Humility (or The Seven Tenets, part 1)

Integrity! Concentration! Perserv….blah de blah blah. The seven tenets - we recite them at the end of every class. We know them by heart, and they have in many cases become rote. We can speak them and not have our minds present on the words or their meaning. Why do we have those seven tenets, or the five codes or the fourteen attitude requirements? “So many rules, man! I’m a martial artist! These mad kicks and punches are my rules!” Do all these words actually add to our tang soo do practice? I think it is time we had a closer look at those seven tenets, and I am going to start with Humility.

The actual definition of humility goes something like this: a modest or low view of one’s own importance. The opposite, of course, would be self-importance or pridefulness. I am going to tell you a little secret - it takes a bit of pride to get to black belt and beyond. Pride isn’t necessarily a bad thing in the right place. We do a kick or form beautifully, get a nice “atta boy/girl!” and feel pretty good, thus getting us to do even better the next time. Pride is something most, if not all, of us fight with as we progress. We like to be recognised for our accomplishments. That need for recognition - that drive to feel proud of ourselves, is pretty useful in the short term. While practicing a traditional martial art, however, that pride can easily and quickly become a detriment. We get used to the praises, feeling like the “shiny” student - the one who deserves all that positive feedback.

I will tell you another secret - there is no such thing as a “shiny” student. Every student has strengths. Every student has weaknesses. Some strengths are flashy and showy, and some are more subtle and enduring. This is where the pride is a detriment. A student used to the praises will not be able to take criticism. The ego has stepped in, and any constructive comment that points out a weakness is taken as a personal affront. Where there is anger and pride, there is no forward movement. This is where the importance of humility exists in the dojang. When we step away from our self-importance we learn. We take the positive with the negative. Constructive praise and constructive criticism have equal value - we learn from them both and move forward.

How does humility happen? With practice. With patience. With the proper mind set. It goes deeper than saying “Yes sir!” and bowing. Deeper than saying thank you. We can all go through those motions and not back them up with the heart. Humility, as well, shouldn’t just begin and end in the dojang. Like all of the tenets (and codes) they begin in the dojang and go out into the world. Tang soo do, after all, is not only for self defense, or for better health. Hopefully for all of us we are learning these skills to become better people too.