Printed in MAWired, Vol 4, No. 8, September 1997.


Thomas Howard

Isn't it interesting that the "do" in Taekwondo, Hapkido, judo, kendo, etc, is the same "do" when looked at, as the "do" when you decide to go "do" something?

Perhaps that is one of the problems with the martial arts today---we confuse the "do" of martial arts with the "do" of doing. This is a problem, because at base, the martial arts aren't about doing things.

In the martial arts, "do" is about being.

But in so many cases, we get concerned with what we are doing:

...instead of what we are BEING:
Yes, the martial arts are fighting arts, full of physical techniques and action----and yet, there isn't a high-level instructor out there that will but tell you that it isn't about technique.

It's about being.

Physical techniques don't really matter----given enough practice, anyone can become competent in physical techniques. And yet, there are always people we look at and say "There's something he's got," or "There's something about the way she is" this just seems to be beyond physical technique, and yet seems to exemplify what martial arts are---even though objectively speaking, their technique really isn't that different from anyone else's.

In the book Toward the Unknown by Tri Thong Dang, his main character, Master Lam, says:

"The basic objective in our advanced training is not technical contrivance. No, not that stuff anymore. The basic objective is to be. Whereas to do means only to perform activities on the superficial layers of our being, to be means to delve into the innermost core." [*]
Yes, when you start, concentration on the physical aspects is all important. Just like when learning a musical instrument, first you have to learn how to produce sound, in tune, in time, with fingering exercises, arpeggios, and scales.

After all, you can't play the music unless you can play the notes.

But the notes aren't the music. After mastering the movements, THEN you start working on producing music. Yes, part of musicality is technical accuracy. Difficult music requires a good grasp of sound production---but there are people out there with perfect technique who really aren't musical at all, and you can tell that when you listen to them.

Music is emotion given shape and form, thoughts given voice. When one of the really good people plays, you don't say "My, what an excellent arpeggio." No, tears come to your eyes, and you sit rapt, listening to the beauty.

Music isn't about technique. And martial arts aren't either. Knowledge of technique is a start----but that's just like learning the notes as you seek to become a musician. It's a beginning, but that's it. A scale is just a series of notes, just as a form is just a series of techniques---when you are a beginner.

And later, the musician plays a ripple of notes on their instrument, that at base is really only a scale, and yet is so much more. Similarly, a form becomes something more...

It's not about doing. It's about being.

[*] Two books on martial arts by Tri Thong Dang: Beyond the Known, and Toward the Unknown. I can't say I really like these books, because for the most part, the writing is simplistic, annoying, and the examples can be quite trite.

And yet, every once in awhile the author says something really important in a really good, highly understandable, wonderfully comprehendable way. I don't know if I'd say you should BUY these two books----but if you know someone who has them, you might borrow them to read.

Thomas is a hapkidoist with too much time on his hands while at work, and who apologizes for the combination of pompous philosophy and trite obviousness in this writing---I just couldn't think of any better way to say it. Sorry, folks. Comments to Thomas