G.M. Kim Soo gives
a demo after class on the rooftop. He founded the Kwon-Bop Club of
H.U.F.S. during his college days.
Arts: My Path to Nam
By: Grandmaster Kim Soo 10th. Dan & Founder, Chayon-Ryu Martial Arts
Written by: Brian Hammer 3rd Dan
Over the course of my 53 years of martial art practice and teaching, I have
thought a great deal about, and have developed a system of martial arts
practice that anyone can study, at any time in their life. Chayon Ryu is
Sang Hwal Mu Do - a lifestyle martial art. Chayon Ryu is designed for those
who are interested in and remain committed to the path of martial arts and
its many benefits, including self-realization.
Whether sixteen or
sixty years of age, consistent, committed martial arts
training will bring physical, mental, emotional and spiritual benefits.
longer one trains, the deeper the benefits. Committed martial artists
develop greater balance and control, a sharper and clearer mind, a more
generous and loving heart, and a more authentic experience and expression
one's true self. The self beyond fear and self-judgment. The ultimate
treasure that long-term, "right" practice offers is a path to
confident and powerful being that we all are at our core, but perhaps
lost touch with along the way.
arts practice, then, can be much more than physical
fitness; self-defense and mental discipline. Making a commitment to
"natural way" practice is a path of freedom; toward what is
referred to as "enlightenment" or "nam."
I teach martial arts
because I believe in individual freedom. Everyone
should control their own life, and enjoy confidence, passion, and a sense
being a powerful being able to live the life of their dreams. Martial
is a path to freedom.
Most of us are limited
in our confidence and power because we see ourselves
as victim to enemies outside of ourselves. What I mean by this is that
of us feel that the world does not seem to be cooperating with our dreams.
We feel unlucky, not smart enough, young enough, or just plain enough,
otherwise hindered by people and situations that are "keeping us
is my belief, however, that these "outside enemies" are merely
of our "inside enemies." What we perceive as limitations outside
ourselves are generally mirrors of something going on inside of ourselves.
Mostly, these inner obstacles fall into the categories of negative
self-talk, self-judgments and other irrationally held and limiting beliefs
about ourselves and the world. From this perspective, it is the inner
victories over the internal enemies that sets us free.
For me then, the true
aim of martial arts practice is not to learn how to
kick and punch, and defeat the external enemy. Rather, consistent "right
practice" with humility and patience, is a natural path to defeat
internal enemies that exist in our mind. This is what I mean when I tell
your during form practice to set up your internal enemies in your mind,
then "knock them down" or "destroy them." As we do
this, consistently and
over time, we begin to free ourselves from the shackles of fear and
self-doubt. With continued practice, we develop confidence, willpower
creativity to take the necessary steps and live the lives of our dreams.
Commitment to right practice is all that is required.
Martial arts saved
my life. As a junior high school student in 1951, I was
shy and lacked life direction. My mother recognized my lack of confidence
and encouraged me to study martial arts. In 1951, during the height of
Korean war and when I was in 5th grade, she arranged for a neighbor to
me martial arts. Attracted to what I was learning, in 1952, I enrolled
Kong Soo Do school in Seoul. On several occasions over the first few years
of my training, however, I became bored, experienced setbacks, and was
frustrated. I wanted to quit. My mother inspired me to keep training.
remember her telling me on many occasions that I must dig in one place
order to discover water.
At that time in my
life, my role model was my mother. She was not a
well-educated woman. She came from a poor, but noble family, and she had
difficult life in some ways. Yet, she always believed in and inspired
She taught me to dream and have ambition. As I see it now, the water she
was referring to was my authentic self. Lacking confidence, my mother
me that I could be anything I wanted to be. She told me that everyone
mission in life, and that I must dig deep inside of myself in order to
discover my purpose. This is what she meant by digging in one place to
discover water. I remember one day she gave me a blank piece of paper
told me to draw whatever I wanted to be. To this day, I am drawing that
picture. Martial arts became my compass -- orienting me toward the life
my dreams. I am still digging. And I am living the life of my dreams.
passion and my path is to teach martial arts, and offer to others the
I received from my training.
What is "Nam"?
Over the past 40 years
in the west, there has been a lot of talk about "nam"
or "enlightenment." There has also been a lot of misunderstanding.
Enlightenment is often presented as available exclusively to the very
who meditate for hours each day and renounce worldly pleasures. This is
my belief. My understanding is that enlightenment is for everyone - in
My belief is that
we are all already enlightened beings. This is the nature
of our souls. Yet we are souls having a human experience, and the human
part has forgotten that we are enlightened. For many, the human experience
is sometimes experienced as a walk in a dark cave, fraught with perceived
dangers and scary enemies lurking about.
is like having a headlamp in the dark cave. With a
headlamp, we can at least shine a light a few feet in front of us, even
we cannot illuminate the entire cave. We can take safe steps. Moreover,
the stronger our batteries and brighter our bulbs, the more we can see.
the more we see, the more we realize that what we once "thought"
was a dark
cave, was all along the Garden of Eden. This, in my opinion, is
enlightenment; simply seeing more clearly the true nature of things. My
greatest wish if for my students to recognize this truth, and live the
of their dreams. I want my students to be enlightened.
If you think about
it, all of us are born geniuses. Within a few years of
birth, we are able to grow into walking and talking beings, mastering
deciphering a language that allows us to communicate our needs and feelings.
We learn to play sports, create art, fall in love, invent and ask questions.
All of these are amazing feats.
Yet, most of us learn
to identify ourselves with what we cannot do, and we
lose sight of our genius. We see others who are better than us at drawing
and we conclude that we are not creative. Another does better than us
math and we conclude that we are not smart. A third has a better basic
number one, and we conclude that we are average martial artists. We come
judge ourselves as "not smart enough," "not creative enough,"
enough," "not coordinated," "not worthy," "not
lovable," or simply "not
enough." It is these judgments, delusions and irrational beliefs
our natural state of enlightenment.
How then does enlightenment
come? My belief is that enlightenment simply
requires long-standing dedication to a particular path. Modern culture
filled with promises of instant happiness and get rich quick schemes.
of these pursuits, in my opinion, lead us in exactly the wrong direction.
The true path of enlightenment
requires a commitment to a single practice,
with humility and patience. As my mother said, you must dig in one place
order to discover water. This requires, among other things, patience --
it is a lifetime journey. Yet, a journey with increasing rewards along
way. Further, it is the wrong attitude to get on this journey in order
achieve something, such as a black-belt or nam. Rather, the journey itself
is the path; what the Chinese refer to as "tao," and the Japanese
Koreans as "do." If we approach the journey with an attitude
and practice for it's sake alone, the nam will come.
First will come a
glimpse, as we recognize for the first time that the
headlamp was already in place. Already we are more empowered to live our
life in alignment with our heart, gut and soul. And as long as we stay
committed to our practice and do not fall back asleep, we will naturally
gain luminosity and brilliance as we reach higher degrees of nam. According
to mystical understanding from eastern and western tradition, this path
continues toward the ultimate revelation of our authentic selves, complete
enlightenment, or Buddha or Christ consciousness as it is sometimes called.
Few ever reach this ultimate nam. I have not attained this stage and
cannot, therefore, say much about it. In Korean martial arts, this stage
referred to as "do sa." This is the level of sainthood.
The Three Stages on
the Path to Nam:
carpentry, music or martial arts, there are three
stages of practice that lead to increasing degrees of enlightenment.
The first stage is
"practice." Whatever the discipline, in order to get
anywhere, there must be consistent practice. Many do not get very far
and quit when their practice gets "boring" and their wondering
new thrills and immediate gratifications. Yet, as described by the Aikido
master and teacher, George Leonard in his book "Mastery" [Plume
path (what he calls the "Mastery Curve") is predominated by
which growth seems stagnant. He encourages us to remain committed to our
practice during these times of perceived stagnation, however, for a growth
spurt will soon come. Attaining mastery, according to Leonard, is learning
to love the plateaus and the practice itself. I agree, for with consistent
"right" practice, the growth spurts are inevitable. And each
is an upgrade in voltage and a brighter bulb for your headlamp.
The second stage requires
study. After consistent years of practice under
good teaching, the student must look for and discover the principles that
underlie his chosen art or discipline. This is a philosophical phase which
leads to a deeper understanding of the art or discipline.
The third stage emphasizes
"right practice," and is critical for healthy
advancement along the path of mastery and enlightenment. This stage
involves discrimination, as the student more deeply realizes that the
principles of his chosen practice are in fact, universal principles. He
she will then begin to apply these principles to all aspects of his life.
As examples, balance of movement, rhythm, and proper breathing are critical
to healthy, powerful martial arts practice. These same principles, however,
also apply to business negotiations and child-rearing! During the third
stage, the practitioner begins to integrate the physical and mental with
heart and soul. This, in my opinion, is a significant step on the path
I came to the United
States in order to teach third-stage martial arts to
Americans. As a writer for Black Belt Magazine in the early 1960's, I
to recognize that most American martial arts instructors at that time
the training and understanding to teach "right practice" discrimination.
Instead they were focused on kicking, punching and tournament sparring,
the goal to win trophies. This is low-level martial arts practice that
not lead to enlightenment, but instead results in injury, quitting, and
cancer of the mind. I came to the United States to teach the discrimination
path of martial arts and to preserve the purity of the arts that had evolved
over thousands of years as a path to nam.
Practice - Humility:
Humility is critical
in order to achieve enlightenment. Humility means
"humbleness of mind; lack of pride." [The World Book Encyclopedia
Dictionary, 1963]. Humility means letting go of our false identifications
as "worse than," "not enough," "special,"
or "better than" anyone else.
Humility is recognizing the open-hearted, perfect beings that we naturally
are. Easier said than done, and cultivating this perspective is a lifetime
practice that is very much a part of the path to nam.
A big part of cultivating
this humility is through selfless service. In the
case of martial arts practice, we cultivate humility and kong through
service to the dojang and system. But a word of caution: "don't do
me!" Students sometimes clean or improve the dojang in some helpful
and then let me know in some subtle or direct way that they did this for
Another student told me that he wanted to write something for me. Again,
"don't do it for me!" If you think that by cleaning the dojang,
lawn or writing an article, you are going to gain a special status with
then you are taking action for exactly the wrong reason. You are actually
taking a step away from humility and enlightenment. I see this as trying
be "special," and this is cultivating the falsity that imprisons
us from our
natural state of freedom.
Furthermore, I will
not be obliged to you for cleaning the dojang, and I
will not give you special status. I don't teach for myself, I teach for
benefit of others. As I stated earlier, I do reap kong benefits from
teaching, but this is incidental and I am convinced that those who act
order to reap personal benefit, do not build kong. Kong is a bi-product
service. Mother Teresa did not become a saint because she figured that
feeding the hungry was the best path to sainthood. Her mission was simply
to feed the hungry - her path one of service. So when you do something
your school, do it for the school, do it for the system, don't do it for
This is basic humility, and an essential ingredient for enlightenment.
Again, we are all special, but never because we "think" we are
Humility means letting go of the thought of being special, and surrendering
to humility and our innate specialness.
- A Word of Caution:
It is important to
mention that there is a dark side to enlightenment, or
what I will refer to as "Dark Power." This battle between the
dark is represented in mythology throughout human cultural history from
story of Adam and Eve, to modern day dramas such as Star Wars, the Matrix,
and the Lord of the Rings. It is important to not confuse "Dark Power"
"Enlightenment." Anyone who practices martial arts or any discipline
many years will increase their power and insight, and have the ability
influence others. One may be an outstanding martial artist, having studied
his or her art with much diligence. He or she may have even attained
recognition and fame. Yet, if she sees this power as her own, and is
without proper guidance and discrimination, there is the likelihood that
will develop a cancer of the mind, or Ju Hwa Ip Ma. She likely will see
herself as superior and special. She may have a headlamp, but without
humility and "right practice," what she sees is a dead-end,
dangerous path. She is not enlightened.
These are the conditions
that result in cult leaders and other forms of
powerful deviants. It must be understood that cult leaders generally have
light and they are a force to be reckoned with. They use their light or
power to exercise control and keep those who follow them dependent and
confused. Many people, upon discovering a good thing want to keep it for
themselves - often to gain a perceived advantage over other. Ultimately,
their leadership is used for their own egos. Consequently, their followers'
potential will be limited, poisoned by the Dark Power.
This is why "right
practice" and humility are critically important. Not
only is enlightenment a path for one's self, but having this headlamp
also a responsibility. Followers will always be attracted to those with
headlamps, and many are unable to differentiate between those leaders
are Enlightened and those who merely have Dark Power. The difference is
that Enlightened leaders will teach to give their followers independence;
Dark Power leaders will seek to keep their followers dependent and confused.
The way I see it, an individual must establish themselves as fully
independent in order to cultivate degrees of enlightenment. My teaching
method is designed to support all people to express themselves independently
and to pursue their individual paths. I offer the place and a teaching
method to cultivate "right practice." Although I encourage committed
practice, the rest is up to the individual. My mother did not force me
continue studying martial arts; she merely believed in me and encouraged
I hope to do the same for my students.
My Path to Nam:
My first glimpse of
nam came too me after approximately ten years of
consistent martial arts' practice. It came unexpectedly.
In 1953, I first studied
Chang Mu Kwan under a 2nd Dan instructor by the
name of Yu Ki Joon. Yu Ki Joon was a mean Korean marine who carried a
stick and commanded respect through intimidation. He was the first person
who taught me Basic Form number 1.
Some of what he taught
me ultimately became the basis for my first glimpse
of enlightenment as a martial artist. On turns, for example, he taught
to move my foot first, and then to follow with the upper-body turn and
block. All the martial artists in Korea turned this way back in the 1950's
and 1960's. I turned this way for over 10 years, never questioning this
approach to turning.
Much later in my practice,
when I was a 4th Dan, I read a book titled,
"Practical Karate" by Nakayama Masatoshi, a well-known master
Karate. I read a statement in this book that at all karate movement must
be "one-unit motion." This was a bold statement, "all karate
be one-unit motion." Karate is not a style, it is a word that encompasses
all martial art styles; and according to Nakayama, all styles must
incorporate one-unit motion.
When I read this statement,
my headlamp was turned on and I saw a little bit
of light in what had been a dark cave. Through study, I discovered my
martial arts principle. This principle began a process for me in which
questioned every aspect of my martial arts' practice. I no longer accepted
anything I had learned. I questioned and looked for deeper truths or
principles. This, for me, began my path of "right practice."
I began a
diligent and focused effort to discover other martial art "principles,"
moreover, principles of life. This was my study in discrimination. I did
this because I saw that practicing martial arts without an understanding
basic principles was causing injury and other physical and mental problems
to most students. Many quit after some years of practice because of injury;
derailing their path to nam.
I started and have
subsequently built the Chayon Ryu martial arts system as
a third stage martial arts practice; based upon the principles that I
accumulated since that moment when I read that statement in Mr. Nakayama's
book. My hope is that this discrimination and these principles will serve
future martial artists in two ways: First, by giving students the ability
to practice in alignment with fundamental principles, thereby avoiding
injury and allowing any student to enjoy martial arts practice for as
as they desire. Second, I hope to give my students an advantage on the
to nam by teaching the fundamental principles or "right practice."
For me, enlightenment
is simply bringing light to what was previously dark
and unexamined. We all have these moments or epiphanies, and they come
us after many years of consistent study of anything. Some study music
painting, some study the art of parenting or good citizenry. My path is
martial art and I am happy to share my discoveries with anyone who is
serious and interested.
As a martial arts'
teacher today, I firmly believe that all teachers in my
system should attend regular instructor's clinics. This is why I
established a permanent location to teach martial arts. I want my teachers
to teach their students the most correct martial arts' movements as I
understand them. This is not to say that my students, and my students'
students will not have their own moments of enlightenment and take my
understanding of martial arts' principles to even greater levels. In fact,
I want my students to do this. Yet, at the same time, I do not want my
students to have to reinvent the wheel and make again, the discoveries
I made ten, twenty, thirty and forty years into my practice. My hope is
that my discoveries will help my students jump-start and accelerate their
path to nam, shine brightness on their paths, and open the way for us
live joy-filled, inspired, creative and powerful lives.