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.
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.