I Know Some of You

are wondering why I study Tang Soo Do.  I could tell you that it’s for the long-term health benefits, or to share in an activity with my younger son, and while each of those would be true, neither is the REAL reason.  This video explains it better than I ever could:

That’s right:  I study Tang Soo Do to enable me to fight HOPPING VAMPIRES.

That is all.

A New Year’s Reflection, Prompted by Jet Li’s Fearless

Yesterday afternoon, my younger son, David, wanted to close out the old year by watching a martial arts film.  I opted for Jet Li’s Fearless, which I hadn’t seen before.  It’s a version, you might say, of the life of the Chinese martial artist, Huo Yuanjia.  As you would expect, the martial arts portion of the film was impressive.  There was an emphasis on not using your kung fu to beat up other people/take revenge on your enemies that I appreciated, especially since I was watching the film with my eleven year old, red belt son.

What struck me most, though, was a scene towards the end of the film, when Jet Li’s character is having tea with a Japanese karate master he’ll soon face in combat.  Huo Yuanjia, as he’s portrayed here, puts forth the idea that there is no single martial art that’s the best.  They’re all valid; there are simply better and worse practitioners of them.  So why compete against one another? the karate master asks.  To find out what our individual shortcomings are, Huo Yuanjia says, and work to better ourselves.

Fearless Still

From what little I know of martial arts, this strikes me as pretty much the case.  (As my Sa Bom Nim likes to say, “What’s the best martial art if you’re attacked?  The one you know.”)  And however hokey the scene in which it was expressed, the sentiment seems equally applicable to a variety of contexts, particularly the arts.  Since writing is what I do, I’m thinking of it specifically in that way.  Yes, there are plenty of kinds of narrative, plenty of genres, and within each one, all sorts of subdivisions.  But I have yet to see any compelling evidence that one type of narrative or another is intrinsically superior to the rest.  (Which is not to say that I haven’t read a lot of assertions to that effect.)  What I have seen are individual writers whose use of a particular genre, or one of its subdivisions, allows them to create brilliant art.

Don’t get me wrong:  I don’t deny the usefulness of larger categories of narrative, either to serve as a frame for the writer to work within, or to aid the critic attempting to interpret and contextualize the writer’s work.  The martial arts comparison applies:  the specific styles and schools allow you a way to direct your individual development.  If it helps you as a writer to see yourself as part of a larger movement, to publish manifestos, to align yourself with this writer or that writer who’s gone before, then by all means, do what helps your writing.  I cheerfully identify myself as a horror writer, and am happy to place myself within a tradition that includes Stephen King, Peter Straub, Shirley Jackson, and Robert E. Howard, to name a few.  I try not to confuse my identification with the genre, however, and my love and respect for it, with any sense that it’s superior to the other kinds of narratives people choose to write.

Ultimately, my real contest is with myself, to try to be a better writer tomorrow than I was today.  The more I’ve practiced Tang Soo Do, the more I’ve discovered I’m able to do.  (Flying side kicks–it’s crazy.)  The more I’ve written, the more I’ve discovered I’m able to write.  Horror, weird, strange, bizarro:  whatever you call what you’re doing, use it to help you become a better artist.  Your contest isn’t with your fellow writers:  it’s with yourself.

The Fall in Tang Soo Do

As you know, Bob, my younger son and I study a Korean martial art named Tang Soo Do together.  David’s been taking classes at Triumph Karate in Kingston, NY, since July of 2011; I joined the school the following December.  Although David is still technically my senior, I’ve caught up to him rank-wise, and our last several promotions have been together.  This past September was time for our next major promotion, to red belt, which is the last belt before black.  (For those of you who are savvy to such things, we were testing for our third gups.)  (Actually, we were ready to be tested in August, but asked our Sa Bom Nim (teacher) if we could wait a couple of weeks until my older son and his family were going to be up visiting.)  So on a Friday night, David and I tested for and passed our red belt tests, and were awarded our belts:

Red Belts!

I’d be lying if I said I was anything other than delighted for the two of us.  This is the farthest I’ve ever gone in anything like this, and to have done so alongside David was a privilege.  Afterwards, Fiona, David, and I retired to a local pizza restaurant (King’s Pizza in Kingston–highly recommended) together with Nick, Mary, and their kids, plus my sister, Christina, her husband, Tony, and their two kids.  That meal is one of my favorite memories from this past year:  everyone seated at one long table, talking with, over, and into one another, a general sense of well-being and merriment (and pizza!) filling the air.

Almost immediately after that night, however, I had to have my hernia surgery, which kept me out of Tang Soo Do for about six weeks.  When I returned, it was just in time to help Fiona, David, and our Sa Bom Nim put together the studio’s first Halloween party, which was a smashing success and which climaxed with me telling a group of kids and their parents the story of a cursed black belt.

Triumph Halloween 2014

Two weeks after that, David and I participated in our studio’s first annual tournament.  Neither one of us was as prepared as we would have liked; despite which, we both earned medals.  He took second in sparring and second in board-breaking; I took first in weapons (sword) and board-breaking, third in sparring, and fourth in forms.  I was maybe most pleased with the weapons win, for which I adapted one of our forms to use with a sword my older son had given us a couple of years ago.  The tournament was harder for David, who had practiced long hours on a bo staff form that didn’t place.  But he kept his chin up, and later that same night, he was back at the staff, working on new forms for it.

The year to come will be full of a lot of training, as David and I look forward to our black belts (we hope) sometime in 2016.  Thanks to Sa Bom Nims Batista and Duncan, and everyone associated with Triumph, for a great year.