One of the things I love as a practitioner in Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan is the rich background and values of the martial art. It’s there for anyone who’d like to learn more about the mindset and spiritual dimensions to training. This curiosity for a deeper meaning to your martial arts journey can unlock growth on many levels. This article introduces the concept of your Martial Way (‘Moo Do’ in Korean). It draws upon the definition by the Moo Duk Kwan Founder, Hwang Kee, in the book Moo Do Chul Hahk and explores my own interpretation of the concept. This is to provide you with further reflection towards understanding your Martial Way.
What is a Martial Way?
In the book Moo Do Chul Hahk, the author, Hwang Kee, explained the concept as:
Moo Do in the true sense of the term means to not only train one’s character, but also to strive in one’s attitude and actions to serve and help others through personal sacrifice.Hwang Kee, Moo Duk Kwan Founder, p. 172
Cultivating one’s Moo Do is essentially to engage in selfless acts. It derives from both developing character (internal) and actions (external). This is actually the two components that make the concept:
Moo = martial (external)
Do = way (internal)
The Moo component represents the body and external actions. The author explains the Moo as to “defend externally”. By contrast, the Do represents the mind and internal actions, “to suppress the fight against one’s opponent internally”. It’s interesting that neither explanation of the Moo or Do positions the practitioner as being on the offensive. This ties in with the definition of Moo Do as striving to serve and help others.
The author goes on to explain that the Moo and Do represent the relationship of energy between Yang and Um of the Korean symbol. This is because Yang is hard and external energy, whilst Um is soft and internal energy. The two components are therefore complementary to make a whole, which creates balance and harmony.
If we consider the concept of Moo Do as achieving balance, we begin to further appreciate the importance of cultivating the mental and spiritual dimensions. This is in addition to the physical aspect of training. In other words, to only physically train will cause an imbalance because understanding the deeper value of martial arts practice would be lacking. As a result, our performance and growth will be limited.
The Dojang’s interpretation
I believe that your Martial Way has a commonality with others who practise your art; is more profoundly shared by the segment of practitioners who desire a deeper meaning in their journey; and is unique to you and your experiences. Before I continue, I’ll briefly explain the three parts.
First, my assumption is that every practitioner from your art would know the foundation details. These include: the history, origin, characteristics, and main purpose. Second, I feel that only a portion of practitioners (including you because you’re here!), want to acquire a deeper meaning to their martial arts journey. These practitioners study, research, and reflect to gain further understanding. This leads to a deeper cultivation of your Martial Way because both the Moo (external) and Do (internal) have a similar developmental investment. The third part is related but separate. This is because it’s about you and is therefore unique. Your experiences and worldview merge with the first or second part. It depends on your level of personal investment to achieve balance.
If I were to make a diagram to illustrate the idea, it would look like this:
The main conclusion is that at any level, Moo Do is composed of your martial art and understanding yourself. This is important. Knowing this both shapes your journey and keeps you being true to your values. Your values combine those cultivated from your training and those that are personal. These meet together in harmony. Knowing who you are also includes understanding your inherent nature: what you thrive at and your challenges. When faced with challenges, knowing your Martial Way will help guide you towards an answer without feeling influenced by the surrounding pressures.
Being a blogger, I open myself up to talk to many different practitioners. I often get requests to advise martial artists on their journey, which I’m more than happy to assist. A theme that came to my attention this past week was the perception of what is a ‘true martial artist’. This surfaced from a few experiences where I was unable to support practitioners in the way they had thought a ‘true martial artist’ should. I was surprised by how quick these people went from being respectful to disrespectful. Here, I’ll provide one example of how my Martial Way guided my response.
The practitioner contacted me because he wanted to learn a particular kick. This was a kick that I hadn’t come across in my martial art. My Martial Way is to always be honest about my abilities. I help where possible, but I’d never pretend or guess. That would be both a lie to myself and to the person who’s asked for help.
In this situation, I explained that I couldn’t give him advice because I wasn’t trained to do that kick. Since I wasn’t trained, I wouldn’t have the background knowledge to explain and provide subsequent feedback. To me, it’s also important to follow through with the support to best serve others. I suggested that he contact a martial artist in his art, or ask his instructor. Instead of accepting this, he started to insult my black belt rank.
The practitioner was adopting an ‘offensive’ (Yang) response. I chose a defensive (Um) position. According to Moo Do philosophy, balance is achieved when hard and soft energy meet. I did this through not taking the comments personally, and to keep explaining that this decision was in his best interest. Eventually, he respected it.