This new blog will contain a wide range of posts, as described by its title: Traditions, Concepts, Stories. Some will be informal and fun, and others will discuss serious issues that are fundamental to our school’s history and identity. I thought it fitting to open this blog with a post on the Five Tenets, and what better place to start than the beginning?
The First Tenet of Ji Do Kwan
The First Tenet of our school seems simple enough: we are instructed to love our country. This concept can mean different things to different people, so maybe it’s not as straightforward as it seems. A presidential candidate with a US lapel flag would surely claim to love his or her country. So might a militia member who occupies a federal building with an agenda of radical change, a #blacklivesmatter social hashtagger, or someone who anonymously picks up trash along a busy roadside. There are many ways to love one’s country and many ways to express that love.
Before exploring this idea further, a brief historical overview. Not to be confused with the better-known “Five Tenets of Tae Kwon Do” used in many contemporary Kukkiwon and ITF schools, the Ji Do Kwan tenets are surely derived from the “Code of the Hwarang.” This code was a similar set of founding principles meant to guide this elite fighting force, which was established in the Sixth Century CE:
- Loyalty to King
- Obedience to parents
- Trust among friends
- Never retreat in battle
- Justice in killing
Note the difference between “Loyalty to King” and “Love of Country.” As the leader of a dynastic aristocracy, a King is the head of state and often considered to be synonymous with the nation. At the time of the Code’s creation, this was universally accepted, but it’s clearly not appropriate in the context of Western democracy in the Twenty-First Century. Part of this change is likely just an updating to reflect the reality of political systems in a modern industrialized world, especially one where the study of martial arts crosses national boundaries, most of which are not governed by monarchies.
On Patriotism and Service
For many, the phrase “Love of Country” probably creates a mental image of “Support Our Troops” banners, Veterans’ and Memorial Day flags and parades, and other ceremonies designed specifically to celebrate the nation in which we live. It may go further to acts like voting in national, state, and local elections, serving on juries, registering for the draft, being truthful when paying taxes, and fulfilling other civic duties of American life.
These are all obvious and valid expressions of the First Tenet. The question becomes more complicated when patriotism takes forms with an agenda that may be controversial despite being rooted in a passionate belief that the actions will make the country stronger. The actions of radical activists—ranging from Occupy Wall Street to the occupation of federal lands by armed land-rights militias—are strong criticism of the society and/or government that are part of the United States. Some of these actions are illegal, further complicating the ethical framework, for some, as to whether they are self-serving or a true expression of ideals meant to improve the country.
It’s not the policy of River Valley Tae Kwon Do to take a position on the kinds of political expression described above. Each practitioner must judge the best way to live by and express the First Tenet as befits his or her individual conscience. In the most general terms, we must consider that:
- in order to live by the First Tenet, we should make this Love of Country something we both think about and act upon, in some form, however we most constructively understand it
- per the Second, Third, and Fourth Tenets, we should respect others’ interpretations of Love of Country, even if we disagree with some interpretations
- this issue becomes more complicated when our action is controversial, especially in light of the Fifth Tenet: Justice through Power
Love of Country on a Smaller Scale
Another possible way to think about the First Tenet: what happens when we substitute the word “community” for “country?” In a country of more than 300 million people, it may be hard for some to conceive of what it means to have passionate beliefs and actions for a group that large. It may be easier to think in terms like “a group of people I belong to, a community much larger than me, my family, or neighborhood.”
Especially since Tenets 2-4 concern how to relate to others, it seems likely that part of the First Tenet’s intention is to ask us to cultivate an altruistic impulse towards our community—to make it better however we can. Think of how the phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally” asks people to make the larger world (or country) better through small ways where we can have a direct and immediate impact. The example of picking up trash along a public roadside won’t change the course of a nation, but it will improve the lives of people who pass that way. These people we don’t know but live with and around every day are our Country, and these small actions are genuine, humble, and useful—all virtues familiar to most students of the martial arts.
Martial Implications for Dojang Training
We can also conceive of the First Tenet in a way that’s more immediately relevant to our training in the dojang than abstract principles like patriotism and altruism. When we consider the military roots of the Code of the Hwarang, and the motivation of the self-defense techniques we practice—this is, after all, a martial art—we can see the First Tenet as providing motivation to train with all possible diligence, focus, and intention.
A military fighting force is meant to secure the values and way of life of the people it protects. Training with martial intention raises the stakes of each workout, and of each moment within that workout. This is a key difference between martial arts training and CrossFit, yoga, distance running, or any other physical discipline with the goal of “getting in shape.”
If we think of our every action in the dojang as a small but real step toward preserving the values, the history, the very lives of the people we cherish and respect, it makes our physical efforts and mental focus incredibly important. Let this be motivation for coming to class at the end of a long day when we just don’t feel like it; for running and stretching and lifting weights outside of the dojang to make us more fit for serious training; for striking and blocking with deadly intention instead of just going through the motions.
If, like the elite Hwarang warriors of ancient Silla, your training could actually assure the survival of everyone you know and care about, and failure could mean their end, how might you train differently?
For easy reference, here are the Five Tenets of Ji Do Kwan:
- Love of Country
- Respect the Elder
- Protect the Younger
- Friendship among Peers
- Justice through Power