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A beginner's mind

The mentality with which we approach any situation is the most fundamental of all principles. Deep consideration must be given to the fact that all physical actions are ultimately expressions of our mentality at that moment. In very simple terms our underlying mentality guides the formation of cognitive strategies. These cognitive strategies then facilitate the determination of specific behavioural routines or tactics in response to a given situation or environment. These tactics can then be further reduced to the unique and specific behavioural elements or techniques that they contain. Fundamentally then all things start from and flow back to the origin of the driving mentality.

In specific terms of Taekwon-do and the legacy provided by General Choi we are provided guidance within this as to what approach we should take towards the establishment of an ideal moral culture and mental discipline within our Taekwon-do study (jungshin sooyang). It is suggested that "...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." (p.26 Choi 1999).

General Choi further expanded on this aspect of Taekwon-do practice by proposing some key virtues on which to focus our self development as Taekwon-do students. General Choi suggested that there are 5 fundamental virtues provided by heaven (p.27 Choi 1999)

Humanity (in)

Righteousness (Ui)

Propriety (Ye)

Wisdom (Ji)

Trust (Shin)

Having outlined these in detail, General Choi then presents specific strategies for the development of a truly virtuous and noble moral character. (p.29 Choi 1999) Again accompanied with detailed explanations to aid reflection and development, these points included:

*Man may occupy two positions in a life time

*Greed is insatiable

*Be humble


*Be soft

*Respect of elders

*Respect the right of others

*Be just

*Be frugal

*Be discreet

*Know true happiness

*Let your actions speak for yourself

*Develop peace of mind

*Be of firm mind

*Be devoted

The aim of this psuedo-confucian guidance is essentially to engage the Taekwon-do student in a mental discipline which aims at creating a deeper understanding of self and our purpose in society. The underlying intention of this is to encourage Taekwon-do students to become valuable, contributing and sincere members of free and peaceful societies. This is essentially in alignment with the confucian values which guide much of the traditional social development across eastern Asia. To further contribute to this General Choi proposed a number of specific activities we could undertake to better develop this type of mental discipline. Specifically he suggested:

*Travel (yo haeng)

*Mountain Climbing (dung san)

*Cold Showers and Bath (naengsoo machal)

*Public Service (sahwe bongsa)

*Etiquette (ye jol)

By presenting a strategy, tactics and techniques for the development of morality and character General Choi provided a plan as to better understand and develop the mental discipline necessary of student of Taekwon-do. In addition to this guidance, students are also given a detailed understanding of the Tenets of Taekwon-do (taekwon-do jungshin) or Aims to Achieve. Implementation of these fundamental concepts is essential to the development of all Taekwon-do students and as General Choi suggests "...the success or failure of Taekwon-do training depends largely on how one observes and implements the tenets of Taekwon-do which should serve as a guide for all serious students of the art." (p.13 Choi 1999)

Specifically the tenets of Taekwon-do are :

Courtesy (ye ui)

Integrity (yom chi)

Perseverance (in nae)

Self-Control (guk gi)

Indomitable Spirit (baekjul boolgool)

Through the development of a deeper understanding of the meaning of these behavioural characteristics we provide an opportunity to integrate these as guiding principles for all behaviours and life choices.

Any investigation into mentality within Taekwon-do must then encompass the legacy provided by General Choi. However, it must also be recognised that whilst the guidance provided by General Choi is invaluable in the creation of moral and ethical codes to guide a student's behaviour, it does little to express unequivocally what the guiding mentality of the Taekwon-do student should be. Given the nature of the historical development of Taekwon-do and the impact of Confucian philosophy within the eastern Asia, and martial arts more specifically, it is possible to suggest that General Choi viewed the overall mentality of a student should be one which is based on principles of conformity and obedience. Whilst it is undoubted that respect and courtesy must be maintained at all time, our approach to the driving mentality of a Taekwon-do student is to suggest the adoption of a more flexible and open minded view.

Without dilution of the philosophical principles on which the art is founded, a Taekwon-do student should approach their study with a serious, yet investigative mindset. Our intentions always drive our focus and this is applicable to cognitive process as much as any physical technique. What we choose to focus on generates the results we receive or put another way what we choose to focus our minds on becomes the reality in which we exist. Our beliefs and values are wholly shaped by this focus and therefore it is critical that the mindset we intend towards Taekwon-do be the most beneficial in regards to our continual physical, emotional and spiritual development. The student mindset should therefore be one where we recognise that our potential for development is infinite. As students we are engaged in a continual process of learning and reflection.

If we have a conscious intention to ensure our continual improvement and development within the framework of Taekwon-do we will unconsciously position all our subsequent behaviours and actions to be in support of this goal. This then becomes the foundation for our student mindset, we recognise the importance of this 'beginner's mind' and seek to learn and develop continually.

Associated to this, is the need to ensure a flexibility within our mindset which allows for possibility rather than blind conformity. There are innumerable examples throughout history which demonstrate the perils and limitations of adopting a limited or closed mindset. The ability to change and adapt is fundamental to the survival of any process or species. For the longevity of and evolution of our martial art we need to ensure we retain an open minded approach to all that we learn. There can be no absolutes, no 'right way'. The student mentality is one that is active in seeking feedback, investigation and alternatives. It is one that recogises that analyses to gain a deeper, critical understanding that provides alternative methods of approach towards the same subject. It is one that is acceptant of all perspectives and views, honouring each for its own intrinsic value and worth. Our approach to student mentality is then towards one that embraces cognitive and behavioural flexibility, understanding nothing is fixed and that our position can always be improved, developed and advanced.

The study of Martial Arts seems unfortunately destined to always create a sense of disunity due to technical, stylistic and political preferences. Our driving mentality however is one which should endeavour to see through to the core common values and roots that are shared by all martial arts and artists. Our mentality should be that which embraces variety and oneness. Fundamentally we must always be based in recognising that there is and will always be individual value and potential within all things.

Bibliographic details Choi Hong Hi, Taekwon-Do (The Korean Art of Self Defense) 5th Ed, International Taekwon-Do Federation, 1999

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