Taekwon-do Oath

When I started doing taekwon-do, I looked at the student oath as something I had to refresh in my memory before attempting a belt exam. In between the test periods I could safely forget about it. With time, however, I realized how deep and logical the oath is. Let me just quickly restate it.


I shall observe the tenets of Taekwon-do.
I shall respect the instructor and seniors.
I shall never misuse Taekwon-do.
I shall be a champion of freedom and justice.
I shall build a more peaceful world.

At some point, after meditating about each sentence, it struck me that there is a certain logic in the sequence of the five statements of the oath. Moreover, each of these principles can be practiced by any martial artist, irregardless of the art he or she does, and even by an average person not involved into budo.

Let me first talk briefly about the principles themselves, the way I understand them at this moment, and then show how they naturally flow and evolve into each other.

1. I shall observe the tenets of Taekwon-do.

The tenets of taekwon-do include: courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit. I would say these are as important for taekwon-do students as the Ten Commandments by Moses for the Christians. The idea, however, is to apply these tenets not only when studying taekwon-do, but in everyday life too. In fact, these tenets can serve as a moral or spiritual compass for everyone who would like to change his life in a positive way.

I shall respect the instructor and seniors.

Respect and courtesy are key concepts and ideals in the oriental cultures, where taekwon-do is rooted. Again, in my opinion, this should not be only displayed in the training room by bowing to instructors and senior students, lining up in an hierarchic order before and after the class, etc. The idea is to give respect to each and every person around you. After all, if you don’t respect others, why should you expect respect in return?

I shall never misuse Taekwon-do.

I have touched upon this in my previous post A Martial Artist’s Dilemma. Confident people will not demonstrate their power. Only weak people seek excuses for proving their skills and strength at the expense of others. On a general note this means modesty is more effective that showing-off. Whatever knowledge you have, please share it if someone asks sincerely for it, but never boast.

I shall be a champion of freedom and justice.

Being “a champion of freedom and justice” means two things in my understanding. Firstly, on a personal level, you need to strive for freedom, which implies active exploration of the world around you, developing yourself, getting out of your comfort zone, solving inner problems that block movement towards your goals, etc. Secondly, on the level of society, you simply need to help others when possible, necessary and appropriate. Whether this is for your family, friends, or just strangers.

I shall build a more peaceful world.

Finally, building a peaceful world means serving others in need. This is connected to the previous principle. Service may take any forms – social work, volunteering, conflict mediation, negotiation, etc. This corresponds exactly to one of the four ‘temples’ in the Indian tradition (see my post The Four Temples of Human Life).

As you may notice, each of these principles can be applied to anything in everyday life, not exclusively to the practice of taekwon-do or any other martial art. But what is most interesting, it is very difficult (or impossible) to follow any of the statement of the oath, if you haven’t learned a previous one.

For example, you need to have courtesy to be able to give respect. Once you learn to respect others, you will learn to control yourself and not misuse your power or knowledge. Once you master the first three levels, you may have the capacity to transform the world around you in a positive manner.

So the oath gradually flows from personal development to the potential influence and change you may bring into the world. This is quite logical and natural, isn’t it? As Mahatma Gandhi nicely put it: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

In conclusion, I’d like to mention the legendary Jigoro Kano and his idea of the three levels of judo, which is another good illustration of the principles embedded in the taekwon-do oath. According to Jigoro Kano, on the first level you learn and master different attack and defense techniques. With constant practice, you get onto the the second level where you get a trained and perfected body, mind and spirit. And only after this you can fully achieve what you strive for, as well as use all your strength and skills to bring positive contribution to the society. This is the third and highest level of judo.

To summarize, whatever good qualities someone may have, no matter how developed his intellect is, or what strong and health body he has, it will all be useless if he dies without doing anything great. Achieving self-perfection does not yet mean doing something useful for the world. And this is what taekwon-do teaches me as manifested in the student oath.


7 thoughts on “Taekwon-do Oath

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