Taekwon-do is not merely a physical art, but an art with a much under-emphasised mental aspect. The physical expression of the art is the part we see, however our bodies do not move by themselves and we too often forget about the invisible mental training in our brains.
In this text I contend that many students are inhibited by a limitation of their mind rather than of their body in the furthering of their physical Taekwon-do skills. I also contend that if we put more effort in training our mind to think the 'right thoughts' then our physical skills in Taekwon-do will improve immensely.
To clarify what I mean when I say the 'mind' I do not mean that grey gooey mass that we all have inside our skull, that's the brain. The mind is intangible. It is what really drives our body. It is the mind which is our personality, thoughts, emotions, intelligence, and feelings.
Now I am sure that many of us have said or heard others say "I can't do that, ... I'm too old,.. I'll never do the splits, ... I can't be that flexible,... I can't do push ups like that,... I can't jump," and so on. These are not statements of fact, they are statements of someone's belief about their physical limits. Such statements are not true. And yet these beliefs are inhibiting the physical Taekwon-do progress of those who think they are true.
In this essay I will discuss three areas of Taekwon-do which I consider are most prone to 'mind barriers'. Mind barriers are false beliefs (like the comments above) or a negative mental attitude that will inhibit the physical performance and progress of the student. The areas I will consider are stretching, destruction, and theory. Comments made under the stretching part also apply to other aspects of Taekwon-do such as doing push ups.
Let's look at stretching and flexibility and the statement "I'll never do the splits". It may be the case that Student X can not do the splits now. Actually it would be highly unusual for anyone over 5 years old to be able to do the splits (without regular stretching). However Student X's belief that she will never do the splits is stopping her from improving her stretch.
Before she is to improve her flexibility the first step Student X must take is to change her incorrect belief of "I can't do the splits". For as long as she holds the belief 'I'll never do the splits' the mind will give up stretching as her body gets to her previous maximum. The mind will say "OK this is as far as I'll ever go so I'll stop trying now."
To improve her stretch X must change her belief to something like; 'I can't do the splits now but if I keep stretching I might be able to'. This will remove the first and biggest mind barrier. Next some more mental conditioning is required. Unfortunately the phrase "no pain, no gain" has truth in stretching, and not many students enjoy pain. So take student X again, when she reaches her maximum stretch there will be some pain which will cause the muscles to tense up and her mind will say ouch it hurts let's stop now. Is that what she should do? Of course not, a little bit of pain is good in stretching, so once again X requires some mental concentration to relax those muscles that have tensed up and to continue the stretch. Of course doing the splits will not happen overnight and this is when the tenet of TKD called perseverance kicks in. For those who have a problem with flexibility I am sure that if you firstly change your beliefs about your physical limits, (and follow some simple stretching routines as in Mr Patterson's essay on stretching techniques,) you will notice a great improvement in your flexibility. Doing the splits is just a matter of improving on your last stretch until all parts of your legs touch the floor.
In every text about destruction mental concentration is noted as a vital aspect. If we are not 100% confident that we can break the boards then we will hesitate at the last moment and the board will not break.
Where the mind and the body is in conflict the mind will always win. The mind (ie us) does not like to be wrong and so it will do what is necessary to conform to its beliefs. If the mind thinks 'I can't break that' then it will cause the body to hesitate or pull back thereby thwarting the break.
To be able to break successfully you must not let your mind doubt your body. If the thought of 'I can't ' or 'I doubt..' enters your thoughts you must throw it out immediately. Imagine that you are physically in your mind grabbing the doubting thoughts by the shoulder and with a mighty heave throw it out of your brain. Lock the door behind you.
Unfortunately positive thoughts alone do not break boards but good technique with negative thoughts will more often fail a break than not.
I often hear ' I have a bad memory' or 'I always forget that pattern', I can't remember'. As all Taekwon-do gradings in this enlightened age have a section on theory I think we have realised that we must do some study.
Even those of us who are not scholars will, and do bring ourselves to 'study' our ITFNZ handbooks or even "The Bible" if we have access to one. Unfortunately at grading I see a lot of that study going to waste because when put on the spot many students have a memory block. It is not because they don't know but because they didn't remember. So do some of us simply have bad memories??
No, we don't have bad memories, we just haven't been using our memory cells properly. There are numerous trillions of brain cells and we only use a few billion. Firstly there are two parts to remembering, that of storing and that of retrieving. To relate this to theory study in Taekwon-do, we are storing information when we study and we are retrieving when answering questions asked by the examiner. So when we come up blank at question time there are two stages to memory that needs to be checked for faults.
In the first part called storage our mind will only store what grabs its attention. We can go through a routine TKD class and at the end if someone asks 'What did you do tonight?' you may not be able to tell them. This is because the class was like hundreds of other classes before and as soon as it happened you discarded the information, you didn't bother to store it. If however, the class was different and say you played a game instead of doing a routine warm up and you did your patterns to music and did one-step sparring blindfolded, then you would remember. The class was different. To store information you must make it memorable. So in our study phase we must try to make all those technical details,
Korean terminology, trivial dates and facts into something memorable. I agree it is not easy trying to make gunnun sogi doo dwijibo jerugi memorable amongst the myriad of other Korean terms. However having been at university for 5 years at least purporting to be studying I suggest some hints for effective study:
** do 'active ' study (even if it is just writing out what is in the booklet),
** merely reading the handbook is no good, half your Brain cells could be asleep and nothing will be stored this way because the information is just passing over your eyes
** break things down into topics eg. today study pattern history, tomorrow 1-step syllabus etc
** for historical or fact based information try building a bigger picture, for example try drawing a timeline on one A4 sized paper (no more) and fit the facts and dates onto that
** for Korean terminology do the technique as you say the Korean term aloud together with the English term
** try using abbreviations or sentences to make it easier to remember, eg. the theory of power is "Must(Mass) concentrate on balanced breathing while re(action force)ducing speed"
** use general rules eg. allow front kicks in patterns after Do San up to Toi Gye
** take notes while studying,
** this is an important aspect to practice as you may be good at storing information (studying) because unless you can get it out the examiner won't know you know
** practise retrieval by self quiz straight after studying
** ask a friend to quiz you from the notes you have taken during study
** try writing down all that you can recall straight after your study without looking at your notes, try after 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week etc
** have theory at TKD class
So it is possible to have a good memory. We need to be more aware of how memory works best.
A positive mental attitude can be applied in all aspects of our training. Keeping an alert mind during training will greatly improve our technique.
Our mind is stronger than our body. Our mind controls our body. Therefore I urge everyone to examine those little thoughts we have while we are training. I'll bet that none of the negative ones are in fact true. They are only excuses for not trying harder. 'I can't jump, I can't kick high' are beliefs. Our mind makes them up and then subconsciously the body conforms.
Destruction needs as much mental preparation and conditioning as physical practice and conditioning.
Memory is about storing and retrieving information. We can all have good memories but we need to believe that it is possible and then to work on it. For you instructors out there if there is something you want your students to particularly remember present it in a different way. Things that are made memorable will more easily be remembered.
Finally when you think you have reached your physical limits think again. Try changing your beliefs and you may discover that your physical limits were all in the mind.