The Five Tenets of the Hwa Rang Do

slide11-960x408In 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.754179-korean_knight_01

  1. 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.

Bruce Lee and Ji Han Jae on the set of ‘Game of Death’

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.

Whether you believe you can or you can’t, you are right

henry-ford-quote-whether-you-think-you-can-or-think-you-can_t-you_re-rightThe attitude we bring to our Martial Arts classes with us determines the sort of lesson we are going to have. When we come to class with smiles, ready to work hard and also to have fun, that is what will probably happen!

That is why each Martial Arts class at Fire Phoenix starts with a short time of quiet sitting simply breathing and clearing our thoughts. This short space of time is a chance to let go of any worries we have, forget about our troubles at home or school and instead think about our Martial Arts training.

We change our thoughts by controlling our breathing. If we breath in an angry way, fast and hard, we can become angry. If we breathe in a slow and calm way, we can become calm and focussed, enabling us to make good choices. This is why slowing and controlling our breathing at the start of the martial arts class is so important. It allows us to let go of the challenges and frustrations that may have occurred during the day, and think about moving forward with a clean slate. This is a great technique, and will work at home and school when you need to get control of yourself, as well as in a Martial Arts class.

There are some things we can control and some things we cannot control. Effective people accept the things they cannot control, and concentrate on the things they can control. Perhaps you cannot control whether you came to class today, perhaps you came because your parents brought you. We cannot control the actions of other people, however we can control how we react to people. We can choose to get involved in other people’s problems or drama, or we can choose to distance ourselves from the little things and concentrate on the important issues. We cannot control what is taught in class on any given day, however we can give our attention to whatever lesson is taught to us, and enjoy what is in that lesson.

What you can control is the attitude you bring to the class. We always have the ability to control our attitude, and this determines our experiences in life.

The Old Man

61Ce2CHn5YL._SX300_There was once an old man who owned a small farm high up on the hillside. He lived alone with his teenage son and their horses to help them with the farm chores.

One day a wild stallion came to the farm, and caused all the horses to run away. “What bad luck!’ sympathised his neighbours. “Maybe good, maybe bad, who knows” replied the farmer.

The next day the stallion returned , bringing with it the farmer’s horses and a whole herd of wild ponies with it. “What good luck!” exclaimed his neighbours. “Maybe good, maybe bad, who knows” replied the farmer.

The following day the son tried to tame one of the new horses and fell off and broke his leg, and was unable to help his father on the farm. “What bad luck!’ sympathised his neighbours. “Maybe good, maybe bad, who knows” replied the farmer.

Then an army recruiting officer came to the village, calling up to war all the young men who were fit to fight, sending them to uncertainty and preventing them from helping on their families farms. As the man’s son was injured, he was not selected to join the army. “What good luck!” exclaimed his neighbours. “Maybe good, maybe bad, who knows” replied the farmer.

This story shows us that any situation simply is, the way we look at it determines whether it is good or bad. In our lives, when we are faced with a situation, we can feel a range of different emotions – maybe disappointed, maybe sad, or angry. This is natural, however if we can control ourselves and our emotions, we can choose to show a positive attitude and find the good in a situation. Sometimes it might be that our disappointment is another person’s opportunity. It might be that our anger can lead to us to take action to fix a problem. It all comes down to the attitude we bring.

Weapon Called the Word

power-of-wordsIn martial arts, many of the activities we do are carried out with a training partner. It is important to our progress that we have skills to work with other people well.

Part of this is physical. A good partner is one who can hold a target in a way that challenges their partner to keep active, kick higher punch stronger. It is also a person with a sense of fairness and can take turns in a way that is supportive of their partner.

It is also someone who is aware of his or her partner. This means that they are looking at their partner for feedback on how their partner’s experience is going. Are your kicks hurting or scaring your younger or more junior grade partner? Are you doing things that are appropriate to your partner’s level of learning?

When we are physically engaged in working with a partner, thinking about their training just as much as our own, both partners have the opportunity to develop the deeper skills of the martial arts – the ability to keep those around us safe.

The biggest threat to most people in their daily lives through is not the physical attacks they might encounter, it is the attacks of words people say to them, and the words they say to themselves. To truly keep our partners safe, we need to choose our words very carefully, and also the way we say those words.

Words have the power to hurt us far longer than physical injuries. When we say something unkind, the words are said quickly, however the person who hears those unkind words holds on to them very much longer. It is never nice to have someone say unkind or mean things to us. It becomes even worse when we say those things in a place that is meant to be supportive and caring, such as our Dojo.

We try really hard in our Dojo to make it a special place. It is not the physical things that make it special – the hand targets and equipment we use are not special by themselves, it is how we use the space that makes it special. Sometimes students arrive at class and they have had a bad day. Perhaps it was nothing big, it just seemed that nothing worked out right, and everything was a hurry from the morning right through the afternoon. Perhaps someone had a rough day at school. Perhaps someone was super busy at work. Perhaps some people have a home life that is making them sad or worried.

3f555a46a49a3747The Dojo is a place where we can get away from all of those worries and stress. When we come into the Dojo, we take off our shoes. All worries and concerns are to be left in your shoes! Then when we tie our belt, the act of tying that knot indicates that you are about to start on the serious business of being more than you are in everyday life. Your uniform is a bit like a superhero uniform!

Having these start of class routines, and the brief meditation that we do in the start of class are like putting on mental armour. We are in a place where nothing else matters except being present in this class now.

In class, this armour cannot be damaged by punches and kicks that might get through our guard, that is what sometimes happens in warrior training. Making a mistake cannot damage it; we are here to learn after all. The thing that can damage the armour is the unkind, mean or rude words that other people say to us.

Ideally we will, over time, develop the strength that our armour will withstand unkind words as well, however that takes a lot of time. As humans, we experience emotions, and it needs thick armour not to experience emotion when someone is mean to us.

This is why, in the Dojo, we must be very careful about the words we say to each other. It is never appropriate to offer anything except encouragement to another student. It is also not appropriate to use language that you would not use in a place of learning. Phrases and words that are not okay in a library or special place are not okay in the Dojo.

Sometimes words come out of our mouth before we have a chance to think if that was a good thing to say. To help with this, we need to stand guard at the gate of our minds. This means we need to be very careful about the thoughts we allow to take root in our mind. If we are in the habit of thinking critically about other people, we will say critical things. If we are in the habit of thinking negatively about things, we will say negative things.

If, however, we train ourselves to the habit of looking for the good in people and situations, the words we use are likely to be positive. If we can think more about our goals and dreams and less about our fears, our words will be less about anger and meanness and more about support and encouragement.

burbujas_de_jabon_ze3_wideAs martial artists we have a responsibility to keep those around us safe. The best way to do this is create a safe space around ourselves – a bubble that lets in the people who are close to you; family, friends, training partners. In that safe space there is no room for unkindness or meanness. The safe space that we create is a place where people can experience calm, encouragement and a space to breathe, and dream bigger dreams, set larger goals than is possible in the negative world that is outside our safe space.

Stay Committed to your Decisions, but Flexible in your Approach

0f0bcb7361f9fe1316fdcd18bff9f113Loyalty is an important skill to develop if we want to reach advanced levels of our martial arts training. To be loyal to someone or something we need to trust that person. We get to choose who we want to be Loyal to, who we want to trust.

There are many people and groups or institutions that you might choose to be loyal to. These include friends, family members, instructors and coaches, our school, our religion, our beliefs. Sometimes we are asked to be loyal to someone. This can be obvious, such as brands or stores offering loyalty cards with rewards, or it can be more subtle, such as ‘friends’ demanding that we trust them without offering true friendship in return.

It is important to be able to recognise what people and groups deserve our loyalty. Usually, loyalty that is demanded is not true loyalty. It takes time to decide if you are going to place your trust in someone or something. It cannot and should not be a snap decision to be loyal.

We show our Loyalty to our martial arts by trusting our instructor. We show this trust by always following their instruction first time, as soon as they ask it. We are prepared to try their suggestions even if we are not personally sure they will work. By doing this we learn more, and we show our instructor that we are a willing student. We are prepared to try hard things because we trust our instructor will only ever ask us to do things that will help us on our martial arts journey. Once trust is established, we can move from the basics to the exciting and advanced techniques of the martial arts.

We also show Loyalty to our family. We trust that our parents make good decisions on our behalf, and we know that we can trust them to love us unconditionally. We show Loyalty to our family by helping the family work well together, by sticking up for family members when they need our support, and being there for each other.

We can also choose to show Loyalty to friends, to sporting teams and other groups. We show this Loyalty by making choices that consider how our friends might feel. We can show Loyalty to sporting teams and groups by being there at matches and events for the group or team.

Waterfall2Once a Martial Arts student approached his teacher with a questions.

“I’d like to improve my knowledge of the Martial Arts. In addition to learning from you, I’d like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What do you think of this idea?”

“The hunter who chases two rabbits,” answered the Master, “Catches neither one.”

This story shows us that if we want to succeed at anything, we need to dedicate ourselves to that thing. This does not mean that we can only ever participate in one activity, or belong to only one group.

Rather it means that while we are doing an activity, we should do it with our mind and body and heart in it. There is no good in trying to do Martial Arts while we are thinking about our homework! There is another quote common in the martial arts – ‘If you are going to stand, stand. If you are going to sit, sit. Whatever you do, don’t wobble!’ The message here is to give your training all your attention and focus when you are in class. Never step through your classes, always do everything to the best of your ability, each time you try something. That way you will train your body to perform as you need it to under pressure.

To be successful at anything we need to be committed to it, and Loyalty is demonstrated by our commitment.

Courage under Fire, Courage in Daily Life

Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose

courage-quotes-Life-shrinks-or-expands-in-proportion-to-ones-courage-quotesThe time when we most need our Courage in the Martial Arts is at our very first class. It can be a scary thing to start a new activity, as we must face the unexpected. When we get through our first lesson, there are other times when we have to show Courage. It might be when we learn a new technique that we are unsure of. It might be when we attend our first Belt Exam. All through our Martial Arts training we have the opportunity to practice our Courage.

One of the most important ways we can show Courage in our Martial Arts lessons is in our partner skills. When we work with a partner, it takes Courage to stand still and allow a partner to throw punches and kicks at our bodies without flinching or moving away. If we find the Courage to do this, we have a much better training experience.

It is important to understand that Courage does not mean that we are not afraid. There are many times when we will be afraid, and this is a normal reaction. When we have Courage we will still experience fear, however we will not allow that fear to prevent us from doing what we want to do.

Most of our fears can be categorised into two groups –

The Fear of Getting Hurt

The Fear of Looking Ridiculous

As martial artists, it is important that we are able to look at a thing that scares us and recognise it for what it is. Then we need to do what is right or necessary in spite of our fears. It is the ability to overcome our fears that gets us onto the mat at our Dojo the first time, and then later, gets us through our Black Belt exam. It is also this ability that makes us do things like stand up to people who are behaving in a bullying way, or help those who need our help, even when we do not know them.

If we are able to act despite our fears in our Martial Arts lessons, we can also act in this way at home and school, with our friends and with our families if we choose to do so.

Martial Arts Teaching Story

pp0366-2During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived – everyone except the Zen master.

Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was.

When he wasn’t treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger.

“You fool,” he shouted as he reached for his sword, “don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!”

But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved.

“And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”

This is an interesting story that shows us that courage is about being ourselves, even when people threaten us and we feel afraid. This is the most important courage, to be brave enough to be ourselves.

Another Story

A great way to show courage is to stand up for what we believe in. A former student of mine, Margaret Dunleavy, who is now an adult, feels very strongly about the ‘Reclaim Australia’ rallies that were held in cities through Australia last weekend. Margaret and her father attended the protest against the rally in Melbourne, where they currently live, to stand up for what they believe in, a fair and just society that has no room for racism.

This ought not to have been an act of courage, but you can never tell when you might be called upon to be courageous. Margaret and her father were on the streets to state that there is no place in Australia for the neo-nazi ideology she saw at the rally. While she was at the rally, the police used pepper spray on participants at the rally in an attempt to de-escalate the situation. Many peaceful and innocent bystanders were affected by the pepper spray and required first aid treatment. Margaret and her father went to the aid of the people affected by going to the volunteer medic group and offering to help. Margaret helped over 40 people who needed medical assistance, and then the medics, including Margaret and her father were themselves pepper sprayed. This was in spite of the officers being told, loudly and clearly, that it was a first aid station with injured people that they were spraying.

Standing up for what you believe in is an act of courage. Whether you are standing up for strongly held beliefs at a protest rally, or standing up for someone who is being bullied or talked about behind their back, it always takes courage to go on the record and state you believe one thing or another.

il_570xN.336068472Every time we do this, however, regardless of what people may think of us, we will make them think. We challenge their ideas, even if they do not change their mind on the issue, we have encouraged people to think about what they believe, analyse what impact their words and actions may have on others.

By acting with courage, we are doing the right thing for ourselves and our societies. The more bravery we use in our daily lives, the more comfortable we become with acts of everyday courage. By owning up to our mistakes and things we have done wrong, we are using courage. That courage, just like a muscle, grows and then perhaps we are able to speak up when people are speaking unkindly or unfairly. Then with practice maybe we can be courageous enough to let the world become aware of our beliefs and what we think is right, and make it a better place.

Martial Arts begins and ends with Respect

Martial Arts Begins and Ends with Respect.

quote-before-and-after-practicing-judo-or-engaging-in-a-match-opponents-bow-to-each-other-bowing-is-an-jigoro-kano-242528We see this in every class when students and Instructors bow to each other and the start and finish of the lesson. We also see it when partners bow to each other when they start working together, and when students bow when they first walk in to the training area.

When we bow, we turn our faces to the floor, not looking at the person we are bowing to as a sign of trust. When we bow, we are telling ourselves and the entire school that we take the things we are about to do seriously, and we are ready and prepared to do what is necessary for our training.

In some Martial Arts systems, the students always keep looking into each others eyes as they bow, as an expression of constant awareness. This is one tradition of the Martial Arts. The one we choose to honour in our Dojo is that we turn our faces to the floor as we bow, exposing the back of our neck. This is an ancient sign of complete trust. It used to happen that when someone went before their overlord in feudal times, they would state their case to their overlord, then bow, exposing the back of the neck, and offering their overlord the chance to dispense justice as he saw fit. We bow in the same way to indicate that we trust our partner to train in such a way that challenges and extends us in the training session, and at the same time keeping us safe.

When we treat things and people with respect, we act as though those things and people are important. We can show this through our tone of voice, our body language, our use of space and our use of our belongings. If we can speak and act as though people are important, we are treating them with respect. When we treat our personal space and those of others, our belongings and those of others as though they are important, we are treating them with respect. Treating things and people with respect is allowing them to be as they are, without requiring them to change to accommodate us.

When we are able to show respect, we open ourselves to the possibility that there are new things for us to learn and discover. When we show respect, we are also acting in a way that requests the people around us take us seriously, and act with respect in return.

The Empty Cup

Tea_Ceremony_3There was once an Instructor who had many students. There was one student in particular who was very talented, however also very impatient. Whenever the Instructor would say something to the students in class, this student would commence his work before the Instructor could even finish his instructions to the class. Whenever the student was offered correction on his technique, he would always reply ‘I know, I got it’.

Because the Instructor saw potential in this student despite his lack of respect, the Instructor decided to do something to make the student see how his actions were limiting his training. So the Instructor invited all the students to a tea ceremony after their class.

All the students attended the ceremony, and the Instructor served each a cup of scalding hot tea. When the Instructor came to serve his impatient student, he did not stop when the cup was full, but kept pouring the hot tea so it overflowed onto the student and the mats. “Master!” cried the student, “Stop, my cup is full!”

“Ah, said the Instructor, “When the cup is full there s no room for any more tea. The student hung his head as he realised that his mind was like the full cup, with no room for more knowledge if he did not have the respect to empty his mind of what he thought he knew before class.

This is a traditional teaching story of the Martial Arts, which Instructors have told to their students for generations. It is interesting as it shows us how a lack of respect can prevent us from getting the most out of our training. When we do not respect the words of our Instructors, we take in less information from the Instructor. When we do respect the process of learning things in their correct sequence and time, we rush through our basics and do not have a firm base of knowledge to build solid skills on. When we do not respect our Dojo, it becomes run down, equipment become less sturdy and effective and we do not have the same attitude when we come to train.

3f555a46a49a3747On the other hand, if we listen carefully and respectfully to our Instructors, striving to gain more knowledge even when the Instructor is not speaking directly to us, we gain an increased knowledge and become more effective in our training. If we do make certain, in our training,  to treat the basic techniques with as much respect and emphasis as the more advanced skills, we will have a strong and solid foundation to build amazing skills on. When we respect our Dojo, being sure to put away equipment after it has been used, keeping it free from litter and discarded items, we have a place that is free from distractions and is a pleasure to learn in.

The difference is in the way we treat things. If we treat things as though they are important, we are treating them with respect and we can create a place of learning. This also applies to our interactions with people. When we treat our Instructors, fellow students, parents, family members as though they are important, as though they have something to offer us, we are treating them with respect and we are building strong relationships and opportunities to learn from each other.