Never Let an Analogy Get the Better of You

Water is fluid, soft, and yielding.
But water will wear away rock
which is rigid and cannot yield.
As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding
will overcome whatever is rigid and hard.
This is the paradox: what is soft is strong.
Let us take advantage of that paradox.

The above was inspired by Lao Tsu’s Tao Te Ching – Classic of the Way and the Power - I merely rewrote the end to reflect the opportunities Taekwondo has as a 'hard' style. This work is part of a historical fiction series I'm writing on Taekwondo circa 1940s to1960s.

What I wanted was to 'fill-in-the-blanks' on day-to-day living and events as they influenced Taekwondo's founder Choi Hong Hi as he developed his new art. This specific entry was to be titled 'Choi on June 29 1949' when the US withdraws troops from Korea - a year after the Republic of Korea was established, and a year before North Korea crossed the 38th Parallel, marched onto Seoul and started a three year civil war.

At the time Choi was attending training at Fort Riley General School in Kansas.

Asian philosophy seems to always be repurposed for the martial arts, but that's because they fit well with the 'path' that martial artists feel they are on as they work on their respective styles. The analogy of water and rock in the above writing for instance appears in many martial arty sayings but is such a good metaphor. Many martial artists can identify immediately with the redirection and formlessness of water, or with the solidity and hardness of the rock.

However the use of analogy is only as good as if you are clear with the strengths of your art.

If you focus on the analogy to dictate all high level thinking you might end up putting yourself on shaky ground. Never be misled to think just by pure mental effort your hard style Taekwondo training will give you much advantage in areas like grappling - unless you've spent a huge time training in such activities and can integrate those skills back to your core style. Worse is just accepting everything handed to you by people who've analysed patterns for the sake of coming up with 'something' that fits those technique sequences - hard style systems can't have that many handlocks or controls in all their patterns! A word to the wise: work within your strengths and understand your weaknesses, and never let that analogy get the better of you.

I'd like to talk about the terms 'hard' and 'soft' in the repurposed Lao Tzu's passage above. In recent years, I've come to think 'soft,' referring to those 'soft arts,' are those systems in which practitioners disrupt or redirect the opponent's centre of gravity. This is not the sole domain of the aikidoka, there are older karate styles that also focus on grappling, side-stepping and body conditioning in order to wear their opponents down. On the other hand being 'hard' like a rock refers to those styles that overcome the opponent's centre of gravity by either dislocation (moving the person forcibly from where he is) or destruction. Notice I don't talk about circular arm motions - both hard and soft styles can wave their hands however they want - it's the end result that determines whether a style is 'soft' or 'hard.'

In Taekwondo's perspective, we are a hard style system that benefits from both relaxedness to achieve long range strikes, as well as the muscle lock down that comes with transmitting a force into a target in short range encounters. The relaxedness that a Taekwondo practitioner uses to move, to gap close and to achieve long range strikes certainly has a 'soft' quality to it, but this isn't going to cause any disruption to an opponent's centre of gravity. The 'softness' however can be internalised, and the Taekwondo practitioner can benefit from the juxtoposition of that 'softness' of his long range arsenal, to the undeniable 'hardness' of his short range tools.

What this means is that the mind is not always obsessed on using the hard style methodology of dislocation or disruption. Such softening can help the practitioner formulate strategy, innovate tactics, search for openings or opportunities, or as a judoka would say, look for the 'void'. I also reckon a more relaxed body is a body (and a mind) more ready to spring into action and less likely to get injured in a collision.

Certainly a good quality to have when faced with threats in a dynamic situation.



Colin Wee
Joong Do Kwan Chung Sah Nim
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