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  • Writer's pictureMaster Ash

Tenets of Martial Arts

Updated: Feb 26, 2023

  1. Obey your King

  2. Honor your parents

  3. Never kill unnecessarily

  4. Never retreat in battle

  5. Fight with Indomitable spirit

Fall 2022 testing

Those were the original tenets taught by Kwanjangnim. Nowadays, martial arts schools often interpret them as these principles:

  1. Courtesy

  2. Integrity

  3. Perseverance

  4. Self control

  5. Indomitable spirit

In some school this has ballooned into something akin to the Ten Commandments that students are made to memorize.

There are a few key points in each set.

Martial arts were originally intended to teach young men how to fight not only with hands and feet but also with weapons. It was a system of fighting intended to be used in squads and larger groups against an enemy. The goal was always to gain dominance on the battlefield and take control over territory. The techniques were to contain, immobilize, or eliminate the enemy threat.

Master Robert Zuczek testing fall 2022

The warrior of this time used different parts of the training to keep the mind sharp and the body whole. From this type of training came forms, weapons. breaking, and meditation. If you look at the simultaneous development in the monasteries, physical training was taught alongside prayer and meditation. This was useful in staying healthy as well as repelling the occasional attempt to take over the monasteries.

In keeping with this militaristic goal, the first set of tenets makes a lot of sense. The second set evolved with the training of all ages and sexes. The goals of training, the intention of martial arts, has seemingly changed recently.

Gradually training evolved into an individual's goal of self defense instead of supporting a larger group in combat. It was in this time that modern martial arts, including taekwondo was born.

In the past 50 years martial arts training has transformed. We have broken up the kinds of training into those for self defense and those for sport sparring.

We have even broken it down further into training against a single punch (one step sparring), hand holds (hapkido), and weapons (knife defense).

On the one hand we train extensively on pads, sparring with protective equipment, and practicing forms and breaking. None of these are true combat. At best they simulate different aspects used in combat.

Another way we have evolved the style is in the intention of the study. Even in early 1970's when the style was being disseminated across the globe, the goal was to take a cadre of beginners and then begin to weed students out till only the strongest were left.

Training was done everyday, not just between other activities like work and other sports. If a student didn't attend frequently, the master would not speak to that student. Ever. And eventually that student would leave.

Training was also quit rigorous. It was a grueling set of calisthenics, followed by line exercises. The count for the exercises were almost always double time. If a student could not keep up, he was put on the side and not asked to rejoin class.

Line exercise was followed by partnered exercises like pads, breaking, and self defense drills. If a student failed to complete these skills, he would not be allowed to do the sparring. And eventually the student would leave out of frustration.


Sparring was tough by design, not only for the beginners but also for the advanced students. The upper ranks were placed on one side and the lower ranks were paired with them.

Without much instruction, they would be asked to fight, not spar, the advanced ranks. If the student was fortunate, the advanced student would guide the beginner in sparring. Every so often one would be paired with a higher rank belt who would take extra pains to make sure the lower rank "knew his place".

On the other side, the master would give harsh instruction to the upper ranks to be faster, stronger and at the same time show control throughout all the matches.

And of course pads were not commonly available. If you did wear protective gear, the higher belts would just hit harder.

And that was just the first few rounds. Then would come the dan ranked sparring. As the floor sparring pairs got smaller, the intensity of the matches went up. Master was always looking for weakness in technique, lack of conditioning or worse, fear in execution of the match. If found wanting, even the dan belts would be dressed down in front of their class.

Needless to say, everyone went home bruised and battered. And all were expected to return the next day and do it again.

Students would quit from frustration, pain, injury, fear or just decide that training in martial arts was not worth it.

So from that training we hear stories today that 100 students would join but only one would advance to il dan (1st degree black belt).

An especially interesting thing happened over those formative years of Taekwondo in this country . Masters like Joon Rhee wanted to teach more students without the attrition of traditional training. This group of masters wanted to teach all ages and both sexes. Their goal was to introduce safer training not only to spread the art, but also to monetize their schools and make more money.

So pads were introduced in the 1980's, as were masters seminars on how to open more schools to make more money. For example, pricing for different aspects of training, black belt tracked classes, and payment for belt promotions became a common theme in the martial arts school mill.

From this came the impression that if you paid enough money, a student could essentially buy a black belt. We can see that in some schools still where a student gets their il dan in 2 years. We hear about countless parents saying their child is a black belt. Unfortunately, this has diluted the art. To go from the rigorous combat training of armies to kiddie karate has made a mockery of the martial arts.

Nonetheless, we still can learn important lessons from this history in the application of the essential tenets of martial training.

Borrowing from the Hwa-rang tradition, training is not only for the privileged men. We can train all youth and older adults in these basic principles.

A wide range of age and level of training

Secondly, we can keep the rigors of physical conditioning as the basis of strong technical training.

This is what Kwanjangnim meant when he said, "Strong mind, strong body".

The original tenets of martial arts still hold the key to our training.

"Obey your King"

We apply this as we begin and end our class with bow to the flag and bow to instructor. The country and instructor provide the basis for training with purpose and integrity.

Every master has his master Senior Master Robert Zuczek on the right

"Honor your parents"

Each of us are raised by our parents. They provide for us, guide us, and are our original teachers in so much of life. From the moment we are born we are being instructed and schooled by our parents. This love and direction they give us is worthy of honor and emulation. It asks us to rise to to level of their devotion, becoming worthy of their teachings.

Our youngest Isaiah with his father Mr John Orsag

"Never kill unnecessarily"

One of the major goals of training is in self defense. The core of this is in learning how much force is required to preserve ourselves. As much as we train to fight, at the same time we train to not fight. Finding ways to resolve conflict, de escalate, are as important as the finishing move in hapkido.

Sparring for dan testing

"Never retreat in battle"

Once we are engaged in conflict, we learn to persevere through victory or defeat. The outcome is secondary to the fight we give. We live in the moment whether we are fighting or not. Defeat or victory, win or lose, pain or joy are not goals or concerns. Our only concern is the current moment and moving forward, no retreat, through it.

"Fight with indomitable spirit."

The Ki, chi, energy that is the driving force of our life is the source of this spirit. Each of us forge this in life, like the crucible of belt testing. This spirit we carry with each task, each encounter we have. This is the motive spirit that brings us to class, to train, to move forward, and to risk our selves in order to move forward.

Bo dan Josiah

The founding principles of martial arts are still alive in our daily training. It is exciting to see how each generation finds and applies these ideas into everyday challenges physically, mentally and spiritually.

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