Bridging Cultural Gaps with Martial Arts Training

September 10, 2009

Bridging Cultural Gaps with Richard and Mi Yi Hackworth

Understanding Korean thinking: The first step to bridging cultural gaps.

“What do Koreans think?” This question has intrigued Western practitioners of Korean martial arts since their first contact with the Korean culture after World War II. For Westerners living in Korea or training in Korean martial arts under the tutelage of Korean born instructors who are concerned with Korean-Western problems, it is important to understand the cultural influences that affect the Korean mind set. The thoughts, philosophies and personal value systems that Koreans function from. This understanding is necessary if one is to develop rapport, have meaningful communication, exchange ideas and enhance the student-instructor relationship to improve the learning process.

“What do Koreans think?” Koreans and Asians in general have had a distorted reputation for being inscrutable and impossible for the Westerner to understand. This is because as a culture Westerners have received most of their “education” about Asian culture, philosophy and ideas from martial arts movies. Movies that were made for entertainment, not education or to create insight. How can we truly learn about Korean thinking without a background in Asian philosophy, history, religions, sociology and anthropology? So that is where we will begin with this series of articles.

Undoubtedly, Koreans are very human in the same raw humanities and feelings that we all share. Westerners have had to learn to sublimate or cover up these feelings in order to be accepted in their own culture. Koreans cover up differently than Westerners. Korean people show their human nature without the modifications of centuries of Greco-Roman, Judeo-Christian, Anglo-Saxon heritage. Their modifications may be built on Shamanistic base, or are Buddhist, Confucian, because these are the century old concepts that influence the Korean culture.

Korean are surprisingly like Westerners in many ways. If you visit patient to patient in a hospital in Seoul, Korea and then visit patient to patient with people in a hospital in Orlando, Florida and notice the way they react is identical. How they react to pain, suffering, disappointment and dying. The deepest fears, hopes, motivations, loves, jealousies, insecurities, inferiority complexes and frustrations common to most people are easily recognized in Koreans. So the first key to bridging the cultural gaps between Koreans and Westerners is to begin with this realizations. People are people and we all have feelings and ideas.

Having lived in Korea for more than a decade and being both Korean and American, we have experienced all of the conflicts and misunderstanding that could come between two cultures during our twenty plus years of marriage. We hope that the resolutions that have helped us bridge these cultural gaps between the two of us can be helpful to everyone else who is crossing those cultures and influences in their daily lives through Korean martial arts training. Next time we will discuss the Korean language, learning the Korean language and how what we say is not always what the other person hears.