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Taekwondo Kunja


A long time ago, Bang Mong learned archery from a master named Huyea. The student then thought “What man in all the world is a better archer than I? Only one.” And so, he killed his teacher. About this story, Mang Ja (a follower of Confucius) said that Huyea made a tragic mistake in teaching such a student.

While not many Taekwondo instructors worry about assassination by ambitious students, the story does illustrate an aspect of martial arts instruction which is often neglected today – the development of character.

For the true martial artist, this means far more than adhering to the western code of sportsmanship in competition. Martial arts instruction should teach the student the virtues of the traditional oriental gentleman, the Kun Ja. As Confucius said, “Kun Ja develops upward everyday, so that he may reach through to the moral. The little man gropes downward each day, so that he may reach the material.”

The goal of every Kun Ja is to arrive at a communion with nature. With the virtue of Om (humanitarian love and benevolence) he overcomes his selfishness and sheds his tiny ego. He cultivates his character and improves his mind. He devotes himself to his work. Beyond that, he depends on nature and fate. Thus, his soul remains imperturbable. Man and nature are united in the Kun Ja.

The little man, on the contrary, pursues comfortable living and material goods. Just as he gets his hands on one thing, he sees something better. And the more he gets, the more he worries about losing what he has. Thus he never achieves peace of mind.

How can we teach students of Taekwondo to be Kun Ja, rather than small-minded materialists? Confucianism emphasises the use of natural authority – parent over child, elder over junior – to maintain and transmit traditional virtues. Social organisation is based on respect for those with more experience and more wisdom. Yet in modern society, it is not so easy to find the virtues of the Kun Ja, nor can respect for one’s elders be taken for granted.

So it is all the more important to create in the dojang a sort of model society, to instill in students two values they may no longer find in their outside lives. In the dojang, teacher and student must be like parent and child. Only with the respect and trust that such a relation implies, can a teacher have any real influence on the student’s education. The belt system, deference to one’s seniors in the dojang, bowing and other formalities, all these practices, so scrupulously followed in the Orient, instill the habits of respect, humility, and self discipline. A student who has such habits, is receptive to the teaching and example of his instructor. As the Confucian Wang Yang Myong said, only a properly ordered mind can acquire correct knowledge and, one might add, put it to good use, both in the practice of martial arts and in everyday life.