essay: Cho Dan Essay, Soo Bahk Do
This is my 1st degree black belt essay for Soo Bahk Do, written in February, 2002. It discusses the joys of training in Soo Bahk Do with my son and the pain of training with my (at the time) forty year old rugby and basketball weary body.
My study and training in Soo Bahk Do the past few years has had many impacts on my life. But none have been so profound as the effects it has had on the connection between my son and I, my clearness of thought and the physical effects it has had on my forty-year-old body.
The concept of making your connections to other people stronger through Soo Bahk Do training has personal relevance to my son and I. Training together has made our already strong relationship tighter, and thicker, through shared experience, shared struggles, shared triumphs and learnings.
When my son, Josh, turned eight, he told me he wanted Karate lessons for his birthday. I am still not sure why…probably because he thought it would be cool, or because he’s tall and skinny and was worried about being picked on. I had no background in the marital arts, with my athletic experience mostly in rugby and basketball. I had two good friends who were black belts in other Karate schools, and they both gave me the same sage advice: find a school close to you, so it is easy to go to class. Sa Bom Nim Milberger’s school fit the bill, so Josh and I watched a couple of lessons. When the day for his first lesson came, he looked at me a little tentatively and said You’re going to do this with me, aren’t you Dad?
My intention was to go to a few classes, and then bail out. But I couldn’t quit. I enjoyed too much what Soo Bahk Do does to my body, my mind, and my son.
Josh has always been self-confident. But through our training of Soo Bahk Do, he has become more confident, and has somehow learned how to handle that confidence better. He rarely gets into fights, and often plays peacemaker. And when confronted by a bully, he has much more patience and tolerance that I had when I was his age. I can see him maturing through his/our study of Soo Bahk Do; he will even ask me to wait outside after class, while he consults with Sa Bom Nim Milberger.
My son learned the vocabulary before I did, and helped me with it. I help him with sparring. Together, through our study and training, we strengthen our connection and become closer. He and I both look forward to Karate nights, because it is our time to build our relationship.
Another occurrence that kept me and keeps me training is experiencing clarity of thought. Before Karate, I had felt this clearness of thinking only a few other times, mostly during my study of the piano. It is much more than just good focus, it is truly a feeling of clearness in my mind, where there is no apparent effort toward thinking, and the activity just happens and feels right. After practicing a piano piece for quite a while, this clarity of thought would take over; I would sometimes feel like I was on the outside, watching my hands play a piece with the kind of feeling and technical fingering that it required.
Several times during my study of Soo Bahk Do I have experienced this, but I am not yet able to control it. When I was an Orange Belt, learning the Orange belt combinations, I felt this oneness of mind and body, to where the combinations and the moves felt right, and I wasn’t so much focusing on what to do with my body as I was letting my body respond to what it now understood. If I focused on my hands, feet, arms and legs (as I did in the beginning of my training), this clarity would leave me. This focus on one part of my body is what I believe Chung Shim Tong Il refers to: concentration on one thing. Even as I have become a more advanced student, and began focusing on my waist instead of my extremities, it still seems that this is an evolution toward something more.
The line of the Sip Sam Seh that says when done correctly, all will appear effortless best describes this clarity of thought concept: the movements will appear effortless from the inside as well as the outside. I believe that the reason I was able to gain this effortlessness in my practice of the Orange Belt combinations is through many repetitions of them (and there are direct parallels to the repetition in my study of the piano). But I still do not understand this phenomenon, and will use my training in Soo Bahk Do to study it more, and answer the questions that I have. Is this clarity of thought a result of the Ki energy my body is generating through these exercises (is the repetition of the same exercises clearing the pathways for my Ki)? Is this a glimpse for me of Mu Shim, the no-mind state of meditation that I am just now beginning to study? Or is this simply the feeling of the Shim Gong when the physical (Weh Gong) and the internal (Neh Gong) energies are balanced? I don’t know yet, but I am looking forward to exploring more.
This will also push me toward more repetition, which will in turn drag my forty-year-old body along for the ride. Sa Bom Nim Milberger has had his instructor, Sa Bom Nim Wilbourn, come to our school for several clinics. Mr. Wilbourn remarked that some martial arts believe that you should not start as late in life as I did, as you will never be able to reach your full mental and physical potential. But Mr. Wilbourn remarked that our Grand Master did not agree with the other martial arts in this regard, that with repetition, dedication and concentration, continuous improvement was possible at any age. Having just turned forty, I am very glad to here this. With two more years’ minimum for Ee Dan, three more for Sa Dan, and four more for Sam Dan, I will be at least fifty years old if I get recommended for the Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa. I laughingly related this fact to my instructor, on a day when my knee and other overused body parts were sore, making me wonder if I would still be able to do Karate at fifty. Sa Bom Nim Milberger related to me that when he was at his Ko Dan Ja Shim Sa, there were at least two gentlemen there who were older than fifty, and seeing them train hard every day during that event just made him push himself more and more.
I am still concerned that my old rugby and basketball injuries will slow me down. But training with my son, and the mental and physical quests will keep me traveling slowly be surely down this path.