Monday, December 16, 2013

"A Way of Life"











Looking Back at Taekwondo:
 
 
 
In 1992, I had enrolled my son, Geoffrey, in a park district self-defense program. When he completed the short program, I wanted him to begin formal training in a reputable Martial Arts School. It was brought to my attention that James Langlas, already a friend and colleague, taught Taekwondo in a nearby suburb. At that time, Langlas was a 5th degree Black Belt instructor and member of the Universal Taekwondo Federation, gold medal winner at the International Taekwondo Federation World Championships, the English Department Chairman at Wheaton North High school, an excellent poet, and a founder of his own dojang (school). I wanted my son to learn physical and moral discipline from someone with impeccable credentials. I wanted my son to partake in a meaningful activity that taught not only physical self-defense, but life-long values.

It was my son’s urging to join him in training that gave me a renewed interest and reason for studying and practicing Taekwondo (once again). Thus, my son and I became students within a community of peaceful warriors for 10 years. What I learned while studying and practicing Taekwondo also set the foundation for “a way of life”:

The tenets differentiate Taekwondo from other martial art forms. With a dual emphasis on health and intellect (body and spirit), its spiritual richness bears semblance to the great teachings of such ancient religious philosophies as Confucianism and Buddhism. Taekwondo embodies and advocates the development of mind, body and spirit.

Taekwondo exemplifies self-discipline and community service. It is believed that dedication to the art can advance change toward a moral society (General Choi Hong Hi, 13). Thus, a student of Taekwondo is one who learns and practices humility, comradeship, tolerance, and benevolence as well (15).

Today’s principles of the Universal Taekwondo Federation include courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit, community service, and love. As with original codes of conduct of the Hwa Rang-Do education, these modern principles are used to guide the moral and physical development of the student. It is believed that a student who does not fully understand and practice these principles can never hope to master the true essence of the art (Yeon Hee Park, 2). Therefore, the serious Taekwondo student dedicates his or her life to practicing its seven principles.

The Seven Principles of Taekwondo:

Courtesy (Ye Ui) instills respect for others. It incorporates generosity, politeness and empathy. Courtesy teaches humility, gentility and modesty. According to Master James Langlas (now a 7th Degree Black Belt): “Showing real courtesy—courtesy that is rooted in the heart, and which grows out of genuine respect—is a matter of strength” (Heart of a Warrior, 23). It characterizes not only the junior-senior relationship at the dojang, it establishes the basis for interpersonal relationships at home, at work (or school) and in the community as well.

Integrity (Yom Chi), or sound moral principles and character, is synonymous with honesty and honor. Maintaining integrity of mind and spirit is an important life objective that demands continual concentrated effort. According to Master Langlas, actions should reflect ideals. “Practicing integrity takes courage… It takes strength to keep thinking positively in challenging situations” (41).

Perseverance (In Nae) entails patience, determination and persistence. It is understood that the persevering student never tires of learning. It is also understood that the practice of perseverance, like the practice of integrity and courtesy, spills over into other areas of life. Besides attempting to learn Taekwondo techniques with steadfast devotion, the serious student learns how to persevere in daily life. “Perseverance is one of the most important qualities… It involves both patience and action, and there can be no improvement without it” (60).

Self-control (Guk Gi) or physical and emotional restraint is, indeed, an essential principle. To become a martial artist, the aspiring student must practice safe techniques which entail concentration on small targets (usually without contact). Moreover, he or she must demonstrate techniques of speed, accuracy and reaction force while maintaining proper balance and breathing. The rigorous training of Taekwondo leaves a student feeling exhilarated. By employing correct breathing techniques, for example, the student is able to promote self-control. “[Self-control] is a way of thinking, a way of approaching the world. It’s rooted in self-knowledge” (77).

Indomitable spirit (Baekjul Boolgool) is interrelated to the aforementioned principles. Courage is contingent upon perseverance and integrity. Adherence to moral and ethical principles in the face of societal injustice and man’s inhumanity towards man entails resoluteness that Taekwondo emphasizes. It takes courage and self-restraint to resist becoming belligerent and cruel to others. “[Moreover], real warriors see their setbacks as opportunities for growth. If they put forth their best efforts and still not achieved their goals, they learn from their hardships and use their losses to spur them to train and study harder. They do not complain. They learn to rebound from disappointment and courageously face their next challenge, having learned good lessons. And they know how to fuel the fire of their determination with an optimism that will never waver” (88).

Community service (Sa Hei Bong Sa) unifies the principles of courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. As Master Langlas states: “The principle of community service allows [us] another way not only to strengthen [our] hearts but also to contribute to a world that needs [our] help. [The ways we can contribute are] usually comprised of conscious decisions, small sacrifices and honest effort” (112).

Love (Sa Rang), as a guiding principle, helps us achieve a harmony of both mind and body. To show others deep affection, tenderness, loyalty and devotion illustrates a profound willingness to promote a happier and more peaceful society. “One of the amazing characteristics of love is that we must be vulnerable in order to love. We need to open ourselves up and be willing to connect, not only with others, but also with ourselves. We must not be afraid of suffering because of rejection or disappointment… This principle of love sometimes demands more courage than any other principle” (131).

Taekwondo is a martial art that emphasizes not only methods of self-defense, it is a “Way of Life.”

Sources:
General Choi Hong Hi, Taekwondo. Toronto: International Taekwondo Federation, 1978.
Langlas, Jim. Heart of a Warrior: 7 Secrets to a Great Life. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, Inc., 2012.
Yeon Hee Park, Yeon Hwan Park and Jon Gerrard. Taekwondo. New York: Facts on File Books, 1989.

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