In the three years I’ve been doing tang soo do, I’ve learned many forms, strikes, blocks, self-defense techniques, and sparring principles. (Oh, and I’ve become a little more fit.)
To say that I’ve mastered everything I’ve been taught up to this point would be a big fat lie. I learn something new each time I train, and I always find ways in which I can improve.
But what else has tang soo do given me, aside from the aforementioned (and rather obvious) points above:
1. A release from life’s stuff
I have stuff. You have stuff. We all have stuff. How we choose to handle that stuff is up to each of us. Me? I choose to work it off.
Rarely, if ever, do I leave class feeling as bad as — or worse than — when I entered. Why?
For one, training is a welcome distraction from whatever is bogging me down. I’m so focused on what I’m doing that nothing else matters at that moment.
Plus, punching and kicking stuff is amazingly cathartic. When I want to blow off steam, I take it out on the Wave Master. It takes whatever beatings I care to administer. Best of all, it won’t strike back…unless I stub my toe on it or it tips over on me somehow. (Both of these events have happened. Oops.)
Oh, and exercise releases those feel-good chemicals, endorphins. That certainly aids the cause!
I can’t stress enough how important it is to have an outlet, especially when life becomes too overwhelming. Until I took up tang soo do, I didn’t have a productive outlet, or really any outlet. That meant I was more prone to self-imploding when my stuff became too heavy to handle. (It didn’t help that I tended to keep things that bothered me to myself.) Now that I’ve found an effective outlet, I’m much better equipped to deal with stuff. (By the way, I’ve worked on not keeping my feelings bottled up. That’s key, too.)
2. A way to clear my mind
Most stuff goes away once I work it off, but some of it doesn’t bugger off so easily. I need to deal with it once I’m outside of the confines of the dojang.
As I noted in my previous point, training is a welcome distraction. It allows to step away from a situation and focus my energies on something else. When it’s time for me to finally revisit that stuff, I’m often more refreshed and ready to approach it again.
In addition to that, my instructors dole out some excellent Mat Chats. Often, the principles we apply in the dojang can also be useful in our personal lives, and after class, we’ll talk about the hows-and-whys.
By pure coincidence (I think!), several of the topics we’ve discussed have overlapped with incidents that had been taking place in my life at the time.The Mat Chats have really aided me in viewing certain scenarios in a better light, and I’m grateful to my instructors for granting me that.
Know what else I can do with a clearer mind? Write! As evident by this post (and others), tang soo do serves as a wonderful muse.
3. Friends & a close-knit community
Making friends as an adult is tough. Outside of work, there’s really little opportunity to create meaningful relationships.
Through tang soo do, I have made some very close friends. We hang out on and off the mats, and share stories, jokes, meals, and cat pictures. Our love for the art not only brought us together, but also allowed us to discover that we had much more in common beyond tang soo do.
Our school community is solid. No one is made to feel like an outcast or less than their worth, regardless of skill level. Each of us is a key part of something great, and everyone is always willing to lend a hand or some helpful words. We’re not coddled — I’ve been called out in class for poor technique many a time and ooooof it’s not fun — but we’re treated with respect and dignity, by our instructors and by one another.
Deep down, we all want to feel like we’re a part of something. I’m proud to say that I’m associated with a tremendous community of martial artists/people. I couldn’t ask for anything better.
4. A sense of adventure, no matter what age
When I was about 15, I contemplated taking up an instrument, before ditching that idea because I thought I was too old to pursue it. Yeah, how stupid was I? Back then, I was under the impression that if it was worth learning something and being good at it, then training had to take place right before I could even walk and/or talk.
I took up tang soo do at 28.
Not being a naturally athletic person (and a mostly sedentary adolescent), there was — and still is — a steep learning curve for many things. I’m now more flexible than ever before, but all of that bending and snapping can still take a toll on my joints. I was never the most coordinated person, but thanks to forms training, especially, that’s gradually changing. It takes some time for my body to catch up to what my mind wants it to do, and sometimes, my mind just needs to get with the program, period. But I work through it all.
Had I started martial arts when I was younger — or rather, had I stuck with taekwondo after one free month of lessons when I was 9 — perhaps I could have trained my body and mind to do things that, now at 31, aren’t as easy for me to learn.
But, that’s not what happened, and unlike my foolish 15-year-old, giver-upper, non-musical self, I’m going to stick with tang soo do for as long as possible, old lady joints be damned.
I recently learned that our association’s grandmaster took up tang soo do in his 30s; he’s been practicing for nearly 50 years! Now that’s given me a boatload of hope, and further proof that age, really, is just a number. If there’s something I really want to try, then I should just go for it.
Maybe I will take up that instrument someday. Once I have more time.
When it comes to myself, I’m not the most patient person. I want to get things right, all the time, on the first try.
Tang soo do has humbled me very much in that regard.
Yes, I’m still driven to succeed and perfect every single technique that I know. But, as I’ve been told several times when I work on combo drills: Don’t try to do everything at once. It’s a habit I’m still trying to break, and thankfully, it’s slowly eroding. (Which is good, because as much as I try to successfully throw four strikes at once, it gets cumbersome.)
A wise man recently told me, Wine isn’t fine before its time. I’m mere months from black belt, and although I’ve come a long way and would love to be just flowing with flawless technique as soon as I earn that rank, I know that might not be the case.
I will be the best martial artist that I’ve ever been on black belt testing day — much better than I was when I first stepped into the studio and pulled a million muscles — and I’ll practice as much as possible to achieve that.
But have I hit my peak? God, no. Will I hit it as soon as that black belt is tied around my waist? Doubtful. It doesn’t work that way. Black belt won’t magically make me Chuck Norris.
It’s not a bad thing, however. I’d rather continue to improve little by little rather than hit my Ultimate Skill Level at black belt, only to realize that the ceiling has been hit.
I want to be great at tang soo do, but I’ve come to accept that it may take a long time for me to even graze that level. I’m going to continue to make mistakes. And that’s okay. All I have to do is not give up when things don’t go my way. Patience,
I encourage everyone to try martial arts. It’s not only good for the body, but it also enriches the mind and soothes the soul. Tang soo do has certainly been a significant, and beneficial, part of my life, and I’m grateful for all that it has given me.
The Monday Question
What is your preferred release from life’s stuff? Share your stories in the comments below.
Til next Monday!