Spirit of Taekwondo Student Oath and Meaning

hulee_01OATH: The Songahm Spirit of Taekwondo

At the beginning of a Songahm Taekwondo class or event, we recite the following:

I will practice in the SPIRIT OF TAEKWONDO
This line represents the ideas and philosophies of Songahm Taekwondo. To say, “I will practice in…” means that you will practice not just in accordance with the rules and within the system of Songahm Taekwondo, but also in the morals and ideals which these precepts intend to attempt to instill in each student.

with COURTESY for fellow students
The first of the attributes discussed is courtesy because of its importance. If a student is without courtesy, that student is not only un-teachable, but should never learn to wield such power because of the lack of compassion for humans.

LOYALTY to my instructor
Often students think that “instructor” is limited to their Taekwondo sah-bum nim. In this context, the student is pledging loyalty to all the people that directly instruct him/her. This includes parents, school teachers, Taekwondo teachers, and loyalty to your country. Students usually believe they are loyal. However, this is usually because that loyalty has never been tested. True loyalty is undying and unending. The Korean philosopher Yi Whang once wrote: “Though I may be crucified a thousand times, I will never lose my loyalty to my king.”

There is a story about loyalty that the Grand Master loves to tell concerning a king and his subject:

There once was a king’s subject, a young man, who was very devoted and loyal to his king. The young man also honored and respected his father. One day, the king wanted to know just how loyal the young man was. So, he invited the young man to have a drink in the palace with him and began to just talk about life. The king asked, “Do you honor and obey your parents?” The young man replied, “Of course my king.” I love my parents and would give my life for them.” The king was pleased with his answer. The king then asked, “And how about your loyalty to your king?” The young man responded, “My king, death itself could not separate me from serving you.”

The king thought for a moment and posed a question: “If your father and I were swimming in a great river and both of us faced death by drowning, with only moments left, who would you save: your father or your king?” The boy thought for a moment. Realizing that either answer would be unacceptable, he answered the king, “My king, I would rescue my father.” The king became disappointed and his face fell. Then, the young man calmed him and said, “Please, sir, allow me to finish. I would rescue my father but then I would jump in the river and die with you.” The king, pleased in his response, made the young man ruler over part of the kingdom.

and RESPECT for my juniors and seniorsgrand-master-HU-Lee3
It is not uncommon in many martial arts for this line to be misunderstood. To understand this fully, we only need to look to the animal kingdom where examples are found in packs of animals that are led by a “respected” senior. In all ancient civilizations to the current government system, there are levels of respect based on skills and power. However, respect should not just travel up. People seem to think that respect should only go up the rank ladder; that it is not necessary for a senior person in rank or social status to show respect to his/her inferior. Well, remember that the person standing on top of the ladder should always speak with respect to the person holding the bottom. Any society without respect would cease to exist. It will destroy itself. This is the reason that the world is suffering such violence and rebellion among its youth. Today’s culture is greatly responsible for not teaching the youth respect for their juniors and seniors.

Recited as Songahm Taekwondo class or event ends:

I shall live with PERSEVERANCE in the Spirit of Taekwondo
This is an important way to end the class. As you step back out into the world, you must be reminded to strive with perseverance each day and not allow the imperfections of all that surrounds you to limit your goals and crush your desires.

The Chinese character for perseverance is made up of two symbols. One means knife and the other means heart. This shows that perseverance is the ability to withstand many sharp pains in the heart. The Grand Master tells two stories about perseverance. The first is a story about his sah-bum nim and shows how to develop perseverance.

Many years ago when I was just a brown belt, I was training hard in the old church building that we used as our do-jahng. While we were doing poome-sae, an important guest came by to see my sah-bum nim. My sah-bum nim had just given the count for us to step into a back stance and execute a double knifehand strike. The sah-bum nim went into his office and left us standing in our stance for over twenty minutes. We were determined not to move since we had not been given the permission to rest. We didn’t even move or straighten our legs. The guest left and our sah-bum nim came out to find us still standing in the same position. He said he was so proud because we had great perseverance. He commended the students and praised us for making him proud in front of the guest. These days, many martial artists have forgotten this level of discipline…a tragic loss for martial arts.

Taekwondo_founderThe second is a story that exemplifies the act of perseverance:

Once, a long time ago, there were three men. They all wanted to study the martial arts under a great Master, so they set out in search of one. They made a small pack with clothing, placed it at the end of a pole, threw it over their shoulders and off they went. They traveled for a long time with little food and found themselves often tired and hungry. They traveled deep into the mountains and valleys in search of the great Master.

After three months had passed, one man said to the other two, “We are hungry and sick and have traveled for a very long time now and still we have not found a Master to teach us. Let’s go home now.” The others refused but this man could wait no longer and went home. Within a few days, the two men found a small temple and within was a great Master. They approached him and asked to be his students. He didn’t respond.

Three months had passed again. The two men had served the Master each day, washed his clothes, cooked his food, and did all they could to show their loyalty but the Master never even looked at them. So, one man said to the other, “We have done everything for him yet he doesn’t even acknowledge us. Let’s go home.” The other man refused so one man stayed and the other went home.

Three more months of slave labor had passed when the Master looked at the remaining man and said, “You are alone. What do you want?” The man replied, “I want to be your student.” So, the Master told him even more chores and put him back to work. Finally, the Master said to the man, “Now you may be my student. I have followed you for nine months knowing your intention. But, just as you have been looking for a Master, I have been looking for a student with perseverance. Anyone with perseverance can be taught anything. It is you who I desire to give all of my knowledge to so that when I pass on, my spirit will live on.”

having HONOR with others
Another line that is often misunderstood is this one. Hidden within this honor is also humility. For others to honor us, we must first deserve it. We must show others without “showing off” that we possess something that they desire to achieve. Honor with others comes when you’re not trying, but it shows anyway.

INTEGRITY within myself
Integrity is a “strict adherence to personal values.” This encompasses courtesy and honor. Every student understands the importance of being honest. But being honest within one’s self means to do all your push-ups when no one is looking. Even more important, yet difficult, would be keeping a promise that you made to yourself (without anyone else’s knowledge) which would not be important whether the promise was fulfilled or not.

Failure to have integrity could be seen in a black belt that leaves his/her sah-bum nim and starts a club without the proper training. His/her new students assume that he is qualified to teach. He/she may be qualified to kick, but the skill of Taekwondo is far different from the ability to teach the art.

Grand Master Lee tells the following story about the reward of personal integrity:images-5

There was a baker who owned his own bakery. It was very successful and he made lots of money. One day, he began to put a gold coin in every roll that he would bake. People began to come by the masses and purchase his rolls. After several months, a boy was eating a roll that he had bought and found his coin. Concerned, he returned to the bakery to give the coin back to the baker. When he entered, he told the baker that he had found this gold coin that the baker must have dropped in the batter while making the roll. The baker said, “Boy, you found the coin, it is yours.” But the boy said, “Sir, I cannot keep this coin because it belongs to you.” Then man then told the boy that for several months he has put the coins into the rolls waiting to find an honest person to return the coin. Then he said, “I have one hundred thousand dollars saved plus my business that I would like to make you an heir to because I was looking for an honest man to give my wealth to.”

and SELF CONTROL in my actions
Self control is a personal discipline that requires the use of perseverance. Because these are the final words spoken in class, they are the freshest on the students’ mind and should remind them that in all that they do, they should never respond “out of control” in any situation. Every action taken should have forethought and be purposeful. To respond without the process of evaluating and determining the best response to a situation could result in an unpleasant experience. This applies to all areas of a person’s life and not just when faced with a confrontation of self-defense.

Self control should be used in all areas of our lives, including, but not limited to: fighting, health habits (i.e., smoking, drinking, weight control, hygiene), temper, and the list goes on.

Excerpt from “The Way of Traditional Taekwondo,” Volume A: Philosophy and Tradition, pp. 28-34.

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