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.

Martial 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. The
longer one trains, the deeper the benefits. Committed martial artists will
develop greater balance and control, a sharper and clearer mind, a more
generous and loving heart, and a more authentic experience and expression of
one's true self. The self beyond fear and self-judgment. The ultimate
treasure that long-term, "right" practice offers is a path to liberate the
confident and powerful being that we all are at our core, but perhaps have
lost touch with along the way.

Consistent martial 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 commonly
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 of
being a powerful being able to live the life of their dreams. Martial arts
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 many
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, or
otherwise hindered by people and situations that are "keeping us down." It
is my belief, however, that these "outside enemies" are merely a reflection
of our "inside enemies." What we perceive as limitations outside of
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 our
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, and
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 and
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 the
Korean war and when I was in 5th grade, she arranged for a neighbor to teach
me martial arts. Attracted to what I was learning, in 1952, I enrolled at a
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. I
remember her telling me on many occasions that I must dig in one place in
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 a
difficult life in some ways. Yet, she always believed in and inspired me.
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 told
me that I could be anything I wanted to be. She told me that everyone has a
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 and
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 of
my dreams. I am still digging. And I am living the life of my dreams. My
passion and my path is to teach martial arts, and offer to others the gifts
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 few
who meditate for hours each day and renounce worldly pleasures. This is not
my belief. My understanding is that enlightenment is for everyone - in
varying degrees.

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.

Enlightenment then, 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 if
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. And
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 lives
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 and
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 at
math and we conclude that we are not smart. A third has a better basic form
number one, and we conclude that we are average martial artists. We come to
judge ourselves as "not smart enough," "not creative enough," "not talented
enough," "not coordinated," "not worthy," "not lovable," or simply "not
enough." It is these judgments, delusions and irrational beliefs that block
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 is
filled with promises of instant happiness and get rich quick schemes. All
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 in
order to discover water. This requires, among other things, patience -- for
it is a lifetime journey. Yet, a journey with increasing rewards along the
way. Further, it is the wrong attitude to get on this journey in order to
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 and
Koreans as "do." If we approach the journey with an attitude of humility,
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 is
referred to as "do sa." This is the level of sainthood.

The Three Stages on the Path to Nam:

Whether calligraphy, 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 along
and quit when their practice gets "boring" and their wondering minds seek
new thrills and immediate gratifications. Yet, as described by the Aikido
master and teacher, George Leonard in his book "Mastery" [Plume 1992], the
path (what he calls the "Mastery Curve") is predominated by plateaus during
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 growth spurt
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 or
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 the
heart and soul. This, in my opinion, is a significant step on the path of

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 came
to recognize that most American martial arts instructors at that time lacked
the training and understanding to teach "right practice" discrimination.
Instead they were focused on kicking, punching and tournament sparring, with
the goal to win trophies. This is low-level martial arts practice that does
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.

"Right" 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 it for
me!" Students sometimes clean or improve the dojang in some helpful manner,
and then let me know in some subtle or direct way that they did this for me.
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, mowing the
lawn or writing an article, you are going to gain a special status with me,
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 to
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 the
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 in
order to reap personal benefit, do not build kong. Kong is a bi-product of
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 in
your school, do it for the school, do it for the system, don't do it for me.
This is basic humility, and an essential ingredient for enlightenment.
Again, we are all special, but never because we "think" we are special.
Humility means letting go of the thought of being special, and surrendering
to humility and our innate specialness.

"Wrong' Practice - 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 light and
dark is represented in mythology throughout human cultural history from the
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" with
"Enlightenment." Anyone who practices martial arts or any discipline for
many years will increase their power and insight, and have the ability to
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 she
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, ego-serving, and
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 is
also a responsibility. Followers will always be attracted to those with
headlamps, and many are unable to differentiate between those leaders who
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 me.
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 big
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 me
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 of Shotokan
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 movement must
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 first
martial arts principle. This principle began a process for me in which I
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," and
moreover, principles of life. This was my study in discrimination. I did
this because I saw that practicing martial arts without an understanding of
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 have
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 long
as they desire. Second, I hope to give my students an advantage on the path
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 to
us after many years of consistent study of anything. Some study music or
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 that
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 all to
live joy-filled, inspired, creative and powerful lives.