Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Firearms Safety

Originally uploaded by tommrkr
Last night, I was able to implement a class I'd been wanting to do for a long time, thanks to the expertise of a student and former student. We talked about the G word in a martial arts class. That's right, we talked about guns.

We didn't do any fancy disarms, weapon strips, retention drills, etc.

We sat down and talked about them. For about 2 hours, 2 red belts led class through a fascinating and interesting topic. After that, we had about 90 minutes on the range. We discussed types of firearms, from a j-frame revolver up to an AR-15, with some treats along the way (i.e. a bolt-action shotgun!) ammunition, ballistics, and we also talked about some misconceptions and inaccuracies commonly associated with firearms.

Why did we do this? Simply put: education. Before last night, well over half the group had never touched a real firearm, much less fired one. If you never have heard a gun go off, smelled the sulfur, felt the heat and recoil, how can a wooden or rubber gun truly simulate the feeling for you in a drill?

Just like I would teach staff, sword or knife, it was important to establish safety and protocol procedures for the class to follow. The damage potential that lies within the weapon must be respected before being used responsibly.

Turns out, the class went extremely well. There were, as you can guess, a lot of questions. Some people felt awkward asking "dumb" questions, but they received excellent answers which got the ball rolling for more questions. I'm pleased to say that everyone tried their hand at shooting afterwards, and there were lots of smiles as people realized it wasn't so bad after all.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Tang Soo Do Tech: Blogs

(The following is another snippet from my Sam Dan essay. While most people reading this are probably quite tech savy, please be patient as I try to apply the changing internet to the life of the martial artist.)

Blog, a contraction of the phrase “web log” is essentially a journal or diary that is published and shared online. Anyone with a web page may create a blog and publish their thoughts. In many ways, this is no different than a regular web page, but is merely a type of web page format. Like wikis, the appeal of blogging comes from allowing the author to publish their material without having to know a special programming language.

Many blogs allow you to attribute “tags” or one word descriptors to a journal entry. If I tag an entry as "tang soo do," a user who then clicks on my tag can be taken to all my other entries I have labeled as "tang soo do." In many cases, a reader can also be connected to other people's blogs with the tag "tang soo do." By being searchable by other users and allowing one to network with other users who use this tag, small communities form. For example, (a popular blog community) has a community of Tang Soo Do practitioners, and a smaller community of "WTSDA" tagged users.

There are a few martial arts blogs on the internet. Some are academic, reflective or professional in nature. Many blogs, such as "24 Fighting Chickens" - a blog dedicated to Shotokan Karate -- are extremely popular with readers due to the rich (and often controversial) information contained within. Like many blogs, 24 Fighting Chickens allows readers to post their reactions to articles, and receive email updates when new articles are published.

Aside from blogs dedicated solely to the author's passion for martial arts, many more web pages may casually mention their dojang in their journal, while others may mention their instructor or school by name. A typical entry may say "class was really hard tonight. Master Smith made us do squat kicks and hit us with a stick when we complained. I can't stand him!" Like a written journal, blog posts are both positive and negative in nature. Some are written very much in the way a person would use a traditional diary: albeit a diary left wide open in plain view of the entire world. In my research, I have come across blog entries that were disparaging in nature towards specific WTSDA studios, instructors and competitions, as well as glowing and inspiring entries. In most cases, these blogs are not intentionally disparaging their instructor, but are failing to consider the depth of their potential audience.

In fact, many "bloggers" consider their online journal to be a cathartic experience first and a public forum next (Noguchi). While they are aware that their postings are publicly readable, they think that no one is actually reading. What these users are forgetting is that all their posts may come up in a Google search for Tang Soo Do resources. When we re-consider the fact that more people are using the internet to research, this virtual "word of mouth" can become dangerous. Even worse, since the average consumer doesn't understand the differences between different associations and federations, a bad review of one Tang Soo Do school could affect a reader's perception of the entire art.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sip Sam Seh - Part One

The poem below is entitled "Sip Sam Seh" or "The Song of the 13 Influences." Like many martial arts records, it cannot be reliably attributed to any one person. There are many alternate translations, but the below version is that which is most commonly seen in Tang Soo Do, as it is the translation that appeared in Hwang Kee's books.

Alternate Translation Here.
Alternate #2.

Never neglect any of the Sip Sam Seh.
The source of the will is in the waist.
Pay attention to the slightest change from full to empty.
Let energy flow through the whole body continuously.
Stillness embodies motion, motion stillness.
Seek stillness in motion.
Surprising things will happen when you meet your opponent.
Give awareness and purpose to every movement.
When done correctly all will appear effortless.
At all times pay attention to the waist.
Relaxed clear awareness of abdomen, the energy can be activated.
When the base of the spine is erect, energy rises to the top of the head.
The body should be flexible.
Hold the head as if suspended from a string.
Keep alert and seek the meaning and purpose of your art.
Bent and stretched, open and closed, let nature take its course.
Beginners are guided by oral teaching.
Gradually one applies himself more and more.
Skill will take care of itself.
What is the main principle of the martial arts?
The mind is the primary actor and the body the secondary one.
What is the purpose and philosophy behind the martial arts?
Rejuvenation and prolonging of life beyond the normal span.
So and eternal spring.
Every word of this song has enormous value and importance.
Failing to follow this song attentively, you will sigh away your time.

"Great" you ask, "What am I supposed to do with that? What are the thirteen (sip sam) influences and how do they affect what I do? Can we spar now?"

First let me ask you what does Tang Soo Do have in common with Tai Chi? What do 90 year old ladies in Beijing do that have any bearing what we do in the dojang? The answer is a lot more complicated than you might imagine, and the above anonymous poem has some major hints within.

To Be Continued...

How a Wiki could help your martial arts club.

Yesterday, I uploaded the section on Wikis from my TSD Tech paper. I wanted to add a little more information on how a Wiki could be beneficial to a small martial arts club. A wiki can give your club a centrally located and flexible document that outlines all of your clubs processes, requirements, yearly activities, responsibilities and more.

The flexibility of the wiki comes into play especially when different roles are delegated to club officers, such as at BTSD. Unlike the traditional martial arts school, where I would call all of the shots, a good deal of day-to-day operations are managed entirely by students. While I held many offices years ago, a great deal has changed since then. It is very difficult for me keep track of everyone's responsibilities.

Many clubs deal with this by employing a paper solution. Every officer (indeed, BTSD has done this for some time) recieves a notebook that outlines their job responsibilities. In theory, each officer is responsible for updating this notebook to reflect any changes over the last year. The notebook then becomes a torch that is passed to the next officer.

A wiki is a nice way to create a centrally located notebook, that all users can make updates to as needed. It does a good job of preventing the notebook from being lost or damaged, I can view the wiki year round and suggest changes as needed, and more. This is much easier than tracking down a student who "disappears" mid-year and takes their notebook with them!

It also helps to prevent the "hit by a bus" scenario that could easily damage any organization: a key player is suddenly taken out of the equation unpredictably (i.e. hitten by a bus) and takes all of their knowledge with them. While most of this knowledge can be replicated, it is also a potentially time-consuming and frustrating process for all involved as processes are re-discovered, contacts are lost, etc.

Luckily, wikis are available to any group, even those lacking the technical savy to create their own website and install the necessary back-end materials (databases, language libraries and all that other stuff that makes non-tech people want to stop reading.) One particularly useful website is called wikispaces. Wikispaces allows groups to create their own, well, spaces online. The software is extremely flexible, allowing you to upload files, create sections, add users with varying levels of permissions, and - importantly -- to back up your work. Version control and page discussion are also present, allowing you to discuss the flow of a page rather than battling over edits as well as being able to revive previously saved versions should an officer go crazy and try to delete all of their content.

Currently, I am developing a wikispace for my club to experiment with. Like any other tool, it is only useful if you and your staff see the advantages are dedicated to using it for getting things done.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Wikis - Publicly Edited Encyclopedias

Wikis are a subset of web pages, consisting of submitted articles that are organized by category. Unlike traditional websites, these articles are edited through a community effort; a process called "collaborative editing." This type of web page is often used by corporations, and some martial arts organizations, for working together on projects and communicating ideas between writers all while maintaining a central source for a document and tracking changes. It has also been embraced by the public as a means of sharing information on a wide variety of topics. The largest example of this is which features 7,371,810 of articles in 252 languages on many number of topics. In addition to other martial arts, Wikipedia has articles about Tang Soo Do, the WTSDA and Kwan Chang Nim Jae Chul Shin.

Unlike a traditional encyclopedia, this tool allows the reader to also make their own unique contributions, potentially drawing from a greater pool of talented authors. Another strong advantage to Wikis is that a contributor does not have to know how to use HTML or any other programming language, as the software takes their text and conforms it to the look and feel of the site. Removing barriers to user participation is a key element of making Web 2.0 technologies work better.

The bad news: because Wikis are open in nature, they are also prone to vandalism and mistakes. For example, I could edit the entry for "Tang Soo Do" to say that I founded the art in 2007. Luckily, all edits are controlled by a vigilant Wikipedia community. A further check against vandals: previous versions are saved by the server, thus making it easy to quickly restore a previous version. Therefore, my tongue-in-cheek change to a wiki entry would be quickly removed. Some studies have been performed on the efficiency of the editing process, and have found that errors are often corrected within minutes or hours of publications. To contrast this to a normal web page, a page could be hacked and changed by a malicious user, and only the webmaster would be able to change the page. Depending on the content, this could take seconds or days.

As stated earlier, Wikis can also be created by other organizations for use by their own members. This can be an effective method for sharing information within an organization since edits can be quickly made, and the content in the wiki is search-able. This may hold some appeal to an international organization as some users may be more comfortable finding the answer to their question on a private website rather than "bothering" someone with an email or phone call. The staff of a large organization may find some relief if the answers to "common questions" could be answered once online rather than replying to 100 emails. Even better, answers to these common questions could be provided by a variety of experts within the organization. As with all Web 2.0 technologies, the success of the application hinges upon directing as many users as possible to the site and offering them not only the content they want, but the ability to add more as needed.

Search Engines, or: “The world according to Google.”

Note: (The following is another snippet from my essay submitted for my third degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. It is not written for a high-tech audience, and is intended as a very broad overview.)

Google, the name of a popular search engine and a key player in the Web 2.0 movement, has begun to transform into both a noun and verb. To “google” something means to informally enter a search term into Google. While this is extremely convenient for a casual search, it can lead to a problem for your studio if your web page isn’t recognized by Google. To many users, “if it's not on Google, it doesn’t exist.” Even more worrisome: "if it's not in the first 5 results, it may as well not exist." How do these search engines determine what is listed, and more importantly, how do we use that to improve our standing?

Search engines such as Google primarily work by using a ranking system combined with "sophisticated text-matching techniques." The basic theory of a ranking system is that when web pages are linked to by others, the more relevant they becomes. As a page becomes more relevant, it climbs closer to the top of results returned. In some ways, the fight to be at the top of the search results is akin to advertising in the yellow pages, where many companies will place an "A" or "1" at the front of their name to be at the top of the list.

At the time of this writing, I am pleased to report that entering “Tang Soo Do” into Google returns the WTSDA homepage as the 2nd result. This is largely due to the fact that the Association Web Committee encourages studios to link back the WTSDA homepage, thus boosting its relevance according to Google. This policy has resulted in years of studio web pages building positive rankings for the Association homepage.

However, this success stresses the need to maintain a strong web page for the WTSDA, as it becomes the “first impression” for thousands of visitors. While it is no surprise that being at the top of list means more visits, the web audience is extremely fickle and is more than willing to use the "back" button on their browser to return to Google for something more in line with their expectations.

Monday, May 14, 2007

What is 선 인 선 과???

선 인 선 과

Sun in, sun ka. Stated simply: good intention, good results. You reap what you sow. The golden rule. Karma is a *%^#@. However you want to say it, this is how I try to teach, and what I try to pass on to my students. I also fail this quite regularly, but I'm working on improving over time.

Attribution: I first heard this from Master Dan Segarra of the Warrior Scholar Academy.

Dham Toi Sip E Ro / 彈 腿

Tan Tui Pose borrowed from Chin Woo Federation webpage."12. When you learn new techniques, learn thoroughly the theory and philosophy as well." - 14 Attitude Requirements of Tang Soo Do.

To me, it is important to have an understanding of a techniques roots and legacy. Whenever I learn a new form, I do a lot of research along the way to see how others before me (and parallel to me, etc) are doing the form. With the advent of youtube, dailymotion, etc this is much much easier than it used to be. It can also be super problematic when your student goes off and learns Wang Shu from a video while still a green belt. Sounds like something I would have done.

According to Hwang Kee's book "A History of the Moo Duk Kwan" his inspiration for modern Tang Soo Do (as in, the base style of what we practice in the WTSDA) came from his learnings in China. While living in Manchuria, he states that he learned Tae Guk Kwon (Tai Chi) and "Dham Toi Ship Ee Rho."

That's a mouthful isn't it? This is the Korean pronunciation of 12 Step Tan Tui, a popular fundamental form in many styles of Northern Kung Fu. If you need a comparison, it is the Pyung Ahn hyung of Kung Fu: an beginner/intermediate set of forms intended for building foundational movement. Indeed, Tan Tui translates to "springing leg" and is used heavily for conditioning the body and developing strength and speed with the low stances. Like the Pyung Ahn - which exist with many variations in almost all "karate" styles -- Tan Tui can be found in many different schools of Kungfu. The pose demonstrated in the top left picture (Hwakuk Jang Kap Kwon Kyong Kyuk) is fairly recognizeable as a distinct Tan Tui position.

Clearly, these forms had a profound effect on Hwang Kee, as his Yuk Ro and Chil Sung forms borrow heavily from them. Before these forms were created and released, I can only imagine that his study in Tan Tui influenced how he interpreted the Okinawan forms he would later adopt as he created the Moo Duk Kwan. The use of choong dan hang jin, in my opinion, is a direct example of how Hwang Kee took forms such as Pyung Ahn E Dan, and modified them beyond what was in the books of his time.

Although we don't practice the Yuk Ro or Chil Sung sets, I feel it important to expose my students to Tan Tui. I don't feel the need to write it in stone, require my black belts to learn it, etc. However, if someone truly enjoys it, it would make me very happy to see someone pick it up, add it to their toolbox, and make it their own.

I have a lot on my plate, so it is taking me a lot longer to take in the 12 road set than most, but I feel fairly comfortable with Tan Tui 1-3. A good friend of BTSD has agreed to work with me more in the future on exposing my students and myself to the rest of the lines in time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Sam Dan Test

E Dan Tollyo Cha Ki
Originally uploaded by tommrkr.
Photographed by Adam Petrasek.

This weekend, I had the priviledge of testing for my Sam Dan at the Region 5 Spring Dan test. In addition to the Master Instructors and studio heads of our Region, the test was also attended by Grandmaster Jae Chul Shin and Master Vance Britt of Trenton, NJ.

In general, I feel good about my performance. I did not try to "train" specifically for this test. I did not attempt to get into better shape before the test. In fact, due to a variety of injuries, I've not trained intensely in several months. For me, this test was a reflection of where I was on that particular Friday evening. On many levels, I think that is a healthier way of preparing for a black belt exam. If I'm ready (or not) to test, then working hard for a few weeks (compared to the previous years of experience) will make little difference.

Interestingly, I also shared this experience with 2 of my students who were testing for Cho Dan. While I wasn't able to watch their test, I think that we were able to motivate each other to continue and show not only our best, but our school's best effort as well.

Having students testing for Black Belt the same time as me neatly sums up what I've been adjusting to for the last year: my training is less about me, and much more about my students. As I'm the chief instructor, this should seem obvious, but there's a big difference between being the student in the front right corner to standing in front of the class. Most days, I'm lucky to train for about 5 minutes before assuming my instructor role. For me, mastering the ability to be there for others while continuing to nurture my own growth will be far more challenging than learning Kong Sang Koon.