In our lives we’ll encounter a variety of oaths. I’ve spoken one for over 30 years which reads as follows: “Sir (Ma’am), I will practice in the spirit of Taekwondo; with Courtesy for fellow students; Loyalty for my instructor (s); and Respect for my juniors and seniors, Sir (Ma’am)!” That statement is what we call the Songahm Spirit of Taekwondo, a special oath recited by students in our ATA martial arts program. Actually, it’s just the first half, recited in unison before class begins.
The second half is said at the end of class and goes like this: “Sir (Ma’am), I shall live with Perseverance in the spirit of Taekwondo; having Honor with others; Integrity within myself; and Self Control in my actions, Sir (Ma’am)!”
ATA stands for the American Taekwondo Association, which is the largest centrally administered martial arts organization in the world. There are hundreds of thousands of ATA students around the world, in something over 2,000 different schools or training academies. At the start and end of every class, students recite the oath.
Oaths aren’t new to us, however. Any boy ever associated with scouting will never forget the Boy Scout Oath (or promise). The Girl Scouts have their own version. And while we don’t seem to say it much these days, I’ll bet you that every adult reading this can recite the Pledge of Allegiance. If you’re a believer, you likely can recite the Lord’s Prayer, too. Possibly even if not.
Our soldiers and police officers take a different kind of oath of office, as do our political leaders. I’ve taken two of these myself over the years. They’re all part of serving, and people expect you to live up to it.
But why do we say the oaths, the Pledge, or the Prayer, for that matter? Because they contain something special that we not only need to know, but need to remember. These ideas are so important, that they capture in just a few sentences, the essence of what the whole thing is about.
In our case (ATA), like most traditional martial arts, we’re all about helping people reach their potential. Our current Grand Master, In Ho Lee, is well known for his dynamic kicking. But he’s perhaps more well known for his famous quote, “Change yourself first!” To do it though, requires discipline.
Without discipline, a classroom is chaos. Just ask any teacher. But when discipline is good, learning occurs. Not just a little learning, but lots of learning.
Without discipline, an army is just a bunch of recruits. That’s why the number one goal of basic training is to “help” the individual conform (i.e., break them down). Once they’ve learned to obey and follow directions immediately, then their individual, more specialized training can begin.
Without discipline, society becomes anarchy, and it can happen quicker than we can probably imagine. These days we have pretty good imaginations, though, with lots of examples like “Zombie Apocalypse”, “The Last Ship”, and others.
If that seems a little too “fake” to you, just take a look at Ferguson, MO, last year, or the “Occupy Wall Street” movement just a couple years ago. If that isn’t enough to make the point, consider Paris, France just a couple weeks ago, and most recently, the shootings in Colorado Springs. Some people are nuts, and they simply want to kill us. Imagine if all civil restraints were taken off? It’s unthinkable, but it’s not that far away. (Note: since this article was written, another mass shooting has occurred in San Bernadino, CA.)
According to noted Christian author, John Piper, “In the Last Day, God will loosen the restraints that now hold back the evil.” We read, “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed” (Lam. 3:22). 4,000 years later, it sure seems like it.
So what does this have to do with the oath? Quite a lot. Just think of the times we knew we should do something, but didn’t. Or when we shouldn’t have done something, but did. We need discipline.
The first reason for the oaths is to help us remember what’s important. Write it on our hearts, so to speak. The second, is to strengthen our resolve. To give us leverage over ourselves and the situation confronting us. Finally, the third reason is to train up our successors in the ways that matter. The scouts have done a great job with this, and I’d like to think that we do too, in our classes.
Frankly, I think we need to do it more. A lot more. Perhaps now more than ever. So, “I will continue to teach “practicing in the spirit of Taekwondo…”. I will continue to pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…”. And I will continue to say, “I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America…”.