Sunday, November 30, 2008

Lessons of History

I was never much of a history buff in school. I was one of those who thought that history class consisted of memorizing dates and events which were only important to people who are now dead. At some point it dawned on me that I will one day be of the deceased, so I started paying attention.

In school we are asked to remember events and people that changed the tide of entropy, changed the seemingly inevitable outcome of historical inertia. Mostly, these stories of the past are two dimensional narratives trying to compete in the minds of children who are used to three dimensional, interactive, multi-sensory, high-tech, always-on, techno-wizardry immersions which have been carefully crafted to grab, maintain, and addict the attentions of the most focused-challenged of our next generation.

Every now and again we hear of a teacher who is able to make history come alive, usually with costumes, funny accents, role playing, and a film crew. The audiences love these performances, mostly for their cute factor, rather than historical accuracy or modern day implications. For many, history remains a past time.

Occasionally, we are reminded that even those social constructs which have been passed down through countless generations (which should be a great history lesson) have changed so much that there is little left to tie us to our ancestors. Even our religious celebrations, which certainly have roots in antiquity, have been updated, modernized, secularized, homogenized, and advertised so to be unrecognizable by our forefathers.

When my kids questioned the value of learning history, I couldn't exactly refer to my stellar academic record as a source of motivation. Our discussions focused on the opportunity that history presents to each successive generation. If my children failed to learn from the previous generation, then they could not hope to achieve anything more than their parents. But, if they paid attention and stood on the shoulders of their ancestors, they could achieve more, accomplish more, contribute more, and leave more to their offspring.

The study of a martial art is absolutely the study of history, but in a manner that is quite different from grade school. Tang Soo Do, is a martial art that is deeply rooted in tradition and history. It has morphed over time, collecting bits and pieces of other arts while maintaining the philosophy and physical fundamentals that made it so valuable hundreds of years ago.

Most martial arts involve the learning, practicing, and perfecting of hyung (forms/patterns/kata), a series of moves that represent a fight against multiple opponents. Some of the hyung are said to have derived from actual combat. A number of the Tang Soo Do hyung originated in the 14th century. Imagine for a moment, that you are able to perform a complicated series of moves that (A) have the practical application of reinforcing self defense solutions, and (B) were performed in exactly the same way 500 years ago.

Potentially your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather would have performed Kyma Hyung Cho Dan, with its side-to-side motions, low stances, and powerful stomps in exactly the same way as you perform it today. Given that the Karate uniform (a Dobok) hasn't changed either, your greatX10 grandad would have dressed the same, breathed the same, moved the same, and probably struggled in the same spots as you. Talk about living history.

Most martial arts were developed by farmers and peasants who were not permitted to have weapons; as a means of controlling the masses with outnumbered government controlled armed forces. So, to know martial art is to maintain a connection with a common person, an average Joe (Typical Chin?) that lived in a different era. That person didn't have television, video games, instant messaging, Facebook, a hybrid car, or frequent flyer miles. But, most likely they did work hard, they worried about their kid's futures, dreamed of an easier life, liked some of their neighbors and relatives, didn't care for others, and wondered why you always find something in the last place you look. All in all, they weren't all that different from us.

Martial arts is a history lesson you get to live, not just read about. Furthermore, it has the added virtue of being useful today; as a means of self defense, a way to tone up and slim down, to stretch out, and breath easier. Martial arts can give you confidence, self esteem, better posture, and a sense of well being.

It is also a great way to connect with people you would never otherwise meet; some of them still living!

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