Hwa Rang Do Mom – Cho Dan Dissertation by Instructor Alina Cole

The hwarang traditions stem from an ancient culture, very different from the modern world.  It is our challenge as the new hwarang to find ways to bring the spirit of the hwarang into our modern age.  In some ways this challenge seems very difficult, but I have found so many of my attempts at the application to be surprisingly simple.  One of the problems of the modern world is our tendency to complicate life – externally with material things (TVs, computers, “smart” phones, etc) and with interpersonal relationships (1,125 friends on Facebook but not a one ever met in person), and internally by ignoring ourselves and filling our lives with noise and distraction.  So, yes, there is much to do, and therefore the task of bringing the hwarang way into our lives seems difficult – but in reality, the answer is so simple.

As I struggle to keep finding ways to bring the hwarang way of life to my own personal world, I have to keep in mind that it is not just me I am affecting.  As a mother, especially of a young child, everything I do, she sees.  My daughter is a sponge of information and a miniature copy of myself.  So, not only do I need concern myself with my own hwarang life, but I must always be cognizant of how it affects my daughter.  Not only that, but as a Tae Soo Do student herself, I want to teach her how to be a hwarang in this modern age as well.  These are indeed challenging tasks, because as a human, I am inherently flawed.  But this is why we train – to better ourselves, and to strive to make fewer mistakes and be a role-model to others.  I am sure I am not the first parent to struggle with introducing and explaining this concept to her child.  In the following pages, I would like to discuss some issues that I have encountered, or expect to encounter, concerning teaching (and learning) moments, for myself and my daughter, on being a hwarang in the modern world.

One big issue I see a lot these days is the lack of respect for others, mainly in general non-professional type situations.  I feel that my parents taught me very well to respect everyone, regardless of appearance, job or job status, language, age, gender, mental state, etc.  My father was (and is still) a doctor, and when I was little, he would sometimes take me with him on his rounds at the nursing home.  I remember being very frightened and even disgusted with the older people there, as many were in wheelchairs, unable to care for their own basic needs, or senile.  But my father treated them all with kindness and respect, and taught me why they were the way they were.  And with that understanding, I found respect for them as well.  Now I do not necessarily need understanding – I just need to show respect, because in truth I do not need to understand someone in order to respect them.  I prefer to be respectful first, and only lose respect under extreme circumstances.  This is how I try to behave.  The challenge comes in teaching this to my daughter. As she gets older, I hope to find opportunities to explain just that to her.  But right now she is very young, and so my best way to teach is to demonstrate how I want her to behave.  I have been diligent, possibly overly so, in teaching her to be polite.  She says please and thank you a lot, which is a form of respect.  I also make sure to say please and thank you, particularly to people who are often ignored, such as the busboy at a restaurant, the janitor sweeping the floor, a tollbooth operator, the checkout lady at Walgreens, etc.  The more I show respect to others, the more I hope she will copy me.

Showing respect is also very important in interpersonal relationships, whether it’s with a teacher, a friend, or a family member.  Written communications are also a big area I feel many people show serious lack of respect – phone, email, Facebook, texting.  The modern age of instant communication and shorthand typing seems to have thrown respect in communication out the window.  I have become very sensitive to my own communications having experienced the serious problems that can occur if your messages are less than clear.  As a result, I reread all typed messages at least 3 times to make sure my message says what I mean.  I find it very frustrating to receive poorly typed and confusing messages because the other person didn’t take an extra 20 sec to check their typing.  My daughter is not yet typing her own messages, but I expect it won’t be long.  We will probably start with writing Thank You notes for gifts, a tradition that has also fallen by the wayside.  It is my goal to teach her that we must always be respectful when we communicate – regardless of medium.

Alongside respect comes courtesy, the act of doing helpful things for people on an individual basis.  “Common” courtesy, including such acts as holding doors for people, picking up dropped items, allowing someone in an obvious hurry to pass, etc., I have found to be less than common in our modern world.  Everyone seems to be in a hurry and not care about others.  I have observed, however, that the problem lies mainly in a lack of awareness.  So many people get wrapped up in their own little worlds that they don’t pay attention to their surroundings, or they simply don’t think of the impact of things that they do or don’t do.  I feel I have always been fairly aware of the world around me, but that in training to be a hwarang, I have become much more aware.  I find myself always watching, observing, anticipating, and predicting what other people are doing and where they are going, so I am typically not surprised during encounters with other people.  What I do find difficult, however, is not getting mad at all those people who do not pay attention, or who do discourteous things regardless of intent.  Yes – they should pay attention, or they should be courteous, but getting mad at them is not going to change anything.  And it sets a poor example to my daughter.  So I try to remain calm, and strive to demonstrate acts of courtesy to my daughter and others as well.  Perhaps the best way to teach such concepts is to “lead by example.”

There is a fine line, however, between being courteous and allowing people to “walk all over you.”  I was a fairly timid person, to strangers at least, when I started training in Hwa Rang Do.  And sometimes I would be a little too nice to people, allowing them to take advantage of me.  Thankfully I did not encounter any serious problems, but learned through a few minor incidents that I needed to sometimes be more shrewd in my dealings with certain people, and to not be afraid to stand up for myself when needed.  “Courage to never retreat in the face of an enemy” sounds very serious when spoken in the Meng Sae, and it is serious, but does not, of course, always apply to actual fighting situations.  Often my enemy is myself, such as my tendency to get angry in many real world situations.  Now, again, my daughter is very young, so in her case these situations in which other kids might take advantage of her often involve stealing toys or budging in line at the playground.  So my current teaching opportunities involve sharing of toys and playground equipment.  And sometimes I have gotten angry at other kids for taking her stuff.  But I am learning to stop – fight off that enemy of anger, deal with the situation immediately and calmly.  Then when the dust clears, I explain the difference between sharing something with another and not letting them steal from you. The simplicity of the example doesn’t diminish the lesson – that it takes wisdom to understand the difference between doing a good deed and letting someone take advantage of you.  And this I have struggled with in finding ways to teach.  With my quick temper, it is also something I must constantly work on to find my own wisdom, and so to better teach.  Teaching wisdom to a 3-year-old?  Sometimes seems as difficult as learning it myself.

Patience is almost as difficult to teach as wisdom.  I regret to say I have not been very patient in life these last several years.  Before my daughter was born, I lost my job and have had very limited luck in finding a replacement.  The irony is that I had planned on cutting down considerably on my work time for at least the first year of my daughter’s life, with the option of quitting entirely if I determined that was a good option. But because I was laid off instead of choosing to be a stay-at-home-mom, I felt cheated out of an important decision in my life right before having a child, an event that changes your whole world, and not necessarily in the ways you expect. I felt that I completely lost control of my life, and I am sad to say I was very unhappy that first year and was not a good person, wife or mother.  I struggled to regain control – got back to training, and discovered I wasn’t a very good student any more either. But I had it all wrong – it wasn’t control I needed.  It was balance. I needed to let go of my disappointment in life at losing my job and my anger at the universe for dealing me such crappy cards.  It’s nobody’s fault this happened to me – it just did.  And it took me a surprisingly long time to figure that out, and to stop being angry at the world, and disappointed at myself.  I have since realized that what I really needed was patience – patience to let things settle down (first year or two or three of a child’s life is nothing but chaotic), patience to understand that it’s NOT going to settle down (life is fluid), and to learn to take things as they come.  Sometimes you need to grab life by the horns.  Sometimes you need to relax and enjoy the ride, no matter how bumpy.

So how do these concepts of patience and balance apply in the modern world?  Continuing the “life pursuits” theme, I think that our societal expectation for people to get a “proper” education, have a “respectable” job, and to own the coolest material things, is inherently detrimental to society itself, IF we disregard the other important things in life.  Unfortunately, yes, money is important because we need it to feed, clothe, and give ourselves shelter.  Therefore a good steady job is important, and a better education can provide a higher income.  I certainly don’t want to downplay the importance of education and employment.  However, the really important things in life, from my limited experience, are family, friendships, and health – both physical and mental.  Happiness or contentedness, and inner peace.  These things come first – make your inner self the foundation of your life, not your job or material things.  If you understand and are true to yourself, then you will have better relationships, both personal and professional.  The balance flows uphill from there.  So how do I teach this to my daughter?  Teach her inner reflection – what am I feeling and why?  How can I improve myself?  And teach her patience – relax and enjoy the world around you, and when you see something you want, whether it’s a job or a life pursuit or a relationship, you grab it, hang on to it, and fight for it when you need to.

This past year, in ramping up my training, preparing for black sash test, I feel I have become a better mom and a better person in general. I have been healthier, physically and mentally, more motivated, and more positive in my thinking. As a result, even though I have spent much more time training, I have improved my time management, kept the house clean, cooked healthier meals for my family, played with my daughter better, and improved my teaching of her as well.  My husband, who has been very encouraging throughout this journey, has been inspired by my change. He has been more inclined to finish projects, aided in keeping the house clean, and helped me find the time to continue my path.

Parenting is teaching, and teaching is parenting.  And I think my abilities as a mom have also improved my instruction.  The number of women instructors, and in particular mom instructors, is considerably less than the men in martial arts.  I feel this gives me a unique perspective to my instruction, particularly to kids, in presenting and demonstrating material, motivating, encouraging, and disciplining my students. And I feel a better role-model to the ladies in class, both young and mature. Sabumnim Diane Spoehr has always been very inspiring to me as a woman instructor, but more so now because we are both moms.  I also feel I can be a role-model to other moms at the dojang and hope I can inspire them, and demonstrate that the warrior path is attainable for women too. Moms can train, AND you don’t have to give up your training to be a mom either. In fact, you can be a better mom by training.

My road on this journey has just begun, and I still have a lot to learn about being a hwarang myself, but as I continue through life and through my training, I will continuously strive to better myself as a person, wife, friend, instructor, and mom.  One never ceases to learn, and as a parent or instructor (or both) the teaching opportunities never end.  The more I learn, the more I can teach my daughter (and others) to be a better person herself.  She is still very young, but I am already proud of her accomplishments so far – she has learned politeness, respect, and kindness. As a young child she is very trusting, and trust is good with the right person, but it takes wisdom sometimes to know whom to trust – knowing who your true friends are.  And learning that, for the most part, you will find your most loyal relationships within your family.  Throughout the next several years I will continue to find new ways to introduce and teach concepts of wisdom and patience to her and my students, as I learn these better myself.  Again, there is much to learn for the both of us.  I will end with a list summary of things for us both to remember in life – a list which we will continue adding to over time!

  1. Be polite and respectful. Pretty much everyone you meet deserves it.
  2. Be kind and courteous, but stand up for yourself when it matters.
  3. Be aware of others and your surroundings. Move when you need to, but remain steady when it’s called for.
  4. Be positive. Nothing is solved by getting mad at the world.
  5. Learn wisdom from your actions and experiences – both the good and the bad.
  6. Life is um-yang – sometimes you need to relax and let it take you somewhere, sometimes you stop and fight.  Wisdom will help you choose which path to take.



Alina Cole

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