Ghostwood Farm

Modern dislocation.
September 11, 2022, 11:18 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Below is the essay I wrote in partial fulfillment of the requirements for 3rd Dan rank in taekwondo at Lee’s Martial Arts, Bloomington.


I have experienced two relatively major changes since my Second Dan test in October 2020: I began training in two additional arts at Guardian Martial Arts that month, and I contracted COVID-19 in January 2022.

My COVID bout was relatively mild, but it has lingered in two ways. It has exacerbated the arthritis in my hands such that I experience what can only be described as chronic pain, primarily in my fingers. In addition, my hips are far more susceptible to pain than they were pre-COVID. This has functioned to reduce the stretching I am able to do and my range of motion. In taekwondo terms, my kicks, especially kicks that require turning over of the hip, have deteriorated. I can no longer side kick to the face of most opponents (an unnecessary and impractical technique for the most part, anyway). I also experience more joint pain in other areas: my knees stay sore longer and my shoulders are problematic. I suspect that I have arthritis in some of these joints as well (especially hips), but I have not sought a diagnosis. I don’t think I want to know. I know that some of this sounds like simply growing older, but the fact is that these problems turned on like a switch post-COVID.

On a brighter note, broadening my scope of training has been fantastic. I started the Natural Spirit International (NSI)/Worden Defense System branch of Modern Arnis. This includes stick, staff, and knife fighting techniques, combined with jeet kune do and hapkido-related empty hand skills. As part of that curriculum, we spend one hour a week in rules-based Muay Thai training and sparring. Muay Thai is far more directly applicable to hapkido than I would ever have thought, particularly dealing with grappling (clinch), kick defense, and takedowns, and of course taekwondo kicks have a strong place in kickboxing. One of my mantras has become, “The human body can only move in so many ways,” so the commonalities of these arts, and the way techniques bleed across (artificial) boundaries, make it more difficult every day to think about any single “pure” art. Thinking about martial arts, fighting arts, as a continuum that all inform one another, is much more constructive for me as I learn what works the best for me. My mindset, my body (physical strengths and limitations), all help me determine my style. I maintain a strong space for the tradition of each art, but in practicality, I pick and choose and integrate to augment my strengths and minimize my weaknesses.

Since my last taekwondo test, my skills, as strictly defined by the ability to physically perform specific taekwondo techniques, have doubtlessly declined. However, my overall ability as a martial artist has increased. I think better, I strategize better, I choose tactics better, and I do a better job of integrating useful techniques across arts. I do a much better job of focusing on concepts and applying them, rather than collecting individual techniques (though there is still massive room for improvement in my conceptual thinking). Focusing on concepts allows me to be resilient regardless of situation. Ranged striking, standing grappling, and ground fighting each require different approaches, but many of the concepts are the same. Range, moving oneself, moving one’s opponent, breathing, framing, and finding strong versus weak positions—these concepts are universal in martial arts.

So I train. I train about 11 hours a week, 8 of it at Lee’s. I teach two classes every week, one to a squirrelly beginner class, and one to a focused advanced class. Teaching, as I have said numerous times, is the greatest gift Lee’s has given me. It scratches an itch I couldn’t satisfy in any other way. And it has built my knowledge and understanding of taekwondo (and martial arts in general) in ways that only training cannot do. I have addressed these ideas before and will not reiterate them here. It does cost me training time (I rarely work out with the beginner class anymore, since I have found they need more guidance than I can provide if I do not watch them closely), but I truly think it makes me a stronger martial artist to teach. And I love it. Wednesday is my favorite (and longest) day of the week.

Finally, I have said in these papers before how important forms are in taekwondo; how I feel they are the grammar of the art and without them, the concepts of combinations and flow are more difficult to understand. I still think that is true. However, I also have come to believe that the higher one’s rank, the less important forms become. By Second Dan, the understanding of combinations should be well (if never fully) formed. Practicing forms is still crucial: the tradition, the control, the centering, the breathing, the awareness all remains important. However, I have come to think that, at higher ranks, forms become more of a means of self-expression than routines that are critical to learn by rote. I recognize that I am probably in the minority on this, and I am okay with that.

I have pushed in some ways that, in the moment, definitely feel like overstepping my bounds. I pushed to bring weapons into hapkido when we were all uncomfortable with heavy contact immediately post-COVID. I pushed to bring contact back to hapkido not long after that. And more recently, I pushed to start a sparring class for black belts (primarily; lower hapkido students also participate). The control that one must learn to spar safely is critical; that, together with learning to get hit and not give up are two pieces that I think are truly important in the martial arts in general. I am gratified that these classes are going well. I hope to continue to be able to help students who choose to participate think about how to integrate techniques across arts to develop their own fighting style.

I never quite know what you, The Reader, wants to see in these papers. I use them as an opportunity to provide you with a snapshot of where I am as a martial artist, how my thought has developed, since my last one. I hope that my newfound physical limitations do not prevent me from further development as a leader in our school (and maybe they will improve, who knows?). I believe that the Masters and Grandmasters understand that I am available to help in any way I can, and that opportunities to provide leadership are welcomed by me. I appreciate this place and I look forward to the future.

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