Deconstructing Taekwon-Do

The Origin of Taekwon-Do’s Student Oath?

I have a theory on where the Taekwon-Do student oath came from. You see, Shotokan Karate has this thing called the dojo kun.

No, that’s Domo-kun.

That’s more like it.

“Dojo kun” literally means “training hall rules.” Many Karate clubs post them (usually in Japanese) at the entrance to the dojo, or at the front of the training hall. Even though it means “rules,” the dojo kun is more a set of guiding principles than actual rules of conduct.

Many people think that the dojo kun was written by Gichin Funakoshi, the founder of Shotokan. (Chances are, it was written by someone else.) It’s made up of five principles that are recited at either the beginning or end of a training session. The International Shotokan Karate Federation (ISKF) says, “the dojo kun should not only be considered a set of rules of conduct in the dojo, but a guide to everyday life. Everything we learn in the dojo, we should apply to everyday life.”

Starting to sound familiar?

Here’s the common English translation used by the ISKF and other Shotokan organizations:

  • Strive for completion of character (or Seek perfection of character).
  • Be Faithful.
  • Endeavor.
  • Respect others.
  • Refrain from violent behaviour.

The more I learn about Karate, the more I learn that the common English translations sometimes aren’t correct. It turns out that this version wasn’t really translated for accuracy. It was probably translated to appeal to a western audience.

There are a lot of translations of the dojo kun; many seem to mix the above version with the literal translation. Rob Redmond, of the sadly defunct, provides the following, no nonsense version:

  • Strive to complete your character (mature or grow-up).
  • Protect the road/way of the truth.
  • Foster a spirit of effort.
  • Respect the principles of etiquette.
  • Guard against impetuous courage (suppress boldness of the blood spirit/bloodthirsty spirit).

Sounding familiar now? How about if I give you another five principles recited at the beginning or end of class?

  • I shall observe the tenets of Taekwon-Do (courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control, indomitable spirit).
  • 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.

Yeah, I think the Taekwon-Do student oath was lifted from the dojo kun. General Choi and the other pioneers of Taekwon-Do were immensely influenced by Shotokan. And maybe other styles of Karate as well. They didn’t just use and change the moves of Karate, they used the philosophy as well.

The order is mixed up and some of the principles aren’t that similar at all but the same sentiment is definitely there.

In the Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do, General Choi often talks about the moral culture of TKD, and how we should use what we learn inside the dojang to enrich our lives outside. That’s straight from Karate.

The question is, were the old guys adapting a part of Karate on purpose to make their martial art seem peaceful and marketable? Did they genuinely believe these things? Or did they do it because they just thought this is the way that martial arts are supposed to be?