When my friends and I began to train in Haidong Gumdo several years ago, I remember a conversation we had on the hours-long drive back from Range Martial Arts. We were trying to figure out the right term to describe Haidong Gumdo, which was tricky since we all had backgrounds in different martial art styles. Mr. Hartshorn and I had trained in some Krav Maga, I was a traditional TKD guy and a European fencer, Mrs. Malbraaten was a WTF black belt, and then Mr. Malbraaten studied the hard-style Gumdo for his previous Chodan.
The description we ended up settling on was this: We are learning waterbending (from the The Last Airbender TV series) plus katanas! (Please forgive us for the mixture of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese ideas. We were Americans and very new to the art at the time.)
This spring I found that water-sword description to be more apt than I had ever imagined at the time.
For the last four months I have greatly struggled with my own training. It seemed like I had hit a block in both mind and body. I wanted to train more often, but every time I pushed harder I seemed to accumulate an injury that only set me back. I wanted to master more of my curriculum to prepare for my next dan test, but the sword forms did not seem to make as much intuitive sense as the ones before. As a guy who has always learned his martial arts with a practical application emphasis, it is very difficult for me to memorize material that I do not understand how to apply. Everything would flow well on what I had already worked up, but I only got more tense as I approached the inevitable crash against the new material.
One of the great blessings of my role as an instructor is that I have no option but to move forward. If I take time off of my training, I will stagnate in my art. If I allow myself to lose focus and forward momentum then it will become ever harder to inspire my students to move forward. Whenever I abandon the training life, I fail all of my students and business partners as well as myself.
So I rinsed and repeated my struggle over and over again for the past four months. Progress came slowly on the gumbeub: sometimes only getting a move or two further forward in a week. I frequently felt like a wave crashing up against a rocky shore. Even as raw memory work went forward everything was a struggle, but the only options were to give up or press forward. Since KJN Jeong-Woo Kim has already given me my next testing date, delay and sloth really are not honorable options. It is forward or nothing.
Sometimes, when progress is not easy, and it takes all that we can do to maintain our current training, perseverance is the best path to victory.
It turns out that I had forgotten a simple rule of martial arts and nature: The rocky shore seems to stand steady as wind and waves crash against it again and again, but that is an illusion. Grain by grain the elements pound away at the shore until we have beaches and rolling hills instead of rocks and cliffs. Sometimes we cannot punch through, so we must grind the obstacle down through repetition and endurance.
Last week as I trained before teaching class in Fisher, the seventh and eighth forms in my current curriculum began to make sense to me. The gumbup did not feel like an imitation of a fight any more, but moments stolen out of a battle; my battle. Of course, those of you who have trained for any length of time know what a victory that can feel like. It is not that I have the forms mastered, far from it! It is the knowledge that I have not yet reached my limit as a swordsman, that there is still more ahead to grasp, but not beyond my reach if I only remember the lesson.
The energy from that quiet internal victory kept me training hard for two days straight, and I hope to have enough wisdom to remember it when I reach the next cliff wall in my journey, and that I will have the wisdom and patience to apply the way of water once again.