“There are no advanced techniques. Only basic techniques done differently.”
– Grandmaster Connelly
(Quoting a fellow martial artist1)
At the Taekwon-do academy I train at, we use patterns for our practice.
And the first pattern is one called Chon Ji.
The moves in it are relatively basic. No spinning kicks. No jumps. Just front punches and two different types of blocks.
If you can demonstrate this pattern with confidence, you can advance to the rank of yellow belt. You can move on to more “advanced patterns”.
Now, as an instructor, I teach a lot of yellow belts – kids who have successfully tested on this first pattern. And in each class, before we get into working on their next pattern, I make them run through Chon Ji.
The reaction is always the same…
“Ugh. Do we have to do this again_?”_
“But I already know Chon Ji_?”_
“I thought we were supposed to be working on our new pattern.”
It makes me laugh. Because here’s the thing…
Every time I’ve gone for a promotion test to advance to the next belt, guess what pattern the judges want to see first?
That’s right… Chon Ji.
I had to do it when I went for yellow belt. I had to do it when I went for green belt. I had to do it when I went for my second degree black belt.
It’s in the very name of the pattern. Chon Ji means “Heaven and Earth” because it’s considered to be the “beginning of all things”. The techniques are basic, but they’re the foundation.
If I can’t generate power with my front punch…
Or if my stance is sloppy on my down block…
Or if I lack focus when doing my middle block…
There’s absolutely no way I’m going to be able to do sophisticated moves like a flying side kick very well. All of the “advanced techniques” are built on the same fundamentals we practice in Chon Ji.
The Foundation Is Everything
This isn’t true just in Taekwon-do.
Take, for example, sales copywriting and marketing.
Lots of people focus on little hacks like using clickbait headlines… or adding a million “fast-action” bonuses to make people feel dumb for not buying.
Yet they ignore the core drivers of sales like understanding their target audience, having the right offer for that audience, having a compelling angle behind the promotion, or being able to structure their message in a clear, logical sequence.
And because they don’t have the foundation in place…
Their message falls flat.
Now, this principle doesn’t only apply to so-called “hard skills”. In fact…
Your Foundation Is Vital For Becoming Truly Alive
Consider the story about Milarepa (the patron saint of Cave of Monsters) from book The Life of Milarepa.
He’d been meditating for a long period without eating… tirelessly seeking enlightenment.
When one day, his sisters came to see him. They felt compassion for him and brought a meal of meat, bread, and beer.
The meal was nourishing.
And when he returned to his meditation afterwards, Milarepa had a flash of insight…
“I attained an experience of joy, lucidity, and pure awareness similar to what I had known about in theory. It was an extraordinary experience of illumination which was very powerful and stable […] And I perceived the inherent simplicity of the [Ultimate Truth]."
Talk about a huge, life-altering transformation.
Milarepa’s new understanding didn’t just come from that one moment. It wasn’t because he was suddenly energized by the food (or beer).
It was because of…
All the Work He’d Done Before That Point
He’d previously studied under multiple teachers, who had pushed him through extreme challenges to break him free of his past2. He’d been living alone and meditating deeply in the cave for years.
Or as Milarepa put it himself…
“This special experience of my illumination was the fruit of my previous meditations […] and the profound instructions of [my teacher]."
In other words…
When the moment came, his foundation was already in place.
Now, I’m not saying you need to go meditate in a mountain cave for a few decades. (You probably shouldn’t, by the way.)
But It Is Critical to Build the Foundation of Your Own Life
How do you do that?
Well, you can start by just looking at the different areas of your life.
Use the Good Life Buckets approach from Jonathan Fields… filling up the areas of vitality, connection, and contribution.
Steal the 5 non-negotiables my friend KC breaks it down to… soul, vitality, family/relationships, art, and work.
Or find another way that works for you.
These are great because you can systematically work on each of these areas… creating new habits or rituals, learning, or practicing skills.
But, there’s also a deeper aspect to your foundation…
Ruthlessly Working On Who You Are
Your inner strength and resilience.
The beliefs and assumptions that drive your actions.
The core presence and posture you approach life from.
The way you show up to people.
This work is rarely flashy. In fact, building character is hard. Consistently acting with integrity is uncomfortable. Examining your cherished assumptions is painful.
What’s more? Just like I revisit Chon Ji every time I train in Taekwon-do, you have to revisit this inner foundation constantly. You’re never “done with it.”
But here’s the thing…
The work is worthwhile. It’s the fuel for deep joy, intimacy, and vulnerability. It opens you to a life of beauty and magic. It inspires bold, courageous action.
Most of all…
When you have the foundation – when your “basics” are solid – you won’t just experience these moments occasionally…
They’ll become your way of life.
One teacher had Milarepa build a stone tower… only to then make him tear it down right after he finished. And it happened again. And again. And again. ↩︎