idea and actuality
early in rank, you are so proud to be studying martial arts and so full of the idea of what it is, and still not yet at all grounded in what it is you are doing that you are prone to being a bit stupid about it. the potential for your ego to get in front of you is great.
i recall in incident in the late 90s, when i was a Yellow Instructor (or Yellow 1, as it was called at that dojang). i was at a gas station and saw a white belt walking from their car to the store area of the station, wearing their dobok around as if regular clothing, and carrying themselves quite ridiculously. as if they had a gun belt on. i’m sure they were very proud of their new undertaking, but it’s a silly way for any practitioner of martial arts to carry themselves of any rank, let alone a white belt. keep in mind that a white belt is awarded to you for simply agreeing to begin training. right off the street. so the attitude was laughable. if not dangerous.
chances are if you see a martial artist acting this way? they are one of the bottom three color ranks. that’s what i’m talking about. that’s sort of how it works.
in time, a funny thing happens. at least in my experience. if you stick with training, you get stronger, faster, gain balance, gain lung capacity, get better at your technique. kick harder, accumulate more kicks, sharpen your techniques, become more aware of others’ telegraphing their moves…in short, you improve, but in improving and creating distance from where you were and where you are, you also begin to get a picture of how far there is for you to grow, should you be interested and committed. you gain a more concrete picture of what it is you are doing, what it is you are capable of, and also, of the responsibility you have.
as this happens, you come to understand that it is not a selfish thing you attempt. even if it began that way. (and it did for me.) you are taught as much. as you rise in rank, your duties at the dojang grow, your ability and requirements to pass along knowledge to lower ranks grows. you come to understand (and are taught) that like a doctor in a restaurant where the danger of choking is possible, you owe it to the larger community to step up should your skills be possibly helpful when things go wrong. not to say you should try to wrest a gun from someone or otherwise do something stupidly heroic or ego-rewarding, but that it would be shameful and unseemly for a black belt to hide in the back of a room if a bully or two were taking advantage of a weaker person and nobody else was standing up for them. your talents and hard work are not to be cloistered as if only belonging to you. the idea is that you make yourself stronger and more able for one or more of many possible reasons, but that you are there to help the larger community if you can.
and at the same time, you stop showing off quite so much, if that was your thing. and you stop showing off so much because you become more aware of the actuality of what you are doing and possess, and less inebriated with the idea of it. here, finally, in the upper geup ranks and approaching black, i’d have to say that i wouldn’t even talk about it to people i was hanging out with on a corner, for example. i wouldn’t want it to be common knowledge, and i wouldn’t want people i knew telling other people in the hanging out crowd. if they came to know, okay. cool. i’m proud of what i do. (in fact, taekwondo is such an important part of my life currently, it’s hard to imagine being close to people and having them not know it’s a part of my life. but it’s something i would feel no need to clue people in on when first meeting them, that’s for sure.)
because something happens when you introduce this idea to people. they can romanticize it a bit. they might start fights hoping to see you in action. they might feel insecure or personally threatened (by the idea) and want to test you personally. or they might brag you up to others which increases the chances of one of those things happening. if nothing else, they might remove the element of surprise that you have, by letting others know what you do.
they may do none of those things. but whatever happens, there’s too great a possibility for the idea to bring attention to you in an imbalanced way. as you gain the confidence that replaces the insecurity you began with, you’d much rather continue your hard work without being under the glare of any spotlight, and train as if you’ll be needed any day, at the same time not increasing your chances of that happening.
so it’s a funny thing! as you become more competent, and perhaps actually have something to brag about, you feel less need to do so.
but then again, i guess that makes a lot of sense.