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Prepared for test scheduled for May 6, 2006


Home School: Langlas Tae Kwon Do

Master James Langlas, VII Dan



In considering this question, I became more overtly aware of the assumptions I hold in my training and teaching. I began to understand that I view teaching as an important and powerful opportunity to develop a Petri dish of sorts. In this dish, the medium has to be prepared with great care. It must be the most fertile ground possible for some things to grow. It must be fertile enough that even reluctant seeds can flourish—in some cases fertile enough to make up for some beginning deficiencies or gaps in the seeds until they attach to the medium, begin to grow and can stand on their own.

This medium must also be careful about what it discourages. When some elements come into the dish, the environment must be so forbidding for them that they either are taken out of the dish altogether, or wither and perish. Of course, the positive and negative elements come in the same seed, and the balance of nurturing the positive while giving no nurturance to the negative is a balance that is always being re-adjusted.

While the teacher of the class develops and maintains the dish, the aim is to create a medium sufficiently hardy that the culture inside the dish begins to maintain itself. The growth that is occurring then becomes part of the medium—the element that is encouraging some things and discouraging or forbidding others.

The other belief that surfaced is that this "medium" or student perspectives that we are developing are views that are pre-supposed by the tenets. The tenets are goals for each student, but if the student does not develop certain assumptions, beliefs, or views, the progress towards the tenets is sabotaged. While we don’t usually talk about the underlying assumptions that must exist for the tenets to be actualized, the communities are set up with a structure that does this foundational work for the community. The ethical, procedural and community structure of the UTF as developed through Tae Kwon Do’s history, enhanced by Master Han and carried on and refined by the Kodanja of the UTF was developed and is maintained as a fertile Petri dish for these things. I will lay out the elements of this foundation that I have come to see more clearly and the ways I attempt to build it. I have identified 10 of these perspective statements and relate them to the tenet(s) I believe they support.

Please note that throughout this discussion, I refer to the people who are teaching classes as "teachers" as a note of their role in the class without making a distinction about whether they are actually "Instructors" or not.

"I am capable of success", the foundation of Integrity.

I begin here because this is the assumption that gives a prospective student the courage to step into the room, and off the edge of the room into the class. This is not one that in many classes aimed at more mainstream types of students that has to be built from scratch, as the life experience of the new student has built this foundation in their early life. It is very common that this first perspective must be nurtured in the groups with special needs. Speaking for my class only, most of my students come in with such deficits in the care they have received thus far, or with such mental health or developmental deficits, that this is not an assumption that the student brings in the door with them. Failure, rejection, inadequacy—this has been the majority of their life experience and they fully expect it to be replicated here as well.

And yet, something gets them in the door—a suggestion of an adult who knows the program, the awareness that another youth that seems a lot like them is successful here, the longing for a sense of power in their lives in some way or, (possibly the biggest seller) the allure of the martial arts as cool, with the vision of a Hollywood martial arts movie in their heads. Once they come in, this fledgling of a seed must be nurtured immediately—it can wither with the slightest adversity!! Success, acceptance, the thrill of hitting something very hard—this is the goal for every student’s first classes. Acceptance comes from the teacher (you can see the enthusiasm of every UTF teacher when a new person comes in the door) and hopefully from the class. I’ve tried to influence the latter by strategic pairing of a current student with a new one to do something minor, but to convey from the beginning, "You’re one of us!"

Ensuring success in the first class is not hard, although it can take a few tries to discover how they learn. I’ve adopted the routine of pairing myself with the new student until I figure this out. I learned this from my first frustrations with using verbal instruction over and over with a child who was visual, or having a student visually copy movement who was a auditory learner, or doing either of these things with a kinesthetic learner. Back fist and front kick have become my favorites for this first class---you can copy the motion fairly easily, they can get their first taste of hitting a striker hard as they learn how the class flows. Learning how to be in class is the pre-occupation for the brand new student, an overwhelming concern for the student who is expecting to be exposed as a failure. I go to great lengths to make explicit the key things that keep the class going: the norms for behavior, where to stand, when to make noise, when to be silent and watch. In the days and weeks to come we can focus on how it’s supposed to be done—learning how to be in class is challenge enough here at the beginning.

This is the foundational block under integrity. I have to feel capable in order to move towards wholeness. If I am broken, damaged and unworthy there is no possibility of being a whole. When a student’s eyes brighten because they have completed their first hard hit with some semblance of a martial arts technique, and they are experiencing the pleasure of belonging as they are able to move through a class successfully, we have begun.

"My life is a serious enterprise, with much humor in it" is the foundation for Perseverance, Self Control, Integrity, Love.

The next step for students is to take the enterprise of the martial arts seriously, to embrace it as a vehicle towards improving themselves as whole people. For children and youth, this differentiates this from most if not all of their other activities. It is usual for them to dabble and try out all sorts of sports, artistic endeavors and other after school classes where it is normal to try it out, invest an hour a week and then move on to other things. For adult students, many come tentatively to the enterprise with just glimmers of an idea that it may be like an exercise class.

As the UTF instructor links martial arts training to the tenets, it becomes clear that this is something of a whole different kind. The subtext of how you train becomes as important as the content of kicks, punches and the like. The idea that the training is building the student as a whole person, and that the lessons learned here transfer to the rest of the student’s life separates this out from a ceramics class immediately. The junior-senior relationship ethic also teaches this—even early in one’s martial arts experience each student is a senior to some other students, with all the responsibility that brings.

The teacher’s assumption that the student’s purpose in training is overall self development communicates the teacher’s consideration of the student as a person who is actively challenging him or her self to grow. The teacher and senior student also model the belief that this is never completed, that all are engaged in growth and challenge. Mixed with this seriousness about the training and its role in one’s whole life is good-natured humor at our own human struggle with these things. As martial arts students, we are always coming up against our weaknesses and our chronic obstacles. The tone with which we deal with these is not deadly serious—we did not expect perfection after all—but with the humor that comes from acceptance of ourselves as works in progress.

In addition to the structure built into the UTF training that encourages this outlook (junior senior relationship norms, class norms of lining up, bowing, the oath itself, the respect shown to the senior students and instructors, etc) I have built into my discussions with students the phrase "We as martial artists…" as we discuss various challenges. This is an effort to establish an identity as a martial artist, as a special and unique kind of person who is seizing life for opportunities to grow and expand. The other day we trained outside for the first time in my class and one of the newer students complained of the minor discomfort of the cold concrete surface we were on. In reminding them of discussions we had had about the tendency martial arts have of seeking out circumstances that are less than optimal so that maximum growth can occur, it helped that student become more serious about the training and less concerned about minor discomfort. Developing an identity as a martial artist who lives by an ethic and a code that is unique greatly increases the student’s sense of seriousness about themselves and their training.

This seriousness is necessary in order for several tenets to take shape in students’ lives. Perseverance is certainly difficult if the training is not seen as important to the student in a fundamental way, otherwise motivation to persevere is low at best. This seriousness about ourselves as powerful people also belies self control. To fully embrace self-control, one has to believe that there is something to control. The urgency of respecting the power being generated as something in need of careful use is easily done when the student sees one’s self as someone whose power left unchecked could be dangerous.

Integrity comes into play here. Students of all ages have plenty of examples in the world of more conventional morality: if I won’t be caught or held to account, then actions are justified. Taking one’s self and one’s life as a serious enterprise is fundamental to integrity—the commitment to be the same, fully whole person regardless of circumstances means in many cases holding one’s self to a higher standard than those around us and higher than the world expects. Finally, Love is a tenet that demands seriousness about our selves. Acting out of love to others regardless of our human reactions or natural proclivities comes out of taking our inconnectedness to others as fundamentally important. It also means showing ourselves that same love and acceptance—a goal that can be more elusive.



3. "I am a powerful person," is the foundation for Self Control and Community Service.

Many students come into martial arts training without this belief. Many have experienced hard lessons over and over again that have communicated the opposite message. They have fully accepted the fact that when power is needed, they are likely to be helpless, powerless and without options. The good news is that the act of walking in the door means that there is a seed of an idea that maybe they could be powerful.

The more successful we are at creating inclusive communities, the more successful we are at recruiting others. If communities have as examples of success students who would not normally be considered powerful in the wider world, it is established as possible. The most powerful statement to the reluctant and fearful student is the illustration of someone who is in some ways like them as successful members. The UTF’s success in having women as well as special needs students of all kinds integrated into their communities is the best way to encourage those who seek power but are doubtful about its possibility in their lives.

Once this step has happened, it is an easy matter to build in some early experiences of success. Focusing for the first class or two on the motion of techniques and encouraging the "letting out" of power through physical force and voice is re-enforcing in and of itself. The eyes brighten, the student tries it again with even more power and the possibility of true physical power is born. The teacher re-enforces this with enthusiastic and impressed praise. Thus begins the enterprise of obtaining the power from the purest place within the student and letting go of our entrenched tendency to use our muscles to generate it. This enterprise is one that extends through the life of the martial arts career.

True self-control needs this belief in one’s power. Self-control for many students means ensuring that the power unleashed is safe for all around. The control of self for others may mean allowing one’s power to come out. This can be difficult for students, often female, who have been taught restraint their entire lives. Either way, the presumption of power must exist before the tenet is actualized. Community Service also needs this belief. To serve the community there must be a belief that one can make a contribution. For many of our students, they have been told so often that they are the ones in need of help, the idea that they have an important contribution to give to others is a revelation.


4. "True personal power is something that is carried innately within and is not built or proven by the overpowering of another, it is rarely violent," is the foundation of the tenets of Community Service and Indomitable Spirit.

Once power is felt as possible, the defining, or re-defining, of true personal power begins. The models for power that students bring with them largely have to do with power-over. We are bombarded with images from the news, fiction, video and now even music where power means the exertion of will or force of one person or entity over another. Training moves the student towards understanding that true personal power resides inside of us and is not strengthened by comparison to the power of others—as a matter of fact it is only weakened when used to communicate the relative weakness of another.

This is communicated by the acceptance of so many different kinds of students in the UTF. It is clear by looking around that success does not mean meeting an external standard of power or physical prowess, but by striving for personal excellence. The teacher re-focuses the student discouraged by the success of others onto their own growth, struggles and successes. From this comes greater achievement than the student could have imagined. I have also taken to saying overtly to my class, "People who are truly powerful never have to prove it to others," as armor against the many examples in the world of those who make others feel small in order to feel adequate themselves. It elevates the position that true power is ethical, as opposed to the appearance of power, which will need continual proof to shore it up.

This focus also helps students build their own self-confidence from the inside out. It is fuel for Indomitable Spirit—this kind of internal power has no end no matter the challenge. It also fuels Community Service and the part of the oath that states, "I will build a more peaceful world." Warriors of peace who leave the world better than they found it is at the core of the martial artist’s internal development.

5. "I am tied to other people—I have something to contribute and I have something to receive. This tie brings responsibility," is the foundation of the tenets of Courtesy, Community Service, Love, and Integrity.

Connected to so many tenets, this is a worldview that is primary to the development of the student. In my class, this is one that has to be tackled directly as many students come in with histories of interpersonal damage. None of the assumptions about the natural give and take of relationships built ideally into the early years of life have been established. With no assumptions that others will treat them well and an understandable mistrust of the world at large, this ethic of give and take comes to the forefront of their training.

The structure and norms of the junior-senior relationship helps this develop. All the students are anxious to have juniors, as an antidote for needing to follow the directions of their seniors, a challenge for many. As they do have juniors, there is an opportunity to focus on how to nurture others well.

Even for more mainstream students of all ages, this ethic of the interconnected nature of the martial arts community can greatly deepen their connection to others. It is not routine for many to exist in this medium of connection, where we are contributing to others where helpful and receiving from others where possible. This experience as it moves into our non-dojang relationships can be quite transformative. It is also one of the most potentially nurturing parts of our development—to be connected to others in such a primary way so that the ebb and flow of giving and receiving is continuous.

The structure of the class also models reciprocity in a way that transfers to more meaningful connection over time. The bowing throughout the class, the holding of strikers for one another, the cooperation needed to accomplish so much of the class--all these things structure reciprocity and help it become established independently. I have students who have never had a successful peer experience. They do not have the skills to interact with others in a mutually satisfactory way. The structure of the class allows them to do this, as there is no free social interaction. There have been a series of students who had never had a successful membership with a peer group until Tae Kwon Do. Having a successful feeling of connection has allowed for the support necessary to take risks and build confidence.

With my young students, we discuss this quite directly in a way that asks them to get inside the skin of others, building empathy and understanding. I will often say, "Think about how you learned this pattern so that you can teach it well," or "As you lead this part of class, see if you can lead without being bossy," or "Imagine what it is like to lead the class and how you can support your senior as he/she tries to lead." I also routinely ask our brand new students who they learned something from in the class. It has become important to my color belts that each new student can identify something that they themselves contributed to the new student’s learning.

If a feeling of connection exists between people, the development of many of the tenets flows naturally. Courtesy comes from a mutual regard for others, and the expression of community service is also a natural outgrowth. Through a sense of belonging to a group with a high ethical standard, integrity also is supported. If tests to one’s integrity arise, the feeling of belonging to a group that endorses the right course of action even if it is a course more difficult can help motivate the individual out of loyalty, and perhaps later out of an internal integrity that stands on its own.

6. "Most minor pain and discomfort can be ignored, much to our betterment," is the foundation of perseverance, indomitable spirit and self-control.

Alas, it is the burden of the westernized student of Tae Kwon Do that a large part of the culture around us allows and embraces personal physical comfort and pleasure at all times. If it’s hot, we have air conditioning, if it’s cold we turn up the heat so that we can wear T-shirts inside. If fast food tastes good, and it’s designed to do so, than we eat it in huge quantities. If television allows us to escape the more unpleasant factors in our lives then we’ll watch in compulsively. If video require less effort than live interaction or reading than we’ll sit in front of screens for enormous amounts of time every day.

The pursuit of pleasure, the avoidance of effort and the escape from physical discomfort creates a huge clash with the demands and challenges of martial arts training, and this culture shift alone can be startling for students. Ignoring minor discomfort of the temperature of the air while training and moving past small nicks and bangs can be quite a challenge for the newer students. As the more senior students model the ability to focus on training even as these factors arise, the newer students usually follow; it can become a point of honor as the training moves forward that no overt attention would be paid to these kinds of things.

In addition, the teacher of the class will be also be making the point, either overtly or through the class design, that training in adverse circumstances is to the advantage of the student. Picking a training space that is more hot or cold than usual, training on surfaces of all kinds, adding something to the training that will make the training harder yet more beneficial such as the standing on one foot, non use of a limb, a non conventional beginning position of drills—over and over again we communicate that with difficulty comes the opportunity to build strength. The teacher also knows that some of these obstacles are chosen because they will block a student’s problematic tendency and guide them in the right direction. I have been inspired by my instructors’ ability to do this—to give the drill assignment in such a way that the development of good technique is almost the only thing that can happen--he assignment cannot be completed in the way it was given without using better technique. I strive to continue doing this for my students.

The first tenet that benefits from this kind of training is self control, because the reaction that would be normal in any other place, such as whining, audible notice of the discomfort or requests to be allowed to avoid the difficulty, are not the norm and are not allowed. When my student needed to repeat three times how chilly the surface was that we were training on, there was an opportunity for a teachable moment where the discomfort could be reframed as an opportunity to focus on training despite the mind’s drift to the body’s discomfort. When a group of kids then arrives to run around on the playground next to where we were training, it was natural to remark what a positive development this was, as it gave us more challenge to our focus. The welcoming of obstacles as growth opportunities is revolutionary for us middle class Westerners indeed.

As this mental shift towards obstacles is made, perseverance and indomitable spirit are naturally developed. The shift that happens for more senior students is that it requires less and less of a triumph of will to persevere or to nurture the strength of the spirit through events that can squelch it. As one succeeds more and more in taking the shape of water that moves over and around obstacles, noting them and shifting to accommodate their presence without being stopped by them, these tenets are enacted without the effort required in early phases of training.

7. "What I make of the world, my abilities and other people is a construct—it can be let go of when it becomes an obstacle," is the foundation of Perseverance.

Our western culture perhaps makes this one more difficult than it might in other parts of the world. We embrace the rational and our ability to think more than other ways of knowing and being. It is common for students to have beliefs about themselves, the world and one another that are held as innately true, rather than constructs that have been created through our particular experiences and thoughts. Students can get caught here with thoughts such as "I can’t do …." and then just giving up on that area. They also make assumptions about one another that keep them from seeing evidence to the contrary when it occurs.

I have outlawed the phrase "I can’t" in my class and this simple verbal shift has helped students reframe their spontaneous reaction to challenges with a feeling of defeat. A current student of mine stated proudly to the judges at her recent test that she has given up "I can’t" as a response, and as she stood there with her first broken board in her hand, her view of possibility had undeniably changed. UTF teachers also routinely shift the guides they give students so that another aptitude can be nurtured. As the student does a double take when the teacher, who has told them for months to bring their non striking hand to their side in order to create counter force one day tells him/her that this hand motion is not actually necessary, this can be startling. The art requires a flexibility of mind that can be a struggle for western students in particular. By the rank of black belt, this has become more expected. Throwing out the guide that helped last week in order to move in a different direction becomes routine. This ability to shift thoughts, assumption and beliefs to allow for an ever-widening expansion of understanding is the progression of the more advanced student.

While this greatly helps perseverance, this flexibility of mind makes perseverance seem effortless. Whether or not it still is perseverance, if shifting around obstacles and challenges happened effortlessly, is a subject for a different time.

8. "Productive and satisfying living comes from being like a tuning fork—open to what is coming in, allowing it to flow out unimpeded," is the foundation of Love, Integrity and Community Service.

This shift is a "letting go" of one’s self into the endeavor of training and living that can be begun at the beginning of training, but emerges more tangibly in later stages. This openness to the flowing in and out of relationships, information and learning requires a self-acceptance that will extinguish any negative judgment voices in the student’s head. If there are judgments about their success, there cannot be true openness to what is coming in from the outside nor an ability to allow what is in the student to flow out. This is particularly visible in sparring exercises, which require a mindfulness that is connected only to the moment the student is in—not assessing the moment that passed or anticipating the moment that is coming. Helping the student create the "empty mind" in training encourages this "tuning fork" approach. It is also the element that allows for an equal balance of Little I (eye) and Big I (eye).

The other tendency that can stand in the way is the students’ perception of what "trying hard" looks like. In any other physical endeavor, the maximum use of muscles, creation of sweat and a throwing of one’s self into the activity is where success is found. As the student progresses through the color belt ranks, a different kind of trying is needed—working smart in a way that uses the principles of living force rather than just a throwing of effort into the training. This is transformative for the student, as this can be the only place where the exertion of forceful effort is not sufficient and can be an obstacle to progression. Giving strong effort from a centered and calmer place is again something that can be begun in color belt development but truly can emerge in more advance training.

Creating exercises that require being present helps this development, as does the teacher’s acceptance of where the student is and a nurturance of where they are going. This relational nurturance can over time transfer into the student so that their self-acceptance grows and they can more fully present in their training and in their lives. This openness contributes to integrity of course, as it is whole way of living. Contributions to others become natural when these things are present.

9. "Wherever I feel the edge of my limitations, this edge can always be pushed backwards" is the foundation of Indomitable Spirit, Perseverance.


10. No matter how much I know, I am a beginner.

All of us come up against our perception of our own limitations. The overall structure of the UTF style of training helps combats the false belief in our own limitations. The look on a student’s face when a board is broken when, just the moment, before this seemed slightly more than possible, blasts open the door of limitations early on. Every UTF class builds on strengths and uses an encouraging, supportive and positive environment to help everyone continue to push the edge of his or her own limitation back again and again. While this positive environment is important, it is the combination of this with continual challenge that makes the community so vital. Each time a student progresses in rank, there are challenges with new things—techniques, a deepening of the source of power, an increase in the transfer of what they know to others. With every progression, there is another level beneath to explore and deepen the training. With every transfer of understanding from training to life, there is another behind it. There is no end to personal growth; there is no end to the discoveries we can make about ourselves and our training. In the times that these progressions are felt, the training can be invigorating and very rewarding. Motivating students through the plateaus that happen between the jumps in progress can be more difficult. Predicting these plateaus, sharing one’s own experiences, presenting the challenge to perseverance that presents itself—all these things can help students move through these difficult times.


Taken together, these ten components have focused for me the art of teaching. The way that I use myself in teaching is based on these elements and the awareness of where each student is in their individual path and how the whole class can move everyone forward. How to spend the time in class, when to drill in familiar ways, when to introduce new things, when to work one on one with a student, when to leave them for self discovery, when to be vocal and when to be quiet—all of these decisions moment to moment create the Petri dish of the class. It was gratifying recently to see my class’ success in running a class themselves in my absence. The color belts embraced this opportunity, and with the support of two adults in the room to observe, they held a reputable class. They maintained all the elements of the structure, being very careful to "do it right." I understand that even some review of Korean terminology occurred! While there are elements I am still puzzling over in my teaching, this class’ ability to be serious about training in my absence is re-assuring—the medium of the dish is taking hold and doing some self-maintenance.



I have been avoiding this part of the paper until now, the weekend before its due date. This avoidance is embedded in an unshakable ambivalence about presenting myself for the rank of Fourth Degree, which I have been puzzling over for months. While it has seemed to be the correct course to take this test, I have not been able to get over this ambivalent feeling.

I have now figured out that the ambivalence is tied into the overall stage of life that I am in now, into the movement that is happening at work, my training and inside my own skin. There is no disputing that I am moving into a new part of my life, and that this movement into mid life is creating some seismic shifts internally. Right at this point in time, I am presenting myself as a candidate for fourth degree and of leadership in a new way in the UTF at the same time that I am working through the adjustment of being the Chief Operating Officer in my agency, at a time that it is growing substantially through a merger. Both of these positions have come after years of preparation and mentoring by talented and dedicated "seniors," and I have an internal confidence that both of these moves have come at a time that fits with where I am and the needs of the community.

However, it has come time for me to leave some things behind forever. There are self-concepts, ways of interacting and beliefs that I have been gradually relinquishing for the past decade or so. It is time to give them up completely. I held on to residual self doubt for a long, long time. I do not need that now, I know my strengths and weaknesses, I have accepted them, I know how to minimize the latter when needed. Walking around with any voices in my head that are second-guessing my actions is no longer appropriate. I have honed the ability sustain a "servant leadership", to stay open to what is coming in and to act and take charge when it is needed. The communities that I am in can benefit from my leadership. I do not have to second-guess my self in this role; maintaining mindfulness in each moment is the vital component for success.

I have a very old tendency to throw my self into endeavors with my whole self, with a great deal of forceful energy. With this comes long hours and a giving away of time for rest and stillness. I have been giving up this way of "trying hard" gradually over the past years, and it’s time to walk away from it forever. This involves my technical training—I can give up any residual tendency to get ready to move before executing a technique. I am ready to send power out from a centered place of stillness all of the time. I do not need motion any longer to generate power. And while I have been gradually giving that up more intently over the past year, it’s time to walk away from it. Similarly, I can lead at work from a place of calm, still presence—I do not need to work every waking moment to do this well, and I do not need to maintain a forceful, stressed energy to meet the demands.

As I move forward into this new place in my life and allow the ambivalence that comes such life transitions to flow through me, I now believe that my ambivalence is strength, and one of my contributions to the UTF. As I try and stay attuned to the shifts within me, I am looking at myself with a critical eye and take nothing in this next step for granted. My misgivings keep me completely mindful. I am not in a position to let autopilot take over—to do my best technique I have to be fully present at all times so that old ways do not creep in. To be my best self I need to be fully here, watching for old, negative thought patterns and re-directing my self away from them. Because I am ambivalent, I am fully open to what is coming in, my beginner’s mind is fully in tact at the same time that I remain willing to share whatever I may have that will benefit the community.

My gender is a contribution as well. Having females at all levels of the organization is important when possible as it communicates volumes to the community at large about the possibilities, the membership and the ways that martial artists can progress. My gender also gives me a different perspective on the world and having voices from different sources within the UTF makes the whole stronger, I am certain.

My professional abilities are also an asset. In reaching students of all kinds, my clinical understanding of how behaviors are linked to underlying issues and dynamics and how to build therapeutic environments that help these students grow is where my professional attention has been. This can be a contribution as the UTF continues its outreach to as many different types of students as possible.

Finally, I firmly believe in the UTF, its principles and its mission. My professional life, as well as my years of training has all been dedicated to furthering the goals of bringing out the potential in others. The reciprocal interchange between people that brings opportunities for healing, growth and nurturance is the central passion of my life. If I move into this new role at this time, I will be looking for opportunities to reach out to as many kinds of students as possible, to provide training that will allow students to grow towards their potential as martial artists as well as human beings and to strengthen the community so that it continues to carry out its mission and work into the future.