Original Thought of Taekwondo Spirit
The Korean traditional thoughts must be first examined in order to elucidate the ideological aspects of Taekondo as a traditional martial art.
Ancestors of the Han(Korean) race experienced frustrations coming from natural disasters and existential restrictive circumstances of life and therefore they had to rely spiritually on the nature’s power, such as heaven, rain, cloud, sun, moon, trees, rocks, etc., for their consolation. As the tribal and agricultural community was firmly established, the Han people arrived at a unified thought, of “seon”(impeccable virtuousness) to become the basis of Koreans’ philosophical thought.
On the basis of this thought, Buddhism and Confucianism reigned over the Korean people for such a long time that all individuals have been accustomed to devote themselves to the nation and society without falling into the victim of personal avarices, ever cultivating their mind and body.
The Korean’s traditional thought is characterized by the priority on loyalty to the country and filial piety in people’s daily life, thus making people think about the responsibilities first before seeking any power and voluntary working for justice.
Taekwondo certainly takes root in man’s instincts to survive by means of protecting himself from outside threat with the bare-hand fighting skills, and it was developed into a systematized martial art in the times of three-kingdom era. The three kingdoms, i.e., Silla(founded in B. C. 57), Koguryo(B.C. 37) and Paekje(B.C. 18), were all antagonistic among themselves in their respective hopes to achieve national unification on the Korean Peninsula. They had to defend themselves also from foreign aggressions from China or Japan. Under such circumstances, each kingdom tried to consolidate national unity first, stressing the spirit of national defense among the people.
That spirit was based on the traditional “seon” philosophy and the warriors accepted it as a martial spirit. Above all, Silla’s hwarangdo (youth warrior’s corps) was a typical example of inheriting this spirit. Their firm view of the state was derived from the thought of loyalty and filial piety, with which they could voluntarily abandon their lives for the sake of national security. In addition, the courage of “no retreat from fighting” was also another virtue of that spirit.
A third virtue was their practical thought of ethics, with which they pledged not to commit any ethical faults and never to betray their social obligations.
After all, these spirits enabled the hwarangs of Silla to defend their kingdom and helped it conquer other two kingdoms, unifying the entire peninsula. Thus, the hwarangdo spirit inherited the Korean’s traditional thought based on the seon philosophy and gave birth to the Taekwondo spirit consisting of the thought of loyalty and filial piety, courage of no retreat from fighting and practical ethic thought of consistency in learning and acting. This thought, shaped into a peace thought, has been handed down to the present Koreans.
Philosophical Backgrounds of Traditional National Thought and Taekwondo Spirit
The Korean’s ethical tradition and the history of Taekwondo well reflect the picture of Korean society in the past. Taekwondo as a traditional martial art is not merely the fighting skills but a proper product of national traditions comprising a philosophical spiritual world of martial arts.
In the midst of fierce competitions for survival among different races on the earth, the Korean people has maintained through a history of 5,000 years the national spirit based on the seon philosophy and Taekwondo spirit also has been developed along with the national history. The development of Taekwondo spirit as martial arts will be further explained in detail.
As mentioned above, the Taekwondo spirit was originated from the national traditional thought, which was transmitted from the grounding of the nation, by the progenitor Tangun, who advocated the idealism of “hongik-ingan” (meaning universally beregitting humman beings) and “jaese-ihwa”(meaning a rationalization of human living). This thought was made into the national traditional thought represented by the philosophy of hongik-ingan in the time of Old-Chosun Age, also forming the basis of Taekwondo spirit.
As previously stated, the idealism of hongik-ingan was represented by the seon philosophy in the Koguryo era, which was later inherited by the Silla kingdom to be developed into the hwarangdo spirit with the integration of Buddhistic and confucian ideas as well.
The hwarangdo spirit is characterized by the 3 virtues of loyalty, filial piety and reliability, 5 disciplines and 3 virtuous conduct, such as modesty, frugality and restraint. And hwarang ‘s religious worship helped them cultivate patriotism. It must be noted that Taekwondo spirit was also inherited from the hwarangdo spirit in the course of their martial art training.
Traditional Thoughts of Koryo and Chosun Ages and Taekwondo
The Korean’s traditional thought of hongik-ingan is closely related to the humanism, which stresses respect of human beings. The people throughout the ages of Koryo and Chosun were taught in their daily life to respect superiors and personalities of high virtue and treat their inferiors kindly. These attitudes of life were also influenced, on the other hand, by confucianism, buddhism, seon(impeccable virtuousness), tonghak (eastern philosophy) and chondo(the heaven’s way).
In those days there were various philosophical theories of thoughts expressed by scholars, philosopher Seo Kyong-Duk adhered to the theory of monistic spirirual energy while Great Scholar Yi Toe Gye favored the theory of dualistic spiritual energy, which is repreensted by the 4 moral minds, such as benevolence, righteousness, propriety and wisdom and the 7 sentiments, such as joy, anger, sorrow, pleasure, love, vice and avarice.
Another Great Scholar Yi Yul Kok used to say in his writing that ” I endeavored incessantly to achieve self-restraint until I could reach the realm of a saintly life,” “I speak little when I have to make a decision, ” “I do what is to be done with all my sincerity,” ” I make one understand a thing however arbitrary he may be, ” and “Cultivation of the mind and learning should be continued without slowing down the tempo.” Those sayings partly reflect the spirit of Taekwondo. Especially, the Tonghak thought and the chondo thought stressed a human being’s dignity, assurance of national security and people’s safety and a public citizen’s mind without selfishness.
The Taekwondo spirit, which has been directly influenced by the national traditional thoughts, is infused with the national soul molded through common experiences of joy, anger, sorrow and pleasure throughout the ages. It can be more easily identified by Silla’s Hwarangdo spirit, which was based on the Korean people’s basic thought of seon philosophy as well as buddhist thoughts of national safeguards, confucian thoughts of loyalty and filial piety and taoistic thoughts of tacit performance.
After all, the hwarangdo spirit combined with Taekwondo spirit of martial art enabled Silla to unify the three kingdoms. Therefore, the Korean’s traditional martial art Taekwondo aims not only to acquire power and skill for self-defense but to perfect oneself with the character of devoting one’s life to the safeguard of justice, of respecting the responsibilities and of embodying the thought of universal equality.
Now the Taekwondo spirit can be better summarized by the philosophy of hongik-ingan, peace-loving spirit, spirit of integrity with which to protect rightousness and a strong sense of responsibility.