Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Constantly Evolving

By Scott Shaw


I was recently having a discussion with another long-time Hapkido practitioner about how the art has evolved over the years.

Some would say that a specific system of martial arts should not evolve. In fact, many a practitioner holds fast to what they were taught as a novice student and never move their art forward in any manner. Others, the more open-minded, commonly proclaim that any system of martial arts must constantly evolve or it becomes stagnate and lost to the hands of time. Wherever you fall in this thought process, it cannot be denied that the understanding and development of Hapkido has remained in a constant state of evolution since its inception just over seventy years ago. This is in stark contrast to many of the other traditional system of self-defense.

From my own perspective, I began training in Hapkido in 1964. At that time, Hapkido only utilized the most basic of kicks: the front kick, the side kick, the roundhouse kick, and the circle or crescent kick, with just a few variations on those kicks. The hand-techniques, as we call them, (the formalized self-defense movements), were all very standardized.

I was a child when I begin my study, so I never thought too much about the process of evolution within Hapkido. I simply trained in what I was taught.

As Hapkido is a very hands-on system of self-defense, it is quite common that the students will go hand-to-hand with each other. In each class, there is a time period where the fundamental basics of the hand techniques are to be practiced. Whereas in other martial art systems, like Taekwondo, much of a class may be devoted to the practice of forms. But, as traditional Hapkido has no forms, much more of an emphasis is placed on the practicalities of hand-to-hand combat and how to defend against specific forms of attack.

As Hapkido arrived in the United States in the 1960s, via Korean-born instructors, this was also a time when the various martial art systems, formulated within South Korea, were taking notice of one another. Certainly, the martial art system that became known as Taekwondo took the biggest hold on the country. From this, the development of Hapkido was also impact. Many of the advanced kicking techniques associated with Taekwondo eventually came to be utilized by Hapkido practitioners. This may be considered the first evolution of the art, but it certainly was not the last.

From the end of World War II forward, and particularly by the 1960s, there were U.S. military men returning home from military service in Asia. Some of these men had studied the indigenous martial arts while they were stationed in Asia and, upon returning home, began to train others in what they had learned. Some taught and continued to teach a very formalized system, mirroring what they had been taught. But, times were changing in the world and a more wide-spanning system of belief was emerging. Insightful Korean martial art practitioners like Chuck Norris began to understand that if they would incorporate the martial art techniques used by other systems, they could enhance their own self-defense and competitive capabilities. From this, a new understanding of ever-evolving integration was given birth to in the world of the martial arts. This mindset also took hold in some schools of Hapkido.

If you look at the various schools of Hapkido, particularly those who trace their lineage back to different first-generation instructors, one will quickly witness that though there may be a similarity in the techniques practiced, the focus on specific types of techniques and the applications of those techniques varies greatly. This shows us that even from its source there was no singular formalized concept being propagated in Hapkido as say in the case of Taekwondo. The techniques of Hapkido were always allowed to be dictated by the teacher. Thus, evolution in Hapkido was and is inevitable.

For any of you Hapkido practitioners out there, simply compare the art the way you learned it, to the way another advanced practitioner was taught and practices it from another school. You will instantly see that there is a vast level of understanding housed within the art. Yet, each advanced practitioner focuses on varying levels of techniques ideally emulated via their own understanding of the art.

So, what does this tell us? Like I discussed with my friend, from its inception, Hapkido has allowed each individual practitioner to embrace the art through their own unique level of understanding and to teach Hapkido via their own distinctive comprehension of the art. There has never been a blockade about what one could or could not practice or teach. Thus, the art has been allowed to evolve naturally throughout the entire time of its existence.

Is this the right way that a system of self-defense should be embraced? I believe that it is. For by allowing the advanced practitioners to convey the art via their best understanding of the art, nothing ever remains stagnant, and it is allowed to naturally evolve meeting the needs of each individual and each specific period of time.

This is the same with all aspects of life, at least I believe that it should be. We are each formed by our basis in life. From there, it is what we do with those fundamentals that causes us to either remain stagnant or allows us to evolve and become the best version of ourselves that is possible. We can choose to stay in one place and never become more and better, locking ourselves into one pattern of thought and action, or we can keep our minds open, allowing the new to guide us to becoming all that we can be.

What you do with your life is your choice. Do you choose to remain the same throughout your existence? Or, do you choose to constantly evolve; embracing the new, and possibly better, whenever it is presented to you: constantly learning, constantly changing, constantly evolving, becoming the best example of you that you can possible be?  

Personal evolution is your choice. What choice do you make?


Copyright © 2023—All Rights Reserved


Originally from the Scott Shaw Blog

Scott Shaw Hapkido Taekwondo International

Friday, August 18, 2023

The Hidden Assailant By Scott Shaw


By Scott Shaw


As a martial arts author, I have written so much about defending yourself against the hidden assailant and/or what to do when you are unexpectedly attacked. It seems that in the physical realms of reality it is much more easily discussed what to do, when. When it comes to the other levels of life, when you are attacked, from an unexpected opponent, defense seems oftentimes more complicated. Why? Because like all unseen attacks, the coward is attacking you from a position of surprise where defense is never easy.

Think about a time when your life was shaken by someone coming at you and attacking from some unseen location. Maybe this was in some form of an insult, a lie, a harsh criticism, a false discourse, cheating, breaking your heart, you name it—the list of this style of attack is sadly very long. Why did they do it? In most cases, it was because they wanted to hurt you. In other cases, it is not so devious, it is simply because they did not really care about your feelings. They put their own feelings over yours and, thus, though the hurt they unleash may not be as calculated as someone who is intentionally attempting to damage you or your life, what they did painfully hurt, nonetheless.

Take a moment and isolate one of those attacks that came at you out of nowhere. How did it feel? Undoubtedly it damaged you.

There are some people, in fact many, who unleash this style of attack; who will claim that you deserved it. You had it coming. They do not like you or what you do or what you say so they attack from some hidden position. But, does their not liking you or being mad at you, (or whatever), give them the right to hurt you from afar? Of course, when you are on the receiving end, you will say, “No.” But, turn this around for a moment, what about when you did something like that to someone else? What was your motivation? Of course, you felt the same set of emotions of wanting to unleash hurt to that person. But, did you ever question the truth of your why?

Most people who behave in this manner easily find a justification for doing what they do, in the capacity of clandestine hurt. But, as in the case with all justification, the unleashing of hurt is only a very self-centered ideology, based upon a specific set of beliefs harbored and emulated from a single individual. Yes, what they do may spread to the minds of others, but does that make it true or right? Or, is it simply a selfish manifestations, instigated by someone who cannot see beyond their malignant self-doubt and/or self-hatred.

Hurt, especially the cowardly act of hurting from afar, is always unleash by someone who does not possess a sense of universal awareness. They do not hold empathy. Because, if they did, they would not stoop to the level of this style of attack. Think about that statement…

In life, there are really two levels of mindfulness: there is the selfish and the Self-Based, from which hurt and hatred is unleashed, then, there is that of caring. Here, empathy is born. This is where helping, not hurting emulates from. This is the home of the God-Mind. Where do you dwell?

You know, some people hurt, and they want to attach their name to that hurt. They want to get credit, fame, money, ego-stroking, or whatever else from unleashing the pain. Many/most do it from some hidden realm, however, where they can hurt but no retribution will find them. Those are the true cowards.

This being said, an attack, no matter from where it is launched, is still an attack. What do attacks lead to? We all know the answer to that: hurt, pain, counterstrikes, and war.

There’s this great line delivered by Mickey Rourke to William Hurt in the movie, Body Heat, “Hey now, I want to ask you something. Are you listening to me, asshole? Because, I like you. I got a serious question for you: What the fuck are you doing? This is not shit for you to be messin’ with. Are you ready to hear something? I want you to see if this sounds familiar: any time you try a decent crime, you got fifty ways you’re gonna fuck up. If you think of twenty-five of them, then you’re a genius - and you ain’t no genius. You remember who told me that?”

Many attackers, especially those who attack from afar, believe they can get away with it. They do it because they believe they can get aways with it. They do it just because they can get it done and hid their face and their name in the process. But, even on realms like the internet, finding out who did what, if you have the skillset, is pretty easy. Then what?

Now, I can say, attacking anyone, for some self-motivate reason, is wrong. We all know that. We all know that especially when we are on the receiving end. Then it’s all, “Boo Hoo. Why me?” But, what about when you’re doing it? Who are you thinking of? Who are you caring about? Who are you feeling for?

I can talk about deflection. I can speak about the proper techniques for the counterattack, as I have done in so many articles on the martial art. But, what life ultimately comes down to is you being the better person. You being the one who does no unleashing of pain. Can you be that person? Can you be that strong? Can you be the beacon of light in the sea of darkness? Or, can you only be the person who allows their Lower Mind to control them?

We all know what hurt feels like. But remember, the hurtful are always the ones who are ultimately looked down upon, no matter how much they hide their unleashing of their attack. The helpful are always the ones who become universally loved. Who do you want to be? The person who hurts or the person who helps?

Hurt never equals help. Remember that.


Copyright © 2023—All Rights Reserved


Scott Shaw.com

Scott Shaw Hapkido Taekwondo International 

Thursday, August 17, 2023

The Martial Arts By Scott Shaw


By Scott Shaw


As someone who has been involved with the martial arts for virtually my entire life, I can say with authority that if someone desires to learn the techniques, anyone can make the martial arts a part of their life. But, as in all other elements of life, you must do what you do consciously. You must think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Or, you may muddy-up the waters for others.

            My father was a black belt who earned his rank during his service in the military during World War II. My uncle was a professional boxer prior to World War II. Me, I began formally studying when I was six years old. That was almost sixty years ago. So, the refined fighting arts have been a part my entire life.

            I am not saying that myself or anyone else who studies the martial arts, for however long, will be the perfect technician of all techniques. But, that is what I consider mastery; that is the ultimate statement—knowing what you can do and then focusing on that, and doing it well.

            Something that I find amusing is that since the dawning of the age of the internet, there has been a certain group of nameless/faceless people who feel that they have the ability and the right to cast judgment on martial art styles and other martial artists; attempting to either give them props and/or discredit them, and then spread their thoughts to the masses. The problem is, who are these people who are casting judgment? And, what gives them the right and the privilege to judge anyone?

            In life, we are all drawn to who and what we are drawn to. We like what we like, and we dislike what we dislike. But, most of these ideologies are based upon social programming, not upon fact. This is a subject that I have addressed in so many of my articles and books.

            The problem with the martial arts, and the fighting arts in general, is that they are based upon the concept of conquest—of who can beat whom. But, this beating, (or winning), is no longer solely based upon physical prowess, as it may have been in centuries gone past. Instead, in this modern age, it is based upon who said what; based upon what lies, preconceived impressions, and misrepresentation they use to present their case.

            For this reason, martial art websites and discussion groups have popped up, spewing all kind of falsities and non-facts about martial artist and martial art styles in general. Instead of relying upon facts and the truth, all they disseminate are preconceived opinions.

            I guess I should write, OPINIONS in capital letter. Why? Because if you are judging the techniques and the ideologies of others, that means that you no longer have anything to learn. If you have nothing more to learn, that means that you are an absolute master. Are you?

            Think about this for a moment before you finalize any judgment on a martial art style or a martial artist. Think about who you are, what you have learned, how long you have been doing it, and if you possess the right, through time and through trail, to judge anyone.

            Remember, the martial arts are an art. You need to think about them like an art form. You may like a certain style of art; you may dislike another style of art, but, in either case, that does not mean that it is not art. You may like a certain style of music, you may dislike another, but that does not mean that it is not music.

            Your judgment is nothing more than your opinion. Is your opinion ever a fact?

            If you are judging anyone, that means that you believe you are better and more accomplished than they are. Are you? If you are thinking, speaking, or writing about them, doesn’t that mean that you have elevated them into a superior position than you?

            The true artist, the true marital artist, never judges anyone. They allow each person to be the best expression of their understanding of their own reality.


Copyright © 2011—All Rights Reserved

Understanding the Foundational Basis of the Martial Arts By Scott Shaw


By Scott Shaw

            Many people identify the martial arts with as solely a method of hand-to-hand combat. They are, however, much more than that. The martial arts are, in fact, a means for the practitioner to raise their physical and mental consciousness to a new level of refined universal understanding. Though based in physical techniques and understandings of combat

            Just as when one begins to study the martial arts, they are taught the basic techniques, so too must the individual who wishes to take the next step in the martial artist learn that there are more to the martial than simply physical techniques.

            When the non-practitioner hears of the martial arts, commonly one of two images is brought to mind: either that of the martial arts master effortlessly throwing his or her opponent across the room and delivering high flying kicks through the air, or the refined monk who sits deeply in meditation high atop a mountain—using his martial arts only when confronted by the most severe form of evil.  Though these images have come to define the martial arts, they are, in fact, quite far from reality.

            To begin to comprehend the essence of the martial arts we must first understand that these ancient systems of self-defense were borne in a period of history when the need for an individual to possess refined methods of hand-to-hand combat were essential to battle off the continued onslaught of invaders who were willing to take the wanted by whatever means necessary. From these ancient societies came a long period of ongoing confrontation and battles which attempted to define which army, which system of self-defense, and even which student was the best.

            Some may argue that it is no different today. One must be able to protect themselves in the violent world we live in. As such, studying the martial arts is, “A must.”

            Commonly, if a martial artist makes this statement, it will soon be followed up by, “You really need to study my style of martial arts.  It is better than all the others.” Or. “What! You go to that school. That teacher knows nothing.”

            Certainly, the Hong Kong Kung Fu movies have come to optimize this style of competitive mindset which flourishes within the martial arts. To watch one of these movies the story commonly unfolds with the student initially defending his master. He then is commonly put the test, loses his first fight, only to retrain, battle through an untold number of combatants, finally and rise to the level of the ultimate winner.

            Though these movies are oftentimes fun to watch, and they do give us a unique insight into the politics which dominate the martial arts of yesterday and today, they are also ideally descriptive of the way not to live your life as a martial artist.  For if you live your life at a level of conflict—criticizing and challenging others—you will forever be dominated by a life defined by battle, be it verbal or physical.  This only leads to a life completely void of any peace or tranquility.

            Many a martial artists will at this point state, “But, violence and confrontation is what the martial arts are based upon.”

            It may be true that the martial arts rose from the realms of conflict. This does not need to be their final criteria, however.

            From the martial arts one has the potential to master physical and mental techniques which will raise their body and mind to a level never experienced by the average individual.  Though this potential exists, in the modern era we still find many a martial artist holding onto the confrontational mindset which defined the early development of these ancient forms of warfare. This is optimized by the practitioner who believes their system is the best system of self-defense, their instructor is the only true instructor, and their organization the only association worthy of governing anything.

            If you live your life at this singular level of one-pointed, non-explorative existence, you will never be allowed to experience the understanding which another teacher or system may possess.  You simply close yourself within self-imposed walls, thinking that you are already in an environment where you possess everything you need to know.

            One of the main reasons this commonly occurs in the modern martial arts is that, unfortunately, at the root of many people being drawn to the martial arts is insecurity. Insecurity, due to the fact of living in an aggressive, often times, violent society and needing a method to protect one’s self. Insecurity based in undefined feelings that one’s unworthiness. Thus, they are sent down the path of desiring to defeat others and prove their worthiness by any means possible. Insecurity based in low self-esteem developed by any number of physical, psychological, or emotional occurrences.

            Though virtually every person who is drawn to the martial arts based in insecurity will never admit it, this insecurity comes to be the defining element of their time spent in the martial arts—be a month, a year, or a lifetime. With this as a basis, they are lost to the world of attempting to make themselves more by criticizing, berating, and attempting to defeat others.

            Though insecurity is commonly a bases for an individual’s initially involvement in the martial arts. It does not have to be an end point.

            The martial arts where initially formulate and refined in Asia. Hand-in-hand with these systems of self-defense was associated a deep sense of spirituality—based predominately in the philosophic schools of Taoism and Buddhism. With this as a formulating bases, the refined understanding possessed by these schools of thought gave way for the martial artists to develop a new interpretation of the self, the world, nature, the universe, and one’s interaction with all of these elements.

            This is not to say that one must embrace Taoism or Buddhism if they wish to elevate their understanding of the martial arts to a more refined level.  It is simply meant that one does not need to be bound by the very animalistic levels of insecurity and competition which many practitioners of the martial arts commonly embrace.

            To begin to raise your understanding of the martial arts you must initially understand, that, yes, physical training and even physical competition are a part of the martial arts. But, it is how you, the individual, interprets this training which causes you to view the martial arts either simply as a pathway to physical domination over others or a means to lead your body and mind to a new more refined understanding of self, life, and the universe.

            This being stated, a teacher can demonstrate to you how to kick, how to punch, or how to throw an opponent. It is you, however, who must ultimately practice, come to develop, and hopefully someday master these physical techniques. This is also the case with how you choose to interact with individuals and the world around you.

            You can see the world as confrontational. Or, you can see each situation, each obstacle you encounter as a means for you to become a more whole and refined martial artists and individual.

            Simply because an individual comes up to you and instigate a physical or verbal confrontation does not mean that you are obligated to take part in it.  You have the choice; you can walk away.  If they say something negative about you, so what.  Simply realize the motivating factor for their statement and then you will not be dominated by their insecure need for domination.

            It is you who must choose to step beyond the controlling hands of small mindedness and move onto whole mindedness—making not only yourself but the entire world a better place through your practice of the martial arts.


Copyright © 1992—All Rights Reserved

 Scott Shaw.com

 Scott Shaw Hapkido Taekwondo International

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

What is a Black Belt? By Scott Shaw


By Scott Shaw

I always feel like I need to apologize to you readers out there when I write a piece about the martial arts, because I understand that most of you who read this blog are not martial artists. So, “Sorry.”  But, I also hope that what I discuss in these martial art related pieces is wide-spanning enough that maybe you can gain a bit of new life-understanding from reading them. So, here we go…

If you ask the average person, “What is a black belt,” they will most certainly come up with a definition about a person who is very good at the techniques of self-defense. As the typical individual possesses very little knowledge about the ranking system of the martial arts, they probably know that there are a few different color belts in the learning stages, but the black belt is the end-goal of training. “They are a black belt,” and that’s that. Maybe the term, “Wow,” is even thrown in as a symbol of respect for that person’s accomplishment.

As you martial artists out there understand, there are many levels to the black belt. In fact, in Asia, when an individual has earned their first-degree black belt, they are simply understood to be an advanced student and nowhere near the level of a teacher, which traditionally comes at the fourth-degree black belt level. Of course, here in the West, there is a completely different level of definition. Many a first-degree black belt immediately moves to the position of instructor and maybe even school owner. 

Somewhere along the way, however, especially here in the Western World, the level of black belt rank or, “dan,” a person holds has become this highly sought-after goal; more so than a student becoming a better practitioner or anything like that. It seems many practitioners don’t even care about that. The minute they are a black belt, how good they are is good enough and forget about the formalities of the years associated with further training. All they care about is getting up there to that higher level of black belt degree ranking. From this, there arose all of these organizations selling rank. From about the late 1960s forward, black belt rank has become so convoluted that, to the true practitioner, it means very little. Yet, everyone wants to claim it. Look at the martial art magazines of that era, (and forward), you will see numerous organizations presenting advertisements that offer rank certification and advancement based solely upon the paying of a price.  

Whenever I speak or write about martial art rank, I often quote the statement that Bill, “Superfoot,” Wallace, made to me when I was asked to write an article about him for a magazine. He profoundly stated, “Back in the day if a person was a 1st degree black belt, they were impossible to touch. If they were a 2nd degree black belt, forget about it, they would tear you apart. Now, everyone is an 8th, 9th, or 10th degree black belt and they are terrible.” That is so true. So few modern practitioners, no matter what rank they hold, embrace a deep and true understanding of the subtle elements of the martial art style they claim. Why is that? Because they stopped learning the moment they received their black belt and transitioned to the mindset of self-believed mastery.

Then there was this whole wave where instructors, particularly in the Korean martial arts, began to refer to themselves as, “Master.” Then came Grand Master. What does that even mean? It sounds like something out of a mid-evil sorcerer’s tale, a video game, or a Satanic cult. Do you know how many Grand Masters I’ve seen get their asses kicked by a seasoned street fighter? Those who teach in the Japanese traditions do not refer to themselves as a “Master.” They just use the term “Sensei,” meaning, “Teacher.” By calling yourself a, “Master,” isn’t that just someone rock’n their ego? Like I have long stated, “If you are referring to yourself as a Master that probably means that you are not.” I cringe whenever anyone refers to me as Master or Grand Master. Just call me, Scott.

Certainly, not everyone is like that—not every black belt is like that. There are some very caring, tried and true instructors out there. But, for you martial artists out there, look around you, even look at yourself, how much new knowledge do you seek to gain on a daily basis, compared to how many people you wish to teach what you already know? How many compliments do you put out there towards other martial artists, compared to how much criticism you have unleashed?

I’ve said this in the past, but due to the fact I was a practitioner at the early stages of this modern evolution of the Korean martial arts, here in the West, and hailing from a city that was one of the primary central hubs of the dissemination of the modern Korean martial arts, Los Angeles, I have witnessed a lot of, “Hard to believe,” situations being unleashed, even via the hands of some very established instructors and organizations. Some would not believe what I have witnessed. Others would wish to deny that it happened. But, I was there. I saw it. It did happen. Yet, throughout all these years, people look to these organizations as some sort of a point of validation. Which I guess they are. But, all one has to do is look to the truth of their foundational essence and one will see that there are flaws. Even look to the fact of how many of these associations have dissolved. View how much scandal and controversy has been attached to some of the leaders and the members of these organizations. Some have even ended up in jail. This is why I have long believed that any validation, in the martial arts, can only truly be done between a student and their teacher, for in that relationship is the only true place of valid understanding and endorsement.

I am not saying that every instructor is a true proponent of their art. Nor am I saying that they are all a truly good person, just because they operate a school. In my own life, I have been cheated by instructors I worked with for years. Plus, there are all those stories out there of others who have had similar or even worse experiences. 

Moreover, I am not denying my own blame in this situation. I too advanced through the ranks in the martial arts. I will say, however, that when I was offered the ninth-degree black belt a number of years ago, I did turn it down. And, the only reason I put my credentials in the martial arts out there is because every time I take them down there is some person throwing accusations my directions. Which, again, takes us to one of the primary sources of the problem in this entire system of so-called advancement: false accusations and needless attacks. 

So, what does this leave us with? What does the black belt truly mean if people base their entire life upon what high rank they hold, what rank another person doesn’t hold, and whom they received that rank from and how many people they can teach because of that rank? What does it mean when people are out there claiming rock star status simply defined by a number on a piece of paper?  What does it proclaim when many do this without possessing a true understanding about the essence of what they are teaching?

First of all, let’s just think about this… What if there was no black belt?  What if you simply studied a system of self-defense and got good at it? How life freeing would that be?

What if your instructor or your organization did not charge you money for your rank advancement? Because, FYI, that is what they do. Rank advancement is a money-making, business opportunity. …A student pays to be tested. What if they gave that rank away for free? Then there would not be the incentive to, “Sell,” rank. 

I get it… This is all just hopeful speculation of my part. …My wish that the martial arts would be, (would become), what they are idealized to be. 

I believe it is very sad that in the mind of the non-practitioner they have this idealized image of what a black belt is. But, once one become involved at the high levels of these arts, many lose their way and base their entire existence off of how many stripes they have on their belt and how much money they can make by teaching these ancient forms of self-defense and then charging others to advance them towards their own black belt and beyond.

What if all that rank stuff just didn’t matter? What if rank was no longer the sought-after goal? Wouldn’t the martial arts then be allowed to exist in the place where they were truly designed to inhabit? A place where the individual would learn the intricacies of physical movement, the refined use of internal energy, and meditation. What if the martial arts were not burdened by the desire of rank advancement? Would they then not exist at the place where they truly emulated what they were designed to actually communicate?

Think about it…

Copyright © 2023—All Rights Reserved

Originally from the Scott Shaw Blog

Scott Shaw Hapkido Taekwondo International

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

Who Knows What and Why? By Scott Shaw

By Scott Shaw


I believe for any of us who have walked the path of the martial arts, in our lifetime, we realize that what we know, at least in part, was taught to us by someone else. In the world of street fighting, a person may well be their own teacher. But, in any traditional fighting art, there is training involved. As there is a formality, each of us who walks this path was lead down this corridor by someone else. 

Even as is commonly the case in the modern martial arts, where styles and techniques have become mixed and combined, any one-time student, who created their own system, was taught the basics by an instructor. Thus, no martial artist is a beacon onto themselves. 

But, here’s the question, when does a student become the master? 

It has been proven, through time, that there are two very distinct paths that an individual walks when they are intimately involved with the martial arts. One, which is perhaps the most common, finds a student always respecting their teachers and, in fact, is so lost in the belief that they could never possess the intimate knowledge that their instructor holds that they forever place that mentor upon a pedestal. I have known many martial artists, even long-trained, advanced practitioners of the martial arts, who define themselves by whom they were taught by. “I’m a student of…” is very commonly the first statement that many martial artists make. 

There is the other side of this issue. There are those students who believes that they have become better than their instructor. From this, they may go off and open their own school and even badmouth their one-time trainer. That stye of behave is not healthy or honest. Yet, it goes on all the time.

Those who practice this lifestyle embrace a misleading mindset, however. The fact is, whomever originally trained a person will forever be the individual who laid the foundations for that student’s knowledge. This is the case, no matter what new levels of expertise that one time pupil may believe they have realized.

For any of us have trained exclusively under the guidance of Asian born instructors, myself included, there is this perpetuated belief that those teachers are somehow something more, having been born into the culture where the style of the martial art we train in was instigated, and, from this, they possess some secret wisdom that we, the Westerner, may never completely understand. This being said, for those of us who have found out the underlying truth of some less than impeccable instructors, and have either been cheated by them, lied to by them, or have had other negative interactions unleashed upon us by them, myself included, we clearly know that this idealize image is a blatant falsehood. Nonetheless, they were the one who taught us what we know, at least in part. Thus, where does admiration end and the truth of reality begin?

That is a complicated question, I understand. But, it is an essential question that each advanced practitioner of the martial arts must ask themselves. 

Look to any advanced martial artist, look to any instructor of the martial arts, do they clearly and honestly state who their teacher was? Here arises another curious twist to this puzzle. Is that person lying? I, myself, have encountered well-known and respected marital artists who have lied about where and by whom they were trained. They have done this due to any number of self-motivated reasons. But, what is the truth is that they did not tell the truth. Then, what? With time, especially if they claimed training from some deceased or mythical individual, what are we left with? Their lie does not become the truth, but, through time, it simply becomes a believed falsehood.

These are complicated examples? But, the question that must ultimately be pondered, by each martial artist, who spends their life devoted to these ancient systems of self-defense, are you only a reflection of your instructor or are you a man (or a woman) onto yourself? If you are only a reflection, then you are never the central figure. With this, you are never ultimately to be praised or to be blamed. If, on the other hand, you acknowledge who you were trained by, but you see yourself as a self-standing example of the art, then you are the figurehead of your own dissemination of whatever you teach. With this, lies more responsibility, but here also lies the pathway to self-realization.  

Each person must come to their own conclusion about who and what they truly are. And, there is no right or wrong answer. But, if you do not ponder this question, you can never come to a self-defined and self-realized truth about what you do, why you do what you do, who you truly are, and who or what is ultimately responsible for the martial arts that you practice and you teach.

Are you forever a student? Or, are you a self-standing example of the martial art you embrace?

Copyright 2023 © All Rights Reserved

Originally from the Scott Shaw Blog

Scott Shaw Hapkido Taekwondo International

Friday, December 16, 2022

At a Certain Point Your Style Doesn’t Matter By Scott Shaw

By Scott Shaw


As someone who has actively practiced the martial arts for just under sixty years, I believe I possess a fairly good understanding of how one evolves as a practitioner of these forms of self-defense.  When one begins their practice, it is often the case that they become very protective of their teacher, their school, and their style. This is especially the case if they have truly taken to the system they are training in and the instructor or instructors who are teaching them in their art are proving them with useful techniques in an agreeable manner.

            The fact is, there are some instructors who are just not very good. Maybe they are rude, maybe they are egocentric, maybe they are money-hungry forcing students to sign long-term contracts, maybe they are demeaning to their students, or, like in the case of one of my instructors when I was an adolescent, they single out one of their students and continually use them for their demonstration dummy. With this, a student may either lose interest in the martial arts all together or change schools, if not styles.

            The focus of this piece is not on the bad instructors, however. It is about the ones who truly provide a lifelong service to their students, teaching them viable techniques based in a specific style orientated syllabus.  For those students—those who stay long-term, earning their black belt, and those who possibly become instructors, they are the ones who may become very style-centric.

            If we look to history, prior to the twentieth century, very few martial artists moved between systems. This was not only based in a local and cultural programing, but it was also based in available. Generally, there were few choices among schools of martial arts in a specific community. Moreover, and the fact being, very few people chose to follow the path of the martial arts.

            It must be noted, that among most Asian societies, a person who practiced the martial arts was actually looked down upon by general society as they were thought to be one who was conscribed to a lower class, a lessor mindset, and/or someone who followed the barbaric practices of physical combat. Though modern media has all but erased this fact from modern knowledge, and has idealized and glorified the martial artist, this was not, in fact, the case throughout most of world history.

            As the twentieth century came upon us, and international cultural interaction became more frequent, the martial arts found their way to the West. From this, the early Western practitioner attempted to culturally emulate the mind, words, and techniques of their Asian instructors, mostly with less than ideal impersonations. They attempted to mimic instead of emulate. Thus, even though many of these first-generation Western instructors held fast to their systems, what they understood and what they actually taught was lacking a true sense of source knowledge.

            In fact, to this day, this mindset has not changed very much. There are many Western instructor, claiming advanced knowledge of a style, but not speaking the language of where the system originated while attempting to produce the words used in the dissemination of the system poorly, and, form this, missing some of the elemental knowledge that can and could only be had by possessing a true linguist and cultural understanding of what they are claiming to teach. Many, if not most, of these instructors have not even traveled to and/or studied their system of self-defense in the land where it was originated.

            During the twentieth century there came to be more and more Asian and Western instructors teaching the martial arts in the Western world. From this, there began to be the ability for a practitioner to view the various styles of self-defense that were now congregated in one location that had originally hailed from all across the globe. Because of this fact, some practitioners began to integrate and adapt techniques from the various system into their own singular practice. Some of the most notable people who first did this were Chuck Norris and a bit later Bruce Lee. Both of these individuals achieved great fame. But, there were also many other practitioners, who employed this method of integration, who no one ever heard as they began the process of incorporating the various styles of martial arts into one conglomerative system of self-defense in their small schools or backyards.   

            Though there were, and still are, many who believe this practice is a bastardization of the martial arts, in many ways it has freed the practitioner from being locked into only one, very stylized, system, thereby allowing them to integrate and combine the techniques from various styles into a conglomeration that becomes more effective for not only they, themselves, but for their students, as well. From this, the need to poorly imitate one culture has been bypassed. Emerging is an all-encompassing non-style of a style that is allowed to continually evolve as new understandings are developed.

            As martial artists we can learn from this integration and as human beings we can also gain from this understanding. By opening our minds to new ideas, and not being forcefully locked into a tradition that may never be truly understood, we allow ourselves to be the vessel where all knowledge may be studied, acquired, and ultimately understood in a freeform mindset not limited by dogma.


Copyright © 2022 All Rights Reserved

Originally from the Scott Shaw Blog

Scott Shaw Hapkido Taekwondo International


Thursday, December 16, 2021

Is a Master Truly a Master By Scott Shaw

 By Scott Shaw

        I want to talk a little bit about the evolution and the practical development of the modern martial arts, particular focused on their development here in the U.S. This may be a bit obscure for you readers out there, not involved with the martial arts, but hopefully you may gain some general life understanding from what I write.
        First of all, at the outset of this piece, it must be understood that the modern martial arts have become a very egocentric system of human development. People are very-very focused and orientated on their style, their school, and their teacher. From this is born an enormous amount of criticism directed at other practitioners, other styles, other instructors, and other associations. In fact, from my experience, some of the martial artists I have encountered have been the most petty people I have ever interacted with in my life. It’s sad really. And, the truth be told, all any martial artists out there reading this has to do is to look at their own thoughts, their own words, their own behavior, and the words and the behavior of those other martial artists they know or have encountered to confirm this fact.
        This has always really bother me. Even when I was a child and adolescent practitioner, it really distressed me that other martial artists would so vehemently go after practitioners from other traditions and schools. Even within specific schools, students would go after other students. But, how does this style of behavior help to make anything any better?
        I remember when I was about twenty-one, I was asked to help judge a promotion test at the school of this one, then very famous, Korean-born Taekwondo instructor. The man himself was a very good practitioner. One of those guys with just beautiful kicks. Anyway, one of his students, testing for a blue belt, did not do very well in the kicking segment of the test. You know, some people just do not have the potential to be a great kicker due to their body design and things like that. The instructor just ripped into him, really putting him down. It had to be very embarrassing for the man as there were a lot of spectators in attendance. My thought at the time was, “You’re his instructor. Isn’t his technical ability, or lack thereof, at least partially your fault?”
        Later on, during that evening of testing, an old-school Korean, “Master,” gave a small demonstration. The man, obviously older, was just not technically very good. But, did this young instructor rip into him? No. So, you see there’s all this interplay of personality and projected desires in the martial arts even within a specific school. I just never believed that the martial arts was the place for this style of behavior.
        One of the other interesting, and very illustrative of an era, things that took place during this same time period was that there was this one, also very well-known, Korean-born Taekwondo instructor, here in the L.A. area. This was during the time when the names and the rank on Korean certificates were handwritten. His black belt certificate, which hung on the wall of his studio, looked to show that he was a 7th dan black belt. But, if you could read Korean, you would see that his rank number in Korean was one. Making him a 1st dan black belt. He had simply added a line to the top of the one, on the English portion of the certificate, making it into a seven.
        Another interesting illustration is that I think back to when I was in my final year of college, earning my B.A. in Geography from California States University, Northridge. One of my required courses was this group project class. For us, we were doing a spacial analysis and demographic study on the then up-and-coming community of Palmdale, California. Each Saturday we would drive out to Palmdale and do our required part of the study. At one point, I was walking through the old downtown section of the city and I saw this martial art studio. By this point in my life I was operating my own studio so I was obviously drawn to the place. I look in the window and this school owner had his certificates clearly displayed. He was a seventh degree black belt of Taekwondo, a seventh degree black belt of some brand of Karate, a seventh degree black belt of some style of Kung Fu, and he held high ranks in a couple of other systems of self-defense, as well. The certificates we all issued by the same organization that I had never heard of. Anyone who understands anything about the martial arts will know, that yes, an advanced practitioner could readily learn the techniques and the forms of another system. But, to hold such advanced legitimate ranks in all of these highly differing system of self-defense is simply impossible. The point being, this style of deception has been going on for a very long time. People bought into it then and they buy into it now.
        As a journalist, I have been asked to write articles about so many schools and practitioner’s business methods that it is not even funny. I can’t even remember how many articles I have written. Most of the people I spoke with are nice. Some are just flat out liars. But, more than a couple of the school owners would discuss the fact that they had students who when they rose to level of the black belt would leave their teacher, open their own school, and siphon many of their previous instructor’s students away from the school by bad mouthing their teacher. I mean, if where you learned all that you learned was from that man (or woman) how can you criticize them? But, that’s what is done.
        For better of for worse, I was alive, a part of, and a witness to, the birth of the modern Korean marital arts here in America. I was there and present when the first wave of Korean marital arts instructors arrived from Korea. Back then, simply because a person was of Asian descent they received preferential respect simply because they were who they were. Some of these newly arrived instructors were very-very good practitioners and nice people. Many, however, were not.  Even myself, I got taken advantage of and, in fact, cheated by some of these so called, “Masters.” The stories I could tell…
        The thing is, many marital art instructors, no matter how technically proficient they may be, see the martial arts simply as a business. From this, they do dishonorable things, make unscrupulous comments, and even lie about who and what they are. I personally know that a number of the first-generation instructors lied about where they learned what they learned and who they learned it from. You don’t have to just listen to me, ask anyone else who was there and knows the truth about the history of the modern Korean martial arts. The fact is, now many of those first-generation masters are no longer with us. Thus, their truth, or the lack thereof, will never be known. Their fabrications died with them. But, why did they do any of this? It was all based on money, ego, and outward notoriety projection. And, this style of behavior is still going on.
        Some, even famed founders, saw money as more important than the tradition of the art they laid claim to. They believed they were so technically advanced that they could teach a student in weeks or months what was understood to take years to have actually comprehended. With this ideology as a basis, they would rapidly award some of their so-called student advanced rank that took those who followed the traditional path years-upon-years to achieve. Thus, rank became the focal point of the martial arts in America, which led to an untold number of lies begin told and certificates being sold. Combine this with all of the bad mouthing that went on, and still goes on, and what are we left with? I don’t even have an answer for that but it is not good.
        What should be a true pathway to physical and mental enlightenment has been denigrated into an ego and money making machine. The fact is, it does not matter who is better at what. It doesn’t matter who can do what technique better than someone else. It doesn't matter what insult and criticism one practitioners throws at someone else. It certainly doesn’t matter what rank a person holds when ranks are bought and sold on the open market. What matters is that the martial arts should not be about criticism. The martial arts should not be about judgment. The martial arts should not be about ego. The martial arts should be about a pathway for the betterment of all.
        I don’t know how any of this can be corrected because all I see is a mess. Yes, there are some great technicians. Yes, there are some great teachers. But, more than not, mostly what is there is a lot of low-level human behavior and ego-driven individuals claiming, “I am this, you are not.”
        For you martial artists out there, how do you behave? Really think about this question. What do you say? What do you do? How do you refer to and/or discuss other practitioners, styles, schools, and organizations? As I say time-and-time again, all life begins with you. What have you said? What have you done? More importantly, what have you said to undo the negative things that you previously said? What have you done to undo the negative things that you previously have done? If you don’t critique yourself first—if you don’t tell the world your flaws first—if you don't right your own wrongs, what gives you the right to cast judgement onto someone else? If you are claiming to be a master but you base your life upon negativity, on any level, are you truly a master?
        The martial arts should be a bastion of goodness and positive instruction. Is it? I don’t know? I guess that is defined individually by each practitioner, each instructor, each school, and each organization. What I can say is, it all begins with you: what you say, what you do, and how you behave. So, (and not just for your martial artists out there), if you want to make anything better, be the source point for that betterment and stop all/any of the negativity. Turn off your ego. Turn off your criticism. Let all things be as they are. Then all life gets to exist in its natural state of perfection.

Copyright © 2021—All Rights Reserved

Is a Master Truly a Master @ Scott Shaw.com

Scott Shaw Hapkido Taekwondo International

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Humbleness Verse Prestige in the Martial Arts By Scott Shaw

By Scott Shaw

        I earned my black belt in Hapkido in 1969 when I was eleven years old. I had worked towards in since I was six. I had a Korean instructor and when it came my time for promotion he simply removed my red belt, tied the black belt around my waist, and shook my hand. I was, of course, ecstatic. There was no big ceremony, no certificate, or anything like that given to me. It was just the belt and the knowledge that my instructor believed I deserved it.
        My father, who earned his black belt in jujitsu during his military service in World War II, also never had a certificate. At least none that I knew about.
        What I am saying is that times were different back then. A student studied, learned, progressed through the ranks, and was awarded a belt based upon their developed understandings. It was based upon an instructor to student relationship.
        When I was studying the martial arts as a young boy, through adolescent, and onto becoming a young man, none of my instructors, (who were all of Asian descent), ever asked to be called, “Master.” Yes, it was a formal relationship but the students simply referred to them as, Mr. (Whatever their family name was). This idea of, “Master,” was not a part of the equation. From this, I and my contemporaries, were taught and learned to respect the teacher without being forced to place an idealized image upon who and/or what they truly were.
        It wasn’t until the time when a large number of Koreans began to immigrate to the U.S., in the early 1970s, that things begin to change. With the large number of newly opened Taekwondo schools, that was taking place, somewhere/somehow this ideology that your instructor was a, “Master,” came into play. 
    It must be noted, that my first Taekwondo instructor, who was also a newly arrived Korean immigrant himself, (that I began studying from when I was about twelve), never asked to be referred to as, “Master.” Mr. Kim was fine with him.
        But again, somewhere along the way, the newly arrived Korean teachers, particularly those out of the schools of Taekwondo in South Korea, decided they should be referred to as, “Master,” or the Korean equivalent of the word. With this delineation, everything in the modern martial arts began to change.
        I always would downplay this titling to being more akin to British English, where a school teacher is sometimes referred to as, “Master.” This being said, this was not what was in the minds of these martial arts instructors. To them, they were a, “Master,” and they deserved that labeling.
        As the U.S. is where these people relocated and opened their schools, their primary students were Westerners. Through time, and rank advancement, these Westerners rose up through the ranks and became the next generation of instructors. Thus, they too took on the title of, “Master.” But, were they/are they? Or, are they simply perpetuating an ideology based upon ego but not accomplishment? In fact, what actually constitutes a master?
        Having been at the source point of a lot of the evolution that took place with the Korean-based martial arts in the U.S., and being located at one of the central cities involved in the expansion of these Korean martial arts, I witnessed a lot of the hidden undercurrent of what was taking place among these new schools of self-defense and the people who owned and taught at them. And, a lot of it was not pretty, honest, or honorable. There was a lot of lies being told, and a lot of deceptions put into place, which have now become solidified and believed truths due to the fact that these fabrications were spoken so many years ago. The fact is, these newly arrived instructors needed to earn money so they found a way to do so, oftentimes this was at the expense of their students.
        As Western martial artist rose through the ranks, became instructors, and opened their own schools, many of these, less than ideal, trends of school ownership and the need for external validation came to be the hallmark of these expanding systems of self-defense. As some of these Westerners decided that they were, “Good Enough,” and no longer needed the support of their Asian instructors or organizations, they founded their own associations. As many of these instructors also believed that they were progressing faster in their understanding of the arts than their instructors believed, they looked for ways to accelerate their movement up through the ranks outside of their original student to instructor relationship. From this, from this belief in the Self, the rank structure of the modern martial arts became so convoluted that everyone began questioning everyone. But, it shouldn’t be this way.
        Rank is nothing more than Ego. It is a name and a number on a piece of paper. But, what does that even mean? What does it mean when so many people are claiming so many things and so many organizations have arisen giving recognition to someone who simply believes that they should be referred to as, “Master?” From this forced evolution, no matter where or whom that certificate comes from, it no longer has any absolute meaning as there is no solidified standard for rank promotion.
        My primary focus, through my many years of involvement with the martial arts, has been the Korean systems of self-defense. This being said, as I have spend a lot of my life in Japan, I have been lucky enough to have also trained in the Japanese arts. No one there, none of my instructors, ever asked to be called, “Master.” “Sensei,” which means, “Teacher,” is the respectful title which was assigned. And, that was that.
        One could argue that this goes to the cultural identity of Koreans verses the Japanese. And, that may be the case. But, like I have long said, “If you are referring to yourself as a Master that probably means that you are not.”
        First there was, “Master,” then there became, “Grand Master,”
then “Supreme Grand Master.” But, what do any of these titles actually mean?  What makes a person a, “Master,” or a, “Grand Master?” Isn’t it simply a name and a number on a piece of paper?
        I fully understand that there are a lot of Asian and Westerners that have devoted their life to the study and the teaching of the martial arts. I applaud all of these people. But, how many of those people have forgotten the primary principle of the martial arts; humbleness?
        If you feel that you must proclaim what you are, then what are you? If you feel that you must be referred to by an exalted title, who are you? Where is your humbleness and is what you are doing, (studying and teaching the martial arts), truly based upon helping others and making this world a better place or is it simply a means for you to fill an internal lacking within yourself?
        As for myself, yes, I did earn some certificates. As I say, “I thank all of the instructors and the organizations who found me worthy.” And, even I, when I was younger, fell prey to the ego of being, “That Something,” when I was teaching the martial arts on a full-time basis. Thankfully, I caught myself and woke up. Now, my certificates are all in a brief case in my storage unit. At least I think they are? I haven’t looked at them in years. When I am teaching seminars, I only have the students refer to me as, “Scott.” I know this sometimes upsets the school owners who have invited me. But, I refuse to be dominated by a title that has become so convoluted in this modern era.
        In closing, I believe for all of the true marital artists out there, we really need to return to a simpler, less ego-filled time, when the martial arts were an instructor teaching a student in the refined levels of physical and mental awareness without the need for all of the glorifications.
        Humbleness should be at the heart of all martial art training. Isn’t that what all of the ancient sages have taught us?

Copyright © 2021—All Rights Reserved

 Originally from the Scott Shaw Zen Blog

Humbleness Verse Prestige in the Martial Arts @ Scott Shaw.com 

Scott Shaw Hapkido Taekwondo International