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.
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.