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Title [Martial Arts Globe] Instructors Setting an Example of Mind-Body Discipline (Chapter 1)
Photo is not directly related to the writing.
Raising a Question
The media occasionally reports cases on sexual assault of students by martial arts instructors. It is common knowledge that the purpose of practicing martial arts is not just to acquire martial force, but more importantly to build character (Ji Dong-cheol, 2011). So how could such unethical behavior, which totally stands against the spirit of martial arts, be committed by martial arts instructors who are supposed to teach courtesy and respect toward others? Such violations of the martial arts philosophy are not exclusive to Korea; they are often found at the international level as well. One of the most striking examples might be the incident where a Cuban Taekwondo athlete, who became enraged over a referee’s decision and kicked the referee in the face, and his coach, who failed to teach the athlete the proper martial arts spirit, were banned for life by the World Taekwondo Federation. What is the reason that there are martial arts instructors at home and abroad who are poorly qualified and engage in antisocial behavior, thereby rendering them unfit to train their students into upstanding martial artists, and how can we tackle this problem?
A Qualified Instructor
The answer to this question can be found in the teaching experience and philosophy of Grandmaster Lee Kyu-hyung, a former president of Kukkiwon and one of the most respected figures in the Korean Taekwondo community, who choreographed and directed Taekwondo demonstrations for the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul. The key is none other than setting an example of mind-body discipline (Song Hyeong-seok and Lee Kyu-hyung, 2009). Throughout the sixty years of his Taekwondo career, Grandmaster Lee has trained thousands of students who are now highly regarded for their good manners and sincerity in various sectors of society, including sports, entertainment, medicine and law. Indeed, Grandmaster Lee is likely to be the most fitting example of a qualified instructor who has cultivated countless talented people from all walks of life by providing quality martial arts education. He once expressed his concern toward the current situation where the positive virtues of Taekwondo practice are under threat, commenting “Concerns have been raised that, while there have been remarkable improvements in training for competition centered around sparring, its educational function and role related to mind-body discipline are rather in decline” (World Taekwondo United News, 2016).
These days, misguided instructors seem to focus solely on the fun and recreational aspects of Taekwondo. Young students trained by such instructors tend to become highly inattentive and lag behind in their intellectual and emotional development. Concentration and patience are closely associated with moral character, which is difficult to cultivate by prioritizing fun when practicing Taekwondo (OhmyNews, 2014).
Having practiced Taekwondo almost every day for more than sixty years ever since his first Taekwondo lesson at the age of ten, Grandmaster Lee says that the most essential quality of an instructor is setting an example. The example he sets is in his way of training his mind and body. Emphasizing the enhanced strength of both body and character as the advantage of training the body and mind through Taekwondo, he not only displays remarkable physical ability through his breaking skills, but also demonstrates outstanding character by respecting even young students and always treating them with decency. His top priority in Taekwondo practice is evident from his comment that “Winning a gold medal for good character is the true aim of Taekwondo.” The Grandmaster has put this philosophy into practice and placed significant emphasis on teaching Taekwondo in the proper spirit of martial arts. He also asserted that “Instructors must be able to acknowledge their own imperfection, and instill into students the spirit of pursuing the courtesy and virtuous path to which everyone should adhere, as well as mind-body discipline” (Martial Arts Newspaper, 2014).
Mind-Body Discipline as Holistic Education
So, what is the mind-body discipline that Grandmaster Lee talks about? It can be described as a means of holistic education, or education for the whole person, in the martial arts tradition of the East. The whole person encompasses all attributes of human beings, including physical, intellectual and emotional capacity as well as sociality and morality, while holistic education is a teaching methodology that helps children develop a sound character by promoting the overall and harmonious development of personal wholeness rather than focusing solely on knowledge and skills. The importance of holistic education has been constantly emphasized in the physical education field (Lee Byung-joon, 2007; Nam Joong-woong and Lee Jung-sik, 2003). Martial arts education is no exception. In particular, Asian martial arts, such as Hapkido and Taekwondo, highlight the importance of spiritual and philosophical aspects, and teach these values while also improving students’ physical ability (Kim Yong-hoon, 2016).
For better or for worse, education has a tremendous influence on students, possibly for their entire lives. That is why it is so important to have a good teacher to guide students toward the right path. As highlighted above, holistic education means more than the mere transfer of knowledge and skills and pursues the development of wholeness in individuals including morality and sociality. It is a well-known fact that the character and virtue of the teacher who passes on knowledge or skills play a key role in holistic education. We refer to these traits collectively as one’s “being,” or nature. A good way of being is essential to living with honor and doing good deeds as a good person. A good way of being without the act of teaching is pointless in education. If there is no act of delivering educational content, why would the character of a transmitter matter in the educational context? However, the fact that the teacher’s character affects the quality of holistic education carries great significance. No matter how outstanding his or her knowledge or technical competency is, a teacher without good character could in extreme cases inflict physical, sexual or psychological harm to students and damage their mind and body in the whole-person sense. In other words, a teacher who is not holistically mature cannot nurture the holistic growth and maturity of students. Then, how can a martial arts instructor provide quality instruction as a holistically mature and qualified teacher? I argue that the key is to set an example in mind-body discipline. Mind-body discipline is a holistic training method, referring to a martial arts discipline that takes personal wholeness into consideration, a principle to which Asian martial arts have traditionally adhered. It is not a dualistic approach where mind and body are treated separately, but a monistic approach where mind and body are seen as a unified whole.
According to Kim Yong-ok (1990),
The mom (body) exists solely as mom; it is neither the flesh nor the object of physical training. It is neither one nor two, neither the one that is made by uniting the two nor the two that is made by dividing the one. The mom exists solely as mom. It is simply the teleological unit of ki (vital force), as well as a finite self-sufficient entity (Ibid, 45).
In this argument, he shows that body and mind are one in unity through his philosophy of mom or philosophy of ki. Kim criticizes the expression “mind-body monism,” suggesting that the term is deceptive as it already accepts the premise of the dualistic modality that distinguishes between the mind and body. However, as the theory of yin and yang focuses on the harmony of the opposing two elements rather than their separation, the expression of mind-body monism does not necessarily highlight the distinction between mind and body, and thus his argument may be somewhat extreme. Nevertheless, Kim made a significant contribution to the understanding of the body through his philosophy of mom by emphasizing that the body is a subjective entity as the determining agent of experience rather than an objective entity as the object of study. Furthermore, his philosophy of mom explains the logic of Tao and virtue, implying that holistic growth can be promoted through the proper movement and management of the body.
The body is the organic unit of ki. The body is life, and therefore the body moves. Immobility means death. There is always a “path” in the movement of the body, which is called Tao. And when the Tao is repeated and accumulated in the body, we call this accumulation Te, or virtue. While the Tao is natural and spontaneous, virtue is attained through the accumulation of Tao in the body. Virtue is, in other words, deuk, or attainment (Ibid, 46).
To rephrase this, the repeated training or practice of the body opens a path, and the accumulation of such paths leads to virtue. In summary, virtue is acquired by repeated acts or the movement of the body. In the tradition of Confucianism, virtue is associated with Junzi, the ideal human image of a Confucian scholar in terms of ethics and self-cultivation. Virtue refers to upstanding principles, while the opposite of virtue is vice. While the consistently right use of the body leads to the acquisition of virtue, the wrong use of the body results in the acquisition of vice. In short, the mom philosophy of Kim Yong-ok suggests that it is possible to become a whole worthy person by accumulating virtue through mind-body discipline, or the repeated operation of the body in a virtuous way.
Kim Yong-ok’s philosophy of mom somewhat resembles the practice of “mom cultivation” proposed by Kim Yi-soo (2008). According to Kim Yi-soo, the mind and body were regarded holistically rather than separately in the somatic culture of Korea. The ancient Korean word “ᄆᆞᆷ” is an example that supports his argument. The word “ᄆᆞᆷ” can be pronounced either as “mom,” meaning the body, or “mam,” meaning the mind. For Koreans, Kim argues, the body means more than merely a visible and physiological entity; it encompasses the notion of an organism in which the flesh and spirit exist together (p. 44). Therefore, mind-body discipline in the somatic culture of Korea is equivalent to the practice of the body as an organism composed of flesh and spirit. Kim calls this “mom cultivation.” This monistic approach to mind and body is also found in the Buddhist principle of “oneness of mind and body,” which indicates an ideal state, just like the psychological and physical state of an archer who shoots an arrow in the complete unity of mind and body, free from all thoughts and worries, as described by Yeo In-sung (2001) by borrowing from Yuasa (1987). Kim Yi-soo explains virtuous acts resulting from good character from the perspective of mom cultivation, or somatics. This is a theory that emphasizes the close connection and even unity of mind and body. In addition, Lee Jae-hak and Kim Chang-woo (2007) examine the somatic culture in modern Korean martial arts based on somatics and also underline the need for the revival of traditional Korean martial arts.
View chapter 2 and references here.
※ Views in this writing are the author's own. The Second chapter will be included in the next ICM News.