HOME     CONTACT US     ADVERTISING     ARTICLE SUBMISSIONS     ARTICLES     DVDs     BOOKS     ITA     IHF    

Feature Article


Tae Kwon Do: Setting The Example
by
Master John McDowell

As a public school teacher, I have had the opportunity over the past nineteen years to observe firsthand, an alarming trend. Over this period I have noted that young people in general have become progressively more egocentric (self-centered) and materialistic. Since egocentrism is to some degree one of the definitive characteristics of early childhood one could easily dismiss it as a cause for serious concern.


Korean Martial Arts Institute Summer Camp

There are two aspects of this trend however which I find to be deeply disturbing. One is that today's youth seem to be holding onto this egocentricity more tenaciously. That is to say they do not seem to be growing out of this stage as quickly and smoothly as did the young people of twenty years ago. The second, and in my opinion, more grave concern is that in their pursuit of personal pleasure and material gain they are becoming less and less cognitive of the rights, wants, and needs of others. The lengths to which they are willing to go to satisfy themselves can often prove to he detrimental to others.

Being inconsiderate is bad enough, but an ever increasing number of young people seem to be receiving gratification from deliberately causing others to suffer pain and indignity. These behaviors range from verbal abuse and theft of personal property to outright physical abuse. As common as such incidents have become in school, one should be able to safely assume that they occur with even greater frequency when these young people are left unsupervised, to their own devices. Although instances of this nature are all too common, I am not yet convinced that deriving pleasure from causing others to suffer is an integral part of our "Human Nature". It will therefore be my intention in this article to offer an hypothesis for this degenerative behavior pattern and relate how traditional martial arts training could ultimately prove to be a remedy for this malady.

The shift in prevailing attitude from an emphasis on "God and Country" to one of "find yourself" and "if it feels good, do it", which gained momentum in the early 1960's, seems to have provided us with a whole generation of adults with a desire for immediate gratification. The problem became compounded in the late 1960's and early 1970's when these members of the "ME" generation began pairing off and producing families. A person who cannot or simply chooses not to put others before self will not, in my opinion, make a very good parent. Unfortunately an individual's parenting ability and proclivity for reproduction do not seem to be directly related. In fact, although I have no empirical data to support this opinion, I suspect that there is an inverse correlation between one's ability to provide a stable, nurturing environment in which to raise a child, and the number of offspring produced.

One inevitable consequence of having too many egocentric adults is our country's astronomical divorce rate. All too often, people enter into marriage with unrealistic expectations of what they can get out of it, rather than what they can bring to it. When the relationship does not turn out to be as gratifying as they had anticipated, more and more people are finding that a divorce is the most convenient way out. With current statistics indicating that over fifty percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce, a staggering number of children are becoming enthralled in the quagmire of associated problems.

No statistics are available on the divorce rate among traditional martial artists, but I imagine that if such figures were available, they would indicate a much higher rate of stability than the national average. One could expect that whereas these individuals have been trained to be more sharply perceptive of the motivations, attitudes, and intentions of others, traditional martial artists would likely be more successful in selecting the most suitable lifetime mate.

Observations of the children coming out of "broken" homes over nearly twenty years suggest that in the vast majority of instances, one of two scenarios prevail. In the first, and probably most common scenario, the single parent who retains custody of the children is hard pressed to meet the physical and emotional needs of the children. As basic physical needs (food and shelter) make up the top priority, the single parent must spend extra time working to earn more money to meet those needs. This leaves the parent with grossly inadequate time and resources for dealing with the emotional development of the children as well as the ethical guidance.

In the other predominant situation divorce need not necessarily be a mitigating factor. In some cases, a single parent or estranged parent may shower the children with extravagant things to help offset feelings of personal guilt at not being able to provide them with a stable (intact) caring/nurturing home. Almost as sad, many parents from intact homes feel that they owe it to their children to provide them with everything they want. This of course requires that both parents hold at least one full time job each. The result once again is that due to a shortage of time something has to be deleted from the daily program, and all too often the moral guidance of the children suffers.

A clear link has been noted between absentee parents and numerous emotional and behavioral problems. A 1989 study of 5000 eighth grade students in California found that the more hours children took care of themselves after school, the greater risk of substance abuse. Latchkey children were determined to be "twice as likely to drink alcohol and take drugs as children who were under the supervision of adults after school."

What does all of this have to do with those of us who aspire to become outstanding martial arts instructors? The more I learn about my art of Tae Kwon Do, the more convinced I become that such knowledge must be accompanied by a code of ethics governing its use. A school which merely instructs its students in martial techniques, especially those which are potentially lethal, imbuing them with technical proficiency, but not addressing the moral aspects of when it is appropriate to use them, is neglecting a vital aspect of its students' development. In short, the greatest problem facing our society today, in my opinion, that of amorality, can be attributed to either the inability or unwillingness of a great number of individuals to invest more of themselves in the care of those for whom they are responsible.

It seems to be much easier to provide material things for our children than to take the extra time and energy to not only mold in them, but also model for them appropriate codes of conduct. Similarly, in the context of martial arts instruction it is much easier to show a student how to perform a specific technique than it is to go the extra distance (caring), to inform them as to when and why they might elect to use such a technique. Further, the student should be apprised of circumstances under which the use of a particular technique might be inadvisable. It must be a lot easier to teach Sport Tae Kwon Do than it is to teach the traditional form. What I have learned at the martial arts school I train and teach at would make it quite impossible for me to ever separate Tae Kwon Do from its' requisite mental training.

I was once enrolled in a school where students were taught to defend against a simple middle-section punch with no less than five counter-strikes, including a knife-hand strike to the cervical vertebrae just below the base of the skull, and a front snap kick to the groin. Throughout the entire year in that program, no one ever suggested that the measures one would take to subdue an attacker could and should be adjusted in accordance with the severity of the attack.

I have seen self-defense video presentations which instruct a defender to proceed as follows, when an attacker grabs you by the wrist: First, break his knee with a short range side kick, strike the side of his neck with your forearm, next execute a knee strike to the groin then a palm heel strike to the hinge of the jaw, and finally, stand menacingly over his crumpled body. Once again, overkill seems to be the order of the day. Is it any wonder that modern-day youths who carry guns, are willing to use them on the people who offend them or possess something they want?

All martial arts schools must provide basic technical instruction for their students in order to stay in business. The school where I train, the Korean Martial Arts Institute (KMAI), reflects the standards of traditional Tae Kwon Do values and is truly a caring school where students regardless, of their age and physical ability, are taught effective techniques for self-defense while high standards of ethical conduct are cultivated. In my experience, martial arts schools of any style in which a head instructor is able to take a close personal interest in the development of each and every student, are rare indeed. It is this capacity for genuine caring that makes the KMAI relatively unique, and generally distinguishes the "family oriented" nature of member schools of our parent organization, the ITA.

It is clear that parents providing "material things" for the young people of this country, while neglecting care for both their emotional development and moral guidance, fall far short of the mark. So too, in my opinion, do martial arts schools which help their students develop and refine skills by means of which "great bodily harm" or even death of a fellow human being may be brought about, but fail to impress upon these same students the importance of restraint in using such skills.

In order to salvage and rebuild what remains of a once proud nation, we must as a people, find our way back to a code of ethics and the moral principles of former times. This country already has an overabundance of people in various roles of leadership, who either profess to have high moral standards but fail to support these with their actions, or else don't even pretend to have integrity in the first place.

Since one cannot hope to legislate moral standards in a free society, our best hope for survival is to flood our society with secure, self-confident, caring individuals of strong character to serve as examples and role models to others. Such leaders would interestingly enough, espouse and live in accordance with, standards of ethics and guidelines for behavior strongly resembling the code of conduct of the Hwa Rang of ancient Korea and the ITA Student Oath.

As traditional Tae Kwon Do touches the lives of progressively more and more individuals, and other truly "traditional" martial arts schools persevere along similar lines, the hope for a better future continues to grow.

Top of Page