In an earlier post, I mentioned the Hwa Rang Do, a group of young men who were trained as warriors in medieval Korea, and whose principles guide our practice to this day. It is interesting to see the Tenets of the Hwa Rang Do as they were written 600 or so years ago, and reflect on how harsh they seem to us, reflecting as they do the ideas of a bygone era.
However when we look at these principles another way, we see that they are just as valid today, and while the wording may seem old fashioned, the concepts they are based on are important for martial artists across all ages.
One of my favourite quotes about martial artists is this;
‘In martial arts it is not how many people you knock down that counts, it is how many people you lift up that truly matters.’
This quote is an indication that as martial artists, we have a greater responsibility to those around us due to the skills we have acquired. This is an idea that has always been a part of the martial arts – that part of the deal with being a martial artist is having the responsibility to keep everyone safe, and not use the the skills we gain to harm others.
There are five tenets of the Hwa Rang Do.
- 사군이충 / 事君以忠 – Loyalty to one’s king.
The idea of loyalty to one’s king was of course very important to a warrior group whose role was to protect the country in times of war. The Hwa Rang Do were expected to have complete loyalty to their king and country, overriding personal desires. This brought them together as a group and helped them forge a sense of identity.
We can interpret this to be respecting authority in our lives. While sometimes authority can have negative associations for many people, there are many ideas that authority embodies that it is important for us to uphold. Things such as controlling ourselves to act appropriately in different situations. Such as taking care of those less fortunate than ourselves. Such as making sure everyone has a voice and their ideas and contributions are listened to.
By respecting authority, we can help to implement not only the basics of survival, we can set and uphold standards that lift everyone up to the highest of standards and give people around us room to grow and thrive, not merely survive.
As martial artists, we can help uphold order in places we work, live and play. We can be the leaders in our group, whether that is a recognised leader such as an instructor, or simply the voice of reason in our circle of friends. By agreeing to a set of rules, and helping in the implementation of those rules, we cement ourselves as a group and start to create an environment where we can hold ourselves to high standards, and show others how they can lift themselves up too.
2. 사친이효 / 事親以孝 – Respect to one’s parents.
Respect for parents is an important character trait. It implies a sense of gratitude and appreciation. Respecting our parents is respecting the sacrifices they have made and the commitment they have made to raising us as best they know how. While we may not always agree with our parents, respecting and accepting who they are is a fundamental skill for martial artists. When we show respect to our parents, the heads of our family group, we are acknowledging that there is a wisdom that comes from experiences we have not had yet, and there is knowledge of the world that comes from having lived in it longer.
Having respect for parents and elders is having respect for the past and honouring where we have come from.
3. 교우이신 / 交友以信 – Faithfulness to one’s friends.
In a battlefield being faithful to one’s friends is a matter of life or death. Following through on what you arranged to do with your friends – keeping faith – could be the difference between success on the battlefield or failure.
While we no longer go into a formal battlefield, sometimes and places; school and workplaces, can feel like battlefields. Having the courage to be true to our friends, stick up for them physically and verbally is a test of our character. Being faithful to our friends whether they are there with or not speaks highly of our character.
4. 임전무퇴 / 臨戰無退 – Courage in battle.
Clearly a group of warriors are required to have courage in battle. For martial artists practicing now, we could interpret this to be about having courage in our training. In our classes, it can require courage to try the things our instructor asks us to do. This courage can be the physical courage to try something that we fear may hurt our bodies. It can also be mental courage, to try something even though we are afraid we may look foolish when we try.
Another interpretation of this tenet for modern times can be the courage we need to fight our personal battles. The courage to stand up for what we think and feel, and to express ourselves calmly and collectedly without loosing our temper or demeaning other people. We also need the courage to make decisions and take actions based on what it is right to do, not what it is easy to do.
5. 살생유택 / 殺生有擇 – Make a righteous kill.
This tenet was important on the battlefield. It meant that the warrior was meant to use their physical skills to kill swiftly in battle, and the mental skills to ensure that this step was taken only when it was determined that this was the appropriate thing to do. Killing on the battlefield was not meant to be in the heat of the moment, rather each action was deliberate and was the result of a decision, not simply a reflex.
In our lives we are not called on to make these sorts of decisions about killing, fortunately. However we are called on to fight some battles in our lives with the people around us. As martial artist, we should choose these battles wisely. Arguing simply to be right may not always be worth it if we are upsetting the people around us. Insisting on things being done the ‘right way’ may shut the door to the possibility of there being other, even better ways of doing things.
It is interesting to see the tenets, or philosophies practiced by our martial arts predecessors are still relevant to us today just as much as the physical skills they learnt are relevant to us today as well.