Power is something we all desire on some level. Whether it is something big like running for political office or a smaller desire like the ability to make personal choices for your life, we seek out the power to be able to make a change, be it physically, financially, etc.
Over the next 3 weeks, our students will hear several "Messages of the Week" focusing on three concepts about power in Korean martial arts:
Each of these terms describes a different type of power, an energy or strength from which we can draw from. Let's take a look at these three terms, see how they apply to our martial arts training, and then extrapolate to our life outside of the Dojang.
Weh Gung (External Power)
Your external power refers to your physicality. Your body and it's extensions, your feet and fists, muscles and bones, can be physically strengthened and used as a defensive or destructive power. External power is what you display when you strike a target or break a board. It happens totally outside of the body and is a strong force.
Some of us, especially if your body is on the smaller size, may feel like we lack external power. That can be helped by eating healthy, exercising, and training. But in Tang Soo Do, the largest increase in external power comes from using our body correctly, specifically our hip (or in Korean "Hu Ri"). Many people think power comes from our muscles in our arms and legs, but those are just extremities. But by twisting our hip forward and backward, we can put our entire force into our techniques, either by pushing or pulling. I have seen big guys knocked back by little guys who know how to use their hip. I've also seen big guys fail to break boards because they didn't know how to use their hip and lacked the power needed to break. Your hip, when used correctly, becomes a lens through which your external power is magnified. And that power can become a force to be reckoned with.
Neh Gung (Internal Power)
But if Weh Gung is what happens outside of the body, then Neh Gung, or internal power, is what happens inside. If a person desires to use power, then it is not just enough to just start throwing out techniques. Power must come from inside as well.
Your body is made up of systems. Your respiratory system provides oxygen which gets pumped through your circulatory system and delivered to the muscles in your muscular system. So let's start with that. Your breathing (or in Korean "Ho Hop") is a necessary part of life, but when you control it, you can increase your power. By inhaling and exhaling slowly, you control your breath, slow your heart rate, and help control your stamina. On the other hand, a sharp exhale is explosive, and by breathing out at the right time you can increase the power in your techniques or even prevent the wind from being knocked out of you when you are struck by a blow from an opponent.
And that precious air you breath in gets carried to your muscles. These muscles can be relaxed or tensed. By practicing tension and relaxation (Shin Chook) you can keep your body loose for quick movements or tight for powerful strikes.
Shim Gung (Spiritual/Mental Power)
If your power was an egg, then external power would be the shell-- hard and tough. The internal power would be the whites, filling up the space inside the shell. But the most nutritious part of the egg, the yolk, would be your Shim Gung, or Spiritual Power (sometimes the word spiritual is interchanged with mental). Each of these levels of power are deeply intertwined, but they also build upon one another, with Spiritual/Mental Power being at the center.
Your mind and spirit drive all your other actions. Most of the concepts we teach at our studio, such as courage, concentration, and humility can all be boiled down to what happens in our mind and in our heart. A person can be super strong, with precise control over their body, but without those character traits we just listed, they will be ill-equipped to use their power.
Shim Gung really boils down to "Moo Do" which means our martial way. This is the way we live our life according to the tenets of martial arts. An oversimplification of this would be "discipline". Disciplined in our focus (concentration), disciplined in our attitude (humility), or disciplined in any other way, it all comes back to the state of our mind and spirit.
What type of power do strive for? What do you already excel at? In what areas do you need improvement? In truth, these three types of power are not individual determinations of strength. Instead, they are components that, when combined together, create a warrior who is able to handle themself physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Have you ever just screamed? It could be a wail let out in distress or a shout of joy. Either way, there is power in our voice, a power that carries out our spirit, energy, and emotion into the world. When harnessed, that energy can be let out as a powerful weapon.
Whenever we have a new student in our classes, I always tell them that the dojang (the training area) is a place where they are allowed to be loud. I want them to yell very loudly when they perform their punches and kicks. But when they let out that burst of energy, we don't just shout something random. Students say "Ki-Ahp". In Korean, this term (기합) refers to a loud yell, but not just a random scream. It refers to a yell that shows one's spirit or energy. But why do we have students do this? Well there are 2 major reasons.
A Ki-Ahp Shows Power
On the Fourth of July, many people light fireworks. You know if your neighbors are shooting them off because there is a loud popping and cracking sound that accompanies the light show. Fireworks are powerful and dangerous (if not used appropriately) and their power is demonstrated by the deafening boom that comes with them.
If a loud sound is a sign of power, then when we punch or kick, we want to have a loud sound as well. By letting out a Ki-Ahp when we strike it helps generate power. Like a war cry before battle, yelling can get the body pumped up and ready to perform the technique ahead of you. There have been plenty of times I have watched someone attempt to break a board. They have a strong technique, but the board doesn't break. Then, when they are reminded to Ki-Ahp, all of a sudden their techniques become more powerful. The simple act of yelling raises our power to new heights. It is a battle cry that not only lets our opponents know how capable we are, but it also reminds ourselves.
A Ki-Ahp Shows Confidence
Think about the most confident person you know. I am willing to bet that they are neither meek nor shy. Their voice is a weapon that shows they believe in themselves and they are capable. The same can be said of our Ki-Ahp. When we are faced with an opponent, bully, or attacker, having a loud voice could be something that discourages them from taking their actions further. People like to pick on those weaker than them, and when you let out a loud yell, it is a reminder that you are not weak. You are strong, you know it, and you want them to know it too.
There have been so many times I have watched students compete in tournaments and a Ki-Ahp makes a difference in the scoring. I have even seen sparring matches where a student throws a technique and Ki-Ahps, and even though it wasn't the cleanest point, the judges still award it. Why? Because if the student yelled, they must be sure they got the point (even if the judge didn't see it-- by the way that is a terrible judge, but my point still stands). Confidence breeds success.
But what about outside of the context of martial arts? When faced with a challenge at school or work, I highly discourage you yelling at your teacher or boss. But again, the Ki-Ahp is not just a yell, but a voice of confidence. Carry yourself boldly. When you answer a question in math class, don't second guess yourself. Provide your answer. If it is wrong, don't be discouraged but be confident that next time you'll get it right. What about in the work place? Maybe your boss assigns you a task you don't know how to complete. Don't be meek! Confidently ask for help and reassure them that next time you'll be able to do it even better.
Confidence and power are two things that students have to learn on their own. But by encouraging and practicing a loud voice, such as with a Ki-Ahp in our martial arts classes, students will be on the path to gaining these and many other amazing character traits.
We did an interesting experiment in our children's class the other day. I asked the students to give me some words that describe a warrior. I got typical answers like "strong", "tough", or "serious". All great answers, right? A "warrior" is literally someone who goes into war, who prepares for battle, and faces challenges. But is brute force really enough to qualify you as a warrior? When push comes to shove, what are the tools you need to fight the difficult battles?
I had a student once who was testing for his next degree of black belt and the board break that he was required to do was a straight punch down through several inches of wood. He was a strong young man and had more than enough technique and muscle to pull it off. However, when he lifted his fist up to the highest point before driving it through the boards, he paused and stuttered. He then drove his weight down to the target but his hand bounced off the wood.
Why could he not do it? He was tough, strong, and he took his training seriously, but in the moment when he was supposed to land a blow and win the war, he froze. This shows that there is much more a warrior needs to succeed than physical strength. There is a mental component as well. The student in the example must have had some small doubt or fear and so he wasn't prepared to do what he needed to do. There are lots of ways we could describe this mental piece of warrior-ness. We could call it confidence or ambition, but either way it is a requirement for a person to push through their toughest battles.
A warrior needs both physical and mental strength, but neither of those things will do any good if they don't have drive and ambition. By definition, a war is a conflict, and conflicts are never simple and easy. We prepare our students to be strong, but they must also have the resolve to use that strength. The only way to do that is to practice. Like steel that is tempered in a fire, a person's ability to stand strong comes only through facing trials and coming out the other side.
For our younger students, those trials might be small. Something small such as climbing up to the tallest slide on the playground may not seem like a feat worthy of a warrior, but to a young child, it is. So we should congratulate them on their ambition and strength. And the same can be done with they get older and the challenges become greater. We must build up a reserve of accomplishments so that when the student does fail, they don't aren't destroyed, but can focus on their overall strength as a warrior.
I remember back when I was a kid, there was no Disney+ or Netflix. You have to look in the TV Guide to see what was on, or you could just flip through the channels. I remember one afternoon I was doing just that, searching for something to entertain myself and I discovered a strong man competition on ESPN. These men had bulging muscles that they used to hurl barrels, lift weights, and pull trucks. They demonstrated incredible feats of strength which they had trained for years to perform.
That leads to a question about strength. What is it? In our martial arts classes, we don't do bench presses, but we do try to make our punches and kicks stronger. We aim to hit the target pad as hard as possible or break though multiple wooden boards. These are absolutely feats of strength, and they are impressive. Our students train for years and years to make themselves as strong as possible.
But physical strength is not the only type of strength. In martial arts, we look to develop the whole person, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. And though physical strength is impressive, there are other feats of strength that are equally hard to perform. This week in class, students have been hearing about virtue, that is, the quality of being morally good. But what does this have to do with strength?
Virtue is something everyone knows about. For example, take the virtue of honesty. If I asked you if lying was right or wrong, everyone would most certainly tell me how wrong it is to be dishonest. The same thing could be said of stealing. We all know on an intellectual level that stealing is wrong. However, in both cases, there have been times where we are tempted to tell a lie or take something that isn't ours. We have all, at some point in our lives, not upheld the virtues that we know to be morally correct. So when we talk about being emotionally or mentally strong, part of that is having the strength to act in a way that is virtuous. No one gets strong simply from looking at a dumbbell. You have to actually do the heavy lifting. The same can be said of acting in accordance with our morals.
Now, most of us reading this (if not all) are not body builders or strongmen. Why not? Because it takes hard work, dedication, and most importantly a desire to train in those areas of strength. The same can be said of virtue. So we need to seek a way to create that desire in our young students. Just like people might congratulate a weigh lifter on breaking their record, we need to acknowledge and point out when students do the right thing. We shouldn't wait for them to fail to punish them, but rather seek to praise them when they do right.
And just like there are benefits to exercise, there are also benefits to kindness, generosity, honesty, and other virtuous behaviors. We must point out these positives to our students by teaching empathy towards others and a confidence that allows for humility.
The impressive thing about a person who can lift a lot of weight is that they are literally pushing or pulling against a tremendous force. That is what makes them strong. But we must remember to not only be physically strong, but mentally as well. We must push against the pressure to act with corruption, and instead, stand strong and act with integrity. This strength is what is truly important in life, and whether you can break concrete with a punch or not, people will recognize and appreciate your virtuous character.
A Rube Goldberg machine is a chain-reaction contraption intentionally designed to complete a simple task in an overly complex way. I remember first learning about them when I was younger and saw a commercial for the board game "Mouse Trap" in which you have to build such a machine to trap your opponents. These mechanisms are laughably complicated, but still mesmerizing to watch.
The chain-reaction part of it is what is most interesting to me. You could have something so small, such as a domino falling or a ball rolling, initiate a whole sequence of events that lead to a (menial) task being performed. At the end of the day, all these components are intertwined, so what happens to one will impact the others.
And this is what happens when people are united together. Whether it be on a soccer team or working together on a group project in school, the choices of one person can positively or negatively affect other people. But when people work together, they can achieve more. However, this is the blog of a martial arts school, and martial arts is not traditionally a team sport. So what does unity have to do with what we practice?
You have to ask yourself what you are trying to achieve through martial arts. Is it about punching or kicking? Is it about beating the competition? No, martial arts are about betterment. We improve ourselves through physical fitness and protect ourselves through self-defense. But that betterment extends past ourselves. We should not only seek to enhance our own lives, but the lives of those around us. And so, like the Rube Goldberg machine, we must remember that our actions affect other people. We are all united together on our walks of life, so as we carry on, we must take into account how we will impact our fellow man.
That's it. This is a short blog post. There's not much more to be said. We must teach students that their life is not just self-serving. Most people may only want to unite with one another to make their lives better. But instead we must want to make other people's lives better because we know that we are already united with one another. Not just united as martial artists, but united as people.
How do you spend your free time? When I'm not hanging out with my family or teaching/practicing martial arts, I enjoy playing video games. That's my hobby and how I unwind after a long day of work. My favorite console is the Nintendo Switch. One neat thing that you can do is click on your profile and the system will tell you how many hours you have spent on a particular game. Suffice to say, there are some rather large amounts of my time I have dumped into video games whose quantity I would prefer to not share with the world.
So let me ask again: How do you spend your free time? They say, "Time is money." There's truth to this. Your time is valuable. Time is a commodity that you cannot purchase more of. There are 24 hours in a day, and once they are gone there is no getting them back. So how you use them is very important. Now I am not saying there is anything wrong with spending time with video games or binging a TV show. If those things help you relax and you enjoy them, then there is definitely value in them. However, we have to make sure that we also balance those things with the important aspects of our life that should take priority.
A great example is exercising. How many hours a week do you spend exercising? The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get around 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week. This could mean going for a run , playing a sport, or (my personal favorite) attending martial arts classes several times in a week. Binging the latest episodes of Cobra Kai is fine, but not if something important, like exercising, is lacking. The same can be said of anything important, including school, work, or other goals you have for yourself.
One thing that will motivate you to put more time into something is tracking your progress. Going back to my video games, I love when a game gives you a checklist. I really enjoy having a list of achievements to pursue or trinkets to collect. Watching me fill out my progress is satisfying, and the same can be said of working towards a high grade in school or winning games on a team sport. We have to work on ourselves, and instruct our children, on how to set goals and then allot the appropriate amount of time needed for us to be successful at those goals. Coming up with a plan for how to reach those goals and creating clear steps on how to reach it can be helpful in showing people what the time requirements are in order to attain the goal.
Another reason we should have a checklist and clear path to reach our goals is not only to remind us to put in the necessary time, but also to remind ourselves that achieving anything takes time. If on day one of your martial arts training you get frustrated because a particular technique is hard and you stink at it, then you're going to be very likely to quit. But, if you join martial arts, lay out a goal, and understand the path to success, then part of that is knowing that it will take days, weeks, months, or even years to perfect it.
Time is a two way street. You must put in your time to achieve something, and anything worth achieving takes time. If we prepare our minds and the minds of our students to understand that, then large tasks won't seem so daunting. Instead, each punch you throw or math problem you solve will just be a tick on a clock that keeps moving forward towards a goal.
At Trinity Martial Arts, we teach a type of Korean karate known as Tang Soo Do. There is a rich history and tradition in this martial art that we highly value, and part of that is understanding some Korean terminology and the philosophy behind some of that terminology.
One of the terms you may hear us talk about is "Shim Gong" which refers to spiritual power or energy. The martial arts we see in the movies are often explosive and physical. We see heroes doing fancy kicks, jaw-breaking punches, and intense flips and throws. We absolutely have these elements in Tang Soo Do as we practice practical self-defense skills, but there is another side to the coin, that being our spirit.
Shim Gong refers to the internal characteristics of our heart and mind. It is the positive character traits and strong integrity that come from our inner most being that allow us to conquer the challenges we face, both in martial arts and life. This all may sound very hokey and worthy of being put on a Hallmark card, but there is truth to it. Having this spiritual power will give you the flexibility to persevere, to bend, not break, when tough situations arise.
Let's take a look at Dean Karnazes. You may have never heard of him, but he's a truly amazing individual. He is an American ultramarathon runner whose accomplishments include running a marathon in each of the 50 states in 50 consecutive days, swimming across the San Francisco Bay, and winning many races and competitions. He once said, “The human body has limitations; the human spirit is boundless.”
It is true that the human body has limitations. If you do push-ups for hours on end, eventually there will come a time when your body gives out. No matter how strong you are, there is a always a limit. But it doesn't even matter how strong you are if you don't have spirit. You may have the muscles, you may have the brawn, but if you aren't mentally and emotionally prepared to put in the work, to dig deep and push forward, then you won't be able to achieve anything.
That spirit is Shim Gong. We demonstrate this is our martial arts classes all the time. We all answer "Yes Sir!" in a loud voice to show we are listening and prepared to work. We shout "Ki-Ahp!" when we do a technique to increase our power, show confidence, and get ourselves pumped up. We don't just punch with a loose hand, but squeeze our fingers together and do every technique like we are hitting a target. This energy, spirit, or whatever you want to call it is what pushes us to new heights.
Let me put it this way: I have seen people who are not naturally talented at martial arts achieve great things because they had a strong spirit. But I have never seen a student, even those who were very flexible, talented, or gifted, succeed if they did not have the spirit necessary to push forward and become strong.
And spirit doesn't just apply to martial arts or physical activities. We can show our spirit when we work hard in school or at our jobs. We can have a positive and excited attitude when we parent our children or encourage our friends. We may not be yelling "Ki-Ahp!" in those situations, but our spirit shows and it lifts us up.
We all want to be the best we can be, to be strong and successful. Shim Gong, our spiritual power, is one of the keys to the success.
A few weeks ago, we talked about pride. We discussed how it could be a good thing when it focuses on acknowledging your own dignity. This week, we are discussing respect, which means we acknowledge the dignity of other people.
Recognizing that all humans have value and are worthy of respect means that you treat others the way you would want to be treated, regardless of differences between the two of you. This golden rule is taught to us when we are very young, but just because it is preached does not mean it is always practiced. While adults can be held accountable for their own actions, children are in the process of learning. So how do we raise young people to have respect for not just their parents and teachers, but all people?
Demonstrating To Your Child
When we as adults talk about demonstrating respect, it can be done two ways. The first is the obvious one. Your child needs to see you demonstrate respect to other people. Children are sponges. They absorb whatever is around them, even if you didn't mean for them to do so. Let's say you have a neighbor next door that is a bit of a nuisance. You complain about them in front of your son or daughter, maybe even causally call them a name or say how stupid they are. You may not feel like you're teaching your child anything in that moment, but you are. You are putting on a demonstration and you are showing that is OK to talk down about other people. It is OK to use rude names and negative language to talk about another human being.
But what if your neighbor really is a nuisance? Well, you can flip the script and use this opportunity to demonstrate respect. Remember, respect doesn't mean loving every single person you encounter. It means treating them with respect and dignity. So be respectful and if your neighbor is giving you a problem, work out your issues with words and be willing to show grace. This demonstration of proper respect will have just as much of an impact on your child as your negative words would. And not only are you teaching your child how to act, but you are acting in a positive way yourself.
Respecting Your Child
But I said there were two ways to demonstrate respect. Not only must you demonstrate respect to others, but you must also show respect to your child.
This may seem odd at first. As a parent, we "outrank" our child, or as a teacher, we are in a position of authority above our students. But respect just means that we show each other dignity. Think of it this way: When you speak to a young person, do you speak to them the same way you would speak to a colleague at work? What I mean is that you shouldn't be condescending to another adult, so we shouldn't use that type of language for our children.
Now don't get me wrong. You absolutely should discipline your child. That's an important part of teaching right from wrong. But how you discipline is crucial. This may mean remaining calm and not raising your voice. It could also mean not embarrassing them in front of their siblings or friends. Respect is about treating others with dignity. If you do this for your child, they will being to feel more confident and proud (in a good way). And they will also understand the golden rule. They will slowly learn what it is like to have positive, respectful relationships, and so they will do that for other people as well.
"I'm not concerned with your liking or disliking me … All I ask is that you respect me as a human being." - Jackie Robinson
This week, we are talking about what it means to be a person of high quality. Whether it is at school, work, or in martial arts, what does it take to be a person that is known for being the best of the best?
I'm going to take this as an opportunity to nerd out about one of my favorite things: video games. I really enjoy playing video games and Nintendo is one of my favorite companies. Their first home console, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) released in 1985. This was a very interesting time in the video game industry as the market for games had essentially crashed. No one wanted them anymore and that was in part to a lack of quality games. Game companies were pumping out as many games as possibly and the majority of them were shoddy, at best.
But then Nintendo came along with their console and it was a major success. This was because they took the time, effort, and money required to make a great game. Instant classics such as Mario and Zelda were known for being high quality. They were fun, well-made, and worth the money.
Even today, 35 years after the release of the NES, Nintendo games are still known for being great. While other games will go on sale after a few months of being on store shelves, Nintendo games rarely get a discount and if they do, it's not by much. Why? Because they know the quality of their merchandise and that quality costs money.
That's the point I am trying to make. If you want to be a person of high quality, it is going to cost you. It may not take money, but it will cost you your time and effort. If you want to be an A+ student, it is going to take time as you study. If you want to be an amazing martial artist, it's going to take your effort and energy to train. You cannot just wake up one day and say, "Today I am going to be awesome." If you want to be awesome, then it needs to be a continuous practice.
At one point or another in our lives, we have looked a person of good quality and said, "I want to be like them." Maybe you looked at a very healthy individual and thought that you should start working out and eating healthier. Or maybe you saw an entrepreneur on television who made a lot of money and considered starting your own business. It is easy to look at a successful person and desire what they have. Most people will look at someone who is rich, beautiful, or talented and see their life sparkle and shine like silver. But what they don't see is the time and energy that went into polishing that silver.
In the age of social media and celebrity influencers, I have so many young students (and some adults) get star struck and have ideas of grandeur. There is nothing wrong with having big dreams or goals, but what's important is understanding that attaining those ambitions does not happen over night. It takes work-- hard work. It doesn't matter if its perfecting your side kick or improving your grades. If you want to be a person of high quality then your are going to have to put in the time and effort.
A few months ago, we talked with our students about humility (you can check out that blog post HERE). In our discussions with our students, we pointed out that you can be humble and confident at the same time. We noted that you can only truly be humble if you have nothing to prove, and from that comes a confidence in where you're currently at.
That confidence can go by another name: Pride. By definition, pride is a consciousness of one's own dignity. If you are aware that your life and actions have value, then that satisfying feeling you get when you look in the mirror and reflect on your life is called "pride".
But there are two types of pride. First, there is pride that elevates you up. When you accomplish a goal, you absolutely should feel pride. That gratification you feel when you think about who you are should give you a confidence boost as you realize that you are a valuable member of society.
But negative pride doesn't elevate yourself by reflecting on who you are as a person. Instead, it boosts your confidence by putting other people down. Remember, pride is an acknowledgment of your own dignity. But if you feel proud because you are "better" than the person next to you, then you are not acknowledging anything about yourself, but instead belittling your neighbor.
That's the first point I want to make: Pride, when felt correctly, comes from who YOU are and not from who SOMEONE ELSE is.
But let's take that a step further. How do you know you should feel pride? Do you feel pride when you get up in the morning and look at yourself in the mirror? Or do you only feel proud when someone pays you a compliment about how nice you look today?
I think about this a lot with my daughters. Most likely, there will come a day when they want to wear make up. Now, I am not against it, but I want to make sure they understand how to use it correctly. They should not wear make up so that other people will think they are pretty. That's not pride, in fact, it's a lack of confidence because you are depending on the opinion of other people. But that doesn't mean make up is evil. No, make up is fine but it should be used only if you want to use it. It should be used because it makes you feel good. And if you are truly taking pride in yourself, then that feeling of dignity doesn't leave when you wipe the make up off. Because true pride is about being happy with who you are.
Now I used make up as an example, but it could be applied to wearing fancy clothes or trying to achieve good grades. Those aren't bad things, but they shouldn't be the reason you feel proud of yourself. Remember you don't have value because people love you or you have the nicest clothes, or the prettiest hair or the best front kick. You have value. Period. You need to love yourself and take pride in who you are. When you look in the mirror, be proud of who you see. There is no one else like you, so be the best you that you can be.
About the Author
Master Matthew Eyler is a 5th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do and a New York State certified general and special education teacher. He has over 20 years experience practicing self-defense and teaching students of all ages and abilities.