Ji Do Kwan training is designed to challenge students from the very first class, regardless of their abilities upon entering the school. Anyone with the determination and desire to learn can gain the necessary physical abilities through the practice of the art alone. Athletes or movement artists in excellent physical condition will have an easier introduction than those without a well-rounded fitness base, but they too will find challenges before long. Physical challenges are the first that most students struggle with, and although the art continues to develop the body for many years, the training moves deeper into a mental and spiritual experience as time passes.
Tae Kwon Do makes unusual demands on the body, and at the beginning of their training, almost all students experience muscle soreness as they discover muscles they never knew they had. Some develop blisters or temporary soreness in various joints. As in running, ballet, weightlifting, or any intensive physical endeavor, the techniques soon become familiar to the bodyand grow more comfortable. As students become fit, their challenge shifts to finding ways to maintain the difficulty, to continue to push themselves and grow as they become stronger. Those willing to endure a brief period of adjustment to the unfamiliar motions of Tae Kwon Do reach a well-rounded and high level of strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular fitness. They also reach a deep understanding of how different parts of their bodies work together, so their fitness is practical — they are not only in shape but know how best to use their body’s potential.
As students continue to struggle with the physical challenges of Tae Kwon Do, they also begin to explore and train their minds. As a student enters the dojang, (training hall), he or she enters a special place where the only task of any importance is the next technique. One goal of training is to reach the state of “no mind,” a term that is hard to translate but describes a state of being intensely alert and alive but detached from the outcome of the actions of the moment. When an athlete speaks of being in “the zone” — the basketball player sinking a perfect foul shot at the buzzer, the runner who covers mile after effortless mile, the baseball player on a hitting streak — all are in a simple version of this state. The athlete becomes pure action, and feels that he or she can do no wrong. For all but world- class athletes, this is an elusive state, one that may happen only a few times a year, if ever. The martial artist learns to assume this state at will. Advanced students strive to make this attitude part of their everyday lives. It is an ability that can improve everything a person does, like breathing clear mountain air after a lifetime of smog.
A mental transformation of this magnitude often leads to profound changes in a person’s spiritual life. They may find themselves understanding more clearly what is truly important in their lives. As they become physically and mentally strong, conflicts between people often seem less significant and can be resolved constructively. Most students of Ji Do Kwan become more at peace, both with others and in their interior lives, through their training. It is as hard to explain how this transformation occurs as it is to explain Zen, but the effect is unmistakable in the experienced martial artist, as anyone who has been in the presence of a great master can attest.
The most important quality that any martial artist can have at any level is dedication. Many people of average physical talents surpass their more athletic peers through years of sustained training, workout after workout. Again, the most important part of the term Tae Kwon Do is “Do” — the Way. Only by making martial arts training a part of one’s daily life can one learn the deepest truths.