Category Archives: White Tiger Ramblings

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

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”

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.

How can you teach?

I really enjoy helping people along their martial arts path. I gain energy and renewed excitement for my training. There are also many, many insights gained from hearing students comment or describe their thoughts. Even learning new, maybe improved, ways to “talk” my experiences to students.

The most innocent problem that can arise is when instructional opportunities are lost. This most often happens when a student loses their teacher. There can be many reasons to this. I searched for a place to answer my questions. It took many years, so I spent time in many different schools. Once I found answers, which truly just created more questions, I was able to be a student who could focus on learning.

This leads to another place where students struggle. I’ve heard from several students that they’d like to teach at some point, maybe even have their own school. To do this they need to start asking questions about everything from the history, curriculum, etiquette, and leadership. It will also include politics and building a good network. A main factor here is to make sure that you are within a group that “plays nice together”. This may happen within the organization/association that your current teacher is in, which is great, but it should also include teachers and schools outside your organization. Gaining insights from fellow martial artists is pretty much a requirement.

If you aren’t interested in continuing the curriculum and passing on the knowledge that you gained during your martial arts journey, why are you teaching? This doesn’t apply to those who help teach classes and fill in to teach as part of being proper students (those without interest in having their own school). This one applies to those who actively seek out teaching roles but don’t put hours into their own training and development.

I’ve come to understand that martial arts training and teaching is a passion. It can be enhanced by business plans but if you don’t truly love it, then you’ll never achieve your goals. The recent visit to a California school brought out different layers of these points. Everyone was thirsty for the chance to improve the current material and hungered for learning more. They’ve started asking the right questions.

Simple Respect

There is much talk about respect in the martial arts and in growing younglings. All too often this respect focuses on following directions – sit still, be quiet, eat your dinner – but it goes much further than that.

Though it goes deeper, the concepts aren’t difficult. They do speak volumes about you and your attitudes. Consider the following.

Respect my time. If you wish to work with me, train with me or have me assist you in some other manner, then don’t be late. I’m putting my time into you. Make sure that you are willing to put, at least, the same amount of time into yourself. This may be a portion, in addition to discipline, for the military idea that being 10 minutes early is being on time. There is no respect in being late.

Match my effort. I may be able to help you grow and succeed in a portion of your life, namely martial arts, but this concept fits beyond that as an illustration. I would wager that you have come across several things in your life where you are amazed that more people aren’t as passionate about the topic as you are. I have with the martial arts. Why don’t more people want to train? Why don’t more people want to learn deeper? The same questions can be asked about your passions. The concept here, though, is about actually putting in the effort for your passion as you see others putting into theirs. If you don’t put in the effort, you will never reach the goals and success that you want. I’ve even used my failing in effort as a lesson to my students. My personal training suffered as I didn’t put enough effort into myself to maintain nor progress. I didn’t match my own effort from earlier.

Keep your word. This isn’t truly about making promises. This is about staying accountable for how you serve others and support your family/community. When you have chosen to step up to help others, make sure that you step up. This is everything from training hard, to getting your schoolwork done, to taking care of daily chores, and anything that you have agreed to do. You would expect others to do the same when helping you, so make sure you are for them.

Always be honest. You need to be yourself! There is no benefit in trying to make someone else happy or respect you. Do what you know is right and work toward your goals. When those goals provide the opportunity to help support others, then do it.

Stay consistent. Consistency is a product of discipline and understanding. When you stay consistent, you illustrate that you have a good idea about your journey and goals. When you have an idea of what your goals are, you start to develop the discipline required to accomplish them. It also, usually, indicates that you’ve gotten past the drama that others may try to bring into your life. This means that you’re working from a solid foundation that leads to being in and supporting the right group/circle. Your consistency means that you can be counted on. Something important for helping others and getting help.