Competitive sports have a series of rules for how the game is played and respected. The rules help us better define how the sport operates. That could include how points are awarded, which moves are and are not allowed, and even sets the boundaries that can cause a player to be kicked off the game or even the entire tournament. These rules only apply within the game though, but what about how the team members act and behave as regular members of society?
All too often in professional competitive sports, good sportsmanship is overshadowed by performance expectations. Simply put, it is sometimes considered more important to win the game than it is to play the game fairly. It becomes so drilled in the sport over time that it’s all the players, the teams, and the fans can come to expect. Sometimes, these attitudes can carry on outside the field, leading to some pretty interesting scandals. Let’s face it, proper sportsmanship could be used in some of the different sports associations out there.
Martial arts are unique in this aspect because many of them have a deeply-rooted history of practiced tenets. These help students and teachers alike uphold certain values to themselves, their peers, and to their respective communities. They are at the core of their martial art, and becoming a real master at the art requires a strong understanding and enacting of each tenet. These tenets are expected to be upheld by practitioners at all times, including when training, competing, and even in their personal lives.
What are tenets?
Tenets are the grounding doctrines, principles, beliefs, and opinions that are held as truths by a person or a group of people. In Taekwondo, these tenets are exercised based on our actions and reactions to any given situation we come across, both inside and outside of the dojang.
Why are tenets so important in Taekwondo?
There are different reasons for the importance of tenets in Taekwondo. Firstly, there’s the position of having the practitioner’s mind and body ready to perform demanding maneuvers. Taekwondo is unique to other oriental martial arts, largely due to the very active use of the feet and legs in performing an array of different kicks. Upholding the tenets is considered as an active measure of meditation, to help keep yourself ready at all times to perform Taekwondo moves.
Secondly, there’s the question of morals – what is right and what is wrong. Like all self-defence martial arts, part of the expectation is that the knowledge will only be used for good and that needless aggression towards others defeats the entire purpose of the martial art in the first place. By having a structured set of tenets, every student of Taekwondo will develop a similar understanding and appreciation of the morals that they will uphold, both as a practitioner and as a member of society. These tenets, plus the rules of competitive Taekwondo sparring, allow for good sportsmanship to be regularly exercised and observed.
The Students’ Oath
In a Taekwondo dojang, these tenets are often recited at the start and/or end of a training session as an oath. Students will line up in rows and face the front, with the headmaster facing the students. They will say the oath together and bow after reciting the oath. In many dojangs, there will be a Korean flag, and a flag of the affiliated Taekwondo federation at the front where the students would be facing during this oath. The oath may vary from one dojang to another, but essentially, students are being reminded of the following:
- Uphold the five tenets of Taekwondo
- Respect the seniors and juniors amongst the dojang
- Do not misuse the knowledge of Taekwondo
- Uphold the virtues of justice
- Help make your community more peaceful
Tenet One: Courtesy (예의 / “Yeui”)
Courtesy, in its simplest form, means to be kind to others. In action, this is represented by treating them as you would like to be treated by them, and demonstrating respect between each other in the process. It can be as simple as helping with the chores, making room for elders or disabled people, holding a door open for someone, and saying thank you when someone has done something for you.
Tenet Two: Integrity (염치 / “Yomchi”)
Integrity is perhaps best defined as the “wholeness” that makes up our character. It is the series of guiding principles and morals that are commonly displayed by a person’s actions, words, and values. Things like honesty, humility, generosity, sincerity, responsibility, and others make up one’s integrity. In Taekwondo, this is observed as being able to determine right from wrong, and to have a sense of guilt for your wrongdoings.
In terms of carrying out your integrity every day, it is essential to pay attention to what is happening around you. Choose how you handle yourself in different situations you will come across, based on the characteristics of the kind of person you want to be. This could mean sticking to your commitments, keeping your promises, choosing the honest way of doing things, giving the benefit of the doubt to another person, being punctual to your appointments, display loyalty, and all sorts of other small or large actions in between.
Tenet Three: Perseverance (인내 / “In nae”)
Perseverance is the continued effort towards something, regardless of the difficulty and challenges that are being faced. It is the drive that gives Taekwondo practitioners and instructors alike the ability to push their effort to new limits. In practice, this could mean pushing yourself a little harder during the warm-ups and stretches, or even by attending classes even after a tiring day at school or work.
Sometimes, you won’t have the motivation to want to go to the dojang one day, and you might even start to question why you are practicing Taekwondo in the first place. That said, through perseverance, you can get beyond all that and even develop a new level of motivation and inspiration towards the martial art. If you don’t succeed the first time, keep trying, and you will eventually get there.
Tenet Four: Self Control (극기 / ”Kuk Chi”)
Self-control is such an essential component of Taekwondo, or any discipline for that matter. It is the capacity for someone to control their emotions and actions in any given situation, especially a difficult one. In daily practice, this means maintaining your patience and avoiding feelings of anger towards another person.
This comes as a crucial component in competitive Taekwondo as well. This tenet helps us ensure good sportsmanship, when combined with the other tenets in practice. Part of the methodology for enhancing your self-control derives from Taekwondo’s history. The idea is that the ultimate challenge is to conquer yourself as opposed to just your opponent – that true strength comes from the satisfaction of being able to control yourself properly.
Tenet Five: Indomitable Spirit (백절불굴 / “Baekjul-Boolgool”)
This tenet covers the essence of conquering one’s fears and failures. It is also the tenet that promotes courage in the face of overwhelming odds. When combined with the other tenets, this will mean that the person will seek to be honest, modest, and challenge injustices that they face without fear. They will continue to do so regardless of how challenging the situation might be.
In the dojang, this means to show courage for pushing yourself to learn moves that might perhaps be difficult for you in the beginning. It could also be to practice handling multiple opponents at once. Don’t give up!
In the long run, acknowledging and upholding each of these tenets helps Taekwondo students unlock their full potential. It allows them to have good sportsmanship, and to be an honest member of their respective society and community.
Regardless of who you are right now, you can start to work towards practicing these tenets as well. All it takes is some conscious, daily reminders of what you strive to become. Set the example to yourself, and you might even notice that your friends and loved ones will start to change as well.