Suk-Dal: Striving For Perfection
Grand Master James S. Benko, Ph.D.

The sun was just beginning to rise above the trees. It was cold as the morning wind sent chills throughout my body. I could feel the snow on my bare feet as I stood motionless in my stance. I lifted my right leg and drove a side kick into the tree which stood before me. The branches shook slightly. "Not good enough" I said to myself. Again I slammed my foot against the tree. Again and again until I could feel the tree beginning to rock back and forth. As I continued to kick the tree, I remembered a word my master had said to me many years ago,"suk-dal".

Even after class had ended I would stay practicing my kicks and punches until I could hardly lift my legs and arms. The master would look in and say "suk-dal", a word I did not know, then he would go back to whatever he was doing.

One day the master called me to the front of the class and shouted a command at me, "Pon Tay Chirigee". I quickly dropped into a front stance and snapped out a reverse punch with all the power I could muster. As I stood there I started mentally analyzing my punch. I began to go over all the things I believed I had done wrong. I stood like a statue waiting to see what he wanted me to do next.

Suddenly I felt a sharp pain shoot up my rear leg. The master had struck me with the stick he often carried during class, and screamed "nha". I didn't move. Again, pain, this time across my back as that one word echoed throughout the training hall as the master yelled to the whole class, "nha". Again, again, and again, pain and that word, "nha" each time, which means "yes".

There was a momentary lapse, then everything was quiet. The students were in shock. The master now stood in front of me, and a strange look came over his face. He grabbed my punching arm, firmly yet gently and said quietly, "suk-dal" as he looked at the rest of the class. He pointed to my head, looked at the class and said, "suk-dal". Finally he pointed to my chest, looked directly into my eyes and said, "nha, suk-dal".

When the class was over all the black belts were stunned and quite confused. Several of them approached the Master and asked, "Master, what did you mean?" He replied. "The stance, yes, perfect. The punch, yes, perfect. But these are simply physical things. I touched his arm because he gives all of his body to his training simply for the love of the Art. This is suk-dal, perfection. I pointed to his head because he devotes this mind and thoughts to learning everything he can about the Art. This is suk-dal, perfection. I pointed to his chest because he loves the Art from deep in his heart and it shall be part of him all of his life. This is suk-dal, perfection."

The black belts asked, "How can it be perfection if true perfection can never be achieved?" The master replied, "Because he believes he will never be able to perfect his techniques, but he keeps trying to better himself. The perfection is in the "doing", for suk-dal is not an end, it is in the practice of and love for the Art."

A voice gently said, "Time for breakfast dear." It was my wife looking up at me with a warm smile. I don't know how long I stood there kicking that tree and remembering. "Not good enough yet" I thought to myself. Then that word came to me as it had so many years ago, suk-dal. I walked back to the house with my wife without saying a word, but she knew what I was thinking. She smiled and softly whispered, "suk-dal", and gently squeezed my hand.

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