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6 – Courage – Face The Tiger

The Kuk Sool Won™ of Thetford school motto is “Face The Tiger.”  This comes from an allegorical story told by World Kuk Sool Association Grandmaster In Hyuk Suh to my instructor, who then told it to me.  It has stuck with me ever since.

The short story describes two boys walking along a forest path.  When a tiger crosses their path one of the boys runs away terrified.  He is chased by the tiger, and eaten.  No doubt a little bit saddened by the loss of his compadre, the other boy continues to walk through the forest.  When a second tiger steps onto the path the boy is again beside himself with terror.  Having seen what happened a short while ago though, he decides running might not the best idea and, legs shaking with fear, he looks the tiger right in the eyes and does not move.  The tiger cannot understand why this creature isn’t scared: maybe he is a fearsome warrior and the tiger is in danger.  Disconcerted the tiger walks back into the tree line.


This allegory serves to describe what I like to call “feeling the fear, and doing it anyway.”  Courage in martial arts is not about being a strong and fearless fighter, ready to beat the snot out of anyone.  Any jerk can train hard to fight well. Just take MMA fighter Conner McGregor; great sports fighter, egotistical, horrible little bully and a shocking role model.  Courage is the ability to ACT on your VALUES.  Are you prepared to stand up for the other tenets discussed in my previous blogs?  HONESTY, MODESTY, COURTESY, INTEGRITY and HIGH MORAL CODE.  Living up to and by these standards shows integrity, but it can take an awful lot of courage sometimes to do so.  I’m willing to bet no one in history ever has 100%.

Even telling someone you don’t like something can take courage (and a smidgeon of tact) because we don’t like hurting people’s feelings.  Or we might simply be scared of that person.  That’s where confidence through martial arts training and courage comes full circle.  It’s much easier to have courage when you have confidence in your self defence skills to manage a dispute if it gets physical.

I tell my junior students this simple rule for dealing with a situation where someone is doing something they don’t like, or is hurting them:

LOOK – them in the eye, make sure they are listening and that you are serious

STOP – hold your hand up in front of you, say or shout, “STOP!  I DON’T LIKE IT”

GO – and find an adult or a teacher to help you.


This way they know that if all else fails, and they can’t get away, it is then appropriate to use what they have learned in class to protect themselves.

So courage can have a very outward appearance; having the tremendous bravery it can take to stand up for your beliefs despite the potential social or physical backlash.  However, it also takes courage to fight the little battles we have within ourselves.  Everyone has bad days.  Overcoming psychological blocks where nothing goes right – feeling frustrated, trapped or discouraged, when you just can’t seem to reach the next step, when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and cry (and that’s okay) – but it takes COURAGE to come back the next day and try again. This is as true in life as it is on the mat.

9th degree black belt Su Suhk Kwahng Jahng Nim Barry Harmon advocates a psychosomatic process by which he switches modes when he ties his belt on.  No matter how you are feeling, what kind of day you have had, if the very last thing you want to do is train; when you cinch the knot on your belt, all of that has to disappear and it’s Kuk Sool time. It is a period of time just for you, where nothing else matters.  You will leave the class feeling better than when you came in.  I promise.

Extending this into life has profoundly helped me in some very tense and scary situations.  Just the motion of pretending to cinch the knot on my belt is so ingrained in me now it changes my mindset.  If you ever see me do it, watch out, because I mean business!

Before I leave you I’d like to tell you about one of my newest students and her recent experience.  This student is a Director in a large firm.  Professionally she is indomitable and totally in control of her trade, but before beginning to train with us her personal confidence was lacking.  After a month or so of her beginning training at Kuk Sool Won™ of Thetford she was at Gala Awards event with her firm in London.  During the evening she got wind of some of the senior leadership team taking bets on her and what she might do!  Without going into specifics it was grossly inappropriate.  Completely shocking behaviour and something that previously she would have let slide and ignored due to not wanting to rock the boat.  However, she challenged them on it!  And, along with their sheepish apologies, she took the £60 that was in the pot.  It goes to show that you don’t need to become adept in martial arts in order for your confidence to build.  All it takes is the right environment, the right people and the right mentor to make a difference.  That is Kuk Sool Won™ the World over.


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