Pil Sung

spirit of THE TIMES

                                                                             By Eric Heintz


Pil Sung:  Attitude, Achievement or Acceptance?

            In dojangs throughout the world, voices echo “pil sung” every day.  Literally, a battle cry without borders, pil sung united Korean stylists in a common bond of martial spirit; The Korean phrase “pil sung” means certain victory. But, one naturally asks, “Victory over what, over whom?”

            Does the victory envisioned in pil sung refer to victor over vanquished, conqueror over the defeated?  There is indeed a martial application to this exhortation e.g. the confidence pil sung spirit would infuse in one facing an unexpected armed attack - but there are more layers to this phrase than are superficially apparent.

            Every beginner has different reasons for training in the martial arts.  Some are looking for a new physical activity, a new set of friends, a new body, a new personality, or new skills.  Whether we are aware of it, each of us is looking for a measure of control in our lives, a center that may be missing or which needs nourishing.  This desire for control has both physical and mental components.  Physically, we wish to control our bodies with a sense of balance and coordination we lack.  Grace in movement is an attribute of the martial arts that is readily apparent to the most casual observer.  The thrill of learning to do techniques which one never thought possible for oneself is also exhilarating. 

            The self-defense skills one develops over time bestow on the martial artist a growing sense of control over one’s environment.  “What if my family, friends or I were threatened with immediate physical harm; what could I do?”  This is a question each of us asks.  Martial art training shapes those skills to impart that sense of control when facing unpredictable and arbitrary events such as a physical attack.

            Beyond physical control, however, we struggle with the mental realm of fantasies, fears and phobias.  These fantasies attach us to people, events and objects we perceive as pleasant.  Fears cause us to try to avoid people, events and objects we perceive to be adverse.  Feeling tossed about in this sea of

“I want this,” “I don’t want that,” “I need this object,” “Please spare me having to spend time doing that,” we can find no restful place, no ease.  The locus of control of these feelings and emotions seems outside us and not within ourselves.  Events, other people, and their demands seem to dictate how our time and energies should be spent.

            The pil sung spirit imbued in the practitioner through weeks and months and years of arduous training gradually allows one to take control of physical movements with definition and grace.  Confidence in self-defense skills grows with repetition of blocks, strikes, and kicks.  But just as importantly, the whole range of emotions the practitioner experiences in class - joy, fear, jealousy, anger, among others - allows him or her to develop personal skills to deal constructively with those emotions not only in the dojang but in the home, office or classroom as well.  The pil sung spirit will not let you feel defeated by fear, anger or jealousy but shows a path through your martial art training to a “certain victory” over those emotions.  Being carried away by one’s emotions, whether viewed as a positive or negative feeling, keeps one off center, without balance.  The pil sung spirit gives “control” over these emotions by allowing you to recognize the emotion racing through you for what it is, just a feeling, but a feeling one does not need to embrace as “me.”  It will come and go as everything in life, and this moment of anger need not define you as “angry I.”  Pil sung spirit lets you look at it, let it go and then move on to what is in front of you in the next moment without clutching at the past emotion, person or object.  It allows you to dwell completely in the present moment. 

            Pil sung spirit gives us a mechanism to face those challenges in life that excite us and intimidate us at the same time.  More than a phrase it represents an attitude, a trait of character, a willingness to accept life’s vicissitudes with dignity.  It includes a concept of victory, in a sense, as well as control of one’s self and one’s environment but transcends to a recognition and acceptance of what is occurring in our environment and within ourselves to empower each of us with more than “control.”


*Eric Heintz is a Tae Kwon Do Master Instructor under Grand Master Chung Eun Kim in Davenport, Iowa.  Master Heintz once raised $10,000 for charity by breaking over 200 boards in less than 5 minutes, a record that still stands today.


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