Generations of Martial Arts
students have asked their Instructors "why do we do that Sir?" The
best type of answers come packed with historically accurate recounts
of a good idea that satisfied a need that in turn influenced common
practices. Some answers come with no more than a dogma gleaned from
general beliefs. The worst answers come with the fateful "it's a
The historically accurate answers offer the enquiring student the
kind of enriching education that can help them to realise the full
value of their 'every class' practices.
The dogmatic answers inform the student that their Instructor is not
the font of all knowledge after all and perhaps the internet was a
The "it's a tradition" answer speaks of the Instructor's lack of
knowledge in the particular area of the question. That is ok,
Instructors can't know everything, but regrettably the answer also
speaks of a lack of thirst for personal knowledge growth.
The Cambridge English dictionary informs us; Tradition (noun) - a
belief, principle or way of acting which people in a particular
society or group have continued to follow for a long time.
So, using logic and the Cambridge English dictionary we can deduce
that the Instructor who uses the term 'tradition' instead of an
historically accurate answer is actually saying; "that way of
practice / behaviour is the way we have done it for a long time". In
other words the Instructor is saying nothing that the student did
not already know.
Surely the question that the student is asking is; "Sir, why did
that practice become a tradition, what purpose does it fulfill?"
Recently I asked Kwan Jang Nim Ah Po about variations that I had
observed in the openings of written communications. I had previously
been left with the impression that these were polite Korean
traditions. With his permission, here is an extract from Kwan Jang
"Regarding the normal salutation and wording that we generally use
in Tang Soo Do when we first begin our correspondence such as 'I
hope that this letter finds you in good health and spirits', etc,
actually there is really no standard wording required of us when we
draft either a formal or informal correspondence as such. Many years
ago, when I first started writing to Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee, I used
that wording out of respect and caring for him and his family. Over
time, when others noticed how I always opened my letters to him they
began to use that same wording in all of their correspondence as
well. Interesting though how people are now perceiving this to also
He could have said "its a tradition."
Similarly, with the dogmatic translation of the key concept "shin
chook", it was only when I engaged with my Instructor who had
received a translation from a native speaking Korean Martial Artist
rather than a Korean translator that I learned the difference
between the commonly perceived "tension and relaxation" and the
contextually accurate "expansion and contraction" translation for
shin chook. Placed in the context of the Founder's latter style of
practice, that subtle differentiation could mean;
Tension and relaxation at the climax of a weh gong technique.
Expansion and contraction of the lungs to ensure correct neh gong
breathing for health. Near opposites in fact.
I am very glad to be able to say that I have never met a Tang Soo Do
Instructor who has said "I have all of the answers". So why do some
Tang Soo Do Instructors appear reluctant to offer a fourth style of
answer to the student's question? A style of answer that runs; "That
is a fantastic question that we can all learn from. Let me research
a little more and share my answer with everyone at the next class."
Or do we just plump for 'tradition'? I know which answer earns my
Ko Dan Ja student with lots of questions.