Monday, July 13, 2009

Think like a bear

The story goes that many of the hyung (forms / kata / patterns ) we learn were derived from animals. The philosophy is that the practice of hyung, over time, results in better fighting and self defense skills. Humans have a natural fighting style, exemplified on YouTube, which can be improved by watching how other species fight. Early practitioners were assigned animals to watch so as to learn how each defended itself, it's shelter, and its young.

I practice an art known as Tang Soo Do, a very old Korean self defense derived from earlier Chinese and Korean arts. Many of the Black Belt Hyung are based on the movements of animals such as snakes, bears, and birds. I love the form called Sip Soo, which is the form of the bear.

Sip Soo is not typically seen in tournament competition because it is not a flourishy form. The movements are slow, methodical, and strong. I admit to shallowness here having had success in competition with this form. It helps that my physique lends itself to "the form of the bear". Us short, stout guys can make the floor rumble with Sip Soo, while the delicate turning side kicks of Pal Che So leave us looking weak.

When I'm judging a hyung competition it is easy to spot the competitors who really get that the movements are supposed to represent an animal. Those that are doing Sip Soo and are "thinking like a bear" just look, move, and execute better. Thinking like a bear helps you understand the movements in a way that cannot be described with a thousands words. There is one technique where the artist's hand moves from a palm up position (almost like handing someone a bar of soap), to a position where the palm turns inward and the wrist is bent 90 degrees. It's such a small movement, but a bear is so strong that this tiny gesture could rip your face off.

Here is an example of a YouTube video of Sip Soo. I have to admit that this examples does not cause me to think 'Bear.'


Let me begin with lots of caveats here. I don't know this artist and he is likely performing exactly as he has been taught.

Now, compare it to this next video of two grizzly bears fighting (it gets a little smelly toward the end). Note these behaviors:
  • The bears start very low to the ground
  • Their movements are very methodical, strong, and deliberate
  • To show superiority, they sometimes stand on their hind feet
  • The few times they move quickly, the movements are very short and powerful

In order to perfect this form, you have to act like a bear. You have to feel it. You have to believe it. It doesn't matter that as a human you'll never have the strength of a bear. What is important is that you can control your mind to establish complete conviction for any task needed when defending yourself. When punching through a stack of four half-inch boards (enough power to shatter a jaw bone), you cannot begin the forward thrust with the thought "I think I can, I think I can." Any semblance of doubt will result in four unbroken boards and some number of broken bones.

If you're learning a new hyung (form / pattern / kata), learn what you can about its origins. If it is based on an animal, try to think like that creature as you practice. The mental exercise will not only show in your presentation, it will improve your concentration and mental discipline.

1 comment:

  1. The bear fight definitely did not resemble our form Sip Soo as much as it did resemble really good Brazilian Jiujutsu, or even at one point, flawless Aikijiujutsu.

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