Different paths on the same journey

December 16th, 2009By Category: Uncategorized

n819879213_466086_7475A few months ago, I went to Korea to visit my former Taekwondo master there, and he took it upon himself to show me his latest feat of physical conditioning. Having strengthened his hands to the point that knuckle, knifehand, oxhand, and 3 finger push-ups no longer represented any kind of a challenge for him, he had started doing push-ups by spreading out his wingspan, and with his hands turned over, doing them on just the two knuckles of his index fingers.

Until he got down (on concrete, mind you) and gave me a demonstration of twenty of them, I didn’t even know if that was humanly possible. But then again that was his specialty. For the past 30 years, (aside from his service as a ROK Marine) he has lived, breathed, slept and ate nothing but Taekwondo. Every muscle, ligament, and bone in his body is fine-tuned to the purpose of Taekwondo’s particular style of movement, and having read hundreds and hundreds of books on the topic, Taekwondo philosophy, and the quest for mastering himself seems to permeate every fiber of his being. One of my favorite examples of this was a case where we were leaving a Korean restaurant in Seoul, and a Korean kid who was passing us farted out loud.

As spontaneous (and unbelievably loud) as it was, I absolutely howled with laughter. He, on the other hand, thoughtfully nodded and only dryly remarked, “Oh… his stomach power is very strong.” In any event, while watching him crank out yet another kind of physically impossible push-ups ( middle & index fingers only this time), I really came to realize just how different our paths had become…or maybe always had been. In my constant quest for understanding ‘martial art’ , I had always focused on the general. Through studying a multitude of systems, I sought to unearth the patterns and parallels that constitute an underlying form. I wanted to find what the commonalities are, how they connect to each other, and how different environments, physical strengths, weaknesses and tools could create such a vast array of techniques and philosophies all in the name of the same basic need. He, on the other hand, was the supreme example of the specialist. If I was focused on developing an understanding of ‘martial art’ by exploring it’s girth, he has always worked towards the same end by focusing his exploration on it’s depth. The funny thing is however, although one would think that this would cause a certain dichotomy in our philosophy on martial arts, it doesn’t. At this point, I have known him for 10 years now, and the further we both go on our own paths, the more we both seem to understand each others. I had heard once that ‘The path to greatness is paved with tears’ and perhaps, within the dedication to that path is where our similarity lies.

My dedicated study of martial art in all of its myriad forms resulted in my becoming an action movie actor. His pure and unflinching dedication to Taekwondo resulted in him becoming a member of the Korean Tigers, (arguably the world’s most elite taekwondo demonstration team). Maybe this is also why professional athletes, actors and singers all revolve in the same social circles: it is their understanding of the journey that gives them a sense of commonality, not what they actually do.

A long time ago, I once overheard a conversation between him and a white belt. The white belt asked him, ‘Which martial art do you think is the best?’ He replied, ‘Once you climb to one mountain top, you can clearly see all of them.’ In response, the white belt commented, ‘But what good does that do me, when I’m all the way at the bottom of the mountain, and you are already up near the top?’ To this he replied, ‘Actually, we are in the same place. Regardless of where we are on the mountain, what matters most is only that we take the next step.’


Chuck Johnson is an internationally recognized action film actor. He has recently been featured on kung fu cinema.com, nippon cinema.com, and his latest film project, Yakuza Hunter will be released in the states next year. He currently teaches both film action and taekwondo in Tokyo and Saitama.

Author of this article

Chuck Johnson

Chuck Johnson is a Martial Arts Instructor/ Action Film Actor based in Tokyo, Japan, and Michigan, USA. He has been teaching for 16 years, holds ranks in Taekwondo, Judo, Capoeira, and Karate, and is an experienced bodyguard. He is also a member of the Screen Action Stunt Association, and Society of American Fight Directors. Additionally, he has 10 years of ELT experience, and is the developer of Phat English, a system that uses specialized hip-hop music to teach the subtle nuances of GAm English pronunciation. For more information, visit www.chuck-n-action.com or follow Chuck on twitter at chuck_n_action

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  • Raymond_d says:

    This kind of information is always interesting and motivating.

  • JP says:

    Inspired me to continue my pushups in the morning.

  • Chuck Johnson says:

    Thanks! Glad you liked it!

  • Chuck Johnson says:

    Yeah, I was. I was there in 1998 and then again in 2000. I'm not from Minnesota though. My hometown is in Michigan. 'Fraid you may have the wrong guy 😉

  • sophie123 says:

    Interesting… I might try some of this on my blog, too. It’s quite interesting how you sometimes stop being innovative and just go for an accepted solution without actually trying to improve it… you make a couple of good points.

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  • A.D. Johnson says:

    Well Chuck, if you were in Korea circa 99-00, and I showed the secret nipple pinch and you would get off of 7-11 and then go and a spar at 7 a.m. after a full night's shift, oh!, and you dated that Korean-American that liked to run in the mornings (though she was laughed at by the KOREANS) [who had nice legs BTW :)]
    Then this is definately not for you, as it is the wrong brathah from Minnesota. My apologies…

  • A.D. Johnson says:

    Specifically, were you at Yonsei?

  • Mitch Herny says:

    I really enjoyed reading this.

  • A.D. Johnson says:

    Chuck were you in Korea around 1999-2000?

  • Mark says:

    Once Takuan Soho and Musashi were meditating beside a stream. as they sat, a poisonous snake began to slither towards them. The snake calmly moved across Takuan's legs without hesitation, but when it began to approach Musashi, it hissed, recoiled, and slithered away quickly.
    “Amazing,” Takuan remarked, “You've trained so long and become so deadly that all creatures instinctively fear you.”
    “It saddens me,” replied Musashi, “All I wish is to be at harmony with nature, like you, who the snake never noticed.”