In my Tae Kwon Do practice, my current belt level has a corresponding Poomse (form), a choreographed sequence of stances, blocks, kicks and punches - Taeguk 6 Jang. Each form reflects and trains for an imaginary battle, and each form also carries spiritual ideas and characteristics. One of the books I use as a resource for Tae Kwon Do discusses the philosophical and tactical underpinning of this series of movements. In Tae Kwon Do: The Korean Martial Art, Richard Chun says:
“Gam is Water, which is liquid and formless yet never loses its nature, though it may conform to the vessel in which it finds itself. Water always flows downward and, in time, can wear away the hardest granite.
Gam is male. It symbolizes North. Through Gam, we learn that we can overcome every difficulty if we go forward with self-confidence and persistence, easy to bend but not break.
Like water, Taeguk 6 Jang is flowing and gentle yet destructive. It teaches that man, when faced with a challenge, can overcome it by persistence and unwavering belief. To give this form the appearance of continuity, its separate sequences of motion are connected by the Front Kick.”
In Jewish tradition, The Midrash on Song of Songs (Song of Songs is read on the intermediate Shabbat of Passover) also compares the Torah to water.
“Just as rain water comes down in drops and forms rivers, so with the Torah; one studies a bit today and some more tomorrow, until in time becomes like a flowing stream.
Just as water has no taste unless one is thirsty, so too, Torah is best appreciated through great effort and yearning.
Just as water leaves a high place and flows to a low one, so too, Torah leaves one whose spirit is proud and remains with one whose spirit is humble.
Water is a great equalizer, no matter your station or class - all can drink water. So, too - a scholar should not be ashamed to say to a simpler fellow, 'Teach me a chapter, a verse or a letter'.
Just as water is a source of life for the world, as it says, A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters (Song of Songs 4:15), so the Torah is a source of life for the world.
Just as water restores the soul, so does the Torah.
Just as water is cleansing, the words of Torah are purifying.”
The virtues of water, the same ones mentioned by Richard Chun, are symbolically powerful and important to remember as we approach Passover this year in which water plays such a central role. Water is both necessary and inspiring.
Water accommodates any shape, and every person, no matter who we are, and what our spiritual traditions, and ongoing practices. Torah can also “fit” every person, and can be experienced by everyone. Race, religion, gender, politics, age, and ideology do not keep us separated from the sources of faith and religion.
Water erodes even the hardest rock, and Torah, its wisdom, teachings and guidance for living soften hearts, and gives us the compassion and civility necessary to wear away bias, bigotry, prejudice and other hardnesses of the heart.
All water moves toward the same end. What separates us and defines us as different is far smaller than what unites us; the loves, losses and experiences that are shared by all people. Understood this way, Torah no longer stands as an exclusive possession of the Jewish people. Torah becomes the universal ocean of consciousness that we all share, the larger truth that surpasses the local, parochial truths of our individual communities.
I am inspired by the ancient teaching of Tae Kwon Do and the disciplined practice that has grown from them. And I have found the TKD studio to be a place of universal respect and community as we all study together towards mastery. My practice feels both deeply rooted and poignant and useful today.
I am inspired by the ancient teachings of Judaism and the rituals and symbolic gestures that have grown from the Torah. And I pray that the universal messages of wisdom, humility, and holiness will reach far beyond the borders of the Jewish community and unite many people of many faiths in a shared vision of spiritual mastery, at the same time ancient, vibrant and flowing like water.