Always seek Perfection or become Normal (aka one of the mindless masses)

As most of you know I teach statistics at a college level. This coming semester will mark the 120th time I have taught ECON221 – Statistics 1. I started teaching this class in 1994. Basically, I’ve been teaching it a lot for a long time. Over the years of teaching, I have noticed something very disturbing, and very motivational. It is important to note that I have taught the same classes and used the same exams (well different numbers) for all those years. Back when I first started teaching, the mean (average) final grade for my students was normally in the mid-’80s. Now it is in the mid-’70s. What has changed? Well, I curve my grades now and I didn’t when I first started. I wrote a statistics textbook for my students so that they can understand the material better. Oh, and I give the students written procedures for how to solve every problem they will encounter in my class. I do all that just so my students can pass. In the beginning, there was no book, there were no procedures, there was no Internet just overheads, and I really didn’t know how to teach all that well. So what is going on? Why didn’t the average go up?

“Parents call it “bad grades”, we call it “still passing.”

– taken from a student’s Twitter Feed

This is why.  Students only care about passing and not about truly learning statistics. Ok, maybe not truly learning statistics but getting an “A” so that their GPA is as high as possible. I can’t tell you how many students actually tell me, “as long as I get a ‘C’ I’ll be happy”, every semester. I never heard that 15 years ago. Instead, they would say, “anything but an ‘A’ is unacceptable to me”, fairly consistently. Sadly, most of my students now only care about being average. That is what a “C” is after all.

I see this mentality everywhere. Instead of seeking perfection, which takes work, most people and companies seek normality. As I write this, I’m sitting in Starbucks looking out over an empty seating area. One of the employees just came out and “cleaned” the tables and chairs. Other than my wife and me there is only one person in here. In other words, there is nothing for the employees to do. So why are there food pieces all over the floor? Because that is where the employee, that was cleaning the tables, swept them. Sweeping the floor would take extra work. Why would he do that when he can get away with not doing it?

photo e1337540199170

Why would anyone want to seek perfection when normality is accepted and expected? Because, if you strive for perfection you can and probably will achieve greatness or at least be elevated above the normal masses. Let’s take a look at a company that never accepted “average”, even when that would have been a huge improvement for them. This company started with two friends in a garage tinkering with electronics and grew into the highest valued company in the world. Steve Jobs never accepted normal or average, he demanded perfection of everyone that worked for Apple. If an employee didn’t strive for perfection, they were out of a job.

I realize that achieving perfection might not be possible all the time, but it should always be strived for. Even if all my statistics students strived for a perfect grade and worked as hard as they could, not all of them would get an ‘A’. But, I bet they would get higher grades than if they had just strived to pass the class.

So, what do you strive for? For me, anything but perfection for myself, my Taekwondo students and the companies I deal with, is unacceptable (ask my fellow bloggers is you don’t believe me). I admit there is a lot of things that I do that are not perfect but that is not due to a lack of trying on my part. It is due to my limitations, mentally or physically. What can I do then if these limitations percent me from achieving perfection? Eliminate my limitations, that’s what. For example, when I was a teenager, I was defiantly limited by the fact that I was ADHD. No, I was never diagnosed with this condition, but I could not control myself even though I tried. My instructor would tell me not to move when standing in line, but I would move anyway. I didn’t want to but my body had other plans. This condition was limiting me and had to go. That is when I started meditating on a daily basis. Instead of sitting back and accepting my limitations, I utterly destroyed them.

photo 1

Almost Perfect

 

photo 2

Average

Always seek perfection or become normal (aka one of the mindless masses) and who wants to be normal?

Something to think about…

Grandmaster Sean Pearson

Time Management – Why would anyone want to live like that?

quadrants

Last night I took a break from martial arts and played a video game. Yes, I play video games occasionally. When I was playing, I noticed that a person I had played the game with a few days ago had already finished the game and was almost finished playing through it a third time. The first thought that entered my mind was, “he’s ahead of me” and I (for a very brief moment) wasn’t happy. Then it hit me, why do I even care? I don’t and I’m embarrassed that I did for even a second or two.

In other articles, I’ve talked about time management skills and how people’s lives can be drastically changed if they simply learn how to manage their time. I am a huge fan of Stephen Covey and when I teach time management seminars I incorporate a lot of his ideas. In Covey’s “7 Habits” book he introduced the concept of the 4 quadrants. Everything we do throughout the day can be placed into one of these quadrants. Quadrant 1 contains those things that are urgent and important. Quadrant 2 contains those things that are not urgent but are important. Quadrant 3 contains things that are urgent but not important. Finally, quadrant 4 contains things that are not urgent and not important. People that are able to primarily live in quadrant 2 are much more productive, efficient, have more free time and tend to be much happier due to a lack of stress caused by, “I don’t have enough time in my day to do the things I want to do”. People that live in quadrant 4, however, live in the land of the living dead (I borrowed that expression from my wilderness survival training). They are not productive, not efficient, they might be happy but they contribute nothing to society and they could care less about bettering themselves.

I could spend an entire day lecturing on the 4 quadrants, so needless to say they are beyond the scope of this post. For this article, I specifically want to talk about people who choose to live in quadrant four. Quadrant four, as I already stated, contains activities that are not urgent or important. I am totally dumbfounded at the number of people who spend most of their free time in this quadrant. I should point out that it is ok to spend some time in this quadrant to unwind or simply do an activity you enjoy because that might be something that you “need” mentally. “A break from reality”, so to speak. But, think about it, if you need it then it is important and falls in quadrant 2. The trick is knowing when you really don’t “need” it anymore. After how much time of playing Diablo 3 do I personally shift out of quadrant 2 and into 4? Only I can answer that, but I need to be very honest with myself about what I truly need and not what I might just want.

Now I’m going to go off on a tangent (I tend to do that from time to time) for a second to talk about an average 9-5 person and their week. There are 168 hours in a week. A “typical” person works 5, 8 hour days for a total of 40 hours. That leaves 128 hours of non-work time. That is a lot of time. I know, “I have to sleep”. Ok, if you go by what the doctors say, you need 8 hours of sleep a night (which by the way is ridiculous – I can get anyone down to 5 to 6 hours of sleep a night and they will be as rested as someone who sleeps 8 hours). That is 56 hours (or 35 hours) of sleep per week. That means that there are 72 hours (or 93) left in a typical person’s week. You could work a second full-time job and have time left over. Think about how much you could get done, how many people you could help, how good of shape you could get in if you applied all that time to do activities in quadrant 2. I know what you are thinking, because I’ve heard it all before, you are thinking I have lots of stuff I have to do like chores around the house, shopping for food, taking the kids to soccer, etc. It’s true there are a lot of activities that you have to do in your daily life that will take up a lot of your leftover time. I bet however that you are spending a lot of time doing activities that are not urgent and not important: watching tv, playing video games, reading fiction, etc.  How about this one, what do you do when you are driving? Do you listen to music? The drive itself might be important but listening to music isn’t. Why not listen to an audiobook, and not a fiction book. Here is a suggestion, listen to Covey’s 7 Habits book. It changed my life. I can’t tell you how many people comment to me on a regular basis, “how do you have time to do that?”. I have time because I know how to manage my time, thanks in part to Covey.

Anyway, back to the post topic.  We as a society need to get out of quadrant 4.  I can’t tell you how many students I have lost to activities in this quadrant. I guess it all comes down to what you want out of life. If you want to have “fun” and constantly feed the desire demon then live in quadrant 4. Chances are that if you are one of those people, you are not even reading this post because you are getting your quadrant 4 fix. However, if you want to improve yourself and through that improvement have a lasting beneficial impact on the people around you and society in general, then live in quadrant 2. So how do we do that? Constantly ask yourself, “what quadrant is what I am doing in?”. If your answer is quadrant 4 (not urgent and not important), simply do something else.

If your answer is quadrant 3 (urgent but not important), ask yourself, “is it really urgent to me or just to someone else”. Frequently people who are in quadrant 3 find themselves there because someone else thinks it’s urgent when in reality it is not truly urgent for you. Regardless of the reason, finish up whatever you are doing in quadrant 3 (answering the phone, dealing with someone who walks into your office, etc.) and move out of that quadrant. It is possible, with some planning, to drastically cut down on the amount of time you are forced to spend time in quadrant 3. For example, I give all my statistics students my cell phone number so that they can call me with they need help. In the beginning, they could call me at any time (24/7). I found myself in quadrant 3 on a regular basis (sometimes at 2 am). To partially get out of this quadrant, I set my phone so that it would only let calls from my statistics students through for a few hours each day. I cut my time in quadrant 3 down by 75% simply by making that change. Don’t want people walking in your office without an appointment? Lock the door. I realize that some people, due to the nature of their work, can’t make such drastic implementations but you can in your personal life. Turn your cell phone off. Turn your email program off. Believe it or not, people were able to survive before cell phones and emails. With a little creative thinking anyone, no matter what their job or personal situation, can substantially cut back on the time spent in quadrant 3.

If your answer is quadrant 1, then at least you are doing something that is important, but why is it urgent? It is possible to have something come up that is urgent and important (a sick relative, an unexpected crisis at work, etc.) but a lot of times people find themselves in quadrant 1 instead of quadrant 2 because of procrastination. If there is a task in your future that is important, then get it done before it becomes urgent. That way you will be doing the task in quadrant 2 instead of 1. Why should be care? Where quadrant 4 is the land of the living dead, quadrant 1 is the land of stress and anxiety. Why would you want to live in either land? I wouldn’t and don’t. Make a conscious decision to live in quadrant 2, the land of productivity, creativity, and happiness and watch your life change almost immediately.

Something to think about…..

If One’s Words are no better than Silence, One Should Remain Silent

How many times have you overheard someone talking about something you are knowledgable about and they don’t have a clue about what they are talking about?  It happened to me last weekend.  I was watching my wife’s daughter playing in a soccer game.  In front of me, was a group of three people.  One person was going on and on about what a chiropractor can and can’t help people with. Now, let me be clear, I’m not a chiropractor.  One of my best friends is however and I am fully aware of the range of his practice.

This all started when the person talking (the talker) had mentioned that she had taken her daughter to a chiropractor.  Her friend then said she was thinking about taking her daughter in for a condition she had.  The “talker”, who had no idea of what she was talking about, started telling her that chiropractors can’t fix or help with that condition.   Which is ridiculous, because my friend fixed the same condition in me.  So what should the talker have done differently?  She should have said, “I don’t know if a chiropractor can help with that.”, “I’m no expert but if I had to guess I’d say they can’t help with that.”, or “I have no idea if they can, but this is how my daughter made out with her visit.”. By acting as an expert, the “talker” basically convinced her friend not to take her daughter to a person that could have helped her.  Who knows how long it will take before her condition is better now.  It has been my experience that people who truly know what they are talking about don’t go around talking about it and the people who don’t know what they are talking about, talk about it all the time.

So, if you have no idea what you are talking about, do everyone a favor and remain silent.  I’m silent all the time (well most of the time).

Something to think about…

Grandmaster Sean Pearson

Get Rid of the Clocks in your Bedroom

How many of you wake up to an alarm?

Over the past few decades, I have only been woken up by an alarm two or three times (after traveling and changing time zones).  The rest of the time I have woken up on my own.  “Why does it matter?” you are probably asking.  When we sleep, we go through various phases of sleep from very light to very deep.  When you are woken up from a deep phase of sleep (by an alarm clock or a person) you will feel exhausted, even if you have gotten enough sleep.  On the other hand, if you wake up when you are in a light phase of sleep, you feel refreshed and not sleepy, even if you didn’t get enough sleep.  In other words, the key is to wake up when you are in the light phase of sleep.  This can not be done with a conventional alarm clock because it has no idea what phase you are in.  There are new alarms on the market now that can keep track of your sleep phase and only wake you up when you are in a light phase.  That’s great but why would you want to spend all that money on something that you don’t need.  With a little practice, it is very easy to set your “mind” alarm clock.  Simply tell yourself what time you want to wake up at and poof, that is when you will wake up.  Now it won’t be exactly the time you “set”, but it will be close and you will be in a light sleep phase.  So, if you need to be up at say 6 am, tell yourself that you need to be up at 5:30.  That way you will have a 30-minute buffer.  In the beginning, set your alarm as a backup, but within a week or two, you will no longer need it.  The only time I ever set an alarm is if I have to catch a very early flight and I never need it (but I set it just in case).  At the winter retreat, I have to be up before 4 am to get ready to ring the bell, never once in 25 years have I used an alarm.  Every day I go to work I get up without an alarm. It’s not difficult.

How many of you wake up on a daily basis and look at the clock to see what time it is?  Those of you that do, how many of you decide to get up or stay in bed based on what time it is, instead of whether or not you are truly sleepy?

Ok, I realize that if it is a workday you need to know what time it is but on a non-work day do you really need to know?  Why not simply get up when you are done sleeping?  You might surprise yourself on how much your sleeping habits change simply by not looking at the clock.  There was an interesting study done where several people lived in caves by themselves.  They were told to sleep when they were sleepy and get up when they were not.  Because they were in caves and they had no clocks, they had no idea what time it was and no idea how much time had passed.  All of the participants in this experiment very quickly started sleeping less and less.  Haven’t you ever woken up fully rested only to realize that it was earlier than you had thought, then you forced yourself to go back to sleep and when you finally got out of bed you were exhausted?  This is a very typical occurrence.

Give it a try and see how much your life changes for the better.

Something to think about…

Grandmaster Sean Pearson

The Mirror

In this video, I talk about how a weapon can be your instructor and how it is a mirror that reflects your imperfections back upon you.  This video was taken during a seminar offered jointly by Shin Ho Kwan and Aikido Ko Ki Kai.

I apologize for part of my head not being in the video, the person that set up the camera didn’t take the time to make sure it was aimed correctly. Enjoy.

Something to think about…..

Grandmaster Sean Pearson

Taekwondo is more than just Kicking and Punching or “Wait, really, my belt has two ends?”

img 1826

As a teenager, the simple act of walking out onto the training floor was always a challenge for me.  It was a very rare day that I didn’t do something wrong the instant my foot hit the floor, which inevitably resulted in me doing pushups.  “What could I possibly do wrong?” you ask.  Well let’s see, there was the occasionally forgotten bow, there was my lack of awareness of my instructor standing next to the door, which resulted in me not saying, “Hello Sir”, there was even the one time my foot caught on the edge of the mat and I fell flat on my face at the feet of my instructor.  The list goes on and on and on……  One day, I was so excited when I realized that I was at least 10 feet out onto the training floor and I wasn’t doing pushups.  I looked around the room with a big smile on my face, as if I had just won some major reward.  That is when I saw my instructor walking toward me and my smile instantly faded.  I thought, “Pushups!  You are smiling”, but alas no.  Instead, he walked over to me and gently took the ends of my belt in his hands.  He then pulled them straight out in front of my body to illustrate that one end of my belt was longer than the other.  Then he asked, “Are you physically deficient or mentally deficient today?” and then walked away.  He later explained that the ends of the belt represent the mental and physical aspects of Taekwondo and that like a correctly tied belt, with equal length ends, they should both be practiced equally.

Unfortunately, very very few schools teach Taekwondo that way and I’m sad to say my instructor at that time didn’t either, for the most part (there was a reason for that).   Please don’t think for a second that I am in any way putting my instructor, at that time, down because I’m not.  I owe everything to him and if any aspect of his teaching was changed I might have never made it to where I am today.  He as a student, like most Taekwondo students, was never taught anything but the physical aspects of Taekwondo.  Sure, he learned the basic history of Taekwondo, some Korean terminology, manners, creed, etc. but that is where it stopped.  And, because of his limited exposure to the mental aspects, he was not able to expose his students to anything more than what he had learned.

“If someone comes up to you and whispers the truth to you in your right ear and someone comes up to you and asks for the truth out of your left ear, you have an obligation to share that truth!”

I recite that quote to my students more than I’m sure they would like but it is very important with respect to this article.  Almost everyone that hears it assumes I am stressing the need to teach (share the truth) and they would be right, but in this case, I’m not.  In this case, I would like to focus on the fact that the quote illustrates that we can only pass on that which has been passed on to us.  So my instructor was doing exactly what he should have been doing, passing on what was passed on to him.  His instructor was doing exactly what he should have been doing, passing on what was passed on to him.  As long as the “passing on” is 100%, no one was doing anything wrong.  Therein lies the problem.

“Back in the day” students would attend a class every day and instructors would have a lot more time to teach both the mental and physical aspects of Taekwondo.  Nowadays, for most schools, that isn’t possible.  Nationally, most students on average attend classes twice a week for 60 minutes.  So most instructors that have the knowledge to teach the mental aspects of Taekwondo, out of necessity, have opted to focus on the physical aspects.  This selective focus has forced the shift of Taekwondo from a Martial Art to a sport or simply a physical activity.  OK, before everyone reading this gets all bent out of shape, I realize that this isn’t true for every Taekwondo school but it is for most.  Even my school isn’t immune to this shift.  I simply don’t have enough classroom time to pass on everything I know.  I too am also forced to spend most classroom time teaching physical techniques.  Over 20 years ago, in an effort to help balance this lack of teaching the mental aspects, I started offering a “Winter Retreat”.  This annual retreat exclusively offers the students access to the mental side of Taekwondo.  However, even that isn’t enough because the material covered at the retreat is almost never repeated once taught.  There simply still isn’t enough time.

So, what is the solution?  Most instructors would say, “students need to learn the mental aspects of Taekwondo off the training floor, on their own.”  Back in 1990, Grandmaster Ahn and I had this very discussion.  I brought up the fact that we needed to teach more of the mental aspects and he promptly asked, “When?”  He talked about how there simply isn’t enough time in class and if he made time, the students would end up failing their physical promotion exams.  He felt, as I mentioned earlier, that it was the student’s job to explore the mental aspects on their own time.  I then pointed out my belief that most students don’t do that.  We went back and forth for almost an hour before he agreed to put his Black Belts to a test.  Grandmaster Ahn came up with a list of topics he felt his black belts should have a working knowledge of.  I then made up a written “quiz” based on that list.  Grandmaster Ahn gave all the black belt that attended that week’s black belt class the quiz and both of us were surprised by the results.  I thought the grades would be lower than they were and he thought they would be higher than they were.  After discussing the results, he came to the conclusion that students, in general, lacked mental knowledge do to a lack of easily accessible printed material and therefore the next week he called me into his office and tasked me with writing new manuals for his association.

img 1967

That was the beginning of my obsession.  Ask any of the Master Instructors within Shin Ho Kwan what I do in my spare time and they will all say, “Write Manuals!”  Over the years, I have constantly rewritten and reworked the manuals until I finally was able to publish Shin Ho Kwan Volume 1 & 2 (300 pages), and I still wasn’t done.  Currently, I have over 30 books/manuals on Amazon.

Enough about my books.  So what is an instructor or student to do about all this?  If you are a typical instructor and are only seeing your students 2 – 3 times a week, it is your job to make it as easy as possible for your students to learn the mental aspects.  Here is a list what I suggest:

  • Write a manual for your school or use your association’s manual or use another school’s manual (with permission).
  • Provide a reading list.
  • Provide a movie (documentary) list.
  • Have a school library.
  • Give written exams.
  • Start a blog that focuses on the mental aspects.
  • Have a school web page (that contains material other than advertising).
  • Host mental retreats.
  • Host guest lecturers.
  • Start a “club” within your school that focuses on only the mental aspects.
  • And the most important of all, never stop learning yourself.

So what is a student to do about this?  That’s simple, constantly ask questions?  There is nothing that upsets me more than a student that has one-on-one time with their instructor and they either don’t talk or they talk about non-martial art-related stuff.  What a wasted opportunity!  Believe me when I say you can never ask enough questions.  Also, READ!  How many books on martial arts have you read?  How many books on Asian culture and philosophy have you read?  With today’s technology, most of what was only available in book form when I was a color belt is available on the internet for free, so there is no excuse for not reading something.  If your school isn’t providing you a balanced mental/physical education, you have two choices:  learn it on your own or switch schools.

Something to think about….

Grandmaster Sean Pearson

Su Pa I

Three Phases of Learning in Shin Ho Kwan

su pa i

 

Phase 1: Su (수) – To Defend & Protect

“Su” comes from the Chinese word “Shou” (守) which means: to defend, protect, guard, conserve.  守 is made up of 宀 and 3 additional strokes. The character “宀” means, “roof”.

In this phase, a new students learn the fundamentals of the art, including the movements, techniques, manners, mental knowledge, etc.  It is very important that these students faithfully follow the teachings of their instructor because the student is not ready to explore any modifications.

If you believe everything I say, you are a fool.  Prove me right or prove me wrong.  However, do it my way, for now, so you can live long enough to prove me wrong.  – Tom Brown Jr.

Phase 2: Pa (파) – To Break & Destroy

“Pa” comes from the Chinese word “Po” (破) which means: to rupture, break, ruin, destroy.  破 is made up of 石 and 5 additional strokes. The character “石” means, “stone”.

In this phase, students are finally ready to learn.  In Shin Ho Kwan this is typically around the rank of First Degree Black Belt.  This is when students start to form their own ideas and start breaking from tradition.  From a mental point of view, this is when the students start to make progress cutting through their egos and breaking their attachments to the illusions of self that have formed over their lifetimes.  They finally start to realize that the mirror is lying.

Phase 3: I (이) – To Leave

“I” comes from the Chinese word “Li” (離) which means: to leave, depart, go away, separate.  離 is made up of 隹 and 11 additional strokes. The character “隹” means, “bird”.  It should be noted that 離 is also the character for the third trigram (fire).

In this phase, students have transcended the movements, techniques, manners, mental knowledge, etc.  They dwell in the four minds of Shin Ho Kwan, switching back and forth spontaneously.  When practicing a technique, they have no conscious thoughts.  Their minds cut through any invasive delusional thoughts.  They stand completely aware of their surroundings and are always open to new ideas.  They cling to nothing, including their egos, because they have no ego.  All their thought-objects disappear and their thinking minds drop away.

For things are things because of mind, as mind is mind because of things. – Xin Xin Ming

Something to think about….

Grandmaster Sean Pearson

Taegeuk Poomse

Since the formation of the World Taekwondo Federation, its officers and member countries have tried to standardize the practice of Forms in Taekwondo.  To accomplish this, they developed a set of forms called the Taegeuk Poomse.  When these forms were being created, all of their movements, techniques, appearances and projected meanings were based on the Eight Trigrams, with each one of the Taegeuks representing a different Trigram.  A general misconception, however, is that only the physical portion of the Taegeuk Poomse needs to be mastered.  In order to practice the Taegeuk forms properly, conveying their intended meaning to one’s self and to observers, it is necessary to combine both the physical and mental aspects of the Taegeuk forms.  At the point when this is accomplished, the forms will take on an entirely different appearance, atmosphere, and ambiance.

Taegeuk One (태극1장) – “Heaven” is the beginning of all Taegeuk Forms that follow.  It is the father of all and the initial molding force that guides future actions and outcomes in these forms. It is pure Yang and therefore is representative of Heaven and light.  As such, it should be performed with the grandeur that is due to Heaven and with the caution that any mistake made here will change the course of future events for the worse.

Taegeuk Two (태극2장) – “Lake” is representative of a Lake: serene, placid and halcyon.  In its depths lie untold treasures, and mysteries of the life it supports.  The movements of this form should be done with fluidity and the realization that even though there are boundaries that control our actions, we have the ability to overcome them.  This knowledge, however, should not cause the exaggeration of amour-propre but increase the joy that is felt when one is in control of one’s destiny.

Taegeuk Three (태극3장) – “Fire” flashes with the energy of the Trigram it represents: Fire.  For centuries, Fire has been a means of survival and without it, the amelioration of mankind would have come to an end.  Ironically, Fire has also simultaneously been the means of catastrophe.  Like Fire, the techniques of this form should be done in an almost rhythmic fashion with occasional outbursts of energy.

Taegeuk Four (태극4장) – “Thunder” is energy in one of its more beautiful states.  Thunder emanates from the Heavens and reaches down to the Earth in a fury that is hardly ever matched by any force created by nature.  It circles, revolves and gyrates through and around the zephyr.  It is in this mind state that Taegeuk Four should be performed.

Taegeuk Five (태극5장) – “Wind” being predominantly Yang, tends to be benevolent in nature.  Gently blowing the trees, grasses, and inhabitants of the Earth, it is mentally and physically uplifting.  However, in its rage, Wind has the power to destroy villages, cities and in extreme cases, even entire states.  Taegeuk Five Poomse should be performed in this light, with flowing elegance, while containing the ability to cause mass destruction with a single movement.

Taegeuk Six (태극6장) – “Water” is representative of Water.  Like Water, it is at once a genesis and decimation.  Seemingly supple and conforming, it has the ability to move a mountain.  The movements of Taegeuk Six are performed in accordance with the nature of Water: occasionally standing still as a lake, moving fast as a racing river, or exploding outward as a crashing wave.

Taegeuk Seven (태극7장) – “Mountain” being predominantly Um, closely resembles the mental essence of Taegeuk Eight.  Mountains can range in size from a small hill, located in Central America, to the tallest apex on the planet Earth, located in the Himalayas.  Regardless of their physical dimensions, all Mountains share the same grandeur and majesty.  Therefore, this Poomse should be executed with the feeling that your movements deserve the highest praise and esteem.  Caution should again, as in Taegeuk One, be taken that one’s ego is not exaggerated.

Taegeuk Eight (태극8장) – “Earth” is pure Um: the end of the beginning, the dark side of a mountain, the evil element of all that is good.  However, nothing can exist as pure Um or Yang.  Therefore, even in a state of complete darkness, there is still light to be found right around the corner.  If a man starts walking around a circle, eventually he will come to a point where one more step will take him back to the same spot at which he started his journey.  The practitioner of Taegeuk Eight should keep this in mind; even though Taegeuk Eight is the last form learned, it is also the first, second, third…  The mental and physical portrayal of this form should be as such.

The Taegeuk Poomse are taught to Taekwondo students in accordance with their rank and ability.  Therefore, at any one given point in a student’s training, he or she may not know the entire collection of forms.  However, there will be a point at which the entire group has been learned.  At this juncture, the forms can be practiced as a set to convey their meaning as a totality.

The main problem that arises in the practice of the Taegeuk Poomse is that most individuals never practice all the forms together, but select only one or two forms at random to work on.  Another problem that arises is that most people who do practice all the Taegeuk forms in one session take a break after they perform only two or three forms.  In order to convey the true meaning of these forms as a whole, all the forms need to be performed as one continuous pattern, with no breaks or ready motions in between each pattern.

It should be noted that the majority of Taoist texts written in their original form do not have to be read in any specific order.  The chapters of these books can be read in any order and the reader will have the same understanding of the work as if it were read from front to back.  In some cases, the understanding of the work will be greater if the text is not read in order.  This concept also applies to the Taegeuk Poomse.  The forms do not have to be done in ascending order; they can be done in a random, descending or prearranged order.  Regardless of the order in which these forms are practiced, as long as all the forms are performed and none of them are repeated, the same overall meaning will be conveyed.  However, with respect to the trigrams, the forms do have an order of importance.

The following chart illustrates this ordering:

Order of Importance Taegeuk Order of Importance Taegeuk
1 1 3 5
3 2 2 6
2 3 3 7
3 4 1 8

The reason the Trigrams have this order of importance is quite simple.  The first and eighth trigrams are pure Yang and Um, respectively, and are therefore of greatest importance.  The third and sixth can both be vertically flipped and still exist as the same Trigram, which makes them of secondary importance.  The remaining Trigrams do not possess either of these properties and are therefore of lowest importance.

The following diagram provides a means of practicing the Taegeuk Poomse in accordance with the theory of the order of importance, with respect to the Trigrams:

 

tforms

 

Note: Start at either Taegeuk 1 or 8.  Progress through the graph by alternating from black to white circles.  Do every form once and only once.  Only go in the direction the arrows point.

The necessity of practicing the Taegeuk Poomse from both the physical and mental standpoint cannot be overly stressed.  If these forms are practiced only as a series of physical movements, they are not complete.  An analogy would be that of a golfer with a club but no ball.  If only the mental aspect of the forms were to be taught for the benefit of teaching students part of the philosophical dimension of Taekwondo, then this would represent a step forward for most schools.  The greatest advantage is achieved only when the mental aspect of the Taegeuk Poomse is fully integrated into the forms.

Something to think about….

Grandmaster Sean Pearson

What is a Koan?

Koan (kong’an in Korean) is a Sino-Japanese word.  That is to say, it originated in the Chinese language and is now used in Japan.   The word is made up of two characters: 公案.  The first character, 公 (Ko) means “public” and the second character, 案 (An) means, “case”.  So together, the characters translate as “public case”.

Koans can be traced back to China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907).  Originally, they were stories/saying, with commentaries, of famous Chan Buddhist Masters, which were used to educate Buddhist students and specifically offer them a glimpse into the higher levels of Buddhist teachings. In the Song Dynasty, they evolved into short phrases or even individual words that the students would meditate on.  This practice was believed to “awaken” the students and give them insight into the higher teaching of Buddhism (Buddha Nature).

Years past and eventually the Japanese schools of Zen Buddhism adopted (took over) koan practice from the Chinese schools. At this point in their history, koans started to take on their current form, as stories, dialogues, statements and/or riddles (unanswerable questions) that masters could use not only as pointers to guide students to gain deeper insight but also as a way of testing a student’s progress.

This process typically started with a student being assigned a koan to study/meditate on. After some time had passed, he/she would appear before his/her master and “answer” the koan.  Depending on the answer, the master would either send the student back to work on the koan some more or assign a new koan.  Over time, the Japanese Zen Masters formed a standardized koan curriculum, with a set of acceptable answers and even a standardized method of guiding students that have not successfully “answered” a koan.  In a lot of ways this process was (and still is) very similar to a martial art promotion exam, except it was done privately.

As with so many other Zen practices, koans eventually started being used within martial art schools (around the twelfth century).  Some of the traditional Zen koans were used (with a few changes) but for the most part, the martial art masters used koans they had developed specifically for their students, that were lacking most, if not all, the “Zen” overtones.  These new martial art koans tended to be used as pointers to guide students to self-education.  They, like their Zen counterparts, were also used to force students to gain deeper insight, but in this case into the more subtle mental aspects of the martial arts and not Buddhism.

Today, for the most part, only very traditional martial art schools still use koans.  You will be hard-pressed to find them contained in the curriculum of any school that frequents tournaments (schools focused on the sporting aspect of the art they teach) or has neon signs (franchise schools).  In addition, the schools that do use them as part of a student’s mental education tend to only assign one or two over the student’s entire life, as opposed to 20 or more that a Zen student might study.

Back in the early ’90s, I was running a Taekwondo school for Grandmaster Kyongwon Ahn in Cincinnati, Ohio.  One day, as I was sitting at my desk a teenage girl walked in and wanted information about classes.  At that point, I immediately started providing her with my classic new student recruitment talk.  She patiently listened and after I was done, asked about black belt classes.  It turns out that she was already a black belt in Taekwondo and was looking for a new school.  After a lengthy discussion as to why she wanted to switch schools, I agreed to let her join on a probationary trial.  She easily made it through the trial and became an active student of both the school I was running and Grandmaster Ahn’s main school.  Over time she became fascinated with the stories I would tell in class.  She constantly would ask questions about them.  At that point in my teaching, I had never assigned a koan but I thought it might be a good time to start and I assigned her one.  Immediately, as so many students I have come to find out do, she had an answer.  Guess what?  The answer was wrong.  It was wrong because the answer came from her conscious mind, her thinking mind. I told her that she would never get the correct answer by thinking about it.  I reminded her that her koan was a pointer toward a place where she would profoundly gain a deeper insight into a truth about some mental aspect of Taekwondo.

She said that she understood and would work on the koan for a longer period of time.  A few days went by and once again she approached me with an answer.  Again she was wrong.  I told her not to think about it.  “Just be patient and the answer will come,” I said.  Time went by.  She never again approached me concerning the koan.  I ended up moving away from Cincinnati and she got married and moved to California.  She opened a very successful Taekwondo school with her husband but because he was from a different association, and higher-ranking that she was, she ended up switching to his association and I never heard from her again.  Well, until over tens years later.  At that point, I was running a full-time school in Pittsford, New York.  My school’s phone rang and on the other end was a very excited woman screaming, “I figured it out.  I know the answer.”  At first, I had no idea who it was.  However, as soon as she started giving me the answer I knew immediately.  My response to her, after ten years, was, “You are correct.”

It is my hope to do a series of articles on martial art koans, with commentaries, over the coming summer.  In closing, let me leave you with my favorite koan.  It happens to be from a collection of 48 Zen koans called the Mumonkan, which was compiled in the 13th century.  Below is the koan, in both its original version and its martial art spun version:

Original Version (translated by Eiichi Shimomissé)

Goso said, “When you meet a Man of the Way on the road, greet him not with words, nor with silence. Tell me, how will you greet him?”

Martial Art Version

“If you meet a master of the way on the way, greet him by neither bowing nor not bowing.  How will you greet him?”

 

Something to think about (well, in this case, thinking about it won’t help)…..

Grandmaster Sean Pearson

Tic Toc and time has gone by.

As most people within Shin Ho Kwan know, I am constantly taking classes in various martial arts in hopes of gaining some new insight into my practice.  Currently, I have been taking classes at a local Aikido school.  When I attend classes at that school I wear a blue belt.  That is the rank I hold in that school’s style of Aikido.

People always ask me about what it is like to put on a color belt and take a class?  It is great because there is no pressure, there is no expectation, there is no confrontation, there is just being a student.  I will admit that it is sometimes difficult when a higher-ranking color belt tells me I am doing a knifehand strike wrong.  My ego takes over and I think, “You are telling ME how to do a knifehand strike?”  I immediately crush that thought and gratefully accept the instruction.  The most difficult thing for me is watching the students and how they act.  It reminds me of my past as a beginner student and all the mistakes I made (and I made a lot).  That being said I did excel in one area that I see a lot of students falling short in.

I tried to drive my instructors crazy (well not really).  I would constantly ask them questions when we were together outside of class.  Not questions on how to do a physical technique but on the mental aspects of the art, I was learning from them or simply about their past within martial arts.  Every time I would get into a car with them, have lunch with them, have free time between classes with them, I would ask questions.  I know what you are thinking, that must have driven them nuts, but it didn’t.  I can only remember one time that I was asked to stop.  Granted, Grandmaster Gallano would simply fall asleep in the car when we were together.  I suppose that was his way of shutting me up.

The problem is that most martial art students, after years of spending time with their instructor, start to take them for granted and stop realizing how lucky they are to have non-class time with them.  Instead of picking their instructor’s brain, they simply “hang out” with them (in a respectful way).  I constantly see students quietly sitting with their instructor, either to frightened to ask questions or not even thinking to ask questions.  In addition, I have heard a lot of very high-ranking instructors comment on students not taking the opportunity to ask them questions and how disappointed they were.

Even some of my students (thankfully not many) fall into the trap of taking their instructor (me) for granted.  They will go on long car trips with me to seminars and not ask a single question.  What a waste.  I realize I might be to blame for this.  Either I should have stressed the importance of always taking advantage of these moments when they were lower-ranking or I have failed them in the level of understanding I have achieved within the martial arts and there simply isn’t anything more they can learn from me.

A master I know very well told me of a trip he recently made to one of his branch schools.  He took three of his black belts with him to teach a couple of classes there.  He arrived early and got to spend some time with his black belts the night before the classes.  He had subtly suggested that the black belts take that time to ask him questions about his past.  This is a common way for instructors to teach their students how not to make the mistakes they have made: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Anyway, to make a long story short, the black belts ignored the suggestion and instead played a board game all night long.  This master played the game with them and had a lot of fun, but what a waste.

Don’t ever fall into this trap.  If you ever have the opportunity to spend time with your instructor outside of class, don’t waste the opportunity.

My wilderness survival instructor, Tom Brown Jr., who I would place in the category of my most influential instructors, tells the following story:

“… I was on a beach, awaiting the sunrise. The ocean was still black, the waves accented by the pale glow of first dawn. The silhouettes of gulls appeared at the edge of the darkness. Lonely cries of gulls, the soft wind moving the sand in a gentle hissing, and the light clap of waves created soothing music for the soul. Prayers seemed to reach to the skies, penetrating the scant cloud cover, now etched in the liquid gold of dawn. The beach was deserted except for a lone fisherman who sat on a beach chair a dozen yards from me.

He was gray and weathered, his skin showed overexposure to the sun and surf, and his clothes were of styles long forgotten. He stared intently at the tip of his rod, watching it bob and shift with the rise and fall of the wave and wind. He seemed to concentrate solely on that rod tip, looking away only to his watch, probably out of habit.

In time, I moved closer to him, the sun now fully breaking the horizon. It had grown warm. Gull voices increased, and the old fisherman and I slipped into a light conversation. We talked of fishing and tides, weather and fishing beaches, but mostly about him. He said that he had been fishing these beaches for over thirty years and since his retirement a few years ago, he’d bought a house near the beach. Now he fished every day without fail. The only time he said he didn’t was when the beaches were crowded, on cold winter days, or when storms made it impossible.

Our conversation soon trailed off. I went back to my sunrise and him to his rod tip.

As my thoughts drifted with the tides, I unconsciously picked up a handful of beach sand and began studying its texture and color. I smelled it a while, then held it up to the sunlight, watching it sparkle and change color. I’ve always loved beach sand and how it changes its size, color, shape, and texture with each new beach. I guess I was so caught up in what I was doing that I didn’t notice the fisherman staring at me. He must have thought I was holding some kind of shell when a asked me, “What you got there?” Taken back somewhat at his question, I answered matter-of-factly, “Beach sand!” “It’s all the same, white and gray; sticks to everything,” he responded. I wouldn’t have paid this statement even a second thought except that it had been uttered mockingly. “White and gray?” I asked. “Old man, please pick up some beach sand and look”. He grumbled something and went back to watching his pole.

I got up and had walked a few steps away when some feeding terns caught my eye and I sat back down to watch. While I was watching them hovering and diving near the edge of the jetty I happened to glance back at the fisherman. In his weathered hand, he had a handful of beach sand, stirring it around with his finger, and holding it close to his face. I heard him talking, half out loud and a half to himself. “My God,” he exclaimed, his voice bitter and breaking, “My God, I never realized.” As I left the area I glanced back at the old man to wave good-bye but he wasn’t watching me. In his outstretched hands, he held a bluefish to the sun. I could see the color glistening in the sun and I could see the tears on the old man’s cheeks. His hands trembled. Dropping the fish he hunched over, sobbing silently to himself. I wanted to go to him, but I knew there was nothing I could do.

The horror, I thought. Here was a man who had spent the better part of his life fishing these beaches but who did not know what beach sand looked like. Here was an old man, who in the twilight of his life had seen a bluefish for the first time. A fish he loved so much to catch but never really knew. The words of Marcus Aurelius thundered in my brain. “It is not dying that a man should fear, but a man should fear never having lived at all.” This is what had brought the old fisherman to tears: realizing that at this late time in life all the things he had missed, all the things he would never see, all the wasted time; time that has been spent, never to be made up; the horror of it all, the absolute senseless waste of life, the living dead. I learned from that man more than he could ever know. I learned not to waste my life, living to die, but rather live a life of rapture and wonderment.

I never saw that old man again, though I have been back to that beach many times. He will always be with me, however, and I think of him often. I carry him in my heart as one of my greatest teachers, and I wonder how many more people are out there just like him, people who will never really see a sunrise or sunset, who will never know the sands or the sparkle of bluefish. How many will never know how to savor water, touch, really touch someone they love, or know the rapture of life? I wonder how many people are rushing through life blindly, never really sensing what living is all about. Every day, several times, I ask myself: am I being the fisherman? The choice is always up to me. Everyone has to make that choice, sooner or later; hopefully, not so late in life as the fisherman.”

Something to think about….

Grandmaster Sean Pearson