I’ve always loved film and stories. One of the things I like best about the Haidong Gumdo forms is that you can tell as story with them: first to yourself to make the form come alive, and then to the audience through the repetitions of your art.
So for this week I have picked several film clips that go through my mind when I think about training, when it seems like I am never going to get the next technique down. I have been there, trying to keep my stances moving in Ssangsu Gumbeub 6, trying to making through Ssangsu Gubeub 12 without forgetting which pass I am on, trying to remember all of Shimsang (because I did not yet know that Yedo 9 was waiting…).
But those are just some of the steps along the path that lasts as long as I can remember. Whether you are eight years old and trying to get your first lunge extended or over forty trying to convince your knees that they can make that sodose just two inches closer to the ground, we all need training reminders.
Here are some of mine.
I love this clip from Billie Elliot because it is technically sound (that really is how you turn), it reminds me not to take myself too seriously because we all can look ridiculous when we are halfway there and then focus on our pride instead of continuing the rest of the way there, and finally I love the teacher’s reward for a lesson mastered; she instantly gives him the next thing to fix. I have been there quite often since I started teaching martial arts and it amuses me to see who realizes that the new task is a trophy instead of a torture.
This clip is also a great example of training. Billie does the research. He reads the books and analyzes the illustrations. Billie thinks back through the lesson on his own, what it felt like and what the angles should be. You can see the spark of triumph the first time he gets close enough to think he might actually be able to do this! You see him fight through frustration, minor injuries, and the hundred times he didn’t get it right. Soaking wet in ruined clothes, Billie doesn’t give up. He returns to prepare, and goes again.
I like this scene in The Last Samurai for a couple of reasons. The one I want to highlight to my students is perseverance. Weak from multiple wounds, not even walking well, Tom Cruise’s character is told to put down the practice sword. The implication is that he is not a warrior, and does not have the right to hold one. Now, the character was a combat veteran of European saber style, and when healthy he killed several samurai with his weapon and art of choice.
But this is a new weapon, a new art. He comes to it weakened, but determined. He has decided that he will be a man, a warrior, no matter what. He accepts the challenge. He does not surrender. He only stops when his body can’t go forward any longer.
My take on this was that Algren’s demonstration of warrior spirit won him enough respect that the community accepted him to train among them.
That is mudo worth respecting. It is worth emulating. I remember the first time I trained in front of Grandmaster Kim, my crippled leg gave out on me. I hit the ground and wanted to stay there, but I wasn’t going to get another chance to make a first impression. I couldn’t give him the impression that I was in perfect health, but I could determine whether or not he saw a crippled warrior or a crippled quitter. I got back in the best stance I could manage and went back to work. My student, Mr. Greg Malbraaten, constantly puts me to shame with his dedication and perseverance in the face of injury, fatigue, or frustration. He pushes me to be better by example, and if I can be better, then I can teach better as well.
Paint the fence. Sand the floor. Wax on, wax off.
I can’t think of another martial arts movie that captures the essence of training like the original Karate Kid. One martial arts meme I use repeatedly says, “Don’t do one drill five times and wait to be told what to do next. Do the drill five hundred times and wait to be told to stop.”
As my first teacher, Mr. Kiel Soon Park put it, “The true master goes to the park and picks one technique. He does that technique three thousand times. Then he goes home.” Another variation on that was, “Repetition brings accuracy, accuracy: perfection, and perfection: success.”
Of course, when we do this: When we fumble our way to correct technique, when we endure the failures and challenges in front of us, and when we put in the required time, the results are glorious. Those moments when everything comes together make me glad to be a martial artist.