As I consider my experience in Taekwondo the thing that stands out to me most is that in both Taekwondo and life we should always be willing to give a little more than might be required or expected. In order to do that you may need to learn to concentrate on what you know with your mind rather than what you see with your eyes. Let me explain.
Action Photography by Micah Holland
One of the first real tests that a martial artist faces is the test of breaking a board. Each time a student begins to learn how to break a board we instruct them to kick beyond the board or to kick through the board. To help him or her grasp this concept we remove the board so that the student is able to visualize the point to which they should kick or strike. The goal of course is for them to concentrate their focus, energy, power and aim beyond the fictitious barrier.
Most students do well in this exercise. Then comes the actual test. Everything changes the moment that they see an actual board standing in the way. At that point something happens in the mind of the student. Rather than concentrating on kicking beyond the board their full attention is captured and placed on the board itself. The board is suddenly obstructing their perfect view of their goal. What seemed possible now feels impossible.
Why does that happen? Why will a student agree to concentrate kicking to one point, practice kicking to that point and then suddenly and somewhat unconsciously completely lose sight of their goal? Why do they suddenly become in danger of fixating on the board? Is it that the student doesn’t trust their instructor? I think the explanation is a rather simple one. This change of focus happens because the board is real. Breaking the board was a nice goal and thought but actually breaking through the board is another matter entirely. What the student knows in their mind and believes in their heart is hijacked by what they see with their eyes. They believe their instructor, but then they begin to think and that is the problem. It seems that the more they think about the board the more they stop believing they can actually break through the board.
Action Photography by CI Roy Reid
That is a powerful lesson in life itself. You may know that there is more then what you might be able to see in this life and so you make your goal to live with faith, courage and determination. Yet, sometimes whenever you face physical, relational or financial obstacles (to name a few) hope, faith and joy can suddenly be hidden from sight. And then what happens? You focus on the problem rather than beyond the problem to the solution. You focus on what may become a source of pain rather than the joy that lies just beyond it. In some instances you may find that you have been fixated on the “board” in your life for years!
Now, because you have lost sight of the goal, you may continually and courageously kick against the very real obstacle and it hurts again and again. Why are we suddenly afraid of the trouble we face? While there is no simple answer I would like to submit that it might simply be due to a loss of sight. It seems to me that in the same way that a student might be suddenly afraid of seeing the board, although he or she knew that there would be a board to break, that we can suddenly be afraid in life.
We fear the board because we do not want to suffer.
We certainly don’t want to cause ourselves unnecessary pain and suffering. And so we do everything in our power to avoid the pain we expect. In other words, we want to break the board, but we don’t want it to hurt! We want to move through each challenge without suffering in any way. Yet suffering leads to perseverance, perseverance leads to maturity / character, and character leads to hope, according to scripture.
Something powerful happens in the human spirit whenever we focus our attention and belief on something that is outside of ourselves and beyond our trouble. For me, whenever I focus my attention on Christ and eternal life that is beyond anything on this earth, I also find exceptional joy and abiding peace. And when I focus on joy I am better able to break through obstacles that life presents. Not always without pain and not always on the first try. But that’s life.
Not accomplishing something the first time is ok.
Hurting as a result of trying is ok. Pain does not mean that you are doing something wrong; sometimes it’s a result of breaking through something. However, it is not ok to give up just because you are tired. There is no valid reason for not trying again: if you fall down seven times, then get up eight.
Back to the board-breaking…I learned to focus on a point beyond the board. All was well until I was required to face the more difficult challenge of breaking through concrete. First degree required that I break one 2″ concrete cap with my hand. Second degree black required breaking through two 2″ concrete caps with my foot. The lessons I carried into breaking concrete were things like: Don’t overthink it (huge lesson)…It’s been done before…You are well prepared…Trust your instructor to put you in situations that are both challenging and sometimes difficult…Always give your best.
Having said that, times of testing in both Taekwondo and in life can be useful markers along the journey just to confirm that you are experiencing progress. I like that I am always learning and always teaching.
Why did I pursue 3rd Dan Black Belt?
Once the testing was over, individuals were allowed to ask questions of me in a public forum. One of those questions came from my wife. She asked me why I did it? She said, “A lot has happened in the year leading up to this point of testing. At any point you could have decided not to move forward. Why did you do it?” After thinking for a moment I answered to the audience, “I decided to persevere because I knew that if I did and was successful, it would allow me to work toward a fourth degree. But if I didn’t, it would be the end. I didn’t want it to be the end.”
I am humbled by the fact that while many began this race, few (by comparison) have come this far. I am thankful for each person who invested time, energy, suggestions, training and encouragement. While I am so grateful to each instructor and students, I am especially grateful to Kwanjangnim David Turnbull and Sahbumnim Wendy Turnbull. I hope that there will be many opportunities to help others experience breakthroughs to their dreams and goals.