Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The hardest questions to answer...

I'll openly admit it: I'm a geek.  In particular, I'm a sci-fi, fantasy, comic-book and cartoon loving geek.  This is one of the reasons I became a martial artist to begin with, as I really wasn't very athletically inclined or coordinated, but that's a different story. So, being a geek, I'm naturally inclined to take in and enjoy a bit of Star Trek now and again.  So instead of starting right into the preachy and pretentious martial arts stuff, I'll start with a quick summary of one of my favorite Stark Trek scenes, from Star Trek IV, or as it is better known, The One With The Whales.

Love it or hate it, this movie has what I consider to be one of the better scenes in the Star Trek franchise.  While you might not be able to top William Shatner screaming KHAAAAAAAANNNN!!!!! in Star Trek II, this one is still pretty good, and it features none other than Leonard Nimoy as the unforgettable Spock.

In the scene in question Spock is undergoing a rigorous series of questions administered by a computer.  The questions span a myriad of subjects, ranging from science and mathematics to general logic, theory, and even philosophy. Spock is able to answer all with ease, increasing the speed of his answers with every question.  It seems that there is no question too difficult for him, and, in fact, it begins to seem that the computer has difficulty keeping up with his ability to answer.  Finally, though, there is one question that gives him pause:

The computer asks this question repeatedly, but Spock is unable to answer.  He explains to his mother that he doesn't understand the question, that the question itself is illogical, and that it has no purpose or importance. 

For the Star Trek uninitiated, Spock is a Vulcan, a race that has chosen to purge all emotion and feeling in the pursuit of pure logic.  However, Spock is half human as well. For him, this question should have some meaning, but in the early stages of the film, it does not.  The movie is as much about Spock discovering his humanity and finding an answer to this question as it is about transporting a bunch of whales to the future to save all humanity.

Okay, so by now you're probably wondering what this has to do with the martial arts, right?  I have found that while my black belt students are quite often able to readily answer questions regarding Korean terminology and history, dojang protocol, or the philosophy of the belt system, when I ask them how they personally feel about Tang Soo Do, they freeze up, much as Spock did.

My goal is not to produce little robots or computers that can spit out whatever information is put in.  My goal is to create leaders; living, feeling people who have a drive and a desire to better themselves and others, and to pass on the art of Tang Soo Do.  This question should not be a hard one, but all too often it is.  This question, and one other, seem to be the hardest to answer.

That second question seems relatively simple at first glance as well.  Although this question only consists of one word, it is that word which both drives and haunts us: Why?  

Ask a student if he or she wants to be a black belt, or a master, and you will usually get an emphatic positive reply.  I almost always get a resounding chorus of "Yes, Sir!" when I ask this to a group of students. If I ask that same group of students why they want to be black belts, I am met by stark silence.  Perhaps this is a failing in me as a teacher, but I don't believe that's so.

If I try to force my own thoughts or beliefs on someone, I stop being a teacher, and instead take the first steps toward becoming a tyrant.  Do I believe that all my students should love Tang Soo Do, want to make themselves better, faster, and stronger, learn to defend themselves, and have a burning desire to pass this knowledge on to others?  Yes, I do, but I also accept the fact that some people won't feel as strongly as I do about the martial arts.  I do think that they should be able to articulate why they are there and how they feel about what they are doing, though.

I promise: I won't hate you if you have different motivations for training than I do.  I'll respect you for being clear about what your motivations are, and for being able to explain them to me, as I would hope that others respect my own motivations and emotions.  There is no one "correct" answer to these hardest of questions, but there is a correct answer for you.  Strive to find your own answers.

How do you feel about your martial arts training: past, present, and future?

Why are you training?  Why do you continue to do so?

Kick.  Punch.  Easy Stuff.