfection and Self-Mastery – in the trinity of mind, body and spirit.  There has to come a time after so many years of  disciplinary practice, a shift in consciousness has to occur, whether this shift occurs in tumultuous fashion or in a spontaneous manner.

For it is at this deeper level, that the attainment and experience of the present-moment awareness,  and of mindfulness of everything surrounding us, both manifest and unmanifest, that our life will be far more enriching, peaceful, and blissful.  Then and then only one truly understands the significance of:

  • Hi (Humanity),
  • Sum (Goodness)
  • Oui (Justice)
  • Duk (Virtue)
  • Yeh (Courtesy),
  • Chung (Loyalty)
  • Ji (Wisdom)
  • Yong (Courage)
  • Sin (Trust)

and the tenets of  Courtesy, (Ye Ui)  Integrity,(Yom Chi) Perseverance,(In Nae) Self-Control, (Guk Gi) and  Indomitable Spirit (Baekjool Boolgool)

It is in-depth awareness of the breath, of mindfulness of the execution in the movements, of being in the here and now. It is the encapsulation of experiencing form and formlessness, of emptiness, the cognition of wu wei and sunyata.

Wu Wei

Wu wei (Traditional Chinese characters: 無為 Simplified Chinese characters: 无为) is an important tenet of Taoism / Daoism that involves knowing when to act and when not to act. Wu may be translated as not have; Wei (2nd tone) may be translated as do, act, serve as, govern. The literal meaning of Wu Wei is “without action” and is often included in the paradox wei wu wei : “action without action.”

The practice of wu wei and the efficacy of wei wu wei are fundamental tenets in Chinese thought and have been mostly emphasized by the Taoist / Daoist school. The aim of wu wei is to achieve a state of perfect equilibrium, or alignment with the Tao, and, as a result, obtain an irresistible form of “soft and invisible power” over things (the self, others, a country).

Bruce Lee’s PHILOSOPHY RARE

There are three aspects of being, which the martial arts aim to develop: Body, Mind and Spirit. These three aspects must be developed in balance for a person to become properly balanced as a martial artist and therefore as a person.

The first aspect, Body, is developed through the physical exercises involved in martial arts training. Rigorous physical conditioning exercises lead to increased strength, endurance, flexibility and equilibrium. In addition, repetition of martial arts basic and advanced techniques leads to improved physical ability and fluidity of movement.

The second aspect, Mind, is developed through mental training. Meditation teaches the student to focus his mind and to coordinate his thinking with his movement. It also aids him in his abilities to relax and to concentrate. Mental training also calls for active learning in the way of listening, reading and thinking. Students are not to restrict themselves to learning just about the martial arts, but must learn about history, philosophy, law, science, medicine and any other subject that might have a bearing on the martial arts.

Following the philosophy and ideals of the martial arts develops the third aspect, Spirit. Practice of the martial arts is a pursuit of personal improvement. It is not enough to have a strong mind and body the true martial artist should also strive to be strong in spirit. He should have a goal in life and a firm foundation of beliefs to guide him. The true martial artist is humble but confident, willing to give way to others but unwilling to accept injustice.

By developing all three aspects of the martial arts trinity a martial artist can become a total person and eventually a master. Without equal development of all three aspects, a martial artist will never achieve balance in his life and will never be a true artist.

The Code of the HwaRang Warrior and the Nine Virtues

The Code of the HwaRang Warrior and the Nine Virtues of the HwaRang are to be observed by all students of the martial arts. They were compiled by Won Kwang Bopsa and taught to the HwaRang knights to give them a proper code of conduct to live by. Together they form the foundation of all Korean Martial Arts philosophy.

THE CODE OF THE HWARANG

1. Be loyal to your country.

2. Be obedient to your parents.

3. Have faith and honor among friends.

4. Perseverance in battle.

5. Justice — never cause unneeded harm.

About Martial Arts Teaching Tales of Power and Paradox

A collection of parables and teaching stories from the martial arts traditions of Japan and China that emphasizes their spiritual foundation.

• The teaching stories in this book are based on the lives of martial arts masters and are meant to inspire questions and insights for the student.

• Written for martial artists and anyone interested in Eastern religions such as Buddhism, Zen, and Taoism.

True martial arts should never be confused with simple combat techniques. Rather, martial arts are a way that an individual, after a long and difficult apprenticeship, can gain a profound understanding of the true nature of reality and one’s place in it.

Over time the apprentice discovers the laws governing the subtle forces of life and realizes that their mastery is only possible after one has mastered oneself. “He who has mastered the Art doesn’t use his sword: he compels his adversary to kill himself.”

Most of the stories in this book are based on actual events in the lives of martial arts teachers who have achieved legendary status. The almost superhuman abilities of some of the masters described here are evidence of the secret powers that can be wielded by those whose martial arts training is not simply the learning of physical techniques but involves the mastering of the subtle energies of the mind and body.

By reading–and comprehending–the tales in this book, we can acquire the same essential knowledge that these masters had–that extraordinary forces are within the grasp of those who have achieved inner peace and self-mastery. ~

1. The Warrior is Silent: Martial Arts and the Spiritual Path 2. The Ki Process: Korean Secrets for Cultivating Dynamic Energy by Scott Shaw

About The Warrior Is Silent

A master illuminates the spiritual foundations of martial arts practice in this fully illustrated guide.

• Presents an overview of the spiritual foundations of the martial arts.

• Takes the reader through a well-illustrated series of self-defense techniques  that utilize Ki energy.

• An essential guide for anyone interested in a spiritually-centered martial arts practice.

The Warrior Is Silent presents an overview of the spiritual foundations of martial arts practice in the East and its intimate connection with the perfection of the art itself. In addition, the author, an accomplished martial artist, takes the reader through a well-illustrated series of self-defense techniques that utilize Ki energy. Establishing a balance between the spiritual and physical aspects of the martial arts, The Warrior Is Silent is an essential guide for anyone interested in a spiritually-centered martial arts practice.

The Ki Process: Korean Secrets for Cultivating Dynamic Energy by Scott Shaw

Learn how to call up extra energy on demand! Shaw shows you how to strengthen the Ki you were born with, so you can harness the Ki around you to help you through the many periods of stress in daily life. He gives suggestions for changingyour diet to improve Ki flow, and discusses how to actively focus Ki into specific regions of the body or into your mental functioning. Includes breathing, concentration, and relaxation exercises.

 

 

Scott Shaw is a regular contributor to all of the major national martial arts magazines and has a Ph.D. in Asian studies. He is the only non-Korean ever to be promoted to the rank of 7th Degree Black Belt in the Korean martial art of Hapkido by the Korea Hapkido Federation. He is the editor of the Turtle Dictionary of the Martial Arts of Korea, China, and Japan and is the author of Hapkido: The Korean Art of Self Defense, and The Ki Process: Korean Secrets for Perfect Health.

Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do patterns By Stuart Anslow ~ A Book Review

Here is the introduction as inserted by amazon.com ( letters in bold are highlighted specifically for this blog )

The Encyclopedia Of Taekwon-Do Patterns is a unique series of books that feature the complete works of General Choi, Hong Hi; Creator of the Ch’ang Hon system of Taekwon-Do and founder of the International Taekwon-Do Federation; as well as the patterns further devised by some of his most talented and legendary pioneers; Grandmaster Park, Jung Tae and Grandmaster Kim, Bok Man.

This 3-volume set is the only series of books in the world to feature all of the 25 patterns created by General Choi and his Taekwon-Do pioneers (including both Juche and Ko-Dang), as well as all 3 Saju exercises, the 6 Global Taekwon-Do Federation patterns developed by Grandmaster Park, Jung Tae and the Silla Knife Pattern instituted by Grandmaster Kim, Bok Man.

Utilizing over 1,600 photographs the student is shown in precise detail, each and every pattern from beginning to end, including useful tips on their performance and things unique to particular organizations (such as Kihap points etc.).

Displayed in full step-by-step photographic detail, which displays not just the final move but the ‘in-between’ motions as well making each book ideal to learn or revise your patterns, no matter which organization you belong to.

Volume 1 takes the student of Taekwon-Do on his or her journey from 10th Kup White Belt through to 1st Degree Black Belt and also includes the first of the Black Belt patterns. No matter which Taekwon-Do organization you belong to, the Encyclopedia Of Taekwon-Do Patterns covers all you need to know to take you from White Belt to Taekwon-Do Master.

Volume 2 takes the student of Taekwon-Do from Po-Eun (1st Dan) to Yoo-Sin (3rd Dan) and includes both Ko-Dang and Juche as well as the Dan grade patterns required by the Global Taekwon-Do Federation (GTF).

Volume 3 takes the senior student of Taekwon-Do from Choi-Yong (3rd Dan) to Tong-Il (6th Dan) and includes both Pyong-Hwa and Sun-Duk (required by the GTF), as well as featuring the first weapon form of Taekwon-Do: The Silla Knife Pattern.  ~  amazon.com

Biography

Stuart Anslow received his black belt in the art of Taekwon-Do in 1994 and is a 4th degree, due to take his 5th degree this year (2010). He is Chief Instructor of the renowned Rayners Lane Taekwon-do Academy, which was established in 1999 and is based in Middlesex, UK.

During his martial arts career, Stuart has won many accolades in the sporting arena, including national and world titles. His Academy is one of the most successful in the country winning numerous gold medals at every martial arts championship his students enter, a testament to his abilities as an instructor.

In 2000, Stuart won a gold and silver medal at Grandmaster Hee Il Cho’s 1st AIMAA Open World Championships in Dublin, Ireland and in 2004 he returned with 14 of his students to the 2nd AIMAA Open World Championships where they brought home 26 medals between them, 7 of them becoming World Champions in their own right. ~ Amazon.com

Summary & Critique:

The author, Mr. Stuart Anslow has recognized the differences in approach by the respective TKD Federations on the execution of  techniques, such as aligning the forefist with the shoulder rather than with the centre of the body, the movements and the chambering position when executing blocking techniques, different explanation of sine wave, pattern speed etc. All this different approaches are illustrated in the book.

For the more technically focused and competent TKD exponents who have an eagle eye on the finer details of execution of the various techniques, the illustrations and the photos shown do indicate some flaws and inaccuracies need to be further explained.

On the whole, this 3 volumes are informative and serve as good reference materials for the TKD enthusiasts, though the philosophical and  spiritual aspects could be further emphasized.

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

“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 www.amazon.com , now presently offering valuable discounts.

By: Master Ngiaw Wee Sun