How Tae Kwon Do and Soul Food Can Make the World a Better Place -Written by a Member of the Yong Studios Family, Floyd Nelson
“A human being is a part of a whole…a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest…a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
This story begins with the death of someone I loved very much–my father. Although he died many years ago, I continue to love him today just as much, or more, than I ever did. Someone once told me that physical life may end, but love…real love…never does.
My father was bald, muscular and very sensitive. Some say his sensitivity came from his mother, others say it came from being raised in the South. Anyway, my mom must have liked it because she married him shortly after they met.
Generally speaking, we were a happy family. We didn’t have much, but we didn’t seem to need much either. After all, we had each other–dad, mom, me, my brothers, my sisters, a black and white dog that looked like he was a mixture of everything and a cat that stayed away from home for days at a time. That was my family and my father loved each and every one of us all deeply.
I’ll never forget when I went away to school. My father insisted that he drive me. I sort of wished he had not. Because you see, we owned a fish market and he decided to drive me in that really, really, “extremely” bright yellow pick-up truck that he used to pick-up and deliver fresh fish. In fact, the words “Fresh Fish” were printed in blazing red on the side of each door. Oh yes, when I think about that first day of school, two things stand out:
1. How really, really, “extremely” bright yellow that pick-up truck was.
2. For the first time in my life, I saw my father cry.
“Are you going to be all right?” he asked as if to hide some of the tears that he was constantly wiping tears out of his eyes.
“Yeah,” I said, “I’ll be fine, Dad.”
Then, just before he climbed back into the truck to make the journey back home alone, my father said something to me that has stayed with me until this day:
“As long as you live, I want you to know that no one is better than you. No one is less than you either. We are all the same. Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, male, female, black, white, yellow, red. We are all the same. We are all valuable. Always treat people the same, until they give you a reason to treat them otherwise.”
About 10 years after my father dropped me off at school in that really, really, “extremely” bright yellow pick-up truck, he died. Although it was classified as a heart attack, I like to say that he died of a “broken heart.” You see, my mother had died just 6 months previously. I distinctly recall my father saying at the funeral, “I don’t see any reason for me to stay around. All of you children will be fine now, but your mother is gone and I miss her. God knows that I loved her.”
When my father died, I felt emptiness. Despite all of the people I knew, I felt alone. It was during that difficult time in my life that I met Seiho Tajiri (pronounced: Say-ho Tah-jeer-ree) who had the distinction of being the oldest living Japanese resident in this country. For me, he became a friend, a father, a mother and a grandfather–all rolled into one.
Tajiri-san (as I would call in my attempt to show proper Japanese respect) was not a big man—he was 4’11″. He didn’t have much hair except for the few gray strands that he kept neatly combed back over his practically bald head. His original teeth were missing and he wore dentures that somehow seemed to slip and move all around his mouth whenever he got excited and spoke a lot of Japanese, or Korean or Chinese which he knew well.
To be as old as he was–70? 80? Maybe even older–Tajiri-san was in remarkable shape. He would jog with his little dog Leo (Lay-oh), work in his garden and practice martial arts. He would never really talk about all the martial arts stuff that he knew, but you always got the feeling that he knew a lot. I managed to figure out that he had spent time in China and Korea and had learned various forms—Kendo, Kung Fu and Tae Kwon Do. He would practice and work out daily.
Often times he would playfully punch me in the stomach and say in a heavy Japanese accent, “You must study Tae Kwon Do. It makes you strong. It’s good for the mind, for the body and for the spirit. If you study martial arts, you will get to know other people. You will know their culture. Knowing one culture is not good enough.”
Clearly, Tajiri-san loved the martial arts, but there was one thing that he loved more than martial arts — soul food!
“How about lunch?” He would say if you ever visited his home after his daily workout.
“How about soul food?”
From collard greens to pig feet, from corn bread to candied yams, as Tajiri-san would often, “I love them all.”
One day, in between his martial arts exercises which he did daily religiously and many trips to various soul food restaurants, I was sitting on the sofa in Tajiri-san’s home office when he abruptly put down the newspaper he was reading and started to complain. In fact, he was frustrated.
“I don’t understand your people!” In somewhat proper Japanese fashion, I listened quietly and nodded my head up and down to acknowledge his words.
I do not know what got him ticked off, but he was going at it strong. Now, he was even standing up with his hands on his hips and occasionally pointing to me as if to blame me for everything that he just read.
“Your people must expand their mind. You must grow. I don’t understand.” he said.
Then he paused. It was raining outside. He looked out the window and said:
“The problem with American people is they don’t have a big enough mind. Your minds are small, like a pond. Like a river. It’s not big enough.”
“Tajiri-san,” I said, “Do you mean like a lake or an ocean?”
“Yes, like an ocean,” he said. “Your mind has got to be bigger, like an ocean.”
People have a pond mind, a river mind or even a lake mind, but that is not good enough. They have got to have an “Ocean Mind.” That is the problem. You don’t have an “Ocean Mind.” You have to read. You have to study. You have to learn about other people, travel. You should study martial arts, and then you will have an “Ocean Mind.”
Tajiri-san and I spent many hours that day talking about “Ocean Mind.” What it meant? How to get it? How to keep it? I have thought about it for many years and now I think I finally understand what we talked about that rainy day.
“Ocean Mind” is being receptive, appreciative and embracing of all of the differences that exist in human beings. These differences can include: race, language, culture, beliefs, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical condition, physical appearance, education, politics, socio-economic position and even personality. “Ocean Mind” says human beings, like the ocean, have the ability to touch all shores, all countries and all people—evenly and the same. The ocean does not distinguish between male and female, young and old, black or white. It relates to all things the same.
Some people already have an “Ocean Mind” perspective. For those who do not, here are 10 things you can do to get one.
1. Establish friendships with people who are different.
2. Study and read about different people and cultures.
3. Pray, meditate, chant, or think about all of the good things in the world
4. Work with different people.
5. Play with different people.
6. Worship with different people.
7. Listen to music that you do not ordinarily listen to.
8. Eat a meal with someone who is different.
9. Learn to say “hello,” “thank you” and “good bye” in two new languages other than your own. (I suggest all Tae Kwon Do students begin with ahnyo-hasayo, camsah-hahme-nee-dah and ahn-yo-nee-kasayo)
10. Learn Tae Kwon Do or your favorite martial art.
I promise you that if you do these things, you will get an “Ocean Mind.” And when you do, I truly believe that you, and the world we live in, will be richer, fuller and better than it has ever been. My father knew this. Tajiri-san understood it. Now, I am sharing it with you. If this world is ever going to be a better place, we have got to respect each other, appreciate each other and value all of the differences that we are. As the great scientist Albert Einstein said: “A human being is a part of a whole…Our task must be to…embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
Finally, I think another great person spoke about “Ocean Mind” best when he spoke to his church congregation one Sunday morning:
We are tied together in life and in the world. And you may think you got all you got by yourself. But you know, before you got out here to church this morning, you were dependent on more than half of the world. You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom, and you reach over for a bar of soap, and that’s handed to you by a Frenchman. You reach over for a sponge, and that is given to you by a Turk. You reach over for a towel, and that comes to your hand from the hands of a Pacific Islander. And then you go on to the kitchen to get your breakfast. You reach on over to get a little coffee, and that is poured in your cup by a South American. Or maybe you decide that you want a little tea this morning, only to discover that that is poured in your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you want a little cocoa that is poured in your cup by a West African. Then you want a little bread and you reach over to get it, and that is given to you by the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. Before you get through eating breakfast in the morning, you are dependent on more than half the world. That is the way God structured it; that is the way God structured this world. So let us be concerned about others because we are dependent on others. –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.