My experiences in studying the Martial Arts, Part One.

He who is only an athlete is too crude, too vulgar, too much a savage. He who is a scholar only is too soft, to effeminate. The ideal citizen is the scholar athlete, the man of thought and the man of action.” -Plato

I think this is a sentiment we can all agree with here, for a sense of completeness within ourselves, our bodies , as well as our minds ( and I would argue our souls) need nourishment. And often feeding one gives us fuel to fulfill the others. Exercising the body , lifting weights, competing in sports has shown that  it can sharpen the mind and strengthen the spirit seeking and gaining knowledge and education can increase our skill sets, as well as teach us about our bodies, using proper technique and form, and nurture the spirit via( religion, books film music the arts) to inspire us to try harder, to push ourselves to our absolute limits, make the right choices and be better people. That’s how growth is achieved, how we learn about ourselves and become better contributors to our communities, to our societies in general.

So I agree with Plato in this regard ( In many other respects I prefer Aristotle). At any point in your life as an adult one can continue to learn and grow and educate, strengthen faith or philosophy, and get some sort of fitness or play in a league sport, andit something that should be encouraged in all communities.

As a youth, I did play a season of little league tried out for football, but was always on a bike ( tried a skateboard too, not too successfully) and played sports outdoors with friends after school or on weekends, it wasn’t always videogames. In fact that usually happened last and that’s ok too, but its no substitute for physical activity.

My own passion was with the martial arts, which I have practiced on and off from the time I was 9 to I would say about ten years ago now . As I read on the internet and watch on youtube, I am far from alone and many experiences seemed to be shared with a love of cheesy movies, to Bruce lee to the ninja craze to mma. Above all these things, if one finds the right school, training in the martial arts will strengthen the body, sharpen the mind and build character , all tools one should have in a life that guarantees so little and can take so much.

My earliest experience I can recall was a friends birthday party in the second grade. He was a student of YH Park, the Olympic coach at a time when Tae Kwon do was at the height of its popularity. This had to be September of 1984 roughly, I don’t remember much other than wanting to do it. The Karate Kid was all the rage back then, and I had a cousin obsessed with Bruce Lee.

The following year, I was signed up for a ten week course at the Westbury PAL, Police Activity League for those who don’t know. I honestly cant remember the exact style, I think it was chi do kan or goju ryu ,either way it didn’t matter as it didn’t go far into the nuances of each art. It just covered the basic blocks and strikes and kicks . It was fun ,from what I remember and the teacher was pretty cool. Couldn’t take much of it aside learning the basic stances karate teaches, like cat and horse stance and such, meant to build muscle and posture rather than actually be a defensive/offensive technique.

I signed up with tae kwon do, at the same school my friend went to, at thirteen years old. It was now 1991 , I was overweight and it was the best possible thing for me. I did tae kwon do for four years, I was told I would be a black belt in two ( that’s a flag btw), but it didn’t happen though I was damn close. Those years I also trained with boys I knew who trained in different styles , like Shotokan or hung gar kung fu. Very into Bruce Lee those years too, reading his books and learning about his questioning mindset towards traditional styles, which he criticized allowed not only little room for personal growth, but would prove ineffective should the need to defend oneself arise. It probably wasn’t the right time to read that stuff, but what time ever is?

Aside being a typical teenager going through all of that, and beginning to see the cracks in the tae kwon do system itself( in an immature teenager-ish sort of way) my mother died suddenly when I was sixteen years old. It shatters in a way that oe cant see at that age, broke my father and put my brother in shock as well. I tried to ‘be a man’ ( or what I thought was how one should be) and suck it in, it was just fuel for unbridled pain and anger and I didn’t know it. My mother was the reason I stayed in tae kwon do at that point as I was having issues with some of the students, and I really saw the flaws as a fighting system and as a black belt factory. Again I was young and my views have changed but I will get to what I mean, but I  left tae kwon do, any fitness I did afterwards mainly consisted of weights and running on and off over the next few years.

Tae Kwon Do literally means ‘foot fist way’ , but there’s very little in fist striking techniques aside its basic self defense program and poomse, or forms.  It has a long history dating near 2000 years and they make sure you know it too. Everything it teaches philosophically is generally positive, it values loyalty to your family, your school, country  and wife, it teaches to persevere and to nurture an indomitable spirit, these are all good things. Every martial arts school teaches it as it should be taught.

Tae Kwon Do’s strength( and its biggest flaw) is in its dynamic kicking techniques.Before I explain I must add the other pros to be fair to it.ITae Kwon Do is also a fantastic cardio, strength and flexibility building workout. They teach you, using your body’s momentum , pivoting with the ball of your feet ,angles timing and proper hip shifting, to kick from any point at almost any height. Jumping spinning techniques are common , even among the least athletic here, and they certainly are dynamic too. At a time when everyone was awed by Jean Claude Van Damme’s helicopter kicks and teenage mutant ninja turtles, tae kwon do fit the bill as to what everyone visualized martial arts was. And the schools ate it up. you’ll be doing all sorts of dynamic stretches with tons of pushups ,crunches jumping jacks squats burpees, etc, before the actual class even starts.

The problem lies with the philosophy of the fighting system itself.Ninety percent of this art was foot/kick based. And while they have an arsenal of very good kicks that can be employed (if used correctly; very important to discern that), this is Tae Kwon Do’s biggest problem and weakness. They are flashy and fast, no doubt, but almost entirely useless in a real fight, a real self defense situation. It’s self defense program teaches very basic techniques more influenced from judo like wrist and shoulder grabs , things that rarely happen, and mostly to cover a curriculum. If you actually watch sparring in tae kwon do they often drop their hands all together to prep for some timed spinning kick to land points…they can kick an apple off of your head but what happens when you face a grappler or a boxer, someone who can get inside your long range kicks and break their effectiveness? Because that’s what’s likely gonna happen.

I exposed myself to this by training or talking to people who trained in other styles. they all have their strengths and weaknesses, and ultimately theyre tools in a tool box. But my problem to this day is that tool box felt light , too light and after for years and getting to red/black belt level one ( yes it was a multibelt system, another issue too much emphasis on that to make money)which was a belt or so below black I stopped going. I was into hanging out I had emotional things going on but on the positive side I never forgot the tenets and always tried to stay on track.  I always maintained my stretching and practiced the kicks I thought had value, in time I made peace with my misgivings with the art though today I can only recommend it for sport and exercise reasons only, not as a fighting system or self defense. There was an arrogance there among the students too ( which I found was easy to throw off; during sparring I would learn to nullify their long kick ranges and use my fists to score points. They would try  to step back and land the spinning roundhouses or back kicks. Was it fool proof? of course not, fighting is dynamic if you think youre going in and not getting hit because of what you think you know, youre gonna get hurt physically and ego wise)

The next part of this series is gonna pick up when I went back to martial arts for a brief period what was different and what was the same. Hope you enjoyed and cant wait to share more with you

Citizen G




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