Friday, October 19, 2012

The Elements of Dae Ryun

Dae ryun is not fighting, nor the conquering of
others. Rather dae ryun is an advanced, sublimating
form of training with mind, body and spirit together.
Training mind, body, and spirit with a partner is the
true definition of dae ryun.”
                                                           - Jae Chul Shin

While no discussion of a Black Belt Curriculum should be without a section on the concepts of dae ryun, it is important here to recognize that Grandmaster Shin has already written a comprehensive and definitive work on the subject.  To attempt to rewrite what he has already done is redundant, and this author shall not attempt to do so.  Instead, I direct anyone who is developing a martial arts curriculum, even one specifically geared towards black belts, to read Traditional Tang Soo Do Volume III: The Dae Ryun by Grandmaster Jae C. Shin.  Concepts and ideas I will only touch on here are presented in greater detail in this work, and it is one I cannot recommend strongly enough to instructors of Tang Soo Do.  With that said, I do feel that there are some Advanced and Basic Concepts that we can safely examine within the scope of this thesis.  For our purposes, this chapter is meant to be inclusive of all the various forms of dae ryun, including ja yu dae ryun (free sparring), il soo sik (one steps), and ho sin sul (self defense), but will focus primarily on the idea of dae ryun itself, rather than the techniques which comprise it.

Step 1: Identify an Advanced Concept

            While we have established in our previous chapter that falling is fighting, dae ryun most assuredly is not. This may seem counterintuitive, and to some readers may even be viewed as false or contradictory.  The truth is, that while the practice of dae ryun will surely provide one with the skills needed to fight, fighting itself is not dae ryun.  Whereas the goal of a fight is to win, by escape or by domination of the opponent, the goal of dae ryun is a free exchange of technique between partners.  In a fight, the welfare and success of one’s adversary is secondary to one’s goal.  In dae ryun, the welfare and successes of one’s partner are of paramount importance, for free exchange cannot exist without them.  Dae Ryun is a process by which we come to know ourselves, and by which we can learn to know others. In the movie The Matrix Reloaded, the character Seraph says, “You do not truly know someone until you fight them.”  I maintain that this is true, if we phrase it slightly differently: “You do not truly know someone until you engage in dae ryun with them.”  This is actually a statement that is derivative of Sun Tzu’s classic work, Sun Tzu Bing Fa, or at is commonly known to the English-speaking world, The Art of War.  Sun Tzu said:

Know yourself and know your enemy.
You will be safe in every battle.
You may know yourself but know the enemy.
You will then lose one battle for every one you win.
You may not know yourself or the enemy.
You will then lose every battle.[i]

While dae ryun is not truly a battle, and one’s partner is not an enemy, we can nonetheless use these ideas to extrapolate our Advanced Concept:

Dae ryun is a path towards truly knowing oneself, truly knowing others, and allowing others to truly know you.

Step 2: Uncover Basic Concepts

            If we accept this premise as our Advanced Concept, how can we even begin to deconstruct it to the point at which it becomes a drill for our black belts?  The journey towards knowing oneself is an incredibly difficult concept, even in the attempt to express. It is the basis for many branches of philosophy and religion, and the answers cannot be found by merely engaging in a martial arts exercise, can they?  I do not pretend that I can fully answer that question.  I do maintain that dae ryun can provide one path towards self-knowledge.  It is up to the instructor to show students the path.  It is ultimately their own decision whether or not they choose to walk it. Rather than attempting to explain how dae ryun leads to ultimate knowledge of the self and others, then, we will instead examine how instructors can reveal the path.
            If we accept that dae ryun provides a way to help us find this path, we must start by examining ourselves.  No one would deny that people come in various types, whether this is physical differences, gender differences, or differences in personality and personal ideology.  If dae ryun helps all of these different types of people to know themselves and each other, then we can begin to extrapolate our first Basic Concept:

There are different types of dae ryun that correspond to different types of people.

            Our exact method for clarifying and classifying these different types of dae ryun does not matter, nor do the labels used.  Classifying them in some way is important though, in order to help our students towards realization of the Advanced Concept, even if we go into this process knowing that the classifications we use are, ultimately, artificial. I suggest that each instructor find a classification system that works best for him or her.  Here we will classify the different types of dae ryun into four elemental styles.  This classification system uses the classical Greek elements of Earth, Fire, Water, and Air, rather the five classical Asian elements, but the Asian elements could be used as well. This system is not a new one, and most likely traces its roots to Miyamoto Musashi’s classic text, A Book of Five Rings, in which the first four rings match the Greek elements.  However, it was probably the animated television series, Avatar: The Last Airbender, which best introduced most of the modern western world to this idea.  In doing so, it helps instructors convey some very difficult ideas to a younger generation of black belts.  The different styles of dae ryun, then, are:

Earth is mostly patient, solid, rooted, and defensive. When it does attack, it waits for the right opportunity, then attempts to land one massive strike with maximum speed, force, and effect. When one thinks of Earth as a style of dae ryun, one must envision a rock.  Ideally, trying to attack someone using this style should be like trying to hit a rock with one’s bare hands. The defender merely absorbs the energy directed at him, while the attacker is more likely to injure himself than he is to affect the rock-like defender.  When Earth is used as a form of attack, the defender should, ideally, feel as if he is trying to withstand the force of a landslide.  Earth’s attacks are not easy to predict, as they come infrequently, and are difficult to avoid because they come with great speed and intensity.


Fire is mostly quick, aggressive, unrelenting, and offensive.  Fire rarely takes a defensive position, but when it does, it is not in the classic sense.  While Fire may block or evade, it is always looking for the next opportunity to attack.  When one thinks of Fire as a style of dae ryun, one must envision, obviously, flame.  Ideally, when one attempts to attack Fire, one gets burned.  The attack itself is of little concern to the defender who uses Fire, and he will attempt to strike the attacker multiple times in response.  When Fire is used as a form of attack, which is almost always, it relies on an aggregate effect, rather than attempting to land one specific strike.  Fire’s attacks may be more predictable than other styles in some ways, but they are so quick and constant that they will often find their intended target anyway.


Water is mostly adaptable, flowing, changing, and balanced in terms of offensive and defensive techniques.  When one thinks of Water as a style of dae ryun, one must envision water in all its forms, whether filling a container, surrounding a sinking object, falling from the sky or pounding the shoreline.  It is both the raindrop and the storm; both the puddle and the tsunami.  When one attacks Water, one should have the sensation of being surrounded and immobilized, a feeling akin to floating, sinking, or drowning, depending on the intent of the Water stylist.  When attacked by Water, one may be pelted by a thousand raindrops, or assaulted by one enormous wave.  Water’s attacks are always changing in number, intensity and focus. Bruce Lee was a proponent of this style, and his quote regarding this became famous: “Be water, my friend.”[ii]


Air is mostly evasive, intangible, elusive, and enveloping.  While it is often mistakenly classified as almost purely defensive, it is actually a relatively balanced style in terms of offense and defense.  When one thinks of Air as a style of dae ryun, one should envision not only the air we breathe and pass through every day, but also the hurricane and the tornado.  When one attacks Air, one should feel as if the defender is not even there; that their attacks are never able to reach their targets, and that attack itself is useless.  When air attacks, it attacks quickly, and may be either penetrating and forceful or enveloping and neutralizing. 

            Undoubtedly, most people will identify with one style more than the other three.  Instructors should encourage students to explore this, but should actively encourage more advanced students to try using all styles, rather than limiting themselves to one. In the end, they begin to learn that while they are reliant on one style, pieces of the others will be present as well.  They will learn that:

While people may predominantly use one style of dae ryun, all styles are always present.

Step 3: Understand, Apply & Improvise

            When they grasp for Understanding, students are initially trying to find one style that best suits them as individuals.  Once this style is found, they will be encouraged to explore other styles as well.  They will begin to see that they actually engage in a blend of all styles at some point, and that no style can truly be separated from the others.  In other words, “it’s all the same.”   When this level of Understanding is reached, they will begin to identify the styles of dae ryun that fit others’ personalities, body types, and ideologies.  In so doing, they will begin to know others even before engaging in dae ryun with them, and will be able to form certain expectations when they do.  When they can match a predominant style with a particular body type, combined with personality traits, they will begin to understand why certain techniques work better form them than others, and will begin to identify how to use one style in both opposition and complement to another.
            As students learn to identify these styles in themselves and others, they must also learn to effectively use them in dae ryun.  They will learn which styles are best used to counter others, and in this process, will begin to adapt their own style based on the actions of their partners.  This is Application.  When students can quickly identify another’s style, know what works to counter that style, and know intuitively how to shift from one style to another, they are starting to move from Application towards Improvisation. 
            At the Improvisation stage, students should not only know when to shift from one style to another, but should also attempt to create new styles by combining the characteristic features of two or more styles.  Thus they will uncover new concepts, and will move closer towards synthesis, the Ideal Concept, and nature.  For example, a student may attempt to combine Earth and Fire and create a new style known as Lava.  Combining Earth and Water may result in Mud, or Quicksand.  Combining Earth and Air will create Dust, or Sandstorm.  Fire and Water will create Steam.  Fire and Air will create Smoke.  Air and Water will create Mist, or Storm.[iii]  Combining three or more elements will continue to yield new styles and new concepts with new characteristics, and combining all elements together into a cohesive union will perhaps yield Spirit, which is sometimes identified as Musashi’s fifth ring, and the fifth element in Japanese culture, although the fifth ring is just as often translated as the Void, or even as Nothing.  Since synthesis cannot yield nothing, I prefer the notion of Spirit, but in truth, I feel that:

 The union of all styles results in the Ideal style of dae ryun: Nature.

Dae Ryun: Conclusions

            While the casual reader may feel that the above analysis is meant to cover only ja yu dae ryun, or free sparring, it is actually meant to encompass all forms of dae ryun, including semi-free sparring, one-step, two-step, and three-step sparring (pre-arranged sparring), group sparring, tournament sparring, and ho sin sul (self defense).  For a more in depth discussion of each of these classifications, refer to Traditional Tang Soo Do Volume III: The Dae Ryun, by Grandmaster Jae Chul Shin, pages 5-7.  Ultimately, while the elemental classifications and their resultant combinations and syntheses work for me as an instructor, it is up to every individual instructor to identify their own system of classification and instruction. It is not the classifications themselves that matter, but the concepts:

1.      Dae ryun is a path towards truly knowing oneself, truly knowing others, and allowing others to truly know you.
2.      There are different types of dae ryun that correspond to different types of people.
3.      While people may predominantly use one style of dae ryun, all styles are always present.
4.      The union of all styles results in the Ideal style of dae ryun: Nature.

Kick. Punch. Easy Stuff.

[i] Sun-tzu. (6th cent. BC) [Sun Tzu Bing Fa, English] The Art of War Plus The Ancient Chinese Revealed Seattle, WA: translated by Gary Gagliardi, p.41