Martial Arts


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.


Often 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".

1: punishment
2: instruction
3: a field of study
4: training that corrects, molds or perfects the mental faculties or moral character
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 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 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'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 test.

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.

Tang Soo!!


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