By Mr. Cameron Johnson
In one of my favorite books, the main characters are learning martial
arts from an old, wise instructor in a very traditional setting. In a
drill meant to improve balance and concentration, the instructor has
the students set up twenty posts, all about two feet high and one foot
wide, in a line.
The instructor tells one student to jump on the first post and the
other student to jump on the second post, then to balance on one leg.
The instructor then walks away.
After hours of balancing, and lots of falling, the instructor returns
and tells the students to hop to the next post. The instructor yells
"Now!" and the students jump. After one painful miss, they try again
and make it. Again, the instructor walks away.
A long time later, the instructor returns to find the students still
on posts number two and three, still balancing on one leg. The
instructor says, "Enough. Go to sleep."
Tired and with a strained leg, one student asks his instructor,
"That's it? Why did we set up twenty posts if we were only going to
The instructor replies, "Why were you thinking of twenty when you can
only stand on one?"
Most people will see the many parallels to our own training in this
scene: stay focused on the task at hand; respect your instructor for
s/he knows what s/he is doing; react, don't anticipate. But the most
important lesson for me is to treat each part of a drill as a single,
indivisible part. While we may do 100 front punches or 50 sidekicks or
Chon-Ji 10 times, it's important to treat each punch, each kick, each
form as a single entity. Moreover, do that single move with focus,
power, and correct technique.
To take the lesson farther, we must keep in mind that each combination
or form is made up of single techniques. Gold belt combination number
one may be three techniques put together in succession, but the
combination is not "Offensivefrontpunchbackpunchfrontridgehand" all
In my own training, when I'm going through the whole curriculum from
start to finish, sometime around the blue belt form, I start thinking,
"Only two more to go, then the black belt forms." That's when my wise
instructor's voice enters my head and says, "Why are you thinking
about the black belt forms when you're still on Toi-Gye?"