Tenets of Taekwon-Do

The tenets serve as a reminder that we, as martial arts practitioners, are striving to improve ourselves on both a physical and intellectual level. As my instructor states, “It is easy to teach you (students) how to be fighters. To be martial artists is a lifetime of training.” It is the practice of the tenets of Taekwon-do and trying to integrate them into one’s life that is the lifetime’s worth of training. Each time a student practices Taekwon-do, he reinforces the tenets within himself. In order to gain a better understanding of the tenets, it is necessary to examine them individually.


Courtesy is the foundation from which all interactions flow. It is Taekwon-do’s version of the Golden Rule. By being courteous to fellow students and seniors, and particularly new students and acquaintances, one demonstrates care about their well-being. This respect is essential in Taekwon-do because students entrust their safety to the instructor and to other students of the class. By showing courtesy to the class, one also unconsciously is saying that they would like to be treated similarly. By mutually agreeing to treat each other with respect, the class has established the essential base for training. Nobody in the class needs to fear that they will be maliciously attacked, either physically or verbally, and the instructor can rely on the students’ cooperation in maintaining a safe and supportive environment for training.


Integrity demonstrates respect for oneself as well as respect for others. Integrity means being honest with oneself and being with honest others. In Taekwon-do, one way to practice integrity is by providing fellow students with as much information as one can when teaching. To hold back some bit of advice that might help an individual in understanding a movement or pattern would not be honest. It would be creating a barrier to the student’s learning. My instructor has mentioned that some of the martial arts societies were very secretive about heir techniques, withholding information from students on a proverbial whim. In my experience with Taekwon-do, no secrets are kept about technique or execution. The martial arts societies withholding information were not practicing integrity.

Another way to practice integrity in training is by being honest with one’s self in performance of techniques and physical ability on a given day. One knows if they’re not practicing to the best of their abilities or foolishly ignoring an injury. To practice half-heartedly is to teach one’s self “garbage.” To ignore an injury is to ask for worse injury. Both examples lead to a loss in self respect and create frustration and anxiety. This is because one is not practicing with integrity.

Part of integrity is the idea of wholeness, the idea that one has not strengthed one aspect of character at the expense of another. In Taekwon-do, when training with students, an instructor must insist that the students practice both right and left side techniques. When students ask why this is necessary, explain that it is important to make both sides of the body strong and capable of doing technique. Also, if one knows that they have a weakness it is important to make that weakness a strength. In that way, the entire person is benefited physically, as well as mentally, because the person will have confidence that they technique can be relied upon.


Perseverance is an integral part of Taekwon-do. Students, set long and short term goals for in training. One must remove barriers that inevitably creep into their lives so that they can train and ultimately succeed in accomplishing goals. Consider learning a pattern. On the first attempt, one may reasonably expect to remember 10 steps. After repeated practice, the entire pattern is learned. After still more practice, the pattern becomes a part of muscle memory and the student no longer needs to think of what step is next. Instead the student concentrates on improving the quality of the techniques in the pattern. When the pattern is demonstrated, it is a superior presentation, because the student had the patience and perseverance to continue trying to learn and improve the pattern and, intrinsically, himself.

Indomitable Spirit

Indomitable spirit manifests itself as a mental strength to accomplish a goal despite the barriers that might appear to impede success. In the C-Fit Program, participants are physically challenged by Cystic Fibrosis, a debilitating disease that affects the respiratory and digestive systems. One student, age 6, was using only 30% of normal lung function due to her C-F condition. Instead of sitting out and letting her condition dictate how she was going to live, the student, with the help of her parents, began practicing the Isotrim breathing exercises and Taekwon-do. Initially it was a struggle for her to complete a C-Fit class. However, I could see the concentration in girl’s eyes as she continued to practice. After classes I would see the smile on her face because she knew she had succeeded at a difficult task. Her courage and strength of will are what the tenet of indomitable spirit embody.

Self Control

Indomitable spirit, unrestrained, can lead to disastrous consequences. For example, if one is sparring with a partner and gets so involved in their part of the exchange that they ignore the signals from their partner to tone down the sparring, one may cause injury to the partner or themself. For this reason, it is essential that one monitor their enthusiasm to blend with the partner’s abilities and share in the benefits of a safe exchange. By monitoring emotions, and adjusting to the situation, a safe environment is created for the class, and particularly, the sparring partner. Controlling one’s actions is also a way of demonstrating respect for the partner’s and the class’s well-being. Because Taekwon-do is a martial art, safety is paramount to learning and building a strong program. It is through the practice of self control that safety is maintained.

Another aspect of self control is monitoring what we say to students and people in general. A harsh word can do as much damage to someone as any strike. This is particularly true in training with and teaching children. Each time teachers work with the children’s class, they should try to correct the children’s techniques with positive reinforcement using statements like “Good kick, try to turn over more.” One should try to build on success with their students and when training with fellow students. This advice was given by Master Han Cha Kyo. Mr. Connelly has also reinforced the importance of positive criticism.

Community Spirit

Community service is an opportunity to share part of yourself with society and improve society’s condition. It is also an opportunity to remove the prejudice attached to practicing a martial art. People perceive martial artists as fighters. They see the martial arts only with an eye to its destructive capabilities. By sharing the knowledge we gain from practicing Taekwon-do, we demonstrate the constructive, positive, aspects of the art.

The C-Fit Program is an excellent example of this. The essential elements of the program are teaching people afflicted with C-F a more efficient way to breathe and a method of gaining independence from current two person therapy used to clear the lungs of excess mucus. In Taekwon-do, we breathe diaphragmatically, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. It is a natural way of breathing that can be clearly seen in sleeping infants. What I and other C-Fit volunteers do is teach this method of breathing while the participants are gently exercising their bodies through the use of Isotrims. Invariably, the exercises cause the participants to cough, thereby expectorating mucus that inhibits their breathing. Also, the exercises help in breaking up blockages in the digestive system, improving their ability to gain nourishment from the foods they eat. Further, the participants perform these exercises primarily by themselves. There is no need to rely on someone to “pound” the student as is necessary with chest pressure therapy. In this way, C-Fit members have increased their independence and built self respect. The knowledge gained from studying Taekwon-do has improved the C-Fit members’ quality of life; more notably not a kick or a punch was executed. This is a clear demonstration of the constructive capabilities of the principles practiced in Taekwon-do.


In practicing Taekwon-do, I have learned to trust in myself and trust in others. Trust does not come easily. It requires one to remove walls that have been set up to protect one’s self from the outside world. However, in order to grow as a person, one needs to remove the walls and expose their fears. In discussing the tenet of self control, the importance of creating and maintaining a safe environment for training was discussed. This is important not only for safety but also to allow the students to take risks as well. It is the support of the class, and the community that the support creates that best describes the tenet of compassion, allowing the person to let go of fear and grow as an individual. Part of building a more peaceful world must begin with the desire to alleviate unnecessary suffering (mercy) both within ourselves and for others.