About The Author
Master Ben Johnson, 5th Dan, is owner and chief instructor of
Aim and Focus
Karate in Austin, Texas. "Reflections" is a series of articles or
essays that Master Johnson provides on his website as a way of recording
and sharing his thoughts on various subjects and events. He has allowed
us to re-print his October 2008 issue here for our readers.
parents and / or students come to the school wanting
"discipline" in their lives. They want me to teach
them the time honored benefit of martial arts
training. Sometimes I wonder if they really know
what they are asking for. Let's take a look at
Webster's definition of "discipline".
3: a field of study
4: training that corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or
5: control gained by enforcing obedience or order
6: orderly or prescribed conduct or pattern of behavior
To me, this definition makes
perfect sense. In many ways this is the Tang Soo Do that I was taught.
My instructor could be very difficult...by today's standard downright
rude. I've been on the receiving end of a serious "dressing down" by
senior master instructors and / or Grandmaster (C.S.) Kim. I've told
this story many times in the do jang. Once Grandmaster Kim asked me,
"You used to be good...now you're no good...what happened?" These
masters were forging discipline in their students.
Sadly, today's world is much
different. If I even began to treat my students like I was treated 20
years ago (I probably wouldn't have very many students), the line of
unhappy students, parents and lawyers would be wrapped around the
building. We want discipline in our lives but we don't want any pain or
suffering. One does not come without the other.
I watch attendance to
sparring classes drop off because "I don't come to class to get beat
up!" That doesn't make any sense to me...you'd rather get really beat up
on the street someday versus a few knots and bruises in the do jang? Or
I hear "I can't make it this class or that class because I have so many
commitments in my life...let's get Sa Bom Nim to change the class
schedule", never stopping to think how a change might affect other
students in the do jang...just make my life simpler, please.
Students are aware of the
test requirements. They are posted on the school website and distributed
often by e-mails. Yet I often hear "You've never taught me that
combination / technique / form!" or "We don't practice this in class
very often." The ownership of preparing for a belt test has shifted from
the student to the instructor. I would have never uttered those words to
my instructor. It was my responsibility to attend extra classes,
schedule private sessions and train on my own to prepare for a belt
I once had an elderly man
walk into our do jang and watch a sparring class for a while. He asked
me if we ever sparred in any other manner. I said "no, we practice
controlled technique." He mumbled as he walked out, "oh...the kinder,
gentler karate." At the time I was offended by his comment. Years later
I realize he was probably correct.
The point of this article is
not to say let's put blood on the floor in order to have a strong class
(or achieve some manner of discipline). What I am saying is that it's
time to train harder. It's time to conform and put the greater good
before our own personal wishes. We want the honor and respect of being
"Black Belts"...yet we don't want the pain. There should be pain.
Pain can take many
forms...physical discomfort is an obvious example, but there is also
inconvenience in our daily lives, putting aside our own needs to help
others without any thought of recognition, or simply doing something
that is hard. It's very easy to show great "discipline" when training
with someone you respect and admire...but that's not discipline at all.
Show that same excitement, dedication and effort when training with
someone you don't particularly like. That is discipline, and in some
ways painful - but it's the martial way.