1. Religious Beginnings
The connection between the martial arts and Oriental philosophy is a point
which has become known over the years, as interest in the martial arts has grown
and thus provided an opportunity for discourse on the subject. The point is
an important one, for it allows the martial arts teacher to open up a deeper
level of understanding about what the martial arts is ultimately addressing.
Thus volumes published by many authors often included some mention of the spiritual
origins of the martial arts associated with China, Korea and Japan. In these
stories, one main philosophy which is often mentioned is related to Buddhism.
More specifically, it is a certain form of Buddhism, which the Indians called
"dhyani", the Chinese called "ch'an", the Koreans called
"sun" and the Japanese called "zen".
The origins of the martial arts in these nations are both indigenous as well as a product of mutual exchange and influence through hundreds of years. But the religious or spiritual influences do have a common root which is traditionally attributed to the Buddhist monk Boddhidarma. It is said that sometime in the sixth century A.D., Boddhidarma travelled from India over the Himalaya mountains into China. He was not a mere monk, but a Buddhist elder - a partriarch - of the faith, and his purpose in visiting China was to act as a missionary. He was concerned that Buddhism as it was practiced in China was incorrect and he felt called to correct this situation.
The actual point of contention was his conviction that the goal of dhyani was self-realization upon the earth during one's lifetime whereas the new interpretation in China was that happiness would be realized in the afterlife. When Boddhidarma first explained his views in China, he met with rejection and this caused him to seek refuge in a temple called "Young Forest" which is "Shaolin" in Chinese.
The state of the monks he found in Shaolin temple concerned him. They were spiritually weakened and this made them easy victims for armed rouges in ancient feudal China. Boddhidarma took a twofold approach to remedy the situation. To strengthen the spirit, he taught meditation ("dhyani") through which the monks could come into a deeper awareness of life. Then secondly, he taught them self-defense techniques ("kempo") which would allow them to defend the gift of life against those who would threaten it. These two devices were complementary aspects of a united approach for developing the entire person, both spiritually and physically. In this way Boddhidarma initiated the beginning of a one thousand year period - from about 600AD to 1600AD - in which Shaolin Kempo and Ch'an Buddhism became a part of Oriental history, culture and martial arts tradition.
Of course there are other major philosophical and religious roots in the Oriental
martial arts. It should be remembered that Boddhidarma came to China one thousand
years after the views and values of Confucius and Lao Tzu had first entered
the culture and shaped the entire orientation of that world. Thus the martial
arts also contain a deeply ingrained character of Confucian and Taoist philosophy
One important spiritual difference however was that these religious/philosophical traditions were integrated into the normal daily lives of the people.
In other words, one could practice Confucianism and Taoism in the midst of the daily affairs of the world. Buddhism however called people out of the world into isolated monasteries where they could practice meditation in solitude and seek self-realization. This is why the monks of Shaolin were outstanding in society: they were not only superior fighters, but their life-style also distinctly contrasted with the strong social sense of the Confucianists and the naturalistic and non-religious approach of the Taoists. Thus, the Buddhist Shaolin monks of China contributed to forming an image of the martial artist as an ascetic person: seriously committed to human spirituality and a selfless way of life.
We have hitherto mentioned the spiritual/philosophical values of the Oriental arts, but in fact if we turn to the Middle East or Europe we can find connections between their fighting arts and philosophy and religion as well. Sections in the Hebrew Torah and the Muslim Quran alike both make connections between spiritual reality and aspiration and the occasional necessity to do battle in order to secure those very things. In Psalm 144, the great Jewish King David sings a song of gratitude and praise to Yahweh, Whom he calls the source of his strength to defend the people of Israel. He then goes on to extol the peace and prosperity: which the Israelites can someday achieve due to his God-given ability to protect them.
Elsewhere, in the Greek and Roman societies, olympic wrestling was practiced. The appeal of this sport to that society can be seen as expressive of their Socratic ideals. Socrates taught that men should "know themselves" and that they should also strive for balance between their spiritual and physical aspects. Thus, the ideal man was one who possessed a "sound mind in a sound body". And the military character of the city-state of Sparta was also expressive of a certain Hellenic martial outlook.
In medieval Europe, the armoured knights of the Crusade periods were influenced by the philosophical views of their Christian faith to abide by a certain standard of behaviour - which was called "chivalry". Though not as thoroughly developed as the DO of the Orient, the point still remained: the most chivalrous knights were ideally guided by a religious commitment to spiritual values. This viewpoint was idealized in the European legends of King Arthur and his "Round Table" of Christian knights.
These are but a few historical examples, which indicate that the martial traditions of different societies all have some connection to the religious and philosophical views of their cultures. This being the case, the Wonhwa Doist must develop his appreciation and understanding of the inherent spirituality of the martial arts - its religious and philosophical dimension - and be able to commit himself to the pursuit and realization of those ideals. This stress on spirituality is part of the ancient tradition of the martial arts, and it is one aim of Wonhwa Do to revive, maintain and even elevate it.
II. Basic Concepts
In martial arts philosophy, there are general, basic concepts which influence training. These have to do with 1) the purpose of martial arts, 2) the concept of human nature and 3) views of what is ethical and moral behavior.
A. The Purpose of Martial Arts
Three purposes for training in the traditional martial arts are readily discernable.
The first is for self-defense and it is the most obvious reason for training.
Beyond that is the second level of purpose, which is for self-perfection. At
this level, one goes beyond the concern for the physical protection and develops
a willingness to undergo discipline, austerity, hardship and even suffering,
which is not only physical but spiritual as well. One becomes concerned with
hardening not only one's muscles, but with specially toughening the will aspect
of one's character.
In regard to this second purpose, the Greek philosophers identified three mental functions of our minds: the intellect, the emotion and the will. Those three must ideally be in balance, but in reality human nature is often deficient in one aspect and this leads to an unbalanced personality. One of the problems which plagues man is the weakness of his will. For example, we may intellectually know what is true, we may emotionally feel what is beautiful and we may will what is good. Nevertheless, we many not possess the strength of will to discipline ourselves to push forward and realize that true, beautiful and good action. This leads to disappointment or even severe discouragement.
Due to such pitfalls, it is necessary to supplement intellectual and aesthetic training with another kind of training, which strengthens the will aspect of our nature. Then we would then develop power to discipline intellect and to control emotions when it is necessary to do so. This in turn promotes the inner balance, which is necessary to approach self-perfection.
A third purpose of traditional martial arts training takes us beyond the concern for our own personal achievement into the realm of concern for the happiness and well-being of others. This concern involves an outward extension of our hearts to the point that our sense of priorities is altered from self-centeredness to selflessness. At this point the individual is capable of choosing to make spiritual and physical sacrifices for the sake of others because he finds a deeper happiness in the act of extending himself for them.
In the martial arts, Confucian philosophy indicates five directions of self-sacrifice: for one's ruler, for one's parents, for one's spouse, for one's friends and for one's siblings. Hwarangdo philosophy promotes self-sacrifice for national well-being. Bushido promotes self-sacrifice for the sake of the leader. Judeo-Christian philosophy promotes self-sacrifice for the people or things Whom God loves.
B. The View of Human Nature
Another basic concept of martial arts is the attitude towards the perfectability
of human nature. The concerns with self-perfection and self-sacrifice imply
imperfection and a disinclination to sacrifice within human nature. According
to the Judeo-Christian view, man is a "fallen" being inclined to sin
and according to the Oriental view, he is separated from reality or ignorant
of it. Despite such notions, many traditional philosophies hold that man is
not beyond hope because he is inherently good.
Mencius, the great disciple of Confucius, makes a poignant observation concerning man's inherent goodness:
"The trees of Bull Mountain were once beautiful. But being near the capital
of a great state, they were hewn down . . . Even so, nourished by the rain and
dew and with the force of growth operating day and night the stumps sent forth
fresh sprouts. But soon cattle and sheep came to browse on them and in the end
the mountain became bare again. Seeing it thus, people now imagine that it never
was wooded. But is this the nature of the mountain?"
"So it is with human nature. How can it be said that man is devoid of human-heartedness and righteous-ness? He has only lost his good feelings in the same way that the trees have been felled. Assailed day after day, can the heart retain its goodness? Even so, nourished by the calm air of dawn and with the force of life operating day and night, man develops in his heart desires and aversions that are proper to humanity. But soon these good feelings are destroyed by the inroads of the day's activity. Thus, fettered again and again, they wither until the nourishing influence of night is no longer able to keep them alive. So in the end, man reverts to a state to a state not much different from that of birds and beasts, and seeing him thus, people imagine that man never had good feelings. But is such the nature of man?"
These words are reflective of not only some Asian observations about human nature but also of some other cultural viewpoints. In many of these, man is viewed ignorant or sinful, yet inherently good. In that case he could be redeemed through discipline, education and training. The opposing view that man is evil beyond redemption is antithetical to many philosophies behind martial arts which promote self-perfection as both desirable and achievable.
2. Desire and Suffering
The other basic concept about human nature is related to the Buddhist idea
that desire is the cause of suffering. According to the "Four Noble Truths"
which Buddha taught, human desire is the cause of suffering because it is insatiable:
no matter how much one acquires, one can still desire more. This leads one into
an increasingly downward spiral which results in more suffering through repeated
reincarnations into this world. Thus, the only solution for suffering is to
achieve a state of desirelessness and be freed from reincarnating. Boddhidarma
taught meditation as the antidote to this unhappy situation and the state of
selflessness which this promotes, has remained a main goal of Zen-oriented martial
In the Judeo-Christian tradition also, the relationship between physical desire and inner suffering can be seen in the struggles of David, Samson, St. Paul, St. Augustine, etc. Wrong desire does indeed lead to suffering and so martial arts training is strongly directed towards the discipline of desire and emotion. In this way, it is hoped that human weakness can be remedied or eliminated and the original and good side of human nature can be fortified. Then the original human nature would become the dominant part of the personality.
C. Ethics and Morality
A third basic concept in traditional martial arts is that there are definite
standards of what is and is not ethical and moral behaviour. In the western
world, the notions of medieval chivalry were shaped by the adaptation of Christian
ethics and morals to the situations of the knights and nobles. In the oriental
world, martial arts ethics and morals were shaped by the philosophical views
of their major religions. The religions, which are most directly connected with
the character of martial arts are Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Shintoism
and Chondogyoism. In order to fully appreciate the very real influence of these
religions on the martial arts even as they are practiced today, we must briefly
examine the ethical character of them.
1. Basic Philosophies affecting Martial Arts
The basic philosophies affecting martial arts are Confucianism, Taoism and
Buddhism. Confucianism is one of the great roots of Oriental civilization. Its
ethical and moral views are based upon the "Way of Heaven" which Confucius
revered and which he longed to impose upon feudal China as a remedy to social
chaos. Confucianism strongly promotes a sense of duty to others and criticizes
as selfish those who are irresponsible. He expressed this opinion in these words:
"To refuse to serve in the government is not right. The true man serves
in the government because it is his duty to do so."
Confucius also stressed a strongly virtuous social ethic: "A youth when at home should practice filial piety; when abroad, fraternal love. He should be earnest and sincere, loving to all and fond of jen". "Jen" means "human-heartedness" and is the greatest of all virtues. "The man of jen is one who, wishing to sustain himself sustains others, and wishing to develop himself, develops others." This virtue was to be expressed in society since society was viewed as an extension of the family:
"Treat the aged in your family as they should be treated, and extend this
treatment to the aged of other peoples' families. Treat the young in your family
as they should be treated, and extend this treatment to the young of other peoples'
Confucian ethics exercise a strong, all-pervasive influence on martial arts training which can be seen in the relationship of elders to juniors, with a strong sense of duty and responsibility.
Taoism is another major root of Oriental civilization and it is quite different from Confucianism. Its founder Lao Tzu disdained the teachings of his contemporary Confucius. Denying any formal ethics based on heaven, Lao Tzu stressed yielding to the ways of nature and harmonizing with it. While his discoveries about the workings of nature greatly contribute to the martial arts, his rejection of formal ethics reflects his own anarchistic tendency.
Zen Buddhism promoted a strict ethics and morality, which reflected its concern with the attainment of selflessness. Since it identified desire as the cause of suffering, Buddhism stressed a tradition of purity, austerity, celibacy, service, mercy, obedience, self-control and self-denial in order to eliminate desire. Boddhidarma taught the Shaolin monks kempo (boxing) with these values and created a tradition of discipline for martial arts, which is relevant until the present day. It is said that Shaolin students had to pass oral and written exams in Buddhism as well as mastering kempo in order to become full-fledged monks.
2. Philosophies affecting the Japanese Arts
Shintoism is an indigenous faith of the Japanese people who fully received
Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism but then adapted their native values to these
Shintoism thoroughly shares the values of the other three faiths, but places a peculiarly radical stress on the verticality of Confucianism. Shintoism teaches that the emperor is lineally descended from Heaven, thus making loyalty to the emperor the equivalent of loyalty to the Origin. The reward of loyalty is honour, and the fruit of honour is fulfilment. The greatest mark of honour for the samurai warrior was to receive a sword from his lord. This necessitated the attainment of selflessness through Zen and also loyalty, obedience and courage to a superior degree.
If honour was lost for any reason, it could be recovered through the ritual of ceremonial suicide in which the repentant samurai used his own sword to eviscerate himself. The legacy of such a radical verticality is the martial arts philosophy of "bushido" ("warrior's code").
In more recent peaceful times, when field combat skills have fallen into disuse, bushido was adapted into "budo" by masters who were concerned that Japan would become spiritually lax if the martial spirit was not somehow preserved. Budo refers to the "way" of the warrior, and it is more educational in nature, aimed at character development rather than at combat effectiveness exclusively. A prime example of this trend was the refinement of Jui-jitsu into Judo, the "gentle" way.
3. Philosophies affecting the Korean Arts
Chondogyoism is an indigenous Korean religion which is also thoroughly steeped
in the views of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Chondogyoism however is a
younger faith and has been uniquely shaped by the Korean people's experience
of colonial efforts by the east and west, democracy and Christianity. Thus,
the Chondogyo faith adds to traditional Oriental religion the notions of human
equality under the Origin, and a powerful sense of anti-colonialism, national
pride and patriotism.
Another older Korean philosophy which is especially significant for the martial arts is that of Hwarangdo. This means "Flower Youth" society and it originated around the eighth century A.D. It was a specially trained military society of youth from noble families. These youth were to be model citizens and were therefore highly educated by the best teachers. They prayed, lived and trained in the rugged mountains, were filial and obedient to their parents, passionately loyal to the king and nation, and believed that they were specially anointed by Heaven. It is said that they prayed up to three hours before battle. Such training bred the Hwarangdo into fierce fighters.
This completes our initial short survey of the Oriental religions and philosophies, which have strongly influenced the martial arts. Together then, the three basic concepts of martial arts philosophy discussed above (the purpose of martial arts, its concept of human nature and its moral and ethical views) are important matters for the serious Wonhwa Do student to be aware of. This is because, by submitting to Wonhwa Do training, the student is connecting himself to an ancient spirit and tradition of fervent dedication to skills and ideals. In order to understand it, maintain it and elevate it, a study of both technique and philosophy is necessary.
III. The Scope of Martial Arts Philosophy
Beyond the above-mentioned basic concepts of the martial arts, the philosophies
and religions we have mentioned imparted a particular scope and breadth to the
traditional martial arts. They were concerned with specific, identifiable areas,
and those views most related to the martial arts were those on natural law,
human nature, ethics, art, history and education.
In reality, martial arts instructors rarely verbalize these views explicitly, but their approach to instruction is thoroughly infused with these inherited traditional values as well as with the opinions they have formed about them. Thus, an instructor may occasionally mention the laws of nature while making a point about technique or even daily life. He might also make some observation, which refers to character development based upon his view of human nature. If a sharp correction about behaviour is given, this is reflective of a view of ethics and society. When the execution of a form is praised, a sense of history is reinforced. And how instruction is administered reflects a view of what proper education is.
Masters have deep-seated convictions on these matters and even if they do not usually discourse on them at length, it is incorrect to assume that they are insignificant or unnecessary for the student to concern himself with. For if one is to achieve depth in the DO and become a good instructor later on, an understanding of natural law, human nature, ethics, art, education and history must be cultivated to some depth within oneself.
IV. The Present Dilemma
A. Sensationalism and Commercialism
In very recent decades, there has been a great interest in the non-Asian world about the culture, history and philosophy of the Orient. One of the most fascinating things about Asia is precisely the martial arts and due to its exciting appearance, it was easily transformed into material for the entertainment industry. Thus, a flood of "adventure" films utilizing kung fu, karate, ninjutsu, etc, have been produced and continue to be.
Outside of the movie industry and also outside of the training hall, professional competitions have filled in another gap for "live" entertainment. Sometimes these contests are hosted in arenas which boast liquor and food concessions, high-priced ringside seating, show emcees, flashy costumes, loud music and bathing beauties who promenade placards about the ring between each bout.
B. Loss of the Inner "Do"
Under such circumstances, the original purpose and spirituality of the martial arts has been buried. The meaning of the martial arts as a path of internal development (Do) has been desecrated. Nevertheless, due to the public interest created by such entertainment, a market is created for martial arts instruction and this provides an opportunity for both the restoration of true tradition or else an opportunity to further distort it.
In the former case, many creditable training halls have been set up around the world. But due to the pattern of life in industrialised society, it is no longer possible for a student to live with a master for years on end. Instead, a few hours a week are devoted to technical training, with little focus on internal education. Due to this, no matter how expert instruction is, it is hard to achieve the depth of education which the olden monasteries offered.
In the latter case, when the unscrupulous are merely selling technical instruction devoid of inner content, high belt holders are being sent into the world, who are deficient or even devoid of internal understanding. Unfortunately, they sometimes go on to try instructing others, thus multiplying ignorance.
V. Wonhwa Do
In light of this present dilemma in the martial arts, the Wonhwa Do movement
provides a singular hope for the revival of these valuable arts.
A. The Genesis of WonHwa Do
In the external sense, Wonhwa Do originated when its philosophy and technique were first taught together in 1979 at a training hall in upstate New York. It was the result of a long and deep personal quest to discover a martial art uniquely suited to the spiritual and historical situation of the present world. Of crucial importance was the discovery of a new philosophical base for the unification of martial arts. This was the Principle of Harmony, which has the capacity to integrate and advance the underlying views and values within the existing schools of martial arts.
The years of research came to a great culmination in 1979, when the Principle of Harmony could finally find expression in the basic forms and techniques which uniquely characterise Wonhwa Do.
The first classes in Wonhwa Do were held with interested students, some of whom possessed advanced belts in other styles, but who found something in Wonhwa Do which they thirsted for, but could not find elsewhere. In those early classes, they first studied the philosophy of Wonhwa Do extensively and afterwards the forms and techniques which expressed them. After years, a first group of black belt instructors was created, and succeeding generations have followed after that. Between that time and now, Wonhwa Do has spread across the United States, and then to other nations in Europe, South America, Asia and Africa.
B. The Purpose and Objectives of Wonhwa Do
Firstly, Wonhwa Do is naturally aimed at the basic objective of self-defence. Secondly, it was created to fulfill the original purpose of the martial arts which is to help students achieve their original human nature. In doing so, the student would become "united in mind and body" as the natural expression of his inner union with the Origin.
Thirdly, the achievement of unity within oneself leads to the outward expression of heart in an ethical and virtuous manner. Thus, Wonhwa Do is also purposed to promote a new view of ethics within the family, society, nation and world. Ethics is the embodiment of true love. This is the kind of love which is sacrifical, serving and dedicated to living for others. There are different levels of dedication. The first is for one's family and this is called "filiality". The second is for one's country and this is called "patriotism". A third level is to live for the world and this is called "sainthood". A Wonhwa Doist however, is dedicated to living for the purpose of life determined by the Origin.
Finally, the goal of Wonhwa Do is the unification of all martial arts. This refers partly to a unification of the external techniques of martial arts through analysis, improvement and innovation. This should not be understood however to mean that existing defence systems would be abolished by Wonhwa Do, that is not the meaning of unification. In fact, Wonhwa Do has sincere regard for the value and heritage of the legitimate styles and schools. More fundamentally, Wonhwa Do is addressed to the unification of the internal philosophy of the martial arts, which is the Principle of Harmony. This is necessary because despite the differences, there are deeper commonalities between the commitments and concerns within the martial arts. Thus, the causes of division must be sincerely examined and effectively remedied. Through the ideas and concepts of the Principle of Harmony, a higher common ground is presented which accomplishes this. As will be seen, existing views within the martial arts are complemented and harmonised, thus making fraternal co-operation between the styles concretely possible.
In Wonhwa Do therefore, the ground of unity is not based upon an imposed uniformity of external techniques, but rather upon a greater shared sense of the highest ideas and values which men - and thus martial artists - can acknowledge and live by. This is what is meant by the "unification" of martial arts and it is necessary because the harmony between men in general must be preserved and improved for the sake of the future world. An important area for this harmony to start is within the arena of the martial arts itself. This is natural because knowledge of both technique and spirituality develop through history with the passing of time. Indeed, they must do so in order to help mankind achieve the ideal of a united world.
C. The Philosophy of Wonhwa Do
The Philosophy of Wonhwa Do is based upon the Principle of Harmony which the
succeeding chapters will be devoted to explaining. Each chapter will present
the views of the Principle of Harmony which correspond to the traditional scope
of martial arts philosophy: natural law, human nature, ethics, art, history
and education. The chapters are respectively entitled: The Principle of Harmony,
The Wonhwa Do View of Man, the Wonhwa Do View of Ethics; The Wonhwa Do View
of Art, The Wonhwa Do View of Education and the Wonhwa Do View of History.