Are you contemplating a journey into the martial arts? Or are you a person who wants to simply learn how to kick and punch? While there are many avenues that could lead to proficiency in fighting or combative skills, a full immersion within the Taekwondo martial arts dojang won’t be complete without embarking on the study of The Korean Way, or the 道 (‘do’) in Taekwondo.
The two most prominent philosophers of the Joseon Dynasty, Yi I (pen name ‘Yul-gok’) and Yi Hwang (pen name Toegye) provide insight into the cultivatation a martial artist could take on the study of the The Korean Way. This cultivation is important not to help you develop your fighting skills, but to give you the reason, the commitment, and the tenacity to take the best of Taekwondo out of the dojang, make it yours and to do so for the right reasons.
We invite all individuals to walk with us a little ways along our own study of The Korean Way.
Toegye’s Interconnectedness with Society
Toegye, namesake of Taekwondo’s 3rd gup pattern, was author of Ten Diagrams on Sage Learning. He was compelled to create Ten Diagrams as a distillation of lifelong learning so that his King could govern with Confucian tenets. While Confucian philosophy was Chinese, it was further developed in Joseon Korea, and defined Korean living. Toegye believed that his Ten Diagrams would allow his King to rule wisely despite the complicated politics of the literati of the time.
Confucian precepts envisages each of us as an interconnected part of a larger society; a social creature bound to fellow humans. This inter-relatedness is expressed through five main relations: sovereign and subject, parent and child, elder and younger sibling, husband and wife, and friend and friend. Of these relations, emphasis is placed on duty, loyalty, respect, dedication, and affection. Reflection on the spirit of these precepts mirrors Taekwondo’s ideals that practitioners use it not to harm others, but to protect those most important to us.
Yulgok’s Serving through Self-cultivation
Yulgok, namesake of Taekwondo’s 5th gup pattern, was not only known as “a scholar but also a politician and a reformer”. Yulgok had wide ranging experience with various offices over the years, and developed a strong relationship with the King. He become a central figure in politics during a period of political conflicts which were rampant during the time. Yulgok believed that “learning and self-cultivation” were the core of proper administration; that people could approach politics pragmatically and practically to ‘get the job done’ (Wikipedia). He preferred this over an obsession with inner spiritual perception.
In an industry where you see egos unchecked, distractions caused by certificate mills, and unethical business leaders, Yulgok’s advice to concentrate on ‘learning and self-cultivation’ and indeed to apply these pragmatically to ‘get the job done’ is your asset. The Korean Way is about sincerely challenging yourself to the best of your ability – and indeed to then extend your insight – where appropriate – to cut through conflict situations and to reform the community. ‘Re-form’ as in to ‘once again build up’ your immediate environment based on needs and objectives.
Taekwondo and the Best of You
Tenets refer to principles or beliefs, and this is how ‘跆拳道精神’ is usually defined. However, 精神 is ‘psyche,’ ‘spirit,’ ‘mind,’ or ‘essence’; it uses the ‘神’ character because it is elevating the best of you, and your cultivation to the divine. These are as follows: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self-Control, and Indomitable Spirit.
If these are so important as to be the constructs of your ‘essence,’ when would you practice them? Once a week on a Sunday morning, in best dress? At the end of the year through a holiday-inspired playlist?
The Taekwondo Dojang has simple rituals as physical manifestations of your Taekwondo Mind. You bow in courtesy. You practice integrity through proper interactions with the school. You control your strikes out of respect to your opponent. You apply self-control during stress testing. And you demonstrate indomitable spirit as you embrace each new challenge placed in front of you. It us up to each of us to take The Korean Way beyond the doors of the dojang, and to continue this cultivation amidst the dynamics of the real world.
Next: The Martial Way