The State of Unity
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.
Put In Your Time
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.
What is "Shim Gong"?
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
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.