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.

Our Martial Arts Inheritance

Ancient Map of Korea
Ancient Map of Korea

Hapkido, which we practice at our martial arts school, is a Korean martial art. Korean arts have always relied heavily on kicking in their unarmed attacks, and on the use of the bow and arrow as their main armed weapon.

Korea sits as a peninsula of land in between China to the North and the West, and Japan across the water to the East. The development of martial arts in each country has been strongly influenced by the development of martial arts in the countries around it.

Our inheritance as practitioners of a Korean art can be traced back to the Three Kingdoms period of Korea, where the three kingdoms of Korea were Silla, Paikche and Koguryo. At different times, one or the other of these kingdoms was dominant in the Korean peninsula, and each has it’s legacy for us.

The Koguryo dynasty was dominant from about 56BC to 37BC. At this time, there are mentions in some surviving documents of a form of combat known as Taekkyong, which is a kicking based style. There is some thought that this style may have come from China, which neighbours the northern Koguryo kingdom.

The next dominant dynasty was the Silla Dynasty. This was a golden age for martial arts in Korea. The kingdom was largely Buddhist at this time, with some followers of the Tao also.

Incidentally, the leaders of the Koguryo kingdom at this time fled to Japan, to Hokkaido where they founded some of the early Bushido settlements which later gave rise to the Samurai warriors of Japan. While these warriors focused on a quite different style of martial arts, the fundamental philosophical ideas of the warrior groups of both countries were the same.

During this time, there were several groups of warriors in Silla that were formed outside of the main army. These groups were organised by the king with the intention of being a showcase for the people of what a loyal, upright citizen could be. The Hwarangdo strongly influenced Korean culture and martial arts by their bravery, loyalty and fighting prowess.

The first of these groups was the Wonhwa, which is translated as ‘Original Flowers’.  These cadets were unlikely to have seen battle, although they were trained in the arts of war. This group was largely female, and certainly all their leaders were female. These warriors were in fact highly esteemed buddhist nuns, whose role was to provide spiritual guidance to the army and the country. Unfortunately, the two female leaders disagreed, and one killed the other, causing the king to disband the Wonwha permanently.

The next group of warriors that came to be established were the Hwa Rang Do, which is translated as ‘The Way of Flowering Youth’. This group of warriors was largely, although not exclusively, drawn from young men from good families with good morals. There were exceptions to this, and sometimes a young person who was not from an aristocratic background would be selected as a member of the Hwarangdo.

Mydbtj-masangssanggeomThe Hwarangdo had five core tenets that they lived by;

사군이충 / 事君以忠 – Loyalty to one’s king.
사친이효 / 事親以孝 – Respect to one’s parents.
교우이신 / 交友以信 – Faithfulness to one’s friends.
임전무퇴 / 臨戰無退 – Courage in battle.
살생유택 / 殺生有擇 – Make a righteous kill.

The Hwarang warriors were recruited from as young as age 12, although 15 was more common. Their training and association with the group was ended by age 25. The Hwarang studied Taekkyong, history, philosophy, ethics, morality, poetry, social skills and etiquette and military strategy. They also trained in horse riding, including archery from horseback, they trained in the sword, javelin throwing, rock throwing and ladder climbing.

They were trained to be leaders in times or war or in times of peace.  Their training made them capable of being a general when called upon during wartime, or a politician or statesman during times of peace. The Hwarang was a unique movement, as it allowed young people of any background who had promise to train to better their lives through a spiritual and physical training. This is what martial artists today strive towards – to improve their lives and the lives of others through education in the martial arts.

chinese-general-yue-fei-martial-arts-facts,-tales,-and-mysteries-361Following the fall of the Silla dynasty, the Paikche dynasty came to power. At this time martial arts focused on armed forms of combat. This particularly involved the use of bow and arrow, including from horseback, which it is thought was learnt from the Mongols.

After this dynasty, the Chosun dynasty came to power. This dynasty followed Confucianism, which had a reverence for academic and scholarly abilities and a reverence for ancestors. In this climate, martial arts was not considered as honourable, and over time, the practice of martial arts went into decline. It was still practiced in some areas, particularly the remote mountainsides, however in most company martial arts was rather looked down on at this time.

The Chosun dynasty was eventually overthrown by the invading Japanese, who further crushed martial arts in Korea, outlawing the practice of this and many other cultural activities. When they were finally overthrown at the the end of the Second World War, martial arts had a huge increase in popularity, to the point where Taekwondo is now taught in all state schools in Korea.

Korean martial arts have spread all over the globe, and is practiced by men, women and children from all walks of life. Martial Arts calls to people for it’s ability to inspire, to bring out the best in us, train us as leaders and make us better people.

Our Martial Arts Family Tree

It is an interesting thing to trace our Martial Arts family tree, and to see some of the people who have shaped our Art and been influential in the development of the Art we practice today. I started training in 1996 while I was at university. I trained under an Instructor named Mark Walker, who in turn was taught by Matthew Sung Su Kim, one of the early pioneers of Martial Arts in Australia, and with Ji Han Jae, the founder of Hapkdio.

Ji Han Jae and Bruce Bee
Ji Han Jae and Bruce Lee

Incidentally, Ji Han Jae has been involved in teaching a great many Martial Artists over the years, including the legendary Bruce Lee. Grandmaster Ji Han Jae credits three Instructors as being significant in his Martial Arts training. One is a Buddhist nun known to him as ‘Grandma’ who taught him breathing techniques. Another was a man called Taoist Lee who taught him Bo techniques and more breathing techniques. His final Instructor was Yung Sul Choi, who taught him the base physical skills of the Martial Arts which we now know as Hapkido. Ji Han Jae studies with Choi in Korea for a period of about 3 years before Ji Han Jae formed his own organisation. Yung Sul Choi was a Korean who was sold into slavery at an early age. It is unclear whether he was an orphan or whether is parents sold him, however he went to Japan as the slave of a Japanese family. He was not happy there and soon ran away and ended up begging on the streets in Japan. He was taken in by a Buddhist temple, however he didn’t really get on there either as he was always fighting with the other boys. The abbot of the temple spoke to his friend, Sokkaku Takeda who agreed to take the boy in.

Sokkaku Takeda
Sokkaku Takeda

Sokkaku Takeda was the leader of a famous samurai family. He was a prolific teacher and many of his students went on to found Martial Arts styles in their own right. Some of his students included Moreihi Uesheba, the founder of Aikido and Jigaro Kano, the founder of Judo. Takeda took Yung Sul Choi in and he became a part of the Takeda household. There is a lot of debate about the role Choi played in the Takeda household. Choi himself claims to have been the adopted son and inheritor of all the Takeda family teachings. This seems very unlikely given the prevailing attitude of the Japanese to the Koreans. The Japanese consider themselves as a superior race, and it seems unlikely that a famous Samurai family would adopt an orphaned Korean boy and pass on all their teachings to him. Contemporaries and students of Choi state that Choi was only ever a house boy and a demonstration dummy, he was never actually taught by Takeda. We will probably never know his exact position in the Takeda family, however when you look at the techniques which are in Choi’s Martial Arts and those techniques which appear in the Martial Arts of other of Takeda’s students, it is clear that Choi learnt from Takeda. After the end of the Second World War, Master Takeda died and Choi returned to a newly liberated Korea. He had some initial difficulties in finding his feet  and engaged in a range of activities, working up to pig farming, eventually, To feed his pigs, Choi would queue for the free chaff that was given away at the brewery. As he would wait in line, fights would break out amongst the pig farmers for places in the line. With the teachings of Sokkaku Takeda, Choi was easily able to defend himself and keep the best place in line.

Bok Sub Suh
Bok Sub Suh

His abilities were noticed one day by the owner of the brewery, Bok Sub Suh, who was interested in the martial arts. Bok Sub Su asked Choi to teach him what he knew of the martial arts, and Choi agreed. So it was that the first Hapkido Dojo was started in a brewery. At this time the art was known as Daito Ryu Aiki Ju Jitusu, which was the name given to the art by Sokkaku Takeda, and can be loosely translated as the self defence techniques of the House of Takeda. However this name was unpopular in Korea as it was too Japanese, and after the end of the Second World War anti Japanese sentiment was high in Korea. The name was therefor changed to Dai Dong Ryu Yu Sul, which means the same thing but in Korean. This name too was eventually discarded as it was too long and the art became known as Yu Sul. In time it was decided that a name incorporating the ending ‘Do’ would be desirable. This means ‘The Way’ and many arts starting at this time were using this ending, such as Taekwondo, another Korean martial art. The name Hapkido was chosen, and can be translated to mean ‘The Way of Coordinated Power’. This name gives us direction in developing our martial arts skills as we work to coordinate our mind and body to increase our power and effectiveness.