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Humility (Kyum Son)

(Humble / Modesty)

Humility according to Webster’s:

  1. freedom from pride or arrogance

  2. the quality or state of being humble

To be humble is to not show off all of your achievements. It is one of the highest character traits of a warrior or martial artist. I would like to give an example of a story that directly relates to humility in the martial arts. A few years back one of my students; Mr. Guy Chouinard attended our yearly regional championship. He was competing in both the forms and free sparring divisions. During that time, Mr. Chouinard became friends with another one of the competitors. They had never met before this time and had come from two different studios. They were both competing in the same events. During one of the events, Mr. Chouinard took first place. After that competition had ended, Mr. Chouinard walked over to his new friend and handed him his trophy. The other man did not know what to say. He stated “but you one, why would you give it to me”? Mr. Chouinard explained to him that his new friendship with him was more important than winning the trophy and he wanted him to have it to remember this day, and the next time they met he could win it back. I was not aware of this story at the time, and it was a few weeks later that the instructor of the other student contacted me and explained the situation. Of course, I was very proud of my student. He is always been one of those types of people that no matter what you needed he was always there to help, most times without being asked. His general nature is truly a man of humility. In the situation, there were a number of things that occurred to me. The very first one was his simple act of humility. The second demonstration of this act of humility was he did not want anyone to be aware of it, which is at the very core of its meaning. He was looking for no gratification for himself, rather just feeling good about connecting with another human being.

Humility, in our lives can occur when we do not really expect it. We come across opportunities to be able to lift another person spirit up through these acts. When someone does not demonstrate humility in our lives, it creates a sense of jealousy by other people, thus creating a negative environment. However, we perform acts of kindness through our humility we touch lives, and demonstrate the very best in humanity. Personal motivation for even writing this book was not to share what I knew, but rather what I have learned. Being a martial artist for over 30 years, I have changed greatly as an instructor, father, and husband. The martial arts have taught me to look inside of myself and discover those things, which I do not really understand, or know. It can help to guide me in understanding these things, and more importantly to be able to put those in to visible acts. Our society today seems to be surrounded with lack of humility. Not that there are not many acts of kindness and humility, but those do not seem to be the things that people share. Through these demonstrations of humility in our society, we stop and look at those, and reflect, we can learn a lot about our self.

Our society has become a “me” environment. We see this daily on the news and on the Internet. Our opinion is the only one in matters, we do not stop and pause enough to be able to really listen to others. Being a father, I have come across many situations where lessons of humility for my children could be shared. As parents, we guide our children through life based on our mistakes. We recognize these mistakes; we have to have enough humility to be able to share those with our children so that they do not replicate our mistakes. If we do not hold the sense of humility in ourselves and not share these things with their children, they miss the opportunity to grow and to learn.

In martial arts, this concept is the same. The instructor/student relationship is in line with our own family type relationship. We as the instructors become parent to our students. We guide them by showing them our mistakes and explaining how we learn from them. Just as a parent with a child, they may not understand the lesson at the time. This relationship is directly based on trust. The student has to accept what the instructor is trying to accomplish and help them understand. Of course, this has to be done in a positive manner with the students goals in mind. In my martial art of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan, we have a set of forms called Chil Sang, which means seven stars. The core philosophies of these sets of forms are about guiding us along our path in our martial arts training. Physically, it helps us to understand the connection of both inner and outer parts of our body and to help connect the harmony between the two. Internally, the forms help us to understand how the breath controls our body’s motion. Spiritually, the philosophy of the forms is based on leadership. The symbol that demonstrates this concept is the Big Dipper. It has seven stars, with the North Star being its leading point. The founder of the martial art Hwang Kee uses the example of the North Star as a source for leading sailors in their journey.

We have all taken a trip sometime where we had to follow a map, or GPS to get to our destination. However, sometimes the GPS for the map is not current and we get lost. So prior to our trip, we may ask others for any information that might help make this journey smoother. Again, this is based on humility because someone had made the journey before and made those mistakes getting there. They share that insight with us to help our journey become smoother and more efficient. As leaders in the martial arts, it is vital that we have enough humility to share with our students that we have made mistakes on this path, giving them examples and solutions to make their journey smoother. As I explained my senior students, they have to become “Chil Sang” in their roles as leaders. As an example, orange belts lead the beginners, green belts lead the orange belts, red belts lead the green belts, black belts lead the red belts, the Ko Dan Ja (masters) lead the black belts, and finally the Grand Master leads the Masters. We can see through this process that our actions are vital to how we lead other people both physically, mentally and spiritually. Every level has something to learn from each other. If we share our mistakes with those that are following us, it makes their journey more positive. However, this takes courage, honesty and sense of humility to be able to be accomplished.

In a work environment, it is also very important for us to demonstrate humility with others. Because of our experience in our jobs for example, a new employee could have many mixed emotions about the job they need to perform. If the experienced person takes the time to guide them with their own humility the relationship becomes much stronger, and the work environment is then surrounded by teamwork.

Many times, we can see those people with more experience not demonstrate this concept. This could be just because of their own fear of having their job replaced by someone else that might do it better. I can say my in personal life as a surgical technician working with other new employees there is always something that I can learn not just about what we are doing, but rather how we are doing it. I know I have learned from watching them many new insights I had never thought about before.

Many leaders that demonstrated great humility affected me growing up. I was always drawn to learning from them. There are many examples of this, one being Mother Teresa. I always greatly admired her. Her selfless acts to help the less fortunate around the world were the epitome of humility. She gave totally over self-mind body and spirit to the less fortunate people of the world. The poor, the sick, or all greatly affected by her selfless acts. She asked for absolutely nothing in return, and shied away from any recognition that might come to her. The only time she would accept any recognition was when she could share her message of loving each other in our life.

The founder of my martial art, Hwang Kee spent his whole life studying and examining the world of the martial arts. I had the opportunity a few years ago to be able to write about the history of this man. I took it upon myself to research everything I could about him and how he came to be. Once I started to do this, I was overwhelmed at the dedication, perseverance, and fortitude that he had to be able to bring these martial arts to the world. I learned a great deal when researching about his life and the many very difficult times he faced for himself and his family. His primary objective was not to teach a system of martial arts that was about combat. Rather, about creating better human relationships. His personal life stands as example of these human traits of courage, perseverance, and humility. Having the honor of being able to train with his son Grand Master Hyun Chul Hwang I am always mesmerized by his demonstration of humility. Anyone that is coming contact with him has seen this firsthand. His martial arts skill is unparalleled, and more importantly he carries the traits that were passed on to him by his father. I would like to share one story that demonstrates this aura of humility.

He was scheduled to come to our region to hold a special training session. This was following the time after his father had passed away, and he then became the leader of our martial arts organization worldwide. I was much honored to be able have him come to my town first to be able to share his goals and insights into the future of our martial art. Therefore, I had arranged to be able to pick him up from the airport and bring him to the event site.

It just will happen this happen to be in the wintertime in Chicago. It was also one of those Chicago type winters when it was very cold and a lot of snow. He was to arrive at O’Hare airport in Chicago. Therefore, my wife and I drove up there to pick him up from the airport. We arrived about an hour early because I did not want to be late, which is happens to be my own personal pet peeve. If you have ever been to O’Hare airport you know how large it is, so I had to park quite a distance away actually, where he was going to arrive. Therefore, my wife and I went to the gate at the airport to be able to meet him. As I stood there anticipating our meeting I can remember other times that I have been around him. No matter where it was I always was learning something from him, and not just the physical action more about how we carry our demeanor, our presence, and ourselves.

I could see him coming down the walkway, and as he approached, he had a big smile on his face. I walked up to him greeted him with a bow and took his luggage for him. I asked if he had had anything to eat yet on the flight and he stated that he had not had anything to eat, so we decided to go to the one the restaurants in the airport to have lunch. As we walked in and came up to our table, he went over to my wife and pulled out the chair for her to sit down. We had decided on what we all wanted to eat for lunch and when the food came my wife has had not been prepared yet. Therefore, we waited until her food arrived. The other thing that impressed me the most is he seemed to be so excited about seeing us just as much as we were about seeing him. He wanted to know everything about how her lies were going. Just in this simple situation, pulling the chair out, waiting to eat, asking about ourselves is what draws me to learn more about myself.

After lunch, we proceeded to head to my car. He had just arrived from New Jersey, where it was also cold, but not quite as cold as Chicago was at that time. He was wearing just a sport coat with no jacket, and had one simple suitcase. Therefore, I took a suitcase and proceeded to head for my car, or why I thought my car was. Unfortunately, we had to park in the outdoor parking lot and the weather was not the best as it was cold and flurrying. In addition, we started our journey towards our car and then I realized I forgot which section my car was parked! Therefore, I explained to him this, he smiled, and we started walking a little bit faster. I finally realized where my car was parked, which was still quite a distance away. We arrived at the car the first thing he did was reached over to my wife’s car door to open it for her. We have been walking for about 10 minutes to get to the car and I could tell he was getting quite cold so I opened the door for him to get in started the car and turn on heat full blast. He sat in the backseat of my car and I could tell from looking in the rear view mirror that he was quite cold, however he never complained about it at all. Our conversation journeying from the airport to the hotel was very interesting.

As we drove along the highway through the empty cornfields, he looked out the window and I explained to him that in Illinois we have large crops of corn, and beans that we produce.

He smiled yes, we have corn in Korea also, and that is what we ate as he pointed out the window. I said “corn”? No, he said “the stocks”. I asked him what he meant. He said “after the war in Korea many families were very poor in our farmlands weren’t very good. Therefore, my mother would gather the stocks from the corn because others had collected the corn itself. She would cut them up, boil them in, and add some type of broth, and that is what we had to eat. We never know what kind of hardships people go through in their lives.

People meet each other all the time in the street and say, “hi how are you”, without really wanting to know. To me humility revolves around this idea. I do not know what is going on all the time in other people’s lives, including family, friends and coworkers. Therefore, I take the approach that there are things I do not know or do not understand about them and try to find out. Humility to me is the ability to act or help others without needing anything in return.

“Humility is the solid foundation of all the virtues” Confucius

Mother Teresa’s Humility List

1. Speak as little as possible about yourself

2. Keep busy with your own affairs, not those of others

3. Avoid curiosity

4. Do not interfere in the affairs of others

5. Accept small irritations with good humor

6. Do not dwell on the faults of others

7. Except censures even if unmerited

8. Give in to the will of others

9. Accept insults and injuries

10. Accept contempt, being forgotten and discarded

11. Be courteous and delicate even when provoked

12. Do not seek to be admired or loved

13. Do not protect yourself behind your own dignity

14. Give in, in discussions, even when you are right

15. Choose always the more difficult task

“It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err.” — Mahatma Gandhi

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” C.S Lewis

“Be like the bamboo the higher you grow the deeper you bow.” Chinese Proverb

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