Discover Your True Path

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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?

The Hwa Rang Do Angola Experiment – In Angola’s “City of Trash”

If you were to do a Google search for “Lixeira, Luanda” you won’t find much. The only helpful search result is a picture on TravelPod.com.  This picture shows a child, sifting through a garbage dump, which in reality, tells you everything you need to know – this is Lixeira.

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Lixeira is a city within the province of Luanda in the African nation of Angola, which is built entirely on top of a garbage dump.  The poorest of the poor in the world live here with the trash surrounding them being the source for supplies, tools, food and regrettably, even water.

“My first striking impact with this place was the sight of thousands of slums where some 500,000 people lived surrounded by tons of rubbish scattered all over the place. Many of these inhabitants lived in a condition of malnutrition and sickness”.
– Davide Pizzo
(TSD Brown Belt)

“The conditions of the place for the mission are disastrous, no kind of hygiene, rubbish everywhere, rust, open air sewer, streams of dirt and piles of garbage that people burned, which released a thick smell so bad that, for the 21 days there, I couldn’t see clearly the sun or the moon.”
Emanuele Veluti
(TSD Half Black Belt)

Lixeira and the surrounding regions along with being one of the most impoverished places in the world, is also one of the most dangerous, where only missionaries (with approval from the government) are allowed to stay and work.  Even then, with no assurances for their safety, several missionaries have recently been murdered while performing their humanitarian works.

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It is here that 4 brave men and women from the Hwa Rang Do Italian branch have traveled to teach the children of Lixeira, the ancient korean martial art of Hwa Rang Do – with the goals of the mission being to teach the life skills of unity, motivation, strength, and self-awareness through the practice of Hwa Rang Do and otherwise provide the experience of a lifetime to children in a part of the world which is forgotten and void of any future worth looking forward to.

“I think it’s vitally important to teach these children a behavior based on moral values. The alternative to their current condition is to get involved with other youngsters addicted to sniffing petrol or starch, or burglary.

“The primary purpose of our mission is to give these children a chance to choose their own future; to grow and improve their lives, in spite of the fact that they were born in Lixeria. Otherwise, they have no other prospective but end up in one of the local criminal bands.”
Davide Pizzo
(TSD Brown Belt)

Chief Instructor Marco Matiucci, head of the Italian Hwa Rang Do branch, had the difficult tasks of selecting 4 of his students to take part in this mission (they had many more volunteers for the mission than they could send).  Instr. Matiucci had to grapple with the very serious possibility that the students he selected could be robbed, assaulted, kidnapped or even killed.  With that in mind, the criterion used to select the students was for lack of better wording, “who would be missed the least?” – meaning:

Are they an only child? Do they have kids? How big is their family? Does their family depend on the person financially?  Are they married? Do they have a girlfriend/boyfriend?

… the unthinkable questions had to be asked in order to make the selection for the mission.

The brave volunteers chosen were Laura Della Mora (TSD Yellow Belt), Emanuele Veluti (TSD Brown Belt), Maria Luisa Medelin (HRD Blue Sash & HRD Team Leader), and Davide Pizzo (TSD Brown Belt), while being led by General Italo Governatori (General of the Italian Military Police Force, close friend of Instr. Matiucci and President of “Lumbe Lumbe).

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Lumbe Lumbe is a non-profit organization based out of Italy, devoted to helping the poorest people in Brazil, Mozambique and Angola create businesses, and schools for children in the most impoverished areas of these countries.  In Angola, they work directly with Salessiani, an international Catholic organization for African missions.

“I was deeply impressed with the work done by the Salessiani missionaries; over the course of 30 years, they succeeded to create 18 youth centers in the district of Lixeria that take care of 50,000 children. These children are taught the rudiments of the alphabet, practice sport and are prepared professionally. They have a future ahead and it’s all due to the hard daily work and sacrifices of the missionaries. The friars never show signs of tiredness and they possess a strong spiritual force within them. Their reward, they say, is donating themselves to others.”
Davide Pizzo
(TSD Brown Belt)

Lumbe Lumbe prepares 2 to 3 Italian teams per year to go to Angola to help the Salesiani teach children and help their families become more independent.  Initially, Lumbe Lumbe was hesitant about the possibility of teaching Hwa Rang Do and Tae Soo Do (Sport version of HRD) in Angola, but after witnessing the professionalism, dedication and self-discipline of Italy’s Hwa Rang Do instructors, they saw the incredible value they could bring to the people of Lixeira.

“People can be poor, but it doesn’t mean they don’t have rich thinking!”
Laura Della Moral
(TSD Yellow Belt)

All members of the Hwa Rang Do team paid for all travel expenses themselves, including $1500 for each individual plane ticket with Ethiopia Airlines.  They also each had to purchase insurance, in the event of injury or death. Lumbe Lumbe aided with the slew of vaccinations, organization of the trip and over 4 weeks of emergency courses to psychologically prepare the team in the areas of terrorism, psychological resistance to extreme situations, and how to move and act within Angola.

The responsibilities for the team were as follows:

  • The team-leader (Maria Luisa) will manage the Hwa Rang Do & Tae Soo Do lessons and the relationships with the local people (formal, legal and practical).
  • The rest of the team will help the team leader in everything she needs, from lessons to their ultimate safe return to Italy.
  • The mission is a personal engagement for all participants with the people of Lixeira, not just through the HRD/TSD activity. (Participants are aware of the serious problems they will face in doing so.)

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The general plan for the “Angolan Experiment” was:

  • Arrive in Luanda and contact the Salesiani (missionaries)
  • Official contact with the Italian Diplomatic Corp in Angola.
  • Official contact with the religious leaders in Angola
  • Official contact with other voluntary organizations in Angola, including a local Capoeira organization.
  • Make contact with the local people, local leaders and access any potential issues or problems

Proceed with Hwa Rang Do/Tae Soo Do activities and instruction:

  • The team leader will work together with the Salesiani to find a location for lessons, to schedule the lessons and recruit/encourage local children to attend.
  • Organize meetings and joint activities with the local Capoeira organization and discuss other possibilities for the future.
  • Each HRD/TSD lesson is expected to be 50 – 100 students, with multiple lessons throughout the day to serve as many children as possible.
  • Towards the end of the 3 weeks, organize a party and martial arts demonstration for the town.
  • Safely return to Italy

The team travelled to Angola for 3 weeks for their mission, which began on August 1st, 2009 …

“Before departing I had inquired about Angola, on its history, on Luanda and on the specific district where we would spend the three weeks, but to imagine is however far from what one lives, for sure all this has prepared me, but the initial impact was strong and I believe that I would not have been able to avoid it. The traffic, the confusion, the crowd of people that floods the roads, the smog, the garbage, the intrusive odors, the dust, the being submitted to the looks of all for the color of your skin, the danger, the fear, the smiles, the handshakes, the embraces, the heat, the joy, the poverty, the wealth. All comes out together.”
Maria Luisa Medelin
(Team Leader – HRD Blue Sash)

During this time, there was limited communication being sent via email, including pictures to Lumbe Lumbe, Hwa Rang Do Italy and Chief Instr. Marco Matiucci.

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As you can imagine, with limited communication, the Hwa Rang Do leadership worried and hoped that as every step in the plan was implemented, it was done with safety & security being the #1 priority.

As their mission moved forward during the 2nd week, we received this email from Chief Instr. Marco Matiucci:

“I have to admit that in these days I’m a little bit worried for the Angola team because they just told me that they have started the activity outside of the protected area (that is, outside of the area managed by the Catholic missionaries). There are a lot of people who are armed around them and a lot of “children-hunters” (local people that kill or kidnap children to use them for experiments or other evil intentions).

“As part of their mission to engage the local residents, our team is playing with the children, inviting them to wash and clean, cut their hair (Emanuele is a professional hairdresser), but most importantly, motivate them and teach them self-respect and self-awareness according to HRD/TSD teaching (principles and techniques). Children-hunters are often justified for their nasty work by authorities and corrupt government officials because the children are dirty and uncontrolled. So these kidnappings are allowed as a way to remove a “problem” for the society…

“Because of that, the activity of our Angola team creates a real problem for both for these corrupt officials and for the children-hunters.

“This makes me worry.

“I told them to be carefully in motivating too much, everything has to be done carefully otherwise we may have political/criminal problems or worse.

“As a result of this communication, the World Hwa Rang Do Association refrained from publishing this article or attracting any publicity to the self-less efforts of the Hwa Rang Do & Lumbe Lumbe Angola team, until they had safely returned to Italy.”

“In Angola all, big and small, they intensely live every instant, as if that moment were the last, as if tomorrow didn’t exist.

“The situation of the women is almost disastrous, they are not considered, they are used, they have 4-5 children and they are alone; husbands go away, so women are forced to maintain the family by themselves, working the whole day, but yet they sing and continually smile. Children play for road barefoot, among mountains of garbage, with balls deflated or made of cloths, or on abandoned and rusted cars, risking every time to hurt themselves, to become infected, if not worse to die…

“But yet they always smile too.”
Maria Luisa Medelin
(Team Leader – HRD Blue Sash)

On August 24th, at 6am all 4 HRD team members and General Italo Governatori flew into Italy and were greeted by a group of Hwa Rang Do students from the various Italian schools & clubs to welcome them with smiles, hugs and kisses.

Everyone, including Hwa Rang Do Italy, Lumbe Lumbe and the humanitarian organizations in Angola are grateful for the successful completion of the mission and for the safe return of everyone involved.

It is with great pride that we salute our Hwa Rang Do & Tae Soo Do brothers and sisters for their selfless dedication to humanity and in helping the weakest, poorest and most desperate of our kind in the absolute worst conditions, when even their own country is not willing to care for them…

“Three weeks have been full of new difficulties, challenges of management; as team leader I felt the responsibility for my companions, my “brothers”, and I could not think only about myself, even if I was in a new and different environment; I had to check everything, every move, perceive all the states of mind…

“One day they brought us in visit for the city, and I discovered that Luanda has rich districts, skyscrapers, plasma screens, commercial centers, places and villas with swimming pools… but these areas are usually only frequented by the few rich Angolan people and by the many foreigners that work there.

“Many questions flashed in my head. How is it possible that this happens?!…

“I saw that next to these places (almost exclusively frequented by white people) around many corners there is someone who dies on the road or some orphan boy who survives by washing cars. Boys with long hair, unable to afford a haircut, are persecuted by police because of their appearance.

“My mind raced with many thoughs… “why?… why?…” and the anger was the emotion  that invaded me.

“I have told in the beginning, “confusion and contradiction”: these are the memories of my trip, because I can’t understand how all is possible. I would want to change this all, I would want to help, to do the best I can, but I feel impotent. I came with the idea to help in every way I can, prepared to work as physiotherapist, if there had been the opportunity and to teach Tae Soo Do everyday, all day.

“The experience of the teaching has been exciting: at the beginning I felt some fear, I didn’t know the language well, how to explain and what to say, but in the end it has been simple… it was enough to DO!
Maria Luisa Medelin
(Team Leader – HRD Blue Sash)

This mission marks the beginning of a broader mission by the World Hwa Rang Do Association to bring the gift of self-empowerment to all, as it has done for so many of Hwa Rang Do & Tae Soo Do students worldwide.

As the rest of the industry focuses on providing entertainment via pay-per-view spectacles, Hwa Rang Do has remained steadfast in its commitment – to empower humanity via the principles, teaching and practice of its martial discipline.  This trip and the incredible experiences, which you are reading excerpts from, are the epitome of what Hwa Rang Do as an organization is striving to do…

“One evening I went out with Father Roberto, a 75 years old “Hwarang” (to whom I gave the official Hwa Rang Do T-shirt) who walked his path without looking back, straight to his purpose with a strength, an empathy and a sensibility that spoke to me many times (I immediately had an admiration to him – I like people who speak few and do a lot). With him I went, in the night, through a big market called “roche” (large about 10 km).

“I admit that my attention to dangers was very high (obviously, for the influence of the practice of Hwa Rang Do, which pushes me in paying attention to the details of the places where I go): there where fires everywhere, people running, loud music, children screaming.

“After a long walk we reached the destination, that was a “caisa de rua”, a house dedicated to hosting the “crianca de rua” (homeless children). In that place children can find water to clean themselves and a roof under which they can stay and, if they do good actions, they earn credits they can use (at the end of the year at the Don Bosco party) to get clothes or other useful things to survive.

“Father Roberto asked me, knowing my profession, if I wanted to cut the hair of the kids.

“Obviously my task was easy to be done, I’ve done it for many years, it’s what I’ve seen since I was very young and it’s what represent me. So I said to him “no problem” and I started working.

“One, two, three… I started cutting hair one after another; everybody smiled to me, they introduced themselves, they were happy, we laughed together about the styles of cutting: they have impressive eyes, true warrior eyes.

“I started being hungry, I was hungry, hungry to cut as much as possible because I wanted to make them all happy, give them my best. This motivated me, so I kept on without stopping, without fear, I could accomplish it, I could make all of them happy!

“After some time the tools I was using (with battery) ended the charge and stopped supporting me, it didn’t have any more energy for me. I started sweating, being afraid, “what can I say to the others?”, but I had to do it, I could do it, “let’s go! Find a solution!”  Electricity is what we needed, but in vain I looked for a cable to get the energy, we were in the dark with some portable lights only. My instruments were abandoning me.

“Then I thought I had a shaving blade with me, “good!” So I kept on doing my job… problem solved.  One, two, three… but then the blade became dull, it didn’t cut anymore, again another problem; I looked madly in my bag for another one, but nothing more to use in there… “but, it has to be here, I remember I brought it, where is it?… I can’t find it…”, I couldn’t go on… I didn’t have any more tools to continue, I ran out of ideas, I felt hopeless…

“Through the desperation of the moments passing by, the stream of painful emotions ripped through me, many thoughts about what I did wrong and I could do, about having to accept the loss, I started to cry thinking I couldn’t finish what I began, I had failed, I couldn’t help everybody with the few I knew.

“So father Roberto got close to me and, understanding my state, put his hand on my shoulder, as my father does, as Kyo Sa Nim does, and said to me: “Don’t worry, come on! Be strong!”.

“It’s a simple action of love that only people like him give me that way. A love that rarely is given to me, an action that represent so much for me.

“Then we came back home and obviously the journey back, always between fires an screams of the roche (market), created a suggestive atmosphere; it seemed like we were coming up from hell…

“So, the day after I went to an oratory, the same oratory full of kids running, pushing each other, screaming, jumping on you, kids who eat you alive to get you attentions.

“But it was a different day, there were A LOT of kids and the entertainment of the oratory for them didn’t start yet. On one side there was some sand and some children playing on it, I couldn’t sit down, I love grappling: so I got nearer and I started wrestling with them and as they knew of me, they all came to me and wrestle all together! I started throwing them one after the other, soft as the hand on my shoulder that gave me relief days before.

“During that play, casually I called a kid “cicciottello” (= “fat”, said in a nice and funny way) and he immediately repeated it in perfect Italian language; of course I was astonished of that and so I thought: “come on, try and give them what you adore..” and so I said to them “Tae Soo Do!” and they repeated it perfectly… “Hwa Rang Do!” and they all did, perfectly again and it’s easy to understand my feeling in that moment, because I know people who still can’t pronounce it.

“So I gave a punch and they copied perfectly… “ok, the moment has come, I can try…”

“I told to all the children to follow me on the line of the soccer field and with those 20 kids, avoiding any possible formation (because to wanted to stay close to me), I started walking from one side to the other yelling “Tae Soo Do – Hwa Rang Do”, giving punches (like in the warm up), and since they were 20, they became 30, 40, then 50!! We were so many and all yelling that we covered almost all the soccer field and at every scream I had shivers through my back-spine, my voice was one with the childrens’ voice and my heart was exploding.

I was feeling again the sensation of “giving myself”.

I looked to my friend Davide (adventure fellow) and he was almost crying; later he told me that he felt moved by me and all the children and I answered that he couldn’t even imagine what was flowing in my blood in that moment and that I wished for him to feel the same.

Emanuele Veluti (TSD Half Black Belt)

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There are many wonderful humanitarian groups who bring much needed aid in the form of food, medical care, clothing, schools and other forms of relief to places like Angola.

In an effort to build on top of the essentials for life provided by people like Father Roberto and other humanitarian organizations, Hwa Rang Do’s mission is to bring transformation to these regions and other areas of the world, beginning with the development of the self, by first instilling confidence, awareness and development of the individual. This in turn empowers families, groups, organization, entire countries and ultimately, the world.

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As Grandmaster Taejoon Lee stated during his speech at his 8th Dan ceremony:

“The lessons I have learned from him [Dojoonim] 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.”

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

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

No Excuses!

Please do not disregard.  No matter what, please bear it and read to the end.

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Supreme Grandmaster Dr. Joo Bang Lee delivering a flying spin kick from squatting position over 10ft. in the air (1965 Seoul, Korea)

When I first opened our school in 1994, we gave the choice of choosing Tae Soo Do or Hwa Rang Do to the students.  Of course they all chose, Hwa Rang Do even after they were told that it was more expensive and it was harder. And, most of them never achieved Hwa Rang Do Black Sash.  I think there was only a couple.

Before Tae Soo Do, the 60s through the 80s, a 5 year old student had to start as a Hwa Rang Do white sash and had to learn 8 basics, a long form, 30 three-step sparring techniques, 2 kicking tests, and had to memorize the entire Hwa Rang Do Mengsae which included the Nine Doctrines.  They did all this for their Orange Sash test in 4 to 6 months.  Compared to now, a 5 year old student only learns 4 basics, only one of the Hwa Rang Do Mengsae and it takes them on the average 3 to 4 months.

We now have two programs: Basic Training where one learns only striking techniques with no weaponry and grappling and Warrior’s Path which includes everything – striking, weaponry, grappling.  We have no students in Basic Training.

Before our school, we used to have only two classes – one for juniors and one for adults, 6 days a week. The students came as many days as they can, averaging at least 3 to 4 days per week.  Now, even with a mandatory attendance of 2 days per week, less than 50% of our student body meets the 8 classes per month requirement.

What has changed?  Did people get dumber?  Is global warming frying our brains?  Did people get more lazy?  Did time speed up and so we have less time?

Are there too many distractions? Absolutely…

I have been observing people and their pattern of living for the last 30 years.  What I have learned about human behavior is through my students and the lessons are many.  The countless excuses and explanations of why they can’t do this or do that from literally thousands of students for the last 30 years have made me sort of an expert on the subject.

And this is what I have learned about excuses:

  • Everyone has one and they all stink. (There’s a military version of this.)
  • They all think theirs is original.
  • They all think the other person doesn’t understand.
  • They all say, “I don’t want sympathy, but …”
  • They don’t realize that they are wasting the other person’s time.
  • It’s a waste of time to listen to other people’s excuses because there’s nothing of value.
  • One shouldn’t hang around with people full of excuses, because it’s contagious.
  • There is no such thing as a valid excuse because in the end the validation is not given by the listener, but must be validated by the self, which of course no self in their right mind would validate; hence the need for the listener.
  • Making an excuse to avoid consequences or trying to make yourself out to look good is not the same as explanation.  Explanations are given to inform and to improve in the hopes of changing one’s situation as to not repeat the same offence.
  • Giving an excuse is not an apology.  An apology starts with I am sorry. An excuse starts with, but or because.
  • An excuse does not waive one’s responsibilities.  Because you missed a class does not waive your responsibility to know what was taught in that class.
  • Time does not repeat, so if you missed something, you must make it up in a timely manner.
  • In the end, the people with the most excuses only hurt themselves and have lost the most valuable commodity in the universe, TIME.

Yes this might seem a little harsh, but why think of it any other way.  If at the end of reading the bullet points, if you were able to refute or think that there’s something to refute because surely there are good excuses, then you’re not in the right frame of mind.  Of course there are always exceptions, but why waste time thinking about them, especially when it’s not going help you in a positive light.

Oh and what about medical excuse.  Surely that’s a valid excuse.  If you think this, then your mind is still in high school.  How many times did you make yourself feel sick to convince your mom so that you can stay home, which didn’t help you in the long run?  You are your own judge and you must self-regulate.  You know when you are too sick or too injured to perform and restrain yourself from training because you are so eager to get on the mat, right?  Doctors are not gods.  They are not always right and they have to be concerned about malpractice suits.  Sure, with a broken arm in a cast you can’t do things with your one arm, but you still got one good arm and two legs.  Yes, I have been injured.  I was bed ridden for a week after a 50 foot fall onto my neighbor’s concrete driveway and three weeks later, I made my first film.  There was no way that I was not going to do it.  What I did was nothing; be like Prof. Randy Pausch or Lance Armstrong.

Point being, yes there are medical situations that limits us, but we can always find a way if we really want it.  That’s the key – how much do we want it!  That’s always been the key, the secret, or whatever other fanciful word you want to use.  The key to unlocking life’s treasure chest is first, knowing what you want and more importantly, never relenting in its pursuit.

Please realize that time is finite for us, human beings, as we will all certainly die.  The only question is when and how.  We have no control of ‘when’ without being damned and/or cowardly, so definitely not a choice as a warrior.  However, we can control ‘how’ by focusing on how we will be remembered.

This is my mission, my passion to help others reach their full potential and get the most out of life.

And, even if you disagree with everything thus far (which I don’t see how, but I am sure one can find a way), you must agree that nothing is accomplished by thinking about it.  It’s only through action that anything is achieved.  Not just action, but 100% commitment to the action without reservation.  One foot in and one foot out will get you exactly that, one shoe or a pair of mismatching shoes.

There is so much I want to say and soon I shall, in the way of a book on life as a warrior is the 21st century.  But for now, I want to get back to what I originally wanted to tell you.

Everyone has an ego and that ego always tells them that they can do more, be more, and just more of everything.  So, they come to us to do more, to do everything, to participate in one of the most demanding martial art programs in the world to be comprehensive, all around, balanced, complete.  However, soon after they start training, they realize that its hard work and the romantic superhero created by the mind soon diminish as doubt sets in. Often it’s not even doubt, but one regresses to infancy and just plainly says to the self, “I don’t like it.  I don’t know what it is, but I don’t like it.”  How can they even know that they like or dislike when they have nothing to compare it to?  And, wasn’t it trying out something new the motivation for starting in the first place? When doubt sets in, it’s all over.  The mind’s imagination takes over and gives credence to the doubt and sugarcoats the idea of quitting.

“No, it’s not quitting” and with that, the gun fires and excuses start racing to see which excuse appeases the ego most.  Please understand that I know this best from self-reflection.  We are all in it together and together we must support what is true and strong and fight against what is delusional and weak.

This last Saturday’s New Year’s Bootcamp is a perfect example.  Less than 50% of our students participated in what was a mandatory event.  I am sure many who were present were anxious and frightful of what was to come as I and the Instructors have fed their imagination throughout the entire week.

“Oh you’re all gonna die,” I said with a smile.  “Hope you guys can make it through without getting sick.” “I am jump start you for the entire year!” etc., etc.

With that we started the class.  The class of about 50 students went through everything I could muster.  It was reminiscent of my college years when we conducted a week long hell week, which was later renamed T&T week for Trials & Tribulations.

This is what they had to do:

  • 100 punches/shuffling
  • 100 punches/shuffling with 100 climbs in push up position
  • 1000 punches, 200 blocks, 100 punch/block combo all in horse stance
  • Approximately 1000 kicks all together
  • Punching, parrying, trapping 1000 times
  • 20 duck/under pickups on each side
  • 400 sped kicks
  • Partner training: leg presses, multiple one leg kicking, speed knees and jumps, ducking, side falls
  • 20 forward hip movement drill, forward hip slide several time across the mat, rear hip slides
  • And, 100 group sit-ups… (this is all I can remember at the moment)

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We did all this is 2 hours.  Although there were about half dozen people who had to frequent the restroom, everybody made it through.  Come on, when in your wildest dreams did you ever think that you can do all that?  You can absolutely do more, just like your ego says, but instead of just thinking it, I am here to help you achieve it and when you finally do, there will be no need for the ego.

So, this is my challenge to you for the New Year and evermore.  Don’t think you’re strong – be strong, don’t think you’re intelligent – be intelligent, don’t think you’re not lazy – get busy, don’t think you’re doing enough – do more, don’t get humiliated – be humble, think less and do more.  Remember the more you do the more you want to do; the less you do the less you want to do.

We have all the classes you need, to be what you wanted to be when you first started.  So, let’s get busy.

Fighting Fit: Tu & Th 8:15pm ~ 9pm  – This class is open to everyone, juniors and adults, and to the general public.  So, you can drag your spouse, your mom or dad, your friends anytime without joining the full program. This is a great addition to your training to gain greater knowledge in striking full contact, build greater stamina and strength.

Gumtoogi:  Sat 11:30am ~ 1pm – This class is a must for all Hwa Rang Do Students and Tae Soo Do Brown Belts.  However, any student can participate with permission.  Also, this class is open to the general public.  In this class you will learn all sorts of weapon fighting with the foundation of Hwarang sword fencing.  Important Note: I must reiterate that this is mandatory for all HRD students.  If you have not yet done so, start now.  The HRD students who do not participate will force me to take action of negative consequences.

Friday Fight Night – All of you should be practicing at home, but for additional training with supervision you can’t pass up Fight Night.  First of all, it’s a great way to form friendships with your student body as it is an informal setting where everyone is helping out each other.  And, it’s the closest thing you’ll get to a private lesson without paying for it as it is supervised by Senior Instructors.

So, if you’re up to the challenge and follow my advice, you will achieve great things in 2009, but most importantly you will be better.

That’s the best gift I can give you.

With love, Hwarang Forever!

Grandmaster Taejoon Lee

End-Dependancy (Five Stones)

FiveStones

Each month the Teuk Gong Team (TGT), our instructors and assistant instructors, gather for dinner to share ideas and develop greater bonds. In February, Antonio Goodwin hosted the dinner at his home in Ladera Heights. The adults were in the living room, conversing about our school and students, while the juniors ranging from 7years old to 11 were in Dominic’s room, Antonio’s son.

After a short while I decided to go check on the children and what I saw was truly the sign of our times. There were five kids in total and each was doing their own thing: reading a book, playing on a Gameboy, watching a movie on a portable DVD player, playing with an iphone, etc. None of them were speaking, playing, or engaged with each other.

I could not believe what I saw. I had to do something. I said, “What are you guys doing? Put that stuff down and follow me.” I proceeded to walk outside as the kids followed, puzzled and somewhat reluctant. I walked over to a small patch of dirt field (which was not easy to find) and went hunting for rocks. I found one that was the size of a marble and raised it up, “I want you guys to find rocks about this size.” The kids were even more puzzled, but soon they were laughing and excited to find a rock that fit the profile.

“Master Lee, like this one? Is this it?” Each one of them came over to show me what they’d found. After collecting a handful of rocks, I picked the best ones and we all went inside. I had them all sit in a circle and I taught them Korean jacks, “Gong-gi.” It’s similar to American Jacks, but a bit more difficult, requiring greater hand/eye coordination. After I demonstrated what needed to be done and how to keep score, I had each of them try. It took some effort, but soon they were getting the hang of it. They were having a blast, laughing, talking – engaged in each other’s performance. I belted, “This is playing. Keep it up and if you have any questions, come get me.” With that, I went back into the living room.

In the living room, I found some of the adults on their laptops, surfing the web, checking email, etc.
The laughter and the excitement continued to escalate in Dominic’s room and it soon overwhelmed the chatter in the living room. Some of them came back out to notify me that they passed another level with intense excitement in their voices. I was very delighted, yet perplexed what our children are becoming and where our society is heading.

Technology is supposed to make our lives easier and better by providing faster and more efficient means of doing our work, giving us more time for the real valuable things in our lives like family, relationships, and self-development, right? I mean that is what’s promised to us: faster, easier, better.

Then, if they have so much more time to do other things, why can’t my students maintain regular attendance of only twice per week? 20 years ago, students attended a minimum of three Hwa Rang Do classes (there was no Tae Soo Do) per week and most came every day. We had classes daily for both children and adults. Ah, but now they are doing things that are more meaningful – like what I ask you? Do they have more enriching relationships? Do they maintain greater familial bonds? Have they acquired higher consciousness?

In Korea there is a contest to see how fast people can text messages. There’s also an epidemic of children not knowing how to spell words properly because everything is shortened and abbreviated. I think that’s the same here. I have students working in corporate America who spend most of their time at work online – chatting, social networking, surfing the web – that has nothing to do with their work, but they still get paid the same or more. They are finishing their tasks sooner due to technology, so they have more time, but is that time being used for something meaningful? They spend it being distracted, because thanks to the same technology, being distracted is now that much easier and that much more interesting. Instead of twiddling their thumbs or spinning their pens, they spend their spare time on YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. We must reconsider, rethink, and reorganize how we manage our workforce, and how we are spending our lives.

A while back Yahoo Magazine did a comparison between using the Internet or the Yellowpages for finding items for purchase. Almost at every instance the Yellowpages was faster, but now the Yellowpages has become a dinosaur. When you are searching online, there are so many other distractions that you might have intended on buying some table settings and come out having bought a car.

With all of our advancements in technology we cannot seem to create anything that lasts. The History Channel recently aired a documentary answering the question of what the world would be like after human beings. One of the things that stood out for me is that the world’s ecosystem would be fine without any human beings and that in a matter of 500 to 1,000 years, all records of our existence would have been erased completely from the face of the earth, except for some ancient monuments like the Pyramids of Egypt or the Stonehenge.

Do you not think that with our technology we cannot come up with anything that lasts more than a few years or find a cure for cancer, AIDS? Even if we could, do you think we would?

Everything is fast and quick and replaceable with upgrades – new and improved is the motto. Just recently I lost a phone charger and went to Best Buy, the all-in-one electronic store which is shutting down all its competition. They had all kinds of chargers but nothing worked for my phone. Finally, the salesman after digging through stacks of boxes found one that would work. I belted, “Why couldn’t they just have one adaptor that fits all?” Of course I knew the answer, but I needed to vent.

The salesman replied, “They couldn’t make money that way.” It irritates me that the newly released movies come out on dvd format first, a few days before the Blue-Ray. A couple of times I was suckered into it and bought the dvd because I could not find the Blue-Ray. I do not watch TV, and only see films of my choice. After I purchased the dvd, the next week I went in, and behold, I saw it on Blue-Ray. Now I own the VHS tape, the dvd, the high HD version, the Blue-Ray disc, and let’s not forget the extended version, the unrated version, and the director’s cut. I wonder what other versions they’re going to come out with next? Recycling the same content over and over again in different formats, newer, improved, faster, smaller, and I am just as guilty as any other consumer, but of course nothing lasts. One of my students who is in marketing told me that there is actually a term for this. It’s called “Chaos Marketing.”

Back in the 80s when the pager was the thing, I remember how I hated seeing these guys in suits with two and three pagers on their belts, accompanied by a key chain that would out do any janitor (definitely overcompensation for some other deficit). Then it moved to hand phones and now the same is true.

I really don’t get too many calls on my hand phone. Just from my immediate family and in case of emergencies. Recently, I was very ill and couldn’t think straight and lost my phone for the first time. I am the guy that had the first cell phone (not hand phone because there’s no way to fit it in one hand) that was the size of a small brief case. For about three days I was completely lost and all day in the back of my mind, I was thinking about my phone. It consumed me. Finally, I found my phone in my bathrobe pocket. I checked what messages and texts I missed and there were only a few and nothing that was earth shattering. I felt so relieved, whole again. I had to sit back and think about this for a bit.

How insane is that?

It’s getting out of control. This type of thinking has infiltrated every part of our lives where each individual thinks of only their own pleasure, their own personal gain, regardless of others. Or if they do care about others and global social events, then they’re too busy, too occupied with following someone else’s life or spending time enhancing their profile and sharing their party pictures with the rest of the world that they have no time for their loved ones, their self development, real social issues, and their spirit. The distractions have become their lives; being constantly connected to the media 24/7 like an umbilical cord connected directly to corporate America, the 1% has constant access to your mind and pockets. It is the Matrix.

I had a student, a graduate of Harvard Law School, who loved gadgetry and technology. He once said that if the world lost power and we had to revert to manual mechanisms that he would come to my dojang. I pride on myself that I am self-reliant and resilient. That is the foundation of Hwa Rang Do’s training, but lately I also have been caught up in this dependency on technology; a physiological, emotional, and psychological dependency that affects my self-being, our society, our humanity. Unbelievable.

So, when I saw those children in a room together, all attached to their own gadgetry and not socializing with each other and playing like kids should, it affected me to my core. And, imagine – only five rocks that cost me nothing brought the greatest joy and unity to these children.

All things, good and bad, are necessary and can be useful. As Hwarang and warrior/scholars we must learn self-control and utilize those things around us as well as all aspects of our ‘self’ to maximize our lives and the lives of others. However, we cannot become dependent. We must be our own masters. At this rate, if the world did run out of power, the Amish would reign and we would once again be dependent on something, someone other than ourselves.

Let’s think for moment: Who does this dependency serve? Who does this advancement in technology really serve? Does it serve us, the people, the common folk? Or, does it serve the wealthy and the powerful? The disbursement of wealth across the globe is getting worse each day as the percentage of the people possessing the majority of the wealth is getting smaller day by day. Big conglomerates, big corporations, multi-billionaires, governments don’t care about common misfortune caused by disasters, war, or other tragedies. To them, every situation is an opportunity for greater economic/territorial gains, and ultimately a means of greater control.

Look at the absurdity of our existence. Water is a natural resource, but they put it in a bottle and sell it and we buy it: For what? The cleanliness and purity? So that we can live longer and healthier? Water is almost 8 times more expensive than gasoline. We pay over $1 for a 16oz bottle of water and there are 128 oz in a gallon and at most we only pay $3 for a gallon of gasoline. Why don’t we just drink tap water? Because we have a collective notion that the water is somehow impure or contaminated. This is not Mexico, and yes I know because I have experienced Montezuma’s revenge. And who created the pollution that contaminated the drinking source in the first place? Of course, it’s the big companies in the pursuit of increasing dividends and governments all in the name of saving tax-payers money. Do you get the picture? They cannot lose. They will continue to make money and take advantage of every opportunity to make more money by continuing to create dependencies and creating new markets, new frontiers to exploit. The real world is not enough so now we have the world wide web and virtual worlds to exploit. What will they do next after they pollute the air to the point where it’s not safe to breathe? They will sell us bottles of filtered air or oxygen of course (this is happening already).

When has faster, quicker, easier been better? The pyramids of Egypt have lasted for 5000 years and will continue for thousands more. In the past, if it did not last and was not durable, then it was not valuable. The martial arts industry has also been impacted by this type of thinking. You cannot build a fortress out of marshmallows. Strength in training, self-discipline and self-reliance are what create strength of mind, body and spirit. There are martial art organizations that market gun and knife disarmament as their primary method of attracting the public for self-defense. And it seems to be working. One of the main keywords in Google search is now ‘Krav Maga,’ – not martial arts, karate, kungfu or even MMA. Yes, they are doing a great job marketing their product. However, what they are selling is something that bears consideration. Even the most experienced martial artists who have consistently trained for decades are reluctant to disarm a weapon in a real scenario. More important than the physical techniques is their ability to maintain calm and think clearly to create opportunity for escape. But, even then it’s risky and only should be attempted as a last resort. A case in point: I was invited to Fort Benning, Ranger School to meet and instruct some of the most elite law enforcement and military personnel from Mexico, Central, and South America. There I had the privilege of having a discussion over dinner with the people in charge of creating and instructing the Army combative for the entire US Army Corp.

They told me a story. The Rangers were performing a military exercise within the small town near the Fort. At the time some of the Rangers were learning a special hand-to-hand combative system created by some Hapkido master. One of the Rangers in the exercise was approached by the town policeman, who at gun-point told the Ranger to drop his weapon, which the Ranger did. Thinking that this was part of the exercise, the Ranger sought this opportunity to practice his handgun disarmament technique on the police officer. Unbeknownst to him, the policeman was not part of the exercise and as the Ranger attempted to disarm, the policeman shot and killed the Ranger. Sure, weapon disarmament is a viable option and there are proper techniques to increase the odds of success. However, learn it easy and quick in a few months or in a seminar, and chances are as the military men say, “you learn just enough to get yourself killed.”

The companies hit a jackpot when we all logged on. In the computer age, it has become a given, an accepted standard, the norm, for things to become out-dated in a matter of six months to a year. Everything must be upgraded. How fantastic is that? It’s a never-ending market of continual consumption – a created dependency and continual supply of new and improved products that will offer greater performance and enjoyment. Sound familiar? This is how drug dealers push the newest drug on the market. Get you hooked and then offer better highs.

And schools are becoming pushers for the pharmaceutical companies. This is another topic for another time, healthcare in the United States. However, I did want to bring attention about what the schools are doing to our children. I laughed when nursery schools were banning musical chairs because it was too competitive. “Why should only one kid win and 20 others lose?” Last time I checked we were a capitalist society and the nature of capitalism is competition. Now, they are not even keeping score playing regular sports like baseball, soccer, basketball, and football. That’s just plain silly and I am not laughing anymore.

The nature of children is attention deficit and hyperactive. They are full of energy and have very little attention span. It is not a disorder, but the norm. Jim Thorpe, a Native American, who was named the greatest athlete of the first half of the twentieth century by the Associated Press and a gold medalist in the pentathlon and decathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden, was challenged to mimic everything that a two year old child did physically for an entire day. The 2 year old won and laid Jim Thorpe out, exhausted. This 2 year old was your average child, not one with a hyperactive disorder. Of course, some kids may need more attention than others, but by no means do children in their formative years have a disorder – they’re just being kids, curious about the world and eager to participate.

So, since technology has helped us to do work in less time, then parents should have more time to spend with their children, their family, hence improving focus, channeling energy and aggression, and enhance both their intrapersonal and interpersonal development, right? Wrong, very wrong. We have become a society of people who feel entitled to everything good life has to offer, without any sense of accountability and self-sacrifice. We blame everything wrong on others and take credit for everything good, however trite and ridiculous it may be.

The schools, the classrooms are overcrowded as government continues to cut funding toward our educational system, which is a short-sightedness that I predict will have dire consequences in the future. But, who cares right, as long as I am living well now, what does it matter? It matters a lot if you feel you are part of humanity, which we all are whether you like it or not, but I guess that’s one of the problems: we are more connected than ever with each other, but we feel less humane. Our sense of community has been diminishing city by city, town by town. In the 3rd and 4th grade, one of my favorite parts of the day was walking over to my friend’s house and walking to school together. Not in a small midwestern town, but in the heart of Los Angeles County – Downey, CA. There’s something awfully wrong when we can’t allow our kids to play in the streets, walk to school, or be out of a parent’s sight and ears for any length of time.

When a child in school has problem focusing on his work, not paying attention, talks too much with others, and forgets what he/she was told to do (all things that all kids do, some more/some less), the teacher sends the potential problem child to get an evaluation. Once the evaluation is complete then the parents are brought in to discuss options and this is how it’s said to the parents, “If your child has problem seeing, would you not get your child glasses to see better?”

“Sure,” the parent replies.

“Well, then by medicating your child, he/she will be better focused, which will increase his/her grades and enhance his/her chances to get into a good college for a better life,” school counselor. What parent would not want to help their child by increasing their chances of doing better in school so that they can get ahead in life? However, this isn’t a pair of glasses. It’s chemicals which are altering the child’s mind from normal development in the most rapidly growing stage of the child’s life. I am not a scientist or an MD so I will not attempt to get into the negative physiological affects of medicating children with mind-altering drugs in their formative years, but what I will address is something that is even more sinister.

I had a female student who has been medicated since elementary school. She is now in her late 30s and she cannot function without the drugs. When posed by me with the hard decision of giving up the drugs and rediscovering herself through hard self-examination and martial discipline, she chose to quit training and continue to take the drugs. This was after 3 grueling years of Tae Soo Do training, and embarking on the Hwa Rang Do way for the rest of her life. What’s more disturbing, she is also medicating her child who’s only 8 years old.

Ah, you say, that she doesn’t fit the timeline. She started taking the drugs in the early 80s. I think that just goes to show how long this has been practiced and how much more rampant it is today. I just had an 18 year old come up to me at my last seminar in Minneapolis in March of this year, saying, “I have been on all types of medication since I was 5 years old and after joining Tae Soo Do, I decided to quit taking the drugs to find out who I really am and see what’s really wrong with me.

Well, it’s been two years now and I have never felt better in my entire life and I am beginning to truly get to know who I am.” All we are doing is creating a pattern of dependency for the rest of lives and once again, who does that really serve?

How can we blame our kids for not being able to learn? That’s all they do, is learn from the world around them and by following, mimicking the actions of others. If a child does not learn or did not learn, then we have failed as parents, as teachers, as a society. I thought that cats were un-teachable. I was proven wrong. Recently, in a variety show, I saw a man who had cats doing what trick dogs do; jumping through hoops, walking on wire, going across parallel bars, all on command. I was blown away. I don’t know if you have ever tried to teach your cat to sit or come on command, but I have. I had both dogs and cats as pets and believe me dogs are far easier to teach than cats. I have never successfully taught a cat to do anything on command, but just let them do what they want, including petting them. So, when I saw this man having all these cats obey him and follow his every command, I realized that it was me and not the cats. So, if he can teach cats, then we can teach our children; don’t you think?

I don’t mean to demean our children or even humanity by comparing them to our pets, but only to illustrate how absurd it is for us to give up on our children and resort to drugging them to be more compliant. These cats were only getting tasty bits of food for reward and no drugs to induce compliance. I remind my students that our greatest weapon, greatest tool is our mind, which is undeniably unique only to the human race and it is this that we must cultivate. Furthermore, the greatest advancements in our culture, society, sciences, arts, and everything in between have been accomplished by people who thought outside the norm, the status-quo, and challenged conventional thinking.

It is not enough that my country of birth, South Korea, has risen from the ashes of war and poverty to one of the economic powerhouses in the world in less than 50 years, which now enjoys the luxury of giving their children plastic surgery as a high school graduation gift, making girls look very similar to each other. You marry a girl because they look so fine and end up having a child that looks nothing like the mother. Of course, I am being facetious, but it’s not far from the truth. Now, in my homeland, the United States of America, we drug our children for compliance; appease the children by removing competitive spirit; appease the masses by submersion in distractions; drug the elderly to keep them around a little longer to medicate them a little longer; and drug the rest of us for being sad or depressed at times, which of course is not acceptable; and lets not forget being “Politically Correct” which in effect is a gag order, preventing anyone from speaking their mind; oh and did I mention that we are a military state where the government can arrest and detain any civilian indefinitely?

I don’t know if the rest of the world is blind or just silent, maybe appeased and drugged already by the media and technology, but the few who are in power and possess the wealth are blocking entry into the club and continue to expand their market at exponential rates, thanks to technology and globalization. Is this a new phenomenon in our human history? Of course not! It has always been here as we continually struggle for power, territory, control and influence. However, the difference now is that due to our technologies, it is easier and faster to globalize and expand for companies and for nations. I am not interested in blaming the people in power or organizations of power for doing what they’re meant to do – survive, thrive, and conquer. I’d be doing the same thing I have been advocating not to do. But, hopefully they will act responsibly and wisely, which I know is a lot to ask.

In self-defense one of the most important things is awareness. To be focused on what’s immediately in front, but being completely aware of your surroundings. That also applies here. I am pleading to the world, to our community, to my students to be informed and aware. Furthermore, in our training we learn that we cannot control anything outside of the self and the only thing we have control over is the self. We learn that we are only as strong as our weakest self. Therefore, we learn to be extremely self-critical, seek out our weaknesses and fears to overcome them, increasing our self-control, then and only then can we help others. As I have said earlier, we are all affected, including me. In the same way we can live life or be victims of life, we also have a choice here. We can choose to self-regulate ourselves and control our addictive nature or we can choose to fall victim to our own ignorance.

I am not advocating complete abstinence. I have never advocated abstinence in anything as I feel that is not the solution – going to one extreme has the tendency to build repressed potential energy to swing to the other extreme. To me, as in Hwa Rang Do and as an umyangian, the answer lies in balance and self-control: being in sync with the rhythm of the internal self and the external world, with the material and the immaterial, with the microcosm and the macrocosm. Then, hopefully we can be in harmony with nature and the universe.

A few months ago, my family purchased a cabin in Big Bear, as one of my passions is snowboarding. Our family, Hwarangdo family, and my nephews spent the weekend for the first time at the cabin. Being a skateboarder during the founding years when skateboarding took off with the invention of polyurethane wheels some thirty plus years ago, I enjoy playing ‘Skate’. One of my instructors, Joey Klein, one visiting black sash, Brett Spoehr, my 9 year old nephew Jeffrey Kim and I played PlayStation3 together until 4am (would have gone longer if I wasn’t going boarding in the morning) and had the best time ever. The game brought together and bonded a group ranging in age from 9 to 40+. How great is that? As a matter of fact, Joey and Brett could not contain themselves and broke out into a contagious laughing fit. Soon, we were all laughing so much our bellies ached the next day and managed to keep our Hwa Rang Do Founder, Dr. Joo Bang Lee, up all night. Even he did not come down and shut us up, as he knew how special it was to have his martial sons and grandchild enjoying each other’s company.

I believe there’s a time and place for everything. It is up to us to utilize all the things life has to offer, all our faculties, all our God given gifts to get the most out of life by doing and experiencing all that we can live a full life.

This is one of the best eras in all of history. We have so much information, knowledge, and technology to unify and join all races, nations, and people of all ethnic backgrounds, offering the means of living a better life than ever before. It is my hope that corporations, conglomerates, and nations utilize their powers to bring greater unity and racial harmony so that we can move forward by expanding our individual and collective consciousness to really live life focused on the important, valuable things – our relationships, humanity, and our relationship with the infinite. Not continually treating the human race as infantile children, controlling us with repressive fear tactics and increasing dependencies, but rather liberating ourselves from the confines and limitations of material goods, base emotions and greed.

This discourse started with my wanting to talk about kids being attached to technological gadgetry rather than being attached to each other, and ended up with me spilling my frustrations with our current society. I am not done and I have much more to say. I hope one day to follow it up with a book. However, I hope this has at least sparked some thought and will motivate you to take action.

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With love and compassion and the belief that we can change the world – one person at a time,

Hwarang Forever,
Grandmaster Taejoon Lee
A Humble Servant to Humanity
www.hwarangdo.net