Discover Your True Path

the-tree-of-life

This is something I prepared for a podcast I did for Elite Marketing Pro, April 2016.

You can listen to it here: Hope you enjoy 🙂

Discover Your True Path (Audio Recording)

I have been teaching now for over 35 years and have taught tens of thousands of people all over the world. In the process, I have come to know my students personally as they have confided in me with many of their struggles in life. What I have come to understand now is that all of them think that their problems were unique and the most common rhetoric from people when you try to advice them is, how do you know when you have not lived “my life’, walked in my shoes, etc. However, in listening to so many people, what I find is that most of their problems have common roots. Although they vary in the look and feel, in the sequence of events, in the differences of circumstances, but all arising from the same foundational problems. And however great or small the magnitude of their pain, they all suffer the same. Whether the scale of one’s experience is small or great, one can only perceive the world from their perception and no one else’s. In the discussion of pain, if the extent of a person’s experience is only the pain caused from being struck by a pencil, then they cannot know the pain caused by being struck by a car. And, when one argues that there’s no comparison in the pain caused from a pencil from the pain caused by an impact from a car, what we discover is that pain is still pain and it’s very personal.

Foundationally, it is the question of meaning, of purpose and this has remained same all through the ages as man came to acquire, intellect, knowledge, since Adam & Eve ate the fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. As I have said, in order to change and transform a tree, what do you do? If you only focus on what you see and what is apparent then you would have to touch, change, transform every branch, every leaf, every flower, every petal. However, there is a way you can transform the entire tree by addressing only one thing – the roots. When you change what you put through the roots is how you can transform the entire tree in one shot, so to speak. As Einstein has said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Therefore, the answer does not lie in what we can see and what is apparent; the truth lies in what is not visible or apparent, in the immaterial, in the ethereal, in consciousness, in what is harder to acquire.

As Einstein has said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. Therefore, the answer does not lie in what we can see and what is apparent; the truth lies in what is not visible or apparent, in the immaterial, in the ethereal, in consciousness, in what is harder to acquire.

In philosophy and science there is a battle between two juxtaposing views – materialism and idealism. Materialism states that everything in existence can be explained through matter, whether visible or invisible. Whereas, idealism states that all things in existence is consciousness and is invisible, ethereal. And before the technological advancements of our era, people devoted their lives to God, to spirituality, to family, to living. As we come into the modern era, the advancements in technology has made our labor easier, creating more time for leisure, but relieving more than just the burdens of living, but the knowledge in how to live free and independent. At one point one man possessed all the knowledge necessary to survive in the world and that person was then responsible to transmit that knowledge with whatever else he has gained to the next generation and so on, and so on. However, when there was so much knowledge, no one person could possess it all so we began to compartmentalize, specialize, to give more and more power and dependency to government, to the landlords as the state began to offer more than just protection. Then, finally with the advent of currency, it allowed the rapid expansion of cities, empires, and civilizations. In the beginning, people understood the value and limitations of currency, as it was only a promissory note backed by real commodities just as well as knowing where their food came from.

We have lost the understanding of purpose, of foundation, of meaning. And, in my opinion that is the greatest cause of suffering, the root of the problem. We have to ask ourselves if science, knowledge, intellect, materialism is truth, then why is the world in so much chaos, so much hunger, so much sickness, so much war. And more people today are lost in purpose and meaning as it is evident in our millennial generation that desires above all things than success and money; they want change, any change, just something other than what is: Not realizing that the change must come from them rather than asking for it, but of course in order for them to create change they must know what must change and for what end.

And more people today are lost in purpose and meaning as it is evident in our millennial generation that desires above all things than success and money; they want change, any change, just something other than what is: Not realizing that the change must come from them rather than asking for it, but of course in order for them to create change they must know what must change and for what end.

With so much information, yet so lost; and that I tell you lies in the ingenuous way we acquire knowledge. Not through empirical data, but through more and more hearsay. We need not journey, we need not venture outside our doors, it’s all at our fingertips and because there is so much information as well as misinformation, making it harder to believe in anything so we succumb to believing in nothing.

Harvard University performed the longest research project in history. It was a research to better understand human development, simply put to know what truly makes people happy. It took over 75 years and more than 3,000 subjects, half of whom was selected from the Harvard student body and the other half from the worst social-economic circumstances in the ghettos of Boston. They tracked all of them every year and subjected them to rigorous interview, physical medical review and psych evaluations. Some were poor and became rich, some were wealthy and lost everything, and even one became president. They asked all of them in the beginning what would make them happy and they all said money, fame or both. At the end of the 75-year research, they asked surviving members the same question and they all answered – relationships.

We are moving further away from the truth – the spirit; and relying more on the things human beings create. We forget the true nature and essence of all things as we focus only on the pleasure, the benefit, fulfilling the ever so prevalent phrase, “What’s in it for me?” Acquiring all things they desire in Machiavellian fashion and wanting the acceptance and praise of what used to be their community before the Internet and now the World. The truth cannot lie in more hearsay and opinion of others. Because the majority agrees does not mean it’s right. So, let me ask you something we all heard before, would you jump off a cliff if your trusted friend does so, how about 10 people, how about a thousand, how about a million, lets say everyone on the planet? You see it’s easy to say when there’s one, but when there’s everyone, then it all changes. I would have to say no! I wouldn’t jump, until I understood why and for what purpose.

You see truth, goodness, human beings posses intrinsic value, meaning they do not increase or diminish in their worth because the value and worth is in it’s existence.

You see truth, goodness, human beings posses intrinsic value, meaning they do not increase or diminish in their worth because the value and worth is in it’s existence. Therefore, the most noble path is to live and die as a scapegoat. You know we all had one growing up, in our family. There was that one child who was always at the wrong place at the wrong time. But because of that sibling, you escaped punishment, you were saved and yet they did nothing wrong. Is that not the best way to serve your fellow man? This can be fully understood when you know difference in suffering from doing good versus suffering from doing bad, or evil.

In essence, materialism makes gods of men, and idealism requires surrender to God, to ultimate consciousness. And for those who say the acquisition of ultimate consciousness is an ultimate goal in itself which can be achieved by man, but I say for what is the ultimate consciousness for, and that can only be known to God. For in the end, no matter how much a man can know, you also know that man is imperfect and so it cannot be trusted fully. Therefore we place ourselves in a conundrum we cannot escape.

The arrival to this conundrum is necessary in order for one to seek and understand the truth. And it is my hope that I may assist you in helping, guiding you to your personal truth, which is a condition that must be fulfilled to know the ultimate truth.
And in fact is that not the highest aspiration of any human being?

Can you be strong yet not courageous?

CourageousM

Strength and Courage:

It takes strength to be certain,
It takes courage to have doubts.

It takes strength to fit in,
It takes courage to stand out.

It takes strength to share a friend’s pain,
It takes courage to feel your own pain.

It takes strength to hide your own pain,
It takes courage to show it and deal with it.

It takes strength to stand guard,
It takes courage to let down your guard.

It takes strength to conquer,
It takes courage to surrender.

It takes strength to endure abuses,
It takes courage to stop them.

It takes strength to stand alone,
It takes courage to lean on a friend.

It takes strength to love,
It takes courage to be loved.

It takes strength to survive,
It takes courage to live.
– Sylvia Kelly

I came across this poem so very serendipitously.

I thought I was once strong, now I want to be courageous!

Strength got things done, made me feel invincible, gave sense of importance and value. But, what it lacked was calmness, humility, peace and joy.

After the dust settles and all is said and done, I hope I have gained some wisdom, some clarity. And, hope that I have done some good in the world.

I am left alone and it is here that I must start, and where I will finish – alone, but then we are never truly alone. So much noise, so much distractions, breath… calm…

True peace and happiness lies in courage; in the courage to let go of the pains from the past and the courage to surrender to the joys of tomorrow, by living today fearlessly!

The first step is to make peace with God, then the rest will follow…

But, then again that presupposes that you trust yourself, and that what you chose was correct.

So much noise, so much distractions, breath… calm…

hmmm…

“Conquering others is strong; Conquering oneself is mighty.”
– Lao Tzu

With love and peace,

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

A Hwarang’s Reflections on his Journey Toward Happiness

This might be hard to stomach for some people:

“Nobody needs you. Seriously, you’re not that important.”

Often we are stressed and burdened heavily with the idea that without us, our family, our loved ones, our business will collapse. The truth of the matter is all things and all people are replaceable. When you’re gone your family, your children, your spouse, your business, they will all continue on; maybe not the way you intended on, but they will all go on without you. So, be blessed with today while you are here and do your best to be happy, help others, and not worry about what people will do without you. This is also one of the hardest things because we must destroy the ego. We build our self worth and value, defining ourselves by how many people depend and need us. But, once again the truth is nobody needs us, they’d rather we’d hang around, but whether they live or die, be happy or sad does not depend on us – it depends on the individual’s self-determination.

The magnitude of one’s suffering and pain created from their guilt and burden to perpetuate the family was evident and clear to me when one of my students broke down in tears in utter helplessness when he said, “I hate my parents. I want to die, but I can’t because I have to take care of my parents.” These sentiments, maybe not so harsh, yet just as real are felt by many first born sons, especially Asian. This got me thinking deeply about my own personal state of being. I never want my burden to family become the source of my pain and misery. However, recently I have discovered that at the core of my being, I am the same with misery and sadness, knowing that I will never satisfy my parents’ expectations.

Many opt to blaming their parents for this and become miserable adults with suicidal tendencies. I choose not to follow that path. it is not the parents fault for wanting their child to do their best and have a better life. So, I do not blame my parents and have accepted them and love them as they are. I wouldn’t expect anything less from them than to want what’s best for me. However, I can change how I perceive my duty to family.

Rather saying that I must take care of my family, I have to go to work, I have to care for my children, say I choose to do so. Changing it from something that you must, presupposing that you rather not do it, to a choice gives you back your power as well as changing it from something negative to something that’s positive. Being positive also takes practice and remember negative attracts more negative and positive attracts more positive. Life is not a magnet, life is life!

Let me make it clear. This is not to say do not care and help others, just to make yourself happy. That is definitely not the path to happiness. There’s nothing more noble or gratifying than to help others selflessly. What I am talking about here is rid oneself of guilt and inner pain for not being able to fulfill their duty or burden. First the individual has to be happy with himself/herself and be at their optimal in order to better serve their family and loved ones. Just don’t beat yourself up worrying about what they will do without you and just get busy and do your best, because in the end the worrying is not going to solve anything, but only through action.

This is hardest for me to stomach as I have to accept that Hwa Rang Do will exist with or without me. So, I choose to accept my legacy and do my best so that it will thrive even more so without me.

P.S.: When I was younger my need to carry my burden and fulfill my expectations fueled and motivated me to always strive. However, in my mid-life that same thing, which has been the source of my motivation has become the sinking Titanic that’s pulling me under to the depths with it. So, now I realize the source of my unhappiness and I choose to cut myself off from the sinking Titanic and liberate myself. Although it has not been easy, I am in the process of building another ship, one made from hope, reconciliation, and acceptance.

With love, peace, honor, and humility,

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee’s 8th Dan Speech

Newly promoted, Grandmaster Taejoon Lee delivers his speech at his Hwa Rang Do 8th Dan Ceremony & Banquet.

On May 23rd, 2009 in front of over 100 friends, family and students, Taejoon Lee was promoted to 8th Dan Black Sash Grandmaster and given the title of Kuk Sa Nim.

During his speech, Grandmaster Taejoon Lee revealed the real reason for allowing his students to organize this beautiful and historic event — to honor his father, master and founder of our beautiful art of Hwa Rang Do, Supreme Grandmaster Dr. Joo Bang Lee. In a speech, which was heard from as far as a mile away, Grandmaster Taejoon Lee used the entire time he was at the podium to share on the sacrifices and courage of Dojoonim, as he ventured off into the land of opportunity, the United States of America, from his home country of Korea – to spread Hwa Rang Do and provide his family the best possible life.

As Grandmaster Lee put it, his promotion to 8th Dan Hwa Rang Do Black Sash is not his achievement, but the achievement of his master, father and teacher – Dojoonim. Grandmaster Lee humbly delivered a heartfelt, yet thunderous homage to his father, for having made everything which took place that night possible.

At the end of his speech, Grandmaster Lee called Dojoonim to the podium and to demonstrate his gratitude for all he had done for him, presented Dojoonim with a handcrafted sword, made and imported directly from Japan, with an estimated market value of over $10,000. The construction of the sword included an beautiful handle made of gold, brass and stingray skin. The steel blade was forged completely by hand benefiting from Japan’s centuries of rich tradition, science and art of sword making.

Earlier in the evening, Dojoonim declared and announced to the world that Grandmaster Taejoon Lee in 20 years or at the time of Dojoonim’s passing, would become Supreme Grandmaster Taejoon Lee and 59th generation “owner of the way”, and pass the secret combat skills of the ancient Hwarang Warriors for yet another generation.

All whom were present, were in awe of this magical and powerful declaration, for it ensures the preservation of our ancient traditions, martial art and history. We thank you for sharing this very special night with us. It will never be forgotten!

Visit the official Grandmaster Taejoon Lee 8th Dan Page featuring the documentary, “Inside the 1st Family of Hwa Rang Do & the Life of Grandmaster Taejoon Lee”.

The entire Grandmaster Taejoon Lee’s speech in text form:

Thank you Dojoonim.

Good evening  ladies and gentlemen, students, parents, and fellow Hwarang Warriors.  I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your attendance and your support for making this event possible.

Before I begin, I would like to take this time to recognize the members of the 8th Dan Banquet Committee for their hard work and selfless contributions in making this event a reality.

Tony Diaz for the video presentation, which he has spent countless hours in reviewing over a terabyte of videos and pictures to extrapolate an eloquent yet powerful summation of the Hwa Rang Do family and my journey.

Fernando Ceballos and Raymond Fong for implementing an effective online campaign to organize and raise the funding necessary to make this evening a great success.

Rick Robbins for designing the classic look and feel of our online campaign.

Daniel Gonzalez for designing all the graphic elements that went into the publishing of tonight’s event.

Glenn Mantel for making it possible for me to present to you a small, yet poignant gift in the way of the danbong.

Reynaldo Macias for accepting the daunting task of being tonight’s master of ceremony and for doing a fantastic job.

Antonio Goodwin for connecting us with one of the top DJ’s in the country, Mr. Quick, whom you will witness in a short while.

My Brother-in-law Danny Kim for providing the video projector.

Joey Klein for organizing all the people involved to work together harmoniously in making the planning process as smooth and flawless as possible as their team leader.

And, of course, my sister, Dr. Janet Lee for designing and creating the center pieces as well as coordinating this beautiful setting we are all graced with.  And to my sister Stacie Lee for being the handy helper to both mother and Dr. Lee.

The last couple of months have been quite interesting to say the least.  I was first approached by Dojoonim over a year ago, when he invited me to test for my 8th dan.  At that time, I humbly declined as I thought like a bottle of fine wine, I could wait a couple more years so that I can age properly.

I have never been interested in acquiring higher dans as most other martial artists I have witnessed. The way I see it, rank is something that the master offers his student as a gift when the student is ready to carry the responsibilities of such title and rank.  And, it has always been my philosophy that One Hwarang Should Conquer a Thousand, so no matter the rank, as a Hwarang we must always be prepared to accept whatever the challenge, however great or small. However, this spring marked the 100th Black Sash Examination and I could not pass up such important benchmark in our history.

There is so much I would like to share with you; it would take the breadth of this entire memorial day weekend and then some to fully express all the feelings, thoughts, and reflections I have had in these trying months.  However, I know Mr. Quick is waiting anxiously to get the groove on and I am sure you are as well.  So, I shall attempt to tell you about what is most important, most valuable, “The Ideal of One.”

You are all here tonight thinking that you are honoring me.  Well, if so then my “head fake” worked.  As the late Randy Paush, a professor at Carnegie Mellon, dying of pancreatic cancer says in his last lecture which he gave in front of all his students and colleagues, that the greatest lessons are learned indirectly and he finishes his lecture by telling everyone that the lecture was not for you, but it’s for my children.  So, I say to you, this banquet is not for me, it is for my father, my mentor, my master.

My trials, my accomplishments are nothing.  My hardships, my sufferings, I have none.

All I am and have done dwindles in comparison to my master.  My journey is smooth sailing in flat waters compared to my master’s journey through a tempest.

He was born the fourth son of siblings of 7 children.

He started his training at the young age of 4.

He trained in the mountains of North Korea under the strict guidance of his master Suahm Dosa, a hermit monk.

He escaped the communist regime of the dictator Kim Il Sung during the Korean War.

He survived through impoverished, war-torn conditions during the Korean war.

He left home to work and help support the family at 16 years old.

He systemized the knowledge passed to him by his master into a modern martial art system, introducing it to the public for the first time in 1960 in Seoul, Korea.

He had the first post-war nationally televised martial art expo in the largest and only sports stadium in Korea, Jang Chung Chae Yuk Kwan.

He met with Korea’s former president, Park Jung Hee, and was given the responsibility to create one unified Korean martial art.

He attempted twice to form the all Korean Unified Martial Art System, which was dismantled both times.  In the process, he aided in the development of Kuk Sool Won, and Hapkido.

He bumped heads with the former KCIA director and won his allegiance.

He protected his community in Seoul against the rampant bullying by unruly thugs.

He created the Korean Hwa Rang Do Association and opened 28 schools in Seoul alone.

He single handedly was responsible in bringing over all of the members of his immediate family to the United States which consisted of his parents, 2 sisters, 1 brother-in-law, 3 brothers, 2 sister-in-laws, 3 nieces, 4 nephews, 2 daughters, 2 sons, and his wife.

He has revived the Hwarang Knights and brought their significance to the modern consciousness and to the minds of all martial art practitioners today.

He has authored three books and co-authored three more.

He was instrumental in elevating the hand-to-hand combatives of the Elite US armed Forces through mentoring and cultivating the former head instructor of the Special Forces Green Beret, the late Michael Echanis.

He secured the name Hwa Rang Do and all of its intellectual property by acquiring the first trademark for a martial art and copyrighted all of it’s curriculum for the first time in history.

Without him, the world would have known of the Hwarang, only as a group of flower boys who rode on horseback and shot arrows, diminished as an archaic cultural side note on tour guidebooks of Korea.

I have yet to mention of his physical prowess and accomplishments.

He was the first to rotate 540 degrees in the air, striking a target 10 feet in the air with his foot.

He was the first martial artist to be aired on the ABC’s TV show “That’s Incredible.”

He has had cars and trucks run over his stomach.

He has had thousands of pounds of rock slabs smashed over his body with sledge hammers.

He is the first and last with only me coming close to have successfully completed a 5 directional cut of watermelons held against the naked stomachs of his students, while blind-folded.

He has taken down a bull with one blow.

And in the deep recesses of his mind, training under his master, he has fought against tigers.

There’s a saying in Korea that when you live long enough, you shall endure all of its pain.

As my father has been a witness to my journey, so too I have witnessed, fortunately or not, much of the hardships and heartaches that my master had to endure throughout his teaching career.

If I have taught thousands of students, then he has taught tens of thousands of students.  And, although the reward of seeing a person blossom, transform, and become the potential they all possess is priceless, it takes 1000 disappointments for one moment of satisfaction.

Above all, we as Hwarang cherish and hold in the highest regard, the virtue of loyalty.  If I have faced countless betrayals, then my master has faced too many for words to do justice.

I have seen my father take in students from the streets in their teens and raised them as his own children, with my mother feeding and nurturing them with kindness and love.  To the point where at times, I felt jealous as my father has always been the strictest with me.  Only to have them grow into manhood, acquire a taste for power yet short on wisdom, and claim their superiority.  To the unfathomable extent, where Dojoonim had to witness one of his students, whom he took in without question, once again treating him like his own son, in front of his face say, “With all of my vast knowledge of Korean Martial Arts, I have created Hwa Rang Do and all of it’s curriculum.”  And, this all done after being sworn in under the name of God.

I have known of a Buddhist Monk, who calls himself the Mop.  When I asked him, Why do you call yourself the mop?”  He replied, “Because like a mop I clean all things, yet like a mop I am always dirty.”

Unlike most teachers, we parent.  When teaching your children, just teaching is not enough.  You must make sure they learn the lesson.  And even though you have been scarred, dirtied from past disappointments, you must once again teach with conviction and love, for as children they can feel you more than they can hear you.  And, even when you are at the brink of disillusionment in people, you must believe in them even when they do not believe in themselves.

To be truthful, formal classes with Dojoonim for me, I can count with my fingers.

It’s the lessons I have learned in observing him as a teacher, a father, a husband, a man, which are most profound and have taught me the most.

Most of what I have been witnessed to are heartaches, pain and sorrow.

I have never seen him adorned with great gifts from his students; I cannot remember when was the last time one of his instructors treated him to a fine meal; I have never seen him take a vacation or his masters treat him to one; and I am just as guilty.

Most of what I have seen has been painful.  I have heard student’s complaints and resentments of my master, which only showed me their lack of understanding, compassion, and only revealed their self-entitled nature.

However, even after witnessing all of his trials and hardships, I was inspired to be like him.  He was my mountain, he was the one.

The one person, who have committed his entire life to one thing, to one love, to one passion.

Whenever, I felt it was all too much, all too painful, when my heart lay wasted in pieces; all I needed to do was to think of my father, my master as he lived twice as long, and taught as twice as much, and have endured twice as much; I could not complain, but only admire.

It is this I am an heir to. No raise in salary, no fortune, just more mopping.

The lessons I have learned from him are too many to tell in one sitting. It will take a lifetime.  So, I shall share with you all that I have learned from my master, if you will share your life with mine.

And we shall mop the world together as one, to hopefully instill the power of one; to believe in the self as all great things started from one person, then when all the people are self-empowered, then hopefully we can all live together as one in peace, in harmony.

There are too many people for me to thank. So before I close, I would like to recognize few of the people who are in attendance tonight who have made an impact in my life as well as made great sacrifices to be present.

Sensei Taro Ariga for having an open mind, helping me to realize my vision of a new weapon fighting method.

Master Fariborz Azhakh, whom I have known for over 25 years, for his guidance in keeping my dojang open and for helping me to revamp our organizational management.

Dr. Mark Cheng, whom I have known for 20 years, for being a great brother and for keeping me in the minds of all martial artists.

Jokyo Victor Garcia, whom I’ve known for over 25 years, for never giving up as I have challenged him to start over again, which for him at this point in his life is like climbing Everest for the second time in his 50s.

Susuk Sabum Dylan Sirny for accepting me as his grandfather and for being my proof that we are on the right course.

Susuk Sabum Scott MacKnight, whom I have also known for over 25 years, for his undying loyalty to me when I was a child and now hopefully a man.

Colonel Richard Downie, whom I have also known for over 25 years, for his dedication to his country and never forgetting the Hwarang Spirit.

My sisters, Dr. Janet Lee and Stacie Lee, for their unconditional love and support.

And, mostly, to my mother as she is my teacher of compassion and forgiveness.  I love you too mom.

Also, to all my students for believing in me and always challenging me to be a better teacher.

My father has said, that warriors do not retire, we die!

Although, I am most honored and privileged to be the heir to Hwa Rang Do, I must endure the greatest loss in order to claim it.

I will promise in front of all attending witnesses, that I shall do my best to secure Hwa Rang Do for the next generation, not only preserving my master’s life’s work, but fulfilling his vision.

I will accept once again his challenge which he has set forth for me to be second, but making second remembered as much or more as the first.

… or die trying.

Dae Dan He Kap Sa Hap Ni Da.

Dojoonim, Abonim…

Warrior’s Path – Unafraid of Change

Unafraid of Change

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As many of you are aware, we have made some changes to our programs and curriculum here at the West Coast Hwa Rang Do Academy. For over 10 years, we have maintained the same programs, curriculums, pricing and methods of instruction.  It has worked well for us, but I felt that it was time for change. There is an interesting phenomenon that takes place in human behavior. By our nature, we seek out comfort and when we find it, we want to dig a large hole and immerse ourselves in that state of comfort forever. This is surely death.

Why? What is comfort? It is the sense of security and a peace of mind we gain knowing with certainty what we are going to do tomorrow. By limiting the uncertainties of our daily lives, we reduce the stress and anxiety derived from the unknown. This fear of the unknown is an incredible force that shapes and molds our decisions on a daily basis. So comfort is a good thing, but “too much comfort” is not so good. If it is such a good thing, then comfort should make us better, happier, and more productive, but it does none of these. Being too comfortable makes us complacent, lazy, careless, unhealthy, and the happiness we gain from comfort is only temporary at best. As warriors, this is unacceptable. We must always strive for betterment in all areas of our lives and constantly push our boundaries and limitations. A warrior must work constantly to maintain sharpness and focus, to always be prepared for the worst. When you get comfortable with your abilities, you become overconfident and careless, resulting in defeat. This is why we constantly drive home the idea, “Never underestimate your opponent.” This is not limited to your sparring partner, but applies to any task in life. Whether we have done something a thousand times, if we do it the thousandth-first time without being mindful, it will result in a mistake or failure. For a warrior that could mean death. It is this “warrior’s spirit,” that we are trying to teach and preserve – to always strive for excellence, to be unafraid of challenges in our lives, to persist when other’s have lost hope, to always seek for betterment, and to always do what is “right,” not for reward sake, but purely because it is the right thing to do.

This “Warrior’s Path” is eloquently portrayed in the recent movie “Batman Begins” when the father of the young Bruce Wayne asks his son, “Why do we fall Bruce?”

And Bruce replies, “So, we can get up.”

With Love

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

Reprimanding the Soul

Reprimanding the Soul

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One of my favorite spiritual writings comes from the Lebanese poet, philosopher, and artist Kahlil Gibran. In his poem, “Seven Reprimands,” he teaches us of strong human virtues through self examination. This is congruent with our warrior’s path, since a warrior is defined as a strong human being who is unafraid of facing the struggles and the challenges of life, not just in battle. A warrior is not just a person who engages in warlike activities, but a warrior is a person who follows the path of strength, honor, integrity, loyalty and courage.

Let us, then, examine ourselves:

 

How many times have we taken the easy way out and then complimented ourselves by accepting the praise of others?

How many times have we played sick to avoid responsibility or work?

How many times have we opted to pick up the lightest box when helping our friends move?

How many times have we stayed quiet, refraining from the truth to avoid conflict?

How many times have we blamed others for our mistakes?

How many times have we quit when things got tougher and then consoled ourselves by pointing the finger at others?

How many times have we done something we were supposed to do and looked for praise?

How many times have we taken credit for something we did not do?

How many times have we strutted our fortune in front of those who are less fortunate?

How many times have we taken things for granted and deluded ourselves by saying we deserve better?

We have all done these things before and some of us still do. Life is not meant to be easy and most often, things of value require hard work. We often forget that nobody owes us anything and no one can make us do anything. We are the ones who make the decisions, which affect our lives, and we are the only ones who can change ourselves for the better. So, no matter what happens, the good, the bad, the ugly, we must learn to accept, knowing that no man/woman can pass judgment on our soul. And, it is the strength and vitality of our spirit that will determine our immortality.

 

Hwarang Forever,

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

Seeking Truth

 

Seeking Truth

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“Keep the faith and be true to yourself,

never relying on others or chance to determine your life.

Choose and once you have decided, then stick to it to the end.

And, when you do – after you have ceased to exist, you will have created “Truth.””

As I was browsing through our Forum, “The Flowering Way,” I happened to come across some student quoting me.  So, I read through it again and it hit a nerve.  TRUTH, from the time we can speak we have always asked the question “Why?”  That is one question that you can ask and ask and ask and it can never be satisfied.  Don’t you remember your three or four year old asking you, why is the sky blue?

Because God made it that way?

Why?

Because he likes blue?

Why? Because, OK to tell you the truth, it is the combination of gaseous material which diffracts light into particular frequencies of electromagnetic radiation that is perceived by our retinas as the color blue?

Why? And on, and on, again.

This is what drives most parents crazy.  But let us think for a moment.  Isn’t that the fundamental question that we need to ask in order to find the truth?  Why do our retinas perceive it to be blue?  Why couldn’t it be something else?  And do all creatures see it as the blue we see or even other people and if they do not, then blue as we know it could not be the Truth.  And if that is so, then how can anything we perceive be the Truth.  Further, what is ‘blue’ anyways?  It is our truth as human beings or truth as it remains convenient, but not the ‘Truth.’

We can continue this epistemological debate and go even further into the philosophy of language and as in Physics, the deeper we go, more the questions we’ll find.  So, after couple of decades of questioning everything, I have come to the point where I know I cannot answer all of them and that I will never know the “Truth,” but only functional truths.  And, I am at peace with that.

I think that this is the most important realization that one can come to and it is not giving up, it is not being pessimistic, it is not compliance, and it most certainly is not ignorance.  It is a realization, a self-actualized knowledge.  Truth as in life is in doing, in living, in seeking, it is in the journey.  Whether we find the Truth or not is not what is important, but that we seek it.  However, somewhere between why is the sky blue and does God exist, if there is a Santa grant me a bike and why has God forsaken me, thinking you are Superman and got to go to graduate school to get a raise, we have lost the sense of wonderment, the fuel which drives our truth-seeking engine, the stuff which makes dreams come true.  We lost the belief in the possibility that the impossible can happen and not only happen, but made to happen.  In my opinion, Truth is what we make of it.  If you say you cannot, then you cannot; if you say you don’t like, you don’t like; if you say you quit, then you quit; if you say I don’t love anymore, then you don’t love anymore; if you say you are done, then you are dead.  And what more truth is greater than knowing that if you live there is life and if you die then it is death.  I choose to live.

Don’t misunderstand me, you cannot get to this point until you journey.  One must be critical. Not just be critical of others and external things, but just as or more so be critical of the ‘self.’  The business of seeking truth is a lonely job, paved with disappoints, disillusionments, heartbreaks, sometimes abandonment (letting go then regretting it by blaming the offender), hopelessness, and many other not so pleasant emotions as one’s foundation starts to shake, crumble and rebuilt.  Yes, rebuilt, many times.  The question is will you rebuild or will you accept it as is?  To me this is a matter of life and death of the soul.  Once your whole world view and the truths that you’ve built your paper empire on falls apart, what will you do?  And, if your foundation, your core has not turned to ash, then it has not been tested, tried, and criticized.  The journey of Truth lies in the rebuilding and this takes all the courage in the world.  Who is better off, the bum who wanders for food and lives moment to moment or the person who goes to work everyday to pay their debts?  For me truth lies in purpose and purpose rises from the rebuilding of Truth.  Each time you rebuild, there will be certain things which will remain and that to me that is Truth and it is up to me to make sure it stays true.

A Hwarang is a truth seeker and a Truth keeper.  And, this means to be unafraid – unafraid of being wrong.

Hwarang Forever,

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

Warrior’s Path – Walking with Death

The Warrior’s Path

Walking with Death

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice really – get busy living or get busy dying.”

The Shawshank Redemption

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Grandmaster Taejoon Lee faces off against Jokyo Simon Lee

I had a student come to me and ask for a private lesson to show him how to execute a jump spin kick. Of course I feel that it’s long overdue and he should have asked me many months ago when he was first introduced to it as a Tae Soo Do (TSD) Brown Belt. Nearing his TSD Black Belt graduation where he must complete the final part of his Black Belt Testing Requirements by successfully breaking five boards with kick combinations, finishing with a jump spin/low spin kick break, he felt the need to get some extra help to ensure his success. It’s a good thing he was proactive in trying to control the future outcome by increasing his preparation, but what really motivated him? We’ll come back to this. As we continued his private session, he was having a terrible time fixing his old habits. Finally I blurted, “What are you afraid of, what?!”

He answered, “I am afraid of falling.”

I replied, “You have been here almost three years, learned how to fall properly, you are standing on two inch thick mats, and yet you are still afraid of falling? Well, that’s it then. You must become unafraid and accept the worst outcome before you can move forward or perish (not in so many words).”

Human beings are motivated strongly by fears; mainly fear of injury, pain, hardship, embarrassment, and of the unknown. We try to balance our fears by creating comfort zones of predictable patterns to limit our uncertainty, deluding ourselves to think that we have some grasp on our lives.

We try to balance our fears by creating comfort zones of predictable patterns to limit our uncertainty, deluding ourselves to think that we have some grasp on our lives.

As we are taught in Hwa Rang Do to never retreat in the face of the enemy, we must first clearly define and understand this enemy of ours, essentially that is our fears. Let’s think for a moment what that is. Fear is an anticipation of negative results from a particular event, action, or set of conditions that has been learned from past similar events. The important thing to understand is that fear is not real. It is imaginary. It did not happen, and might never happen; it’s only our imagination, our mind which creates images with emotional and psychological attachments that become so real that we create our lives, our responses, and our choices based on fear – our imagination.

There are two types of fear discussed here: let’s describe them as good fear and bad fear. Good fear causes motivation for action and bad fear creates reasons for inaction. Good fear prompts proactive behavior while bad fear immobilizes our minds, causing either no response or complete abandonment – quitting. The good fear prompted the student to take action to prevent the negative result that he was anticipating with planning and preparation by deciding to take a private lesson. The bad fear prevented him from creating the necessary changes for betterment and advancing. He took refuge (as many do) in the comfort of what’s most familiar. Whether that’s good or bad, negative or positive, self destructive or self enriching has no bearing on the decision. Just as a hermit crab hides in their shell, so do we also hide in what’s most familiar. The student was not willing to give up what’s familiar and clung to it like a safety blanket (however old, filthy, or smelly it may be), fixating only on the potential negative result rather than focusing on the possibility for growth and change for the better.

Once I helped the student think through the worst that can happen to him – a broken leg, perhaps, maybe even death (highly unlikely but let’s give our imagination the benefit of the doubt) the student was willing to move into unknown territory. Where before he kept doing the same wrong movement, once he accepted the worst-case scenario, he began to try different ways. Finally after almost an hour of what was to be a thirty-minute session, he made some progress. However, something very interesting occurred. He made some advancement, but quickly regressed to his old ways when he felt he was losing control, uncomfortable with the new body positioning. I think he even fell once. Well, that confirmed it. His fears were right – he did fall. Fear is not logical, it’s not just mental or emotional, it’s all consuming, and it’s powerful. Fear cannot be underestimated, and the demon that has taken a lifetime to take root and grow cannot be defeated in a single brief encounter.

Fear is not logical, it’s not just mental or emotional, it’s all consuming, and it’s powerful. Fear cannot be underestimated, and the demon that has taken a lifetime to take root and grow cannot be defeated in a single brief encounter.

Furthermore, fear cannot be eliminated and should not be. Everything serves a purpose and so does fear. However, like all things, we must learn to control it, using it as fuel for action and exercising caution in making decisions. Being able to do this requires strength, which in turn increases our self-confidence, and enhances our self-image. These are all necessary weapons when facing the demon of fear.

Primarily, we need the strength to accept the worst-case scenario. If one cannot, then they must quit their task and hide from fear, as many people try to hide from death. The problem is that death will come and we have absolutely no control over when or how. The only thing we have control over is life. Hiding is only a temporary solution. Also, have you noticed that when we quit things, or give up on dreams, that in our minds it’s perfectly justified and we have all the right reasons to do so? Of course we do! How could we live with ourselves if it weren’t the case? This is how our mind works for self-preservation. Letting go of these justifications and delusions by being true and honest to oneself is the first step in battling our fears. As warriors then, by definition, we must train ourselves to be unafraid of confrontation and engage our enemy. We must accept and embrace death as a guest, a friend that walks next to you with life on the other side. Only by embracing death, by truly accepting it, can we begin to appreciate and respect life. Not to abuse our life and live recklessly, which would be disrespecting death, but by honoring life so that our deaths become more meaningful.

As warriors then, by definition, we must train ourselves to be unafraid of confrontation and engage our enemy. We must accept and embrace death as a guest, a friend that walks next to you with life on the other side.

This is the beauty and the power of Hwa Rang Do. We exercise dealing with fear on a daily basis as we take on physical, mental, and emotional challenges set by the art, fellow students, and me (the teacher) in a controlled safe environment. Hence, realizing our limitations, weaknesses, and the truth about ourselves, we can practice taming our personal demons and making them our friends that we may call upon for help – sources of motivation. As the protagonist, Andy, in the acclaimed film, “The Shawshank Redemption,” was forced to make a decision when all hope was lost, so do we – either to get busy living or get busy dying. After losing all hope, when facts were revealed that could prove Andy’s innocence were brutally suppressed by the prison warden, Andy was forced to contemplate the meaning of life. Hopefully, we do not need to be in such extreme conditions to realize that the choice is ours – to live or to die, to be living or to be dying.

Hopefully, we do not need to be in such extreme conditions to realize that the choice is ours – to live or to die, to be living or to be dying.

Death is inevitable and tomorrow may never come. To live life by allowing fear to force our hopes and dreams into hiding, never realizing our full potential, is slavery epitomized. We must look deep within and bring to the surface our innermost fears, confronting them face to face as we do our opponents, sparring until imminent victory. The fear you suppress most that lurks in the dark crevices of your mind is what enslaves you and it’s that enemy that we must overcome in order to truly live life with freedom. I hope to continue gettin’ busy living with all of you for many more years to come.

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With gratitude to death in making our lives more fulfilling,

Taejoon Lee

Grandmaster/WHRDA VP

Giving Thanks

This is the inventory of thanksgiving which I chose for the message I delivered to my students on Thanksgiving of 2008.

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Things I am thankful for – Thanksgiving as an Umyangian:

I thank God for giving me ‘this’ life with all of it’s twists and turns, ebb and flow, joys and sorrows.
I thank my father for giving me the opportunity to carry such a worthy legacy.
I thank my mother for all her unconditional love and support in time of good and especially in times of bad.
I thank my lost brother for giving me the sorrow of losing a brother.
I thank my brother-in-law for loving and caring for my sister.
I thank my nephews for helping me to once again feel the excitement of learning the Hwarang Way.
I thank my Black Sashes for giving me hope that amongst the many quitters that there are a few that feel, cherish, and submit to the strength and power of the Hwarang Spirit.
I thank my spiritual friend for helping me to discover my spirit and inspiring me to follow it.
I thank my friends for helping me to practice our Third Hwarang Code – Kyo Oo e Shin (Trust and Brotherhood Among Friends).
I thank my enemies for always keeping me sharp and on my toes.
I thank the students who’ve quit who’ve taught me the feeling of loss and reaffirm the fact that the Hwarang Way is not for everyone.
I thank my cousins for helping me to realize the price of discipline.
I thank my Korean brothers for helping me to understand the hardships of being a big brother.
I thank all my hardships, sorrows, and sufferings for forging my character and entire being with such strength and conviction.
I thank my ex-fiancé for preventing me from making a life-long mistake and helping me to realize the true value of marriage.
I thank Americans for striving towards racial harmony.
I thank money for helping me to control greed and to realize that it’s only a means of achieving my dreams.
I thank my innocence to combat my corruption to understand the true value of life and for keeping my dreams alive.
I thank my love for always reminding me of the extreme pleasure and extreme pain of love.
And, lastly I thank strife for allowing love to exist and helping me to realize that love is the greatest power of all.