The 5 tenets of Taekwondo are basic attributes expected out of every student that decides to take part in a class, but I would argue they are valuable for everyone to work on improving, not just martial artists.
For just 5 basic tenets, there seems to be a lot of confusion and controversy around them and their meaning. It’s my goal to help clear some of this up as well as provide my take on them. If these types of articles are something our readers are interested in, I will go on to cover the tenets/principles of other martial arts in the future. Let’s begin.
It may surprise some of you that respect is not one of the 5 tenets, though it does play a strong role in any martial art. Instead, the founders of Taekwondo decided upon courtesy as their first tenet…but why?
Some students and instructors use courtesy and respect interchangeably and while their intentions might be noble, they are actually wrong in their thinking.
Remember, these tenets are meant to be universal and able to be applied to everyone. In this vein of thinking, it is good to show a basic level of courtesy to everyone you come across in life. It’s simply part of being a member of civilized society. Respect, however, is a completely different matter.
Respect [noun]: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
Simply put, respect is something that must be earned and not universally given. Some basic courtesy can and should be applied to everyone you meet until they do or say something that would warrant you withdrawing said courtesy.
We’ve spoken about being a man of integrity many times here. Being a man of integrity is key for earning the respect of others as well as having respect for yourself. Every time you go against what your integrity demands of you, your soul is eroded slightly.
In martial arts, this tenet takes on a more pragmatic application. If the instructor tells you to do something, say hold a deep horse stance while he goes to the back to get kicking targets, you should be holding that deep horse stance even when he can’t see you. Seems trivial I know, but I’ve come across my fair share of students who try to get away with shenanigans like this.
Little do they realize, they’re not hurting me, only themselves.
This tenet is often confused with the 5th tenet, Indomitable Spirit. They share quite a few parallels, but are distinctly different. Perseverance is just what you’d think it is, having the resiliency and willpower to continue no matter how tired or beat up you might be.
Martial arts in general uses physical exercise and suffering (not torture) to teach spiritual lessons. For example, a common event at our testings is to have those testing for their next rank to “run the gauntlet.” This basically means lining up all the students NOT testing and have them spar those who are testing one after the other with no break in between spars.
What this amounts to, typically, is a group of 6-7 students running through a line of 20-30 students, sparring each for 30-60 seconds. After about 3-4 minutes, those testing are gassed and must force themselves to persevere through willpower and determination.
Self-control is another fairly self-explanatory tenet that in pretty interchangeable with discipline though I would argue it covers just a little bit more.
Self-control means being in control of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. This tenet is especially important for men because nothing is more sad than a man who cannot control his impulses.
In martial arts, self-control also encompasses our techniques. We are expected to be in control at all times for our safety and the safety of others. If you ever see two highly skilled black belts sparring, it looks chaotic and like one of them might knock the other out at any moment, however that isn’t the case. Their self-control is so strong, that they can pull their kicks and punches at the last second so as to avoid hurting their sparring partner.
As I said earlier, this tenet is often confused with perseverance, though the difference between the two are distinct. Indomitable Spirit means being up to any challenge set before you – basically not giving up before you even started.
As an instructor, I’ve seen this too many times to count. I’ll set up an activity or series of exercises and drills meant to push the students and there’s always one or two who’s shoulders slump in defeat before we even begin.
Indomitable spirit is important as it creates momentum going INTO the challenge, allowing you to overcome it easier than you would if you approached it with a resigned attitude.
The 5 tenets of Taekwondo are very deliberate and each have special meaning as to what makes a good student and a good person. Take some time to reflect on these attributes through your day and determine if there are any you can improve on.