The following was the essay I wrote for my Gup Shim Sa in January of 2011. Typos and misspellings left for chung jik.
What am I learning and expecting through practicing Hyungs (Forms)?
When I begin to practice my Hyung, I take a moment to compose myself, to bring my mind into focus, and to become aware of my torso, my limbs, my hands and feet. In Joon Bi position, I inhale deeply and become aware of my lungs, my energy. I repeat the name of my Hyung to myself, both as practice for good habits and as a way to invoke the concentration of my mind and the muscle memory for the form that I hope to achieve.
I say to myself ‘Shi Sun!” and I begin. As I move from one position to the next, I not only call to mind the sequence in which the movements should be performed, but also the lessons of the Song of the Sip Sam Seh. I remind myself to “hold the head as if suspended from a string,” that “the source of the will is in the waist,” and that “the body should be flexible,” all while trying to remain in the moment and not lose focus on the Hyung itself.
In moving from an attack to a block, I try to remind myself that I face an invisible opponent. To stay low. To coil energy and to release. My block should flow naturally from the prior movement while summoning the energy to effectively protect me. My body should already be chambered for the next motion, into which I step as if taking advantage of an opening in my invisible opponent’s defenses. All this is done while I try to remember to breathe effectively and keep my stance low and balanced. I am already fatigued.
“Skill will take care of itself,” says the Song of the Sip Sam Seh. I trust that the skill for this form is developing as long as I apply myself fully to the task of performing it. The harder I work, the more tired I become from repetition, the more I get out of it. I repeat the form, feel the energy flow up from the ground and move my limbs, ignoring how tired I feel.
Recently my Sa Bom Nim told our class that he could write down all of his thoughts on Soo Bahk Do and who he is, and that doing so would fill a very thick volume. However, he explained, he could perform just one form – or even just one Ha Dan Mahk Kee – and show us who he truly is without a wasted word. He tried to impart to us that each time we practice our Hyung is as important as a performance during testing, or during competition. With many students in class that night, he reminded us that if we only wait to ‘try’ when he calls us up to work with him directly, we are wasting our time. What if he did not call us up that evening? What was the point in moving through the form at half energy or half speed? We should always perform as if we are being evaluated. Through constant application of our energy and effort, we cultivate our skill and our spirit. By always performing a form with full intent and using our best posture and energy, we cultivate the muscle memory for good habits. Whether we revisit our very first Ki Cho Hyung, or focus on remembering our newest, more complicated form, we must dedicate ourselves completely.
It is nice to be promoted in rank, or to win competitive trophies. But these things do not make me a Soo Bahk Do artist, and they will never make me a master practitioner. The discipline and focus to always try my best, the courage to always try harder, the determination to make my muscles ache and then to keep going. These things define me as a martial artist. In practicing my Hyung, I test myself. I evaluate my dedication, my level of skill, areas where I have worked hard and can see what I have accomplished and most importantly, areas to improve. Did I practice enough? Did I recognize and acknowledge my mistakes? Performing my Hyung is not about proving how good I am. It is about learning who I am. It is about earning my own respect, not that of others. In Soo Bahk Do we do not believe that humans can achieve perfection, and so a Hyung is not about being perfect. It is about being honest about who I am, how hard I try, how I feel.
I pause a moment to reflect, gather my energy, command myself “Shi Sun!” and begin again.