The following is an interview that Sr. GrandMaster Yu provided a reporter in Oak Park, Illinois. A portion of it was previously reported in the Wednesday Journal (February 18, 2004).
Question: For children, is there one form of martial arts which is better to start with than another?
In academics, children are required to learn multiple subjects, not just reading, math, or social studies. In order to be a well-rounded individual, knowledge from multiple disciplines is necessary. The same applies to the martial arts.
There are a few different martial art style names. However, long ago, there were not multiple style names: these different names appeared in modern times. Martial Art is the ONLY Art: We say, “Mu Suul,” (meaning “martial arts skills”), and “Mu Do,” meaning “martial arts way; the way of discipline/harmony.” TKD, Karate, Dangsudo, Aikido, KungFu, Judo, Hapkido … these are all names referring back to Mu Do, which is Martial Art, which means the training and exercise of the body, mind, and spirit.
For example, the Tree: it has roots, a trunk, branches, and leaves, but still the whole is the Tree. The same is true with the Martial Arts.
Martial Arts is Comprehensive: each style has a different purpose, emphasizing different physical parts of the body. Each human body has different capabilities and purposes. Just as the leaves of the tree provide shelter, breeze, and food for the earth, the branches exist to support the leaves and provide nutrition to the root, reaching out for sunshine, rain, and wind. Similarly, each child has different capabilities, but must be prepared to protect themselves, no matter what the size. If the Teacher does not know more than one style, they will say that only one style is useful; my training has taught me differently and I teach all that I know, not just a part. Children are faced with challenges throughout the day: sometimes parents and teachers cannot be there to protect them; i.e. one of my students was riding his bike, hit a pothole unexpectedly (for this is how we are usually confronted with danger: unexpectedly), and because of his martial art training, was able to flip and fall properly without injury. Martial Arts training can also come to our aid when taking tests in school, or participating in leisure sports activities.
Teaching children is not training them to fight: we train how to develop their mind and body, and how to conquer themselves. Whether we like it or not, the difficulties will always come. When this occurs, if we do not have a sound, strong mind and body, we can not overcome this … in my opinion, if the body and mind are not strong, this can cause young people to make unhealthy choices, such as drugs and alcohol.
From an early age (as early as 4 years old), children can learn how to work hard and accomplish their goal, not just how to TRY and Quit. I am discouraged to hear parents of small children asking the child, “would you like to TRY martial arts,” as most children live only in the moment, and do not have the decision-making capability to determine the long-term benefits of Martial Arts as a Way of Life. I teach the Martial Arts not as a hobby for the children, but as a way of life. I use the martial arts to train children how to be capable of everything. All my students become high achievers in all areas of their life. I am dismayed by parents who, looking for quick results, may reverse this cause by unknowingly teaching their children “how to start and quit.” Martial Arts is not a “quick fix.”
I have a belt system which trains children how to work hard to earn something: I do not sell belts. I am ashamed by many martial arts schools that merely promote students haphazardly after they attend classes for 1 month. I test my students personally every quarter: children are required to work hard for 3 months to improve their strength, flexibility, discipline, school grades, and skill. I also require my students to write an Essay for the test, on a topic relating to the values and lifestyle we promote. This gives children the opportunity to discuss with their parents topics such as, “How can I continue to Challenge Myself,” or “Why do we follow a Creed when we study the Martial Arts.” During our Promotion Ceremony, children get up and present themselves, even the small children. Some children who are not as verbal draw pictures, or present with their mentoring older classmates.
I am also dismayed by the poor quality of many martial arts tournaments, and although I do not discourage my students from tournaments, I try to provide an awards and recognition program at the school that inspires achievement (i.e., Student of the Month, and our Annual, Student of the Year Award). We are studying Martial ART: Mental & Physical strength and skill (Martial) with Beauty (Art). I emphasize the origin of Martial Art, which was for the purpose of health and wellness. The Asian Monks (Shaolin Temple Monks and other Buddhist traditions) have studied martial arts consistently throughout the ages as a way of life. (I am not a Buddhist, nor am I a religion teacher, but there are many principles of Buddhism inherent in the Asian Culture.) Their religion does not allow killing of ANY life (even insects), but they study for strength and good health: A Healthy Strong Body produces a Healthy Strong Mind, and a Healthy Mind keeps the Body Healthy: The Chinese Character, “Fa”, meaning the Harmony, is our life: Yin and Yang, Body and Mind, Health/Happy. For example, if one wants to be a Great Chef, one must learn how to sharpen your own knife: in this way, the food looks pretty & appealing. If the knife is not sharp, the appearance of the food is sloppy; not attractive. This is why we train hard: to polish our body & mind. If we do not sweat, our body is clogged with a lot of toxins; the toxins make you ill, causes disharmony, disease, dissatisfaction, unhappiness. Illness comes from lack of exercise: Any kind of exercise is good for our health, but only Martial Arts has Mental concentration, focus in each movement, kihap (shouting/collection of energy, “Ki” or “Chi”) breathing exercise, moving out the stress and clearing the mind.
I strongly believe that children have tremendous potential … we should not give them any kind of limitation, and at an early age we must expose them to all the martial arts. Children like a challenge if they are led correctly. Coming to the dojhang everyday promotes higher grades in school, contrary to what many parents believe. They are also more focused, and can accomplish more in less time. Many of my students do this, and even study privately with me to further develop themselves. Children like to please their parents and to feel proud of themselves, and I develop them to do this through their training. If children do not have a safe place, apart form home and school where they can develop themselves in a healthy way, they will seek out other ways to develop, oftentimes with disastrous results.
Children have different body structures, and are able to find skills that their bodies grasp instinctively. In this way, they can equally develop: I do not like to see children fail and do not believe in failure. My children succeed because I never give up on them, but if the parents are not ready, I cannot teach them. The parents must be ready to dedicate and support.
Question: Why have you chosen to teach martial arts to children, teens and adults, and what is the most rewarding aspect of what you do?
I did not choose … this is My Life. It is not my job, it is my Life. It is a Mission to teach children: if you do not have passion and patience, students will not respond to their maximum potential. Our school has a motto of patience, endurance, persistence. With some children, we can see progress quickly; some take more time … this does not mean they failed: they can do it. In the world, there are many different flowers: some bloom in the spring, summer, fall, even some in winter. The early spring blooms are not more beautiful than the fall blooms … all have their own character … actually, the late fall blooms are more enduring. I tell my children not to be a Corn Stalk: it grows so fast, but then it is not strong enough to withstand the wind & weather … it has only a seasonal life. I tell them to aspire to being a tree: Root first, they branch out to serve. Why do I teach all ages? Because everyone needs exercise! When someone says, “I’m Old,” their body is not old, their Mind is Old! Children, teenagers, adults … everyone … women, men … they need exercise, they need to sweat … not just machine exercise. Martial Artists have everything we need within ourselves to develop ourselves. The energy has to flow everywhere in the body … whenever energy is not moving, death is present. Any kind of life has energy: whenever energy is not around, there is death. You do not have to compare yourself to others, you have to compare yourself to your self of yesterday and conquer yourself. As long as you can move, you should move. Stiff, sore, hurting … this occurs because of lack of movement; lack of use.
The most rewarding thing I do is watching my students succeed with a strong mind and healthy body, and observing them following our creed.
I see people from every profession, but one thing they have in common is the joy in experiencing their good results at the dojhang.
Everything is secondary to our Basic Good Health. In Asia we say, “If you lose some wealth, you lose some, if you lose your fame, you lose a lot, but if you lose your health, you lose everything.”