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Recently Grand Master Kim’s Oriental Martial Arts College held its annual Big Bow Ceremony, where we all greet each other with respect. The Grand Master stands alone at the front; next the Masters are grouped, then the remaining Black Belts. We all stand before the rest of the school, who are loosely arranged by belt colour. The ceremony starts with the Masters bowing to the Grand Master, then the Black Belts to the Masters, and then the school to the Black Belts. The adult Masters and Black Belts are asked to say a few words to the school.
This year was the first year that I attended the Big Bow Ceremony as a Black Belt (I assume last year I was traveling). So when I realized I might be asked to speak I started reflecting on what I had to say that would inspire others to do their best. I wanted to say something that might spark a higher interest in the school, and possibly the audience as well. You see, the parents of all of the students were watching, and I know so many of them sit and watch their children week in and week out… missing two opportunities – to spend more time and have a common activity with their children, but also to learn and possibly begin to live Tae Kwon Do.
I was so happy when I achieved my Black Belt. I remember testing, and was certain that I performed each poomsae perfectly. I now look back at the video of my test and see all sorts of minor things I could have improved upon.
In TKD, especially since I achieved my Black Belt, I have been striving for a perfection that I can never achieve… but in striving for it I can always improve upon what I have learned so far. My poomsaes are not as good as they will be tomorrow, but they are better than they were yesterday.
Tae Kwon Do is not only a way of life, it is a Martial Art… and there are two key words to that phrase, the more important of which is ART. If you ask any artist from DaVinci to Michaelangelo to Andy Warhol they will tell you that they were always aspiring for an unattainable perfection. I read recently that DaVinci took twelve years to paint the Mona Lisa’s lips. That does not not sound like a man who was satisfied with his work.
Engineers can achieve mathematical perfection. They can design a product that is perfect, and there is no way to improve upon it. Arts are not like that. You can strive for perfection, but you can never achieve it… at least not in your own eyes. I am sure that even with the twelve years he spent, DaVinci would have liked to have gotten the Mona Lisa back at some later date… just to make some minor adjustments that he felt would have been an improvement.
As a Black Belt I know that it is not only important for me to know the moves of each poomsae, but to know why I am doing them, and to strive to perfect each one. As I prepare to test for my Second Dan Black Belt in June, my Master is being harder on me than he ever was. He will not let me test unless I am satisfied that I perform flawlessly.
The problem is that in art there will always be flaws – that is what separates art from science. Unlike the Mona Lisa I do not have to submit my poomsaes to anyone who will take them away from me. Even after my test I can – will – must continue to work on them to improve upon them, and until I am in the ground I must never stop. As students of Tae Kwon Do we must always strive to attain the unattainable – perfection.
I will continue to strive to improve my art, and hope that every student in the school does the same, because only then can we strive to be the best taekwondo school. However I cannot step into any of their shoes… I can only strive to be the best martial artist that I can be. Hopefully that will inspire others, and they will follow.