Scott Be Positive

Scott Shaw Philosophy and the Martial Arts

This article originally appeared in Martial Art Masters in 1997

Korean martial art stylist Scott Shaw has become one of the most prolific writers in the American Martial Art Community. Articles he has written for such magazines as Black Belt, Inside Karate, Taekwondo Times, and Inside Taekwondo have explored many of the subtle elements of the Korean Martial Arts previously only revealed to advanced students of the arts.

1997 saw two martial art books authored by Scott Shaw brought into print. The first was, Hapkido: The Korean Art of Self Defense and the second was, The Ki Process: Korean Secrets for Cultivating Dynamic Energy. Both of these books have already been translated into several language, expressing their groundbreaking importance to the world of martial arts. Scott’s new book, The Warrior is Silent: Martial Arts and The Spiritual Path has just come into print and later in 1998 his book, Samurai Zen will be in bookstores. With his extensive list of published works, in addition to a video tape series he teaches on Hapkido, produced by Unique Publications, many have wonder about Scott’s background in the martial arts.

Scott Shaw began training in the Korean martial arts as a young boy. He spent the first decade of his life in South Central Los Angeles and his adolescence in East Hollywood. From these gritty street environments, he came to readily understand the level of unnecessary violence which is prevalent in many urban centers around the world. Whereas these unforgiving surroundings have sent many a youth down a road to destruction, Scott saw it as a pathway to the development of inner strength and self-reliance. With martial arts as a central focus, Scott rose above the limitations of his youthful atmosphere and now possesses over thirty-year experience in Hapkido, Taekwondo, Kumdo, and the Korean Ki Sciences.

During 1970’s, with high school behind him, Scott began to travel to Asia. He did this not only to refine his martial art skills but to delve into the meditative sciences, which he had become very involved in as a teenager. His first destination was India where he lived in the small town in the foothills of the Himalayas called, Riskeesh. Here he studied and eventually began teaching the physical and the meditative aspects of yoga. Shaw would later integrate this meditative understanding into his martial arts teachings. When asked why more Western martial art instructors do not teach meditation in association with their classes, as is the case in Asia, Shaw states, “I believe it’s because in the Western world we are so dominated by immediacy. No one is willing to sit down and really learn how to focus their mind to the degree which is required in meditation. In American everybody wants recognition for their accomplishments: a higher belt, a new title, or whatever. In meditation there’s no external reward for your advancement, so most martial artists blow it off, believing that it’s just not important to their overall development. They’re wrong.”

Upon returning to America to attend college, Scott who already held black belts in Hapkido and Taekwondo begin to teach the martial arts on a full-time basis. Upon the completion of his Bachelor of Arts degree in Geography he began frequently traveling to Korea to further refine his understanding of the Korean martial arts. In Korea, Shaw studied under some of the first-generation masters of the modern Korean martial arts. The knowledge passed onto him during this period has allowed him a unique perspective to not only teach the Korean martial arts with authority but to peer deeply into the fundamentals of the Korean martial art techniques and ideology. As many Westerns have studied the Korean martial arts, the question is often posed to Shaw, “What is the difference between the training given to Western students and those who train in Korea?” He answers by stating, “It’s mostly the overall level of intensity which both the students and the instructors possess in Korea. The American martial art mind set is very lackadaisical in comparison to the Korean. This is in no small part due to the level of political correctness which dominates us here in the States—instructors are not allowed to truly motivate their students when they are slacking off by yelling at them or striking them with a bamboo shaft which is commonly done in Korea. Though certainly some great martial artists have risen out of America; most, however, do not possess the never say die attitude which is present in virtually all Korean trained martial artists.”

During the 1980’s Scott completed his graduate degrees in Herbology and Asian Studies. In addition, he continually returned to Asia to not only enhance his martial art and meditative understanding but to document Asian culture, as well. Possessing Master Instructor Certifications from Korea in both Hapkido and Taekwondo, Shaw is often questioned about the difference between the two arts. He answers, “Hapkido and Taekwondo are two completely different arts. Taekwondo is a very linear—get in your face style of martial arts, where Hapkido is just the opposite, it’s based in meeting forceful energy with deflection, as opposed to defending yourself with direct force. The origin of Hapkido is based in Diato Ryu Aikijutsu, a Japanese martial art, and Taekwondo, created by General Hong Hi Choi, was originated by blending indigenous Korean martial arts such as Su Bak and Tae Kyon with large influences from late 18th and early 19th century Okinawan Kara-te. Though most Korean stylist wish to deny this fact.”

Scott has personally researched extensive studies on Korean history over the past two decades. Due to this fact, he often times find himself at odds with those who write inaccurate accounts of the Korean martial art tradition. He states, “I believe it’s imperative to speak and read the native language of a country if you are going to write about its history. If you can’t, then you cannot study native documents. So much of the history I see written about both the ancient and modern Korean martial arts is completely wrong. People just hear it from secondhand source and believe it to be true without researching it themselves. The history of Korean martial arts is continually inaccurately portrayed, and this truly hurts its arts.”

Scott’s involvement in the Korean martial arts began with Hapkido. It then branched out to include Taekwondo. Though he possesses extensive experience in both, rivaled by few Americans, his primary discipline is on the further development of Hapkido. When questioned as to what maintains his focus on this art, he answers, “Hapkido is an expansive system of self-defense where you truly come to understand the subtle elements of movement associated with the human body. Once the dynamics of human motion is understood, Hapkido then teaches you how to gain mastery over every action an adversary unleashes. Whereas, Taekwondo has about one hundred basic movements, Hapkido has thousands, so there is always a new element to study, refine, and master.”

Scott is a firm believer in the fact that forcefully blocks should never be used to intercept a punch or a kick. As he has written in his articles and books, “When you intercept a forceful attack with a powerful block, the energy of force meeting force will often times injure the blocking element of your own body.” He goes on to further illustrate his understanding of this self-defense principal by saying, “In Hapkido, deflection is not simply guiding your attacker’s punch or kick away from striking you. Instead, you deflect his offensive attack by using the force of his own expended energy. With his own aggressive force, you guide him into the most appropriate positioning where a powerful counterattack or a throw can be initiated utilizing his own forward driven power. With this style of defense, you not only save your own energy but allow your opponent’s own actions to dominate what type of counterattack you launch.”

Scott understands that on the world-wide level Taekwondo is a much more practiced art than that of Hapkido. Scott details the reasoning for this, “You have to understand that in Korea Taekwondo is the National Sport. Every boy, and many girls, from junior high level onwards, and often times earlier than that, are taught Taekwondo as part of their school curriculum. After high school each Korean male must serve in the military, there they are again indoctrinated into further Taekwondo training. So, arts like Hapkido and Tang Soo Do are generally only practiced by those Koreans who seek them out or are the children of the forefathers of these arts. As there are so many more Taekwondo students produced in Korea, the numbers just multiply as the numerous instructors move to other countries and take on their own students.”

Scott doesn’t believe that one art is superior to the other and states, “As is the case with all martial arts, it’s solely the individual practitioner who defines the effectiveness of their martial art style. I think we have all experienced those martial artists who are so insecure that they are always criticizing other forms of martial arts, claiming that there’s is better and that they could kick the butt of this person or that person if they had they chance. I mean, what a waste of time. There’s no need for that kind of mentality anymore. Martial arts should be a method to defend yourself only when it’s absolutely necessary; other than that, it should be seen as a method to focus your body, mind, and spirit.”

Shaw, who always integrates the spiritual essence of martial arts into his teaching believes that, “Those who see the martial arts as solely a method to kick somebody’s butt are really basing their life on the most animalistic level of existence. Martial arts trains your body to become acutely in tune with your mind. From this, you can raise your being to a much more refined level of intuitive understand than is possessed by the average individual. And, fighting, though it is the bases of the martial arts, does not have to be the end result.”

The ancient understanding of Ki is also an integral part of the Scott Shaw system of Hapkido. Though the science of Ki has been predominately practiced over the centuries by acupuncturist, Scott believes that its knowledge should be integrated into the techniques of all martial art practitioners. He states, “Using Ki in your martial arts does not mean that you possess the ability to touch a pressure point on a person’s body and they instantly fall over dead. That’s all in the movies and propagated by charlatans. What the conscious usage of Ki does teach the practitioner is how to instantly tap into superior mental and physical strength and to unleash that power to locations on an individual’s body which will hamper their ongoing assault in a confrontational situation.”

Scott continues to detail the usage of Ki by stating, “In modern science we learn that every element of the universe is pulsates with an energy. That energy is Ki. We, as human being, have the ability to tap into Ki through the conscious control of our breath.”

With this, we come to understand the reasoning for Scott’s continued focus on proclaiming the importance of breath control and meditation techniques in association with martial arts. He continues, “Once one possesses the ability to tap into Ki at will, they can then use Ki to not only heal and replenish their own body but to heal others, as well.”

As many martial artists attempting to follow in the footsteps of Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris are bitten by the acting bug, Scott, on the other hand, for a number of years continually turned down offers he received to act in films both here and in Asia. Scott details his reluctance, “You have to understand, I spend my adolescents in Hollywood. I went to Hollywood High School. All I saw was the downside of the industry. I knew child stars that were really messed up from the experience and the children of several famous actors and directors. Their families were always broke, drugged out, and chasing the promise of some dream that would hopefully come tomorrow. So, the film industry, no, I never wanted to be in it.”

None the less, Scott was pursued by several producers and directors until he finally said, “Yes,” and begin acting in independent action films. From there Scott moved onto performing several supporting roles in A-film and on television.

In 1991 Scott joined forced with infamous cult film maker DONALD G. JACKSON (Hell Comes to Frogtown). Jackson and Shaw’s first collaboration was, The Roller Blade Seven, an offbeat, post-apocalyptic, action adventure which Scott co-wrote, co-produced, and starred in. The interestingly ironic situation which occurred from the creation of this features is that Jackson and Shaw had cast two-time academy award nominee KAREN BLACK in the film as a supporting character. Famed director ROBERT ALTMAN, who had work with Karen in his movie Nashville saw The Roller Blade Seven and, impressed with Scott’s talents, personally asked him to take his place alongside the long list of Hollywood notables and perform a cameo appearance in his film The Player. Scott says, “I think it was perfectly ironic that Altman would find me in a cult film and not via the normal channels. I mean The Player was a satire on Hollywood and with my less than idealistic views on the Hollywood film industry, I think is was Zen like perfection for me to end up in his film.”

Though Scott continued to get offers in the A-industry, filmmaking began to take up more and more of his time. Shaw has written, produced, directed, and perform the lead in numerous, “Art Films,” as he like to call them. Most of these features have sold well to the international market, particularly Asia and are a mainstay of U.S.A. network’s weekend show, Up All Night.

In late 1997 Shaw, in association with Donald G. Jackson, completed the action thriller—creature feature, Guns of El Chupacabra. Most recently, Scott completed directing and performing the lead in Rock n’ Roll Cops—were KEVIN EASTMAN, the creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, co-stars.

When asked why his film are not of the typical martial art action-adventure genre, Scott answers, “For someone like myself who is actively involved in selling the films they make at the three main international film markets, Cannes, MiFed, and the American Film Market, you come to see that the world is flooded with tons of mediocre martial arts films. They are just no longer selling like they did a few years ago. The stories have all been told and the kicks have all been kicked. What the international market is now interested in is cutting edge films with an artistic quality. I still incorporate some level of martial arts into all of my films, but I don’t make it the central focus.”

Scott further philosophies about the fact that so many martial artists now desire to be in films. “You know, in America we are obsessed with celebrity; everybody believes that being a star is the pinnacle of existence. In many regions of Asia, actors are looked down upon. So, it’s really a cultural thing. I believe that it is much more important, and productive, for a martial artist to be a good human being and do good things for the world, instead of being just another person attempting to climb the ladder to stardom.”

Well, that’s Scott Shaw in a nutshell. Today, we find him possesses his typically non-stop, type A personality, tempered with a jovial edge—dividing his time between writing, teaching a small group of advanced students, traveling to Asia to document obscure aspects of Asian culture, and acting in, producing, and directing what he likes to call, “Art Films.”

Copyright 1997—All Rights Reserved