Several years ago, a student approached me and asked me a question. She said, “Master Elmore, I was reading a book on Tang Soo Do and it said that the ultimate goal of all Tang Soo Do practitioners is to become one with nature. What does that mean?” I had read this before many times as well but did not spend enough time thinking about it. I always chalked it up to some of that mystical Eastern philosophy that is prevalent in martial arts. Rather than responding with something that sounded like when you ask a politician a yes or no question and they provide a 10-minute response about a different topic, I simply said “I’m sorry but I don’t know.” I barely slept that night because I was contemplating the question. I was determined to figure this out both for myself since I don’t like not knowing something but also for my student because it is my job to teach her these things and find the answers to her questions. A few weeks later, all the random thoughts I was having seemed to form a cohesive answer, at least in my mind. Below is the what I came up with and passed along not only to her but to the rest of my students. There is a lot of opinion here and I welcome any additional thoughts anyone may have.
Be one with nature. It sounds like it comes from some 1960s tree hugger hippy commune or some sci-fi ability equivalent to using The Force. What does kicking, punching, throwing, choking, and breaking stuff have to do with nature? My first thought was to examine nature itself. Nature can be peaceful and tranquil like a majestic redwood tree in the calm forest. Nature can also be violent and untamed like a lion hunting down a gazelle. What I quickly realized that helped me tremendously was to examine what nature is not. Nature does not pass judgement. Nature does not seek revenge. Nature is not egocentric; seeking fame, fortune, or material possessions. Nature is pure and purposeful. Even acts that are deemed violent like a shark attacking a seal are for a reason, typically for survival whether it be to protect themselves or their families or to eat. Animals don’t attack other animals because they don’t like the color of their fur or because they came from the other side of the plains. Animals aren’t lazy and glutinous, if they were they wouldn’t survive.
With these statements in mind, I would argue that human beings are not only not one with nature, but we are not even a part of nature. We destroy nature for our own personal gains, not for survival. We harm each other with our words and actions for petty reasons like race, economic status, and sexual orientation.
Now let’s look at some of the teachings of martial arts and see if we can make some sense to how it helps us to be one with nature. Martial arts teaches us to be respectful to one another, especially seniors. Martial arts teaches self-control, not letting egocentric views dictate our actions, especially if they are harmful to ourselves or others. There is obviously a self-defense aspect to martial arts which can be violent if used. However, we are taught to only use these actions as a last resort, when our lives or the lives of loved ones are in danger. We are taught honor and integrity in martial arts, doing the right thing even when times are tough.
To me, it sounds like the things I stated above are naturally done in the natural world (no pun intended). It also seems to be that we as human beings are generally lacking in these areas.
So, maybe we should think about being a part of nature before we are one with it. I feel martial arts helps us remember these important concepts that nature just automatically follows without thinking about it. I could be way off as to what it actually means to be one with nature and how martial artists should strive to achieve it but this is what countless hours of sleepless contemplation came up with.