Veteran Sparring: Taekwon-do Tenets in Action

Young martial artists and sportsmen can learn a lot from “veterans.”

I love the below sparring final video from the 2016 World Cup (Budapest) for two reasons.

First, you can clearly see how the opponents respect each either despite high stakes. After all, this was a fight for the champion title. This is what courtesy is about – the first tenet of taekwondo.

Second, the master from Argentina managed to literally squeeze out the victory six seconds before the match end. He demonstrated a true indomitable spirit – another tenet of taekwondo.

A great example of tenets in action.


Embracing Taekwon-do Tenets: Indomitable Spirit

Indomitable spirit completes the list of the tenets of taekwon-do.

For me, indomitable spirti is the quintessence of human existence.

In a training hall, it means having courage to face your opponent and your fear. Always step out of your comfort zone and risk. Find strenght to go on even though everything inside you is screaming that it’s over.

Similarly, beyond the trainnig environment indomitable spirit is having courage to be open to the world, learn, and push you limits. As I mentioned earlier, in my hierachy of values courage is one of the biggest virtues.

Indomitable spirit means forcing yourself to do what you fear doing.

Indomitable spirit is running away from safety.

Indomitable spirit is have the guts to be what you wanna be.

Indomitable spirit is showing no fear,
or running away when trouble is near,
It’s knowing in life there’s some risks you must take,
and along the way some mistakes you may make.
It’s standing up proudly and thinking with glee,
I’m OK! I can do it! I beleiv in me!

©The Academic Taekwondo

Embracing Taekwon-do Tenets:



When I was 15 years old and attended the 9th grade in high school, I participated in the municipal English language contest. These kind of school contests, or ‘Olympiads’  as they are called, are very popular throughout the post-soviet territory, and are held in nearly every subject.

As part of preparation for the contest my English teacher – a great person and a great pedagogue – suggested that I should learn by heart the poem ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. I remember how my teacher was excited about the poem. Even more excited was she when reciting it to me.

I also remember being puzzled. By that time my only image of Kipling was that of the author of ‘Maugli’. I simply could not understand how a poem would be useful during the English language contest. However, as I started reading and learning the poem itself, I got more and more hooked. Moreover, somehow I was dead sure I could make use of it during the contest.

The last exercise of the contest, as it was announced beforehand, was a free discussion on a random topic. I don’t remember now what that topic was. I do remember though that I could nicely connect it with the Poem recited passionately in front of the jury.

I won that contest and became “number one” in town among twenty schools represented.

As time passed by, I turned back to the poem over and over again. This seems to be one of those few pieces that bring inspiration literally forever. Today, its lines resonate even more vividly inside of me when when back in my teens.

If I were asked to leave the only literary piece of work on Earth, I would select If without a doubt.

I hope it can inspire and guide others like it does for me.


The Biggest Virtues

This post flows out logically  from the post on the biggest sins.

To recap, I consider laziness and fear as the biggest vices. So here I would like to address the question on how to tackle these two.

The answer is simple, although may not be so obvious in the beginning.

A great and effective way to eradicate any phenomenon or bad quality is to focus on its antidote, or opposite. It you want to reduce crime, focus on promoting peace. If you want to bring down poverty, focus on the growth. If you want to fight your laziness and fear, focus on discipline and courage.

Discipline and courage, in my opinion, are the biggest virtues.

My understating of discipline is the following. Discipline is when you force yourself to do what you know you need to, but don’t want to do.

Everyone knows somehow what he needs to do, what things are useful for himself. Clean up a flat. Wash up your dishes. Wake up early for morning exercises. Switch off the TV and read a book. Stop browsing Internet and get down to work. So the state of discipline is the exact opposite of the state of laziness. It is a crucial tool to achieve our goals and gain success.

Courage, as the opposite of fear, is rather important too. A common misconception is that courage is the absence of fear. Courage is not the absence, but overcoming fear.

This means brave and courageous people are afraid too. But what makes them different from cowards is the ability to face their fear instead of surrendering. Courage is ultimately the ability to act irregardless of the fear.

So this is my answer how to handle the biggest vices, i.e laziness and fear. You need to practice their opposites, i.e. discipline and courage.

Like darkness is the absence of light, laziness may be reduced by proper discipline, and fear can be knocked down with courage. Doing something small but regular that requires these two qualities will be an immense change. Here are just a few practical examples:

Discipline: 1) wake up 10 minutes earlier to avoid rush getting to work; 2) do not break away for coffee until you finish an important mail or any other ongoing thing; 3) do first things first.

Courage: 1) approach a stranger of the opposite gender every day asking for a date / phone number; 2) speak up your mind at a business meeting or disagree with something: 3) take an unfamiliar route from work to home.

With every small victory over yourself self-confidence and self-respect will grow. Discipline and courage are simple yet powerful keys to positive transformation.


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.