I recently moved home to the States after a stint in South Korea. Shortly before I departed North Korea's southern neighbor I sat with my Instructor, Heelak among the spectators at the annual Gyeongsanbuk-Do Provincial Hapkido/Tae Kwon Do Exhibition. The performance, spanned generously through a lazy Saturday and into Sunday afternoon, consisted of young learners of various ages, some as young as 6, 7,8 years old, and belts showcasing their practiced forms and techniques to a proud audience of family and friends.
You see, Hapkido is a self defense martial art developed in Korea in the later years of a brutal Japanese occupation preceding World War II. Similar to Japanese Jujutsu, its foundation rests chiefly upon the principle of Hwa, or non-resistance, harmony. Hwa is simply the act of remaining relaxed and not directly opposing an opponent's strength but rather using it to facilitate an attack. For example, if an opponent were to push against a Hapkido student's chest, rather than resist and push back, the Hapkido student would avoid a direct confrontation by moving in the same direction as the push and utilizing the opponent's forward momentum to throw him.
Peep some Hapkido:
I sat enchanted, awash in the buzz as the students' displayed an endless showcase of flips and twists, kicks this way and that, locks and reversals, that most of us would liken to Jet Li or Donnie Yen movies rather than anything comprehensible. At the conclusion of each demonstration and in the spirit of tradition, the students would genuflected to each other, the panel of esteemed judges, as well as to the audience of fathers and mothers among the bleachers before them. Fortunate am I to have witnessed such a respect that today is so seldom given.
Understand the repugnance that soiled my turkey not two weeks later following my return to the Thanksgiving table of my family stateside when, after the meal's conclusion, my young cousin displayed his recently acquired handgun to a room of relatives, among them my un-amused grandparents. His eyes shone pride as the weapon was passed among admiring uncles, as if arming himself against God knows who/what was an accomplishment. Blood relative or not, I suppressed the urge to rip from him both his gun and his shoulder with the little bit of Hapkido that I acquired, my own form of self defense, through evening classes in Korea. To have the audacity to flash his piece before our grandparents, as if in the wisdom of 95 years endured, they'd be impressed.
Guns and the accessibility of them, love it or hate it, is an issue discussed at present within diners and dive bars and cafes from here to Tucson. Newly arisen American phobias of a Polish invasion, suspicious looking mailmen, rabid possums and squirrels, or our own government turned tyrannical seems cause for everyone and their mothers to pack heat to their teeth. And yet, despite our sudden wild, panicked infatuations with self defense and protection, not a whisper of Wing Chun or Karate or Muay Thai kickboxing is uttered nor heard. No one speaks mention of Russian Systema or Peruvian Vacon or Israeli Kapap, though such stem from schools of thought, principles, and disciplines as old as time Herself with which men/women alike have protected themselves from the qualms of the world. Grant it, proficiency in Tai Chi is hardly a dependable defense against a crazed AK-47, but through the practice of Tai Chi's breathing, awareness, and meditative techniques one's mind may attain a level of consciousness at which fear resides not.
Personally, I will never own another gym membership. My evenings, Monday-Friday, spent among my young Korean classmates, names unpronounceable, jump ropes smacking against the padded floor, flying ki-yas, mats, bags, mitts ripened by the generations preceding us will remain among my life's most memorable. Push-ups are real only when they're done on fingers. Flexibility is strength (as well as something I've for too long gone without) . Practiced breathing is essential. Under Heelak's tutelage, I learned maneuvers and attacks as foreign to me as the language in the air and the smells of the street. Nothing was more real than when he split my lip open with a front kick gone too far during a friendly spar. My blood tasted sweet, like tomorrow's adventures. After class, so long as I closed down the studio, he would permit me to stay well into the night to dance by myself with the nun-chucks that I'd fallen in love with.
In the West, what's BIG is Best! Biceps. Egos. Texas. Cheeseburgers. Checking Accounts. Trucks. Power. As good a movie series as Rocky is, Sylvester Stallone's heart is due to explode any day now. With gas at $3.69 a gallon, who in their right mind would prefer to drive a Hummer? In a martial art, agility, quickness, nimbleness, muscular endurance are as essential to a student's development as is his strength. Humility, modesty, mental acuteness, calm are studied to dissuade the ego, not inflate it. So it goes, the best of martial artists seldom inflict their prowess upon others. They are both the most dangerous and the most relaxed. Adversely, our culture of power is only BIG, like Sylvester Stallone's heart.
Little does it matter what the specific art is. If I can find a Japanese Dojo in the States to study Matsumura Shorin-Ryu Karate, I can assure you that were you to look hard enough, somewhere similar lay available near your abode as well. Consider it. Try it. Be different. Learn something new. Disarm.