Category Archives: White Tiger Ramblings

Ramblings about the martial arts, training, life and other subjects. That’s why its called “rambling”.

What to do next?

As life happens, one of the things that comes up is “What do I do next?” Work has been frustrating. Social life/relationship isn’t going where you hoped. These are frustrating but they are talked about regularly, at least in my classes, from a slightly different viewpoint.

In class, we talk about the different sparring style (charger, counter-fighter, runner – your mileage may vary 🙂 ). This classification helps students recognize what their sparring opponent may do because of their actions. Understanding what an opponent may do is important in keeping control of a sparring match. It is even more important in life.

Before I go to daily life application, let’s look at another analogy. Playing without the puck is an important factor in ice hockey. How do you play without the puck? On the offensive side, this includes looking for the proper place to set up for a good shot…or an opening to get a pass as part of a play that you see developing.

Playing without the puck on the defensive side is illustrated by getting into positions where the opponents can’t run their plays. This includes something as simple as a defenseman putting his stick against the goalpost instead of going after the opposing player. Making sure the goal isn’t scored is more important than checking the opponent.

Now, the trick is to determine which side you are on during your work and/or daily life interactions. Do you choose to find a way to get your way or set yourself up to make sure that you aren’t taken advantage of. This is completely dependent upon which attitude you take during sparring or when you’re playing without the puck.

**Note: I’ll agree that this could be done with basketball and playing without the ball but I like hockey better so there’s that.**

Questions Asked

Having been around the martial arts as long as I have been, there are a few common questions that I get asked. Here’s two of them.

Why did you start martial arts?
I wanted to have the bravery and discipline to pick up the burning cauldron and scar the tiger and dragon symbols into my arms. For those not old enough to recognize the reference, it was part of the opening credits for the Kung Fu television show. It was lots of years ago. It also includes being influenced by Star Trek, Batman, and The Green Hornet.

The reasons behind this, now that I look back, are quite varied. One of the reasons probably came from elementary school where I got teased pretty bad for the eczema that I had. Kids can be cruel and horrible without realizing it (or when they want to be).

Another reason is that I never was, and still aren’t, anything more than a mediocre athlete. It played to my advantage in team sports that our school was small. Well, that is because I liked those sports and the coach needed as many as possible to play. The glitch was that I just really liked to play and didn’t view winning or losing as really big deals. That probably didn’t set well with some of the better athletes and their beliefs about sport.

The exception to this was finding Curling. There was enough individual challenge as part of a team to fit my personality. This lasted 13 years before putting it aside to focus on martial arts. I will say that Curling has affected how I present the martial arts. There is a very similar “team” feel in the martial arts as in Curling. We work to better ourselves AND support others.

Why do you continue now?
Because I owe it to the next generation to pass on what I’ve come to understand. Well, that’s the short answer. Included in this would be that there is much more to learn and document. It is unfortunate that some much of the history gets lost as the first generation students are no longer around. Personally, I put some of this loss on the sport focus within the culture. Learn enough to win trophies and medals but not dig into the history and biographies of those who brought the art to today.

So, my interests lie well in the history and people that have developed the arts that I train in to what they are today. This isn’t the only thing within the martial arts. There are many other parts – technique, application, personal protection/self defense, and fitness plus several more. While I may focus on the history, I still train. I hope that I instill the same idea into my students. “Although I am interested in [blank portion of the martial arts], I still train.” This should help ensure that all the different portions of the martial arts get continuing development. This has a bunch of different ways to happen but that’s another post.

Why do I continue, well, there always is that part of my personality that tends to be obsessive. What are you interested in? Is it serious or passing? Is it something that you’d dedicate time and effort to? Are you the next one in line to lead the growth?

New Year Struggles

The past several months have been a struggle.Too many things happening in all aspects of life taking up too much time to get much of anything accomplished. All the things going on also make for a distraction that saps creativity (i.e. no ideas for blogs). I’m too old for this but such is life.

During these struggles, I’ve had someone comment regularly “everything is about the school”. The answer, I guess in the end, is yes. The reason being that it provides me stability and challenge. This doesn’t deny the 30 years of effort put into it.

The school provides a stability to maintain discipline. If you go by some of the things from my youth, you’d see that challenges attracted me and I put a lot of effort into solving them. My team sports, save curling, were really for the fun of the game being played with friends. They were also the stuff I wasn’t built for. I was only ever mediocre in skills.

Curling, though a team sport, had enough individual play to truly challenge everyone. I had found a place to push my skills and develop further. It isn’t really surprising that martial arts became a thing in my life.Yes, I was influenced by the cool TV shows of the time too. You can’t really deny Batman, The Green Hornet, Star Trek, and Kung Fu as powerful role models during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Yes, I’m THAT old. Those who started training after me could relate to Ninja Turtles and such.

Back to the point about stability, though. During the curling season, it wasn’t unusual that I’d be at the club for high school team practice, go home for homework and dinner, then return to see if anyone needed an extra player or if there was an empty sheet to throw rocks on. I’d finally head home when they pushed me out the door. It got to the point that, during college, a winter activities course included curling and, when asked who had experience, I ended up teaching the class. Note: the actual professor hadn’t ever played before as he was the basketball coach.

It was college that created the focus switch to martial arts. There were so many really good students in the organization PLUS it was year-round. The physical challenges brought up mental challenges and the training became the tool to develop as a whole, not just in certain things. Now, I’m still only mediocre in physical skills but the principles and concepts underlying the training run much deeper and allow for use outside the school. Teaching has helped develop understanding of others and truly getting deeper into the martial art.

These principles and concepts have also become overused as marketing taglines. The understanding of them, though, truly allows the student to become more successful outside of the school. This is important because much of your life will not need physical skills but, rather, intellectual.

Which brings this back to the current struggles. The time that it takes to work through a struggle can be frustrating. Things seem to happen too fast or too slow. The battles to be fought need to be chosen and knowing when to stop fighting is important. This is why the school is important.

The school provides the stability and extended family that are necessary to support and succeed. It is a place outside of personal situations that doesn’t – shouldn’t – get affected by those situations. My question becomes “Why wouldn’t everyone have a school?” It probably is that the label used for mine is confusing. Many others may call it a “bar” or “gaming night” or “church” or many others. So, make sure that you have your place.

Building A Better Boat

Driving home yesterday, listening to a country radio station because my regular station started playing Christmas music before Black Friday, I heard the song listed below. Listen to the lyrics.

The song made me think of why Leroy Jethro Gibbs may be building boats in his basement. Granted, this is only my thought, but it has a similar ring to something that USA Haidong Gumdo Senior Chief Master Marshall Parnell stated during his 4th or 5th seminar visit.

He had visited several times helping us develop technique and better learn the required curriculum. This particular visit was different as he told us we were no longer a rudderless ship. We had begun to understand where we were supposed to be going. This changed his role during seminars to one of helping students grow in their understanding of this Korean sword art. It was now our responsibility to guide the ship correctly.

How does this connect to Gibbs? Well, as the lyrics play out in the song.
“I breathe in, I breathe out
Got friends to call who let me talk about
What ain’t working, what’s still hurtin’
All the things I feel like cussing out
Now and then I let it go
Around the waves I can’t control
If it’s working I don’t know
When I get done the thing may not flow
But I’m learning how to build a better boat”
(https://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/kennychesney/betterboat.html)

Through all of the tragedy and suffering that Gibbs has seen. Through developing strength of character in his team. Through becoming more than their “boss”. What is the constant in his life? Building a boat. The place where he gets to settle himself and keep working on something that will help him through all of the waves and weather that is yet to come.

How do those in charge find the strength and courage to continue? They turn to themselves to recharge and keep moving forward.
“I ain’t lonely, but I spend a lot of time alone
More than I’d like to, but I’m okay with staying home”

Which Journey?

Recently a discussion came about that questioned rank and time in rank. How does rank work? When can I test again? Do I have to wait [blank] years before I test again? These are standard questions. How long they get asked is the real concern.

During the first year or so is pretty common. As students try to understand the curriculum and what the system requires, they start looking ahead wondering when things are going to happen. Another aspect in asking is because of the goal setting that our society seems to have. Goal setting is an important and excellent method of achieving success.

The glitch is when the goal is really just achieving things. Goals that don’t lead to a greater plan are time wasting and selfish. When the goal is achieved but doesn’t have value, then the goal was unnecessary. This one struck me recently when I saw a student promoted to 2nd Dan stuff his certificate into his gear bag after it was presented. If the certificate with all of the time, effort, and commitment is not valued as the representation of earning the goal, it was all a waste.

Thrift store belt sale.

It is this long term goal that is truly the journey. Training in a martial art is long and demanding. This is why I have place the value on WHO has signed my certificate over what organization is involved. Yes, I’ve got Dan certificates from the Kukkiwon, the World Taekwondo headquarters, but they mean less to me than those signed by my teachers. The acknowledgement of my teachers has value beyond any organization who have never met me nor seen my abilities.I’m not completely sure how this has come about but it has stuck with me ever since learning what the symbols on the original Karate North patch. I’m not happy nor accepting of being promoted by just anyone, even though their rank has been duly earned by another organization or teacher.

This leads to another step that proper students never ask about testing. In the past, it was not unusual that a teacher would present a new belt randomly during a class. There wasn’t a formal testing nor fancy graduation performance. It was simply that you’ve gained enough knowledge to move to the next step. There weren’t certificates then either.

Students that ask to test are never actually ready. This is a quiet piece of ego showing up that makes people believe that they are further on their journey than truly practiced. I’ve long held that if you think you’re ready to test, you aren’t. Those who are following their journey aren’t interested in rank, they just train.

This leads to the last portion of this post. “I’ve been [blank] rank but my years of training mean that I should be another rank higher.” This illustrates the goal of the student’s training just as asking to test does. If you take the old school Taekwondo format, it should be a minimum of 10 years to 4th Dan. This rank is often viewed automatically as a Senior Instructor or Master, yet fails today because many at this rank don’t teach. They aren’t in a regular teaching schedule in their home school nor have they started a school of their own. So, how does someone hold a title or position if they don’t teach?

I disagree with titles being assigned automatically with rank. I prescribe to the theory that there are only two ways to get a title. The first is that your teacher uses it when referring to you in front of students and peers. The second is when your students start referring to by the title. No one automatically deserves a title! Physical techniques are only 10% of any art and a master knows much more than that!

In the end, the martial arts journey should never be about rank or titles or trophies/awards! The journey should be about becoming a better person and helping…serving…others achieve their goals. Anything other is ego and selfish.

To Benefit The Student

Now, I admit that my martial arts training started because of my personal interests, but that has changed and grown over the years. Not that my interest nor curiosity have changed but my role has evolved.

I had started teaching a class during college because there were no Karate North schools near to train at and I didn’t want to stop (read: get behind on possible promotions). That lead to helping with classes at the University of Minnesota – Duluth (UMD), which was the first Karate North location, as a 2nd gup brown belt.

This was the start of my desire to teach. It took a while, and I still haven’t figured out all of the way I want to do business, but I started teaching. It has now been 32 years since the UMD class. Here is where things changed again. The stretch from my own training and what I can provide for my students was not a difficult connection.

This is also where my “run a business” and my “teach those who want to learn” issues come into conflict. Why is so important? Well, there’s enough really bad martial arts schools out there. Most, in my opinion, because there’s too much interest in making money. Anyway…

There are two main ways that I can benefit my students. The first being that I continue my training for as long as possible. It has been 37 years since I started training and, as many people keep saying, I am still amazed at how little I know. It gets overstated, only because it is true, but every time I get to train with my teachers and seminar instructors, I learn something new. This is where I’ve been fortunate to have very incredible teachers.

The second benefit is in helping students gain knowledge faster, and easier, than I got it. Since I’ve had all kinds of stumbles along the way trying to figure out the curriculum that I’ve been learning, I should be able to help students get past a majority of them. Besides, they’ll have their own stumbles and issues to deal with. They’ve had a different life than I did.

There is another benefit that I can give my students. That is the opportunity to train with many others in similar arts and different arts, even some really cool seminar instructors. I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t provide everything to my students. That means I need to make sure they can understand how to find what they need to meet their goals.

Bill “Superfoot” Wallace telling stories at the end of his seminar.

From seminars with people like Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, the Head Master of the World Haidong Gumdo Federation, Jeong Woo Kim, and reality based self defense instructor, Randy King to weekend training camps with a 10th Dan Song Moo Kwan Grand Master, these are part of where students learn the depths of the material. Tournaments, weekend trainings, and international events all play a large part in how students grow to find what is important in their training. No, it is not the “bright” or “shiny” things that come from these events. It is the challenge of participating. It is the joy of finding peers (friends). It is the opportunity to see deeper or differently into the material that they’ve been taught.

All this because it isn’t about me. The students are the most important thing to every school. They should be treated that way.

The Music in Mudo!

Guest post by Bill Hedrick.

There is a story about the great American Composer Aaron Copland. In his later years he enjoyed conducting his own works. One rehearsal as he was working with the orchestra, pointing out things the orchestra needed to be aware of and generally breaking down the score, he pointed to a spot in the score, “In measure 60 please mark this in, the violins should come in mezzo piano [a little quietly].” The second violinist boldly said, “Sir, it says forte [loudly] in the score!” Copland looked at him smiled a wry smile and said, “I am sure the composer won’t mind.”

As you learn music and martial arts, you are handed written music and katas. It is essential that you learn them note for note. You have to master the written piece and all the moves of the form. That is just the beginning of the Art. Without this, you haven’t entered into the River of the Art. That being said, the Music, the Budo, is not the paper and the characters on it. A computer or a robot can be programmed to perform more precisely than any human, but that doesn’t make them masters, only a parrot. Don’t be a parrot.

In Music, as in Martial Arts, the spirit and intent is the most important. As a junior high band can hit all the notes and the colored belt can hit all the moves of a form. Without owning, understanding, internalizing the piece, you do not know the form.

A line from “The Matrix” comes to mind. In training Neo, Morpheus admonishes him to “stop trying to hit me and hit me!” After you have internalized the form, you have to surrender to the form and live it. To go to another movie, you have to turn off the targeting computer and trust the Force. Going back to the analogy of the River, it’s not enough to get a bucket of water and pour it over yourself, you have to jump into the River let it flow over, under and through you and go where it goes. Commit.

I have students

In my martial arts school, I don’t have [blank]. I have students!

This started with having younglings in class. Yes, those who are under the age of 16. The idea had first came up because we don’t have a specific youth class. When I first started martial arts training, within a community education program, there was only one beginning class and one advanced class. These classes had students of all ages in them. I’ve continued this idea as I believe that younglings develop faster as they train with older students.

This has two aspects. The first is that most older students have started training because they’re interested in training and are ready to do the work necessary. As younglings may be in class only because the parents think the development of discipline, focus, and courtesy. **I don’t know if it is entertaining or sad when a Mom calls to bring her 5 year old to class because he has anger issues.** Anyway, as younglings see others who are older than them being given the same requirements and responsibilities, they can learn to use the system to help them grow.

The second aspect is that mixed classes can provide the opportunity for a youngling to be teaching/leading older students of lower rank. The recognition of being responsible for helping others can greatly increase their respect for learning and helping outside of the dojang. This benefits the older student as well. The need to check your ego and pride is important for proper training.

Now, I used [blank] in the opening of this post because you should be able to put ANY indentifier there and have the same response. The martial arts have students in classes trying to become better people. None of the things that you think make you who you are matters in the dojang. You are a student working to become a Champion (warrior) for the human race.

What this is all about

No copyright infringement intended!

“Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters.” — Master Yoda (From Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017))

The true burden of all Masters IS their students surpassing them. How do you know if you have created outstanding students? They offer to lead the demonstrations/panels at the anime or SciFi conventions that they attend. They show up on New Year’s Day to do cuts equaling the current year. This is just the beginning. The efforts they put into their training has already put them past my capabilities.

Honestly, I look forward to it! I do, if for no other reason than to find the student who will take over the school when I’m incapable. This is a very tricky thing to watch for. How many of your younglings will continue? Have you created enough Padawans to have interest in taking over?

Lastly, as a couple reminders happened, I had the curiosity of whether or not I can have enough affect to leave a legacy in the martial arts. The martial arts knowledge that I have is pretty much all that I have to pass along to the next generation of martial artists.

Begin with Respect, End with Respect

Yeh Si Yeh Jong (Begin with Respect, End with Respect) is one of the core concepts that Supreme Grand Master Byung Jick Ro, founder of Song Moo Kwan, included in his teaching. This concept can be a difficult one to present.

All too often respect is viewed as bowing and other similar behaviors. This is the unfortunate part as those have no real connection to respect. Bowing and shaking hands are social etiquette that imply respect and courtesy.

Say what you mean and mean what you say! I really try to follow this thought. Many may find me blunt or think that I’m being short with them but it comes from their expectations of what conversation means. I work at using words specifically to illustrate what I am saying. Personally, I’ve found this really helps in a teaching setting as the students “do” what is said…until the one who thinks too much comes along.

Communication is a key to respect. Making sure that information is provided in a timely manner. When words are understood, then progress and success will happen. The fun happens when levels of respect are intrinsic. I have the fortune to work with some very high quality vendors. When one vendor happens to be yudansha (a black belt)  from the same Taekwondo lineage, there’s much more “Yes, Sir.” and “Thank you, SIr.” The humor comes from needing to make adjustments or corrections to an order and chatting about the changes. When my comment is “Do what you need.” and he hears a senior giving a command…yes, there are even more “Yes, Sir” responses. Maybe even to the point that the words aren’t true. Yes, they really are!

Then, as Today’s training went, another aspect of respect was demonstrated. The WTMA Haidong Gumdo and the Pine Tree Taekwondo students joined for a day of cutting and breaking things. All blended on the floor with little effort to take turns using stations and accomplishing everything done that they wanted.