The more we learn, the less we know?

When I first started learning taekwondo, I didn’t really think of myself as a “martial artist”, I didn’t feel like part of the martial arts community, nor did I see myself as a core part of my own taekwondo school. This is not a reflection on USMA or the people within it, because it is a most welcoming school for students of all ages and from all backgrounds. It is much more about the way in which I viewed myself, my capabilities, and my reasons for being there, compared with the way in which I viewed the other students in the school on these dimensions.

The initial phase of learning for me was very focussed on the pragmatic aspects of learning sequences of movements and techniques – where to put my hands and feet and how to coordinate the most basic of actions. A blog of my “journey in taekwondo” was really a bit like a homework diary on learning something as an outsider with no particular skill at it, and recording my experience in an easily accessible place in case other people like me wanted to know some of the things a novice might need to learn (eg what are the movements in 3 step sparring? what is the student oath? etc). I have received a few emails from complete strangers asking exactly these sorts of things.

However, as I mastered performance of these physical aspects to a greater or lesser degree, I began to understand how much more depth there is in each movement than just the basic physical execution. I also started to understand some of the theoretical aspects of the martial art and to start seriously considering the philosophical underpinnings of martial arts in general. This was in the context of my own research work in cognitive science, but also in the context of teaching and learning, and in terms of my own understanding of morality and social justice.

The “journey” stopped being a purely physical one in terms of how to kick and punch and learn my patterns and perform in front of an audience, and has become much more of a philosophical one focussed on how these things fit with in with “moral culture”, discipline and ways of thinking. I also started to get to know my fellow students and to become an insider within the school. I can no longer comment on martial arts as an outsider or observer, as I am now very much part of the USMA community, and through this association, with the broader taekwon-do community. I am no longer anonymous, and my views, while still my own, are no longer *just my own* – as an assistant instructor at USMA, even my personal views will reflect on the school itself, as will my personal conduct in the rest of my life. In particular, any views I have on instruction or hierarchy or NGBs or martial arts politics will to some extent be taken to reflect on my own Instructor irrespective of whether they align with his views. In any event, in the martial arts world it is probably not appropriate for a first dan to comment on such matters publically.

At this point in my “taekwon-do journey”, I see taekwon-do as a martial art, and see a martial art as a way of life which does not neatly turn off when I leave the dojang. Similarly, my professional life as a cognitive scientist and psychologist does not magically turn off outside the office and nor does the belief system and ethical position attached to it. And I remain a mother, daughter, friend and colleague for various people whether I’m in the dojang or my office or not. The trick is how to reconcile the disparate views of the world encompassed in these various roles and relationships and make an integrated whole. The more we learn, the more we see how different ideas might relate to each other and how much more there is to know in order to understand the world. The more people we know, the more we are exposed to different ways of looking at the world.

And the more we know people, the more we know the myriad ways we can be misunderstood, misinterpreted and misrepresented despite our best intentions, and the best intentions of others. Audience matters, and although I am willing to defend most of what I say in public or private, sometimes it is important to know the motivation and intent of the potential audience.

Of course, having said that, you might well ask why on earth I would keep a blog on the internet if I care about who might be in my audience? It’s a good question, and a difficult one to answer. Probably because I think it is important to hold our views up for scrutiny, even just the self-scrutiny involved in writing them down. And the web was the tool of a much smaller (mostly academic) community when I first started using it.

More importantly though, I think that I am identifying the fact that, as taekwon-do for me has moved from being an “activity” to a “way of life”, my taekwon-do blog has evolved from being a blog about “ooh wow, great excitement, I broke a board”, and “here are 5 2-step sparring drills to remember” to a blog of thoughts about how we live, how we learn, and how we relate to each other. These are much more personal insights which at some level involve other people in my life and so require a greater level of thought in terms of how (and whether) they should be written.

Perhaps as I start training seriously for my second dan grading, my taekwon-do views will become more focused on specifics that are more publically sharable. There’s nothing like a grading to focus the mind – and, as I write, I suspect the frequency of my blog posts is actually most closely related to the frequency of gradings … an self-insight that is worth re-considering in the broader context of teaching and learning.

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