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Moral Culture in Taekwon-Do

(Jungshin Sooyang)

“In Taekwon-Do a heavy emphasis is placed on moral culture, for it not only promotes a healthy body and keen mind but good sportsmanship and the perfection of moral behavior. […] the more disciplined and cultivated the mind is, the more disciplined and cultivated will be the student’s use of Taekwon-Do.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.47)

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“In a word, it is the endeavor and process of becoming an exemplary person such as Confucius (552-479 A.D.). To become such a person, one has to first find himself and acquire a moral character which is respected by all. This can only be achieved through constant practice of mental discipline. Thus, if the times call for it, the mentally disciplined man can contribute to the building of an ideal society through wise counsel to the government and, even after death, through his everlasting examples. Confucius said, ‘to promote the sense of morality one must treat others with faithfulness and sincerity based on righteousness, and to eliminate completely vicious thinking’. ” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.45)


Human beings are social beings, and they desire to live in a peaceful and a free society. Gen. Choi Hong Hi classifies society along with quotes of ancient saints and philosophers for creating an ideal society, “in the hope that students of Taekwon-Do use them as a guide to cultivating their moral culture.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.45).

Gen. Choi Hong Hi provides a classification of the society as follows:

– Ideal Society. “An ideal society, according to Lao-Tzu, is one in which the ruler is of such high moral character that he can rule naturally, not be interference or fear but by appealing to the good nature of his people, who by merely doing their duty can live freely in peace without fear and anxiety.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.46)

– Moral Society. “Next, a moral society is one in which the people admire and praise their ruler in gratitude for his love and the benign disposition he bears towards his people.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.46)

– Legalistic Society. “Thirdly, there is a legalistic society in which the ruler because he lacks the moral authority resorts to various laws to govern his people, who in turn obey because they fear the retribution that the violation of these laws will bring.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.46)

– Worst kind of Society. “Finally the worst kind of society is that in which the ruler, through deception and trickery, misuses his legal authority to further his personal ambitions and imposes his rule upon his people by force as he deems necessary.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.46)


“No doubt the following lessons may be somewhat hard to fully understand; however, it would behove the serious student of Taekwon-Do to read, digest, and attempt to grasp these very fundamental essences of moral culture.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.47)

A. Return to the basic nature.
B. Be virtuous.
—1. Humanity (In)
—2. Righteousness (Ui)
—3. Propriety (Ye)
—4. Wisdom (Ji)
—5. Trust (Shin)

A. Return to the basic nature. Gen. Choi states that man is basically good. He refers to an analogy presented by Mencius who reasoned that a ruthless robber will also forget his intention to rob, if he sees an innocent child about to fall into a well and he will try to save the child. Hence, man should return to the basic nature which is basically good, but greed for power and money obscures this good nature.

B. Be virtuous. Gen. Choi states that defining virtue is difficult; however, since ancient times five human qualities are recognised as virtues. The five virtues are humanity, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, and trust, which should be constantly cultivated and practised.

—1. Humanity (In). “The ability to feel sorrow for the misfortunes of fellow men and love them all equally as parents love their children equally.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.47)

Gen. Choi quotes Confucius who defined humanity as loving people, especially one’s parents; not asking others to do what one would not do; behaving in a controlled fashion with propriety; desiring to achieve what is right even if it requires significant effort for a seemingly insignificant initial result; and valuing others’ honour and freedom before one’s own.

Gen. Choi quotes Confucius who states that implementation of humanity is done by practising prudence, modesty and discretion in everyday life; by devoting oneself to the assigned work, be it small or large; and by demonstrating sincerity to others.

—2. Righteousness (Ui). “The ability to feel ashamed of unjust acts and to do one’s duty to others.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.50)

Gen. Choi quotes Mencius that for the virtuous person, to live and die for righteousness is far more important than life and death themselves.

—3. Propriety (Ye)/ Courtesy. “Unlike animals fighting over food, a courteous man would offer another man a piece of bread even though both were starving, out of respect and good manners.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.50)

Gen. Choi provides quotations of Confucius as follows:
– propriety must be practised for the proper development of personality, and whoever lacks sincerity in his words, cannot be considered a gentleman.
– frankness without courtesy can be rather ruthless.
– respectfulness without courtesy can make the recipient rather uncomfortable.
– courageousness without courtesy can be rather violent.

—4. Wisdom (Ji). “The ability to judge right from wrong, not especially in matters concerning the right and wrong of others but in matters concerning oneself.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.51)

Gen. Choi gives an example of a wise man (Yu Bee) who told his sons not to do what is wrong, rather to earnestly do what is right, no matter how small it may seem.

—5. Trust (Shin). “The ability to keep one’s words and promises, not only to one’s friends but to everyone in general.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.51)

Gen. Choi states that all dignities and principles are lost in a person who is without trust, as he becomes a cheater and a liar.


“How, then, can man discover his own human nature? There are two ways by which a person can find himself; first, by preserving the goodness given to him by God or heaven at birth, and secondly by renouncing greed for material things.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.51)

Gen. Choi details the following to discover one’s own nature:

A. Man may occupy two positions in a life time
B. Greed is insatiable
C. Be humble
D. Self-criticism
E. Be soft
F. Respect of elders
G. Respect the rights of others
H. Be just
I. Be frugal
J. Be discreet
K. Know true happiness
L. Let your actions speak for yourself
M. Develop peace of mind
N. Be of firm mind
O. Be devoted

A. Man may occupy two positions in a life time

“Basically there are two kinds of position; one is the five virtues given by heaven, explained earlier, and the other given by man, such as a cabinet minister, bureau chief, and so on. […] This is not to say that we reject all worldly things but rather that we keep both positions in proper balance so that the virtues of the former position provides guidance for the proper use of the latter.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.51)

Gen. Choi quotes Confucius who states that a generous person has no enemy.

B. Greed is insatiable

“He who is content with what he has is the richest man in the world. On the other hand, if one has everything and still more, he may yet be poor. A man who is blinded by greed is not only given to corruption, intrigue and exploitation of others, but worst of all, he casts himself in the position of ‘friend fighting against friend, father fighting against son,’ finally becoming no better than an animal.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.52)

Gen. Choi provides ancient adages as follows:
– a truly good person cannot be rich, and a rich person cannot be a truly good person.
– constant material dissatisfaction is considered to be the root of all misfortunes.

C. Be humble

“A weed holds up its head in arrogance while a mature grain bows its head in humility. […] To be humble is not to engage in petty squabbles, but to be like the magnanimous river in the low valley which irrigates the farm fields around it.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.53)

Gen. Choi quotes Lao-Tzu who states that lofty virtue is like a deep valley into which all streams of water flow.

D. Self-criticism

“It would not be impossible to eventually become perfect human beings. For this purpose, it is essential not to be idyllic towards learning and continue to be willing to criticize oneself.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.53)

Gen. Choi states how Confucius and his pupils practised self-criticism by reminding themselves, thrice daily, not to neglect others’ requests because of selfishness; to behave sincerely with friends; to inspire others with certainty, while being uncertain oneself; to not neglect the practise of virtue; to not err in studies; to not avoid acting with righteousness; and to correct oneself upon realising the fault.

E. Be soft

“As water can assume any shape or form, it can better serve the living things that need it to survive. Once water becomes a part of the Ocean, even the largest ship is like a mere leaf, and its awesome fury when aroused can conquer the tallest mountain. […] A tree, such as sapling, can withstand a strong wind when it is soft and flexible but may be toppled or broken after it becomes old and brittle. The same principle also applies to human beings.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.54)

Gen. Choi states that light is soft and formless, due to which it can give warmth and illuminate even hidden corners.

F. Respect of elders

“As son respects parents, younger brother respects older brother, man must always respect his elders or seniors. This is the beauty of mankind, and one of the distinctions between human and animal.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.54)

Gen. Choi quotes Mencius who states that position, honour, and moral integrity are the three things of value in human society. Position is important in government, honour is important in community, and moral integrity is important for an adviser or a leader. These are based on respecting the wisdom and knowledge of elders.

G. Respect the rights of others

“To criticize someone who is better, to covet other’s possessions and to steal the merits of others are the marks of an unscrupulous man. […] Throughout human history, people who in jealousy have stolen the recognition due to others and have stolen their possessions out of avarice have always left dark imprints of shame and dishonor.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.55)

Gen. Choi states that to help others succeed in life, without expecting anything in return, is a reward in itself.

H. Be just

“To be correct and forthright is to live one’s life correctly. Old sages used to say, ‘To the common men, life is most valuable, and death, most fearful.’ However, a righteous man would value justice above life itself and would be willing to die rather than to submit to injustice.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.55)

Gen. Choi gives examples of notable figures, who chose death in defiance of injustice; outstanding figures like Baek-E-Sook-Je of China, Sung-Sam-Moon of Korea, and Yoshida-Shoing of Japan.

I. Be frugal

“Since ancient times, excessive luxury and pleasure caused the downfall of many kings and nations without exception and history is full of such examples. Persons in leadership in particular must learn to be frugal and live moderately. As the old adage goes “if the water is muddy upstream so it will be downstream.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.56)

Gen. Choi states an extravagant leader will bring more hardship to his subjects by way of increased bribery and taxation.

J. Be discreet

“In every thing he does, a person must not be impulsive or reckless but be patient and thoughtful. ‘He who acts without thinking at least three times, will later regret his action,’ warns an old proverb.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.56)

Gen. Choi states that any important decision should not be taken hastily, so that it becomes both objective and fair.

K. Know true happiness

“Lao-Tzu pointed out that nature was based upon harmony in contrasts. For example, the universe was made up of two forces, Yin (female) and Yang (male). […] All things in this world are relative to one another. Misery can only come from having been happy once and sorrow from joy. The wealthy and the powerful are not necessarily happy. For every rich person, there are countless poor and for each tyrant, a nation of oppressed.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.57)

Gen. Choi quotes Mencius who defined life’s three happiness as: 1) healthy parents and a harmonious family, 2) always employing correct behaviour and thereby to live with honour and pride, and 3) to educate the young to produce upright and heroic leaders, so that they can contribute to the society as useful members.

L. Let your actions speak for yourself

“A man of virtue expresses himself more through deeds than words. Thus, he influences others through living examples. In the old days, the truly effective way to teach was believed to be by the actions not by the words of the teacher.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, pp.57-58)

Gen. Choi states that people talk either to gain advantage over others or to brag about themselves; a closed mouth can stay secrets from the enemy and also save the fish from the hook; a competent orator can also err if given to verbiage; the sign of a cultivated person is to speak only what is meaningful; hence, one should let one’s actions speak for oneself.

M. Develop peace of mind

“We can attain peace of mind through meditation, by emptying our minds of all petty thoughts and returning to the natural state of man. Unlike in Buddhism or Zen, meditation in Taekwon-Do does not mean a total divorce from the world, like a dead body, but rather an active moment to reflect on our past mistakes in silence and in the privacy of our thoughts, and through penitence, to continue our self-improvement toward becoming better men or women. This active thought process in silence is called ‘Jung-Joong-Dong’.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.58)

Gen. Choi elucidates the concept of movement in tranquillity. He provides the example of how a clear pond when agitated becomes muddy, but becomes clear once again when the muddy water is not disturbed and left in tranquillity. The mud moves down to settle on the floor of the pond, and the pond once more regains its clear state. Similarly, one can develop peace of mind by applying the concept of movement in tranquillity.

N. Be of firm mind

“A person of strong conviction is unsuspicious and unafraid. […] Strong conviction can be gained through the broad and deep ‘Ki’ —spirit. Ki is a form of active energy which fills every physical cell and organ while ‘Chi’ —will is the motivating force: the former moves and the latter leads. […] On a more practical level ‘Ki’ helps us to keep our minds clear and alert when the affairs of life become strained and confused, or sees us through sleepless nights when our loved one is gravely ill.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, pp.58-59)

Gen. Choi quotes Mencius who exhorted his disciples to nurture “Ki” with great care and to make it grow so that its power and strength can fill the earth and the heaven; thereby, enabling accomplishment of great achievements.

O. Be devoted

“As meditation is to the religious, concentration and devotion to the artist, and perseverance to the labourer, so is moral culture to the practitioner of martial arts. […] In fact the sincerity and effort definitely produce the belief and the belief makes one able to reach the final goal. Moral culture is considered to be a cultivating movement to make one devote oneself to his work, whatever it might be, until his life and work become one.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, pp.58-59)

Gen. Choi states that cultivation of the mind is not a monopoly and thus, anyone can be devoted to cultivate one’s own mind.


“In summary, we can enjoy a greater freedom of action by preserving our basic nature while making ourselves impervious to the temptation of power, money and sex. A person who has attained this stage of self-cultivation is sometimes called a ‘Saint’. It must indeed seem like an impossible undertaking to a mere mortal. A mountain crossing begins with a single bold step and an ocean begins with each small stream.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.60)

Gen. Choi quotes ancient proverbs as follows:
– Where there is a will there is a way.
– Way is right in front of you.
– Absolute sincerity moves the heavens.

“This moral culture is uniquely tied in with Taekwon-Do, not only for the eventual attainment of the highest goals iin Taekwon-Do and the promotion of power, technique, and self-confidence, but also for the cultivation of character.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.61)

Gen. Choi states that anyone willing to make the effort, with a strong determination and a firm will, can reap the benefits of moral culture and devote one’s whole life to Taekwon-Do.


“During training the student should constantly develop mental and physical discipline, and the following activities should be considered an integral part of this training.” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.62)

Travel (Yo Haeng). Gen. Choi states that students should travel to historical areas and attempt to learn from them.

Mountain climbing (Dung San). Gen. Choi states that besides developing leg muscles, mountain climbing also enhances the feeling of victory and rejuvenates the spirit.

Cold showers and baths (Naengsoo Machal). Gen. Choi states that students build pride and tenacity by taking cold showers and baths or by exercising barefoot on snow-covered ground.

Public service (Sahwe Bongsa). Gen. Choi states that students can learn tolerance, humility, charity, and comradeship by doing public service.

Etiquette (Ye Jol). Gen. Choi states that students should observe a high degree of etiquette, both outside and inside the do jang.

“Man should attempt to dwell in the largest mansion in the world, stand on the correct place and walk on the broadest street. (Man’s most comfortable and secure dwelling is his own virtuous mind. He should always stand on the side of justice and live honestly and fairly).” – Gen. Choi Hong Hi (Vol.1, p.68)


Choi, H. H. (1985). Encyclopedia of Taekwon-Do (Vols. 1–15). Vienna: International Taekwon-Do Federation.



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