Molly and the Indomitable Spirit

30 Jan

I attended a taekwondo tournament this past Saturday. At two hours away from Duluth, it is one of the closer tournaments available to our students, so I encourage them to participate since there are few such convenient opportunities. Tournament competition is an infrequent experience for nearly all of our students, so I like for them to have it and to benefit from it.

One student of ours who participated was Molly, a petite eight-year-old girl. She and her brother Sam participated last year; however, this year, Sam chose not to participate, largely due to the overbearing sparring match he had last year. As a smaller tournament, organizers are hard pressed to split competitors into ideally appropriate divisions based on age, rank and experience. Sam had gotten consistently scored on in sparring by another boy who was, I believe, older, bigger, higher rank and more experienced.
Even though Sam had competed well in forms and breaking competitions, the sparring experience of an opponent kicking him at will drained his spirit. Still, he remains a great taekwondo student today!

This year the tournament was again smaller and Molly got placed into a less than ideal sparring division. I didn’t notice this right off, and before I knew it I spied her in a ring about to face off against a girl who was a rank lower, but who surely was two or three years older and a full foot taller.

The match began and the other girl kicked Molly at will (sound familiar?) repeatedly. To be fair, the kicks were not hard, nothing that would really hurt (I imagine the referee had talked about this with the girls before the match began), but would surely be noticed since there was an impact every few seconds for a full minute and a half, and then repeated for another round. Molly was in tears much of the match and the referee stopped the match at least four times to talk her down and get her back in the action.

It was a mismatch, David versus Goliath, but with neither sling nor stone available to the smaller of the two foes. The final score was something in the order of 40-0.

Point of emphasis: As I said earlier, divisions are hard to form at smaller tournaments, but I feel I failed in my duty to take care of my student by monitoring that process for sparring divisions more closely. Yet, guest instructors and masters generally try to respect tournament organizers and not interfere with such processes. Further, I’m not sure I would have contributed anything toward devising a better solution to that dilemma. Finally, and most important, the referees do a great job ensuring youth contact rules are followed, which is meant to protect the competitors against injury. As I noted, Molly was not physically hurt, but rather overwhelmed with being continually jarred for the duration of the match.

Still, I venture to say that Molly had a special tournament experience. Though overwhelmed, physically and emotionally, she continued on. She kept moving forward in a losing battle. On top of that, Molly originally came to Taekwondo quite shy, quiet and inhibited; she’s progressed a lot in moving past those characteristics but is still not exactly a teeny firebrand. But, at eight years old, she exhibited Indomitable Spirit (as did her brother the prior year). Indomitable Spirit is one of the Five Tenets of Taekwondo, and is a special aspect of the warrior archetype. As did show Leonidas’ 300 Spartans (and the others along with them) at the Battle of Thermopylae, Indomitable Sprit is courage and perseverance in the face of an overwhelming force.

Spartans & Persians. Judeans & Philistines. Molly & opponent.

In Taekwondo, one might think of Indomitable spirit (Baek-jeol-bul-gul, or 백절불굴, in Korean/Hangul) simply as fighting spirit. However, it is actually about a lot more than fighting per se. More broadly, Indomitable Spirit is a spirit that cannot be broken, subdued or overcome. It is courage. It is will.

This fighting spirit is a way of facing all of life’s situations and challenges. It is the spirit that can’t be broken. It is what keeps you going in really tough times. I think it is also the courage to act in the right way, or advocate for what is right, regardless of the forces, opposition or odds against. If Indomitable Spirit is, in part, courage, then we can see what Confucius meant when he said, “It is an act of cowardice to fail to speak out against injustice.” If it is courage and perseverance when physically faced with an overwhelming force, then it is the same when one’s principles are up against intimidating odds or circumstances.

Yet, one must be careful to not be simply strong willed, blinders-on uncaring, pig-headed. An important influence on the Indomitable Taekwondo fighter is the call for a Taekwondo practitioner to be modest and honest. This might be a modesty regarding one’s thinking, opinions, and actions, and an honesty in considering reality, facts, other’s thoughts, need or circumstances, one’s own biases. Such modesty and honesty can help ensure that when fighting, whether for a physical victory or a victory of principles, one is continually assessing just what IS right, and perhaps whether to keep fighting. We may be in the right when we fight in order to defend or protect. However, if we harm or do damage unnecessarily, then we have crossed the line to become the aggressor, the villain, the bully. Peace, harmony and happiness are, after all, the ultimate aims of Taekwondo.

I think much of our lives are often spent avoiding that which we dislike, if not hiding from that which we fear. We can learn a lot from little Molly: to step up to face the intimidating challenges, to courageously and judiciously keep moving forward despite the odds, resistance or attacks against us; to do an honest and modest assessment of the situation and continually reevaluate; to regroup when we start to crumble or lose faith; and to keep at it until the battle is done.

2 Responses to “Molly and the Indomitable Spirit”

  1. Paula Williams February 15, 2016 at 07:13 #

    Such a treat to read about Molly and to get more of a sense of what you are like as a teacher. Hoping my son will take me up on the idea of checking out taekwondo.

  2. chriscorreia February 15, 2016 at 14:57 #

    Thank you for reading and for offering feedback, Paula. I really appreciate you taking the time for both of those actions, each of which is beyond the norm, but particularly commenting. Dialogue after the fact is always one of the best parts of posting my thoughts. What in my post struck you most vividly?

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