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Loyalty in the martial arts could probably be traced back to villagers who were devoted to the cave dweller who first taught them how to throw a rock with enough power and accuracy to kill an animal or enemy. As stated in other articles, taekwondo, although developed as a Korean martial art, was originally based upon Japanese shotokan karate. Loyalty for Japanese martial arts is based on the bushido of the samurai. Loyalty for Korean martial arts, including taekwondo, is based on the code of the hwarang. Bushido is discussed below. Hwarang is discussed in the article:
Taekwondo>History>Chapter 7: Subak and Hwarang.


Bushido (way of the warrior) developed in Japan between the Heian and Tokugawa Ages (9th-12th centuries). It was a code and way of life for samurai, a class of warriors similar to the medieval knights of Europe. Bushido emphasizes loyalty, self-sacrifice, justice, sense of shame, refined manners, purity, modesty, frugality, martial spirit, honor, and affection.

Bushido developed out of Buddhism, Zen, Confucianism, and Shintoism. From Buddhism, bushido gets its relationship to danger and death. The samurai did not fear death because they believed as Buddhism teaches, that, after death. one will be reincarnated and may live another life on earth. The samurai were warriors from the time they become samurai until their deaths; they have no fear of danger.

In Zen, a school of Buddhism, one may reach the ultimate "absolute." Zen meditation teaches one to focus and reach a level of thought that words cannot describe. Zen teaches one to "know thyself" and not to limit yourself. Samurai used these beliefs as a tool to drive out fear, unsteadiness, and mistakes, things could get them killed.

Confucianism gives bushido its belief in relationships with the human world, their environment, and their family. The samurai followed Confucianism's stress on the five moral relations: between master and servant, father and son, husband and wife, older and younger brother, and between friend and friend. However, the samurai disagreed strongly with many of the writings of Confucius. They believed that man should not sit and read books or write poems all day. They compared an intellectual specialist to a machine. Instead, the samurai believed man and the universe were made to be alike in both spirit and ethics.

Shintoism, another Japanese doctrine, gives bushido its loyalty and patriotism. Shintoism includes ancestor worship, which makes the imperial family the fountainhead of the whole nation and awards the emperor a god-like reverence. He is the embodiment of heaven on earth. With such loyalty, the samurai pledged themselves to the emperor and their daimyo (feudal landlords or higher-ranking samurai). Shintoism also provided the backbone for patriotism. Samurai believes the land was not merely there for their needs, that it is the sacred abode of the gods and the spirits of their forefathers. They believed that land should be cared for, protected, and nurtured through intense patriotism.

Along with these virtues, bushido also holds the utmost respect for justice, benevolence, love, sincerity, honesty, and self-control. Justice is one of the main factors in the code of the samurai. Illegal ways and unjust actions are thought to be lowly and inhumane. Love and benevolence are supreme virtues and princely acts. Samurai followed a specific etiquette in everyday life as well as in war. Sincerity and honesty were as valued as their lives. Bushi-no-ichi-gon, or "the word of a samurai," forms a pact of complete faithfulness and trust. With such pacts, there was no need for a written pledge; it was thought beneath one's dignity. To be fully honored, the samurai also needed self-control and stoicism. He showed no sign of pain or joy. He held a calmness of behavior and composure of the mind, neither of which could be bothered by a passion of any kind. He was a true and complete warrior.

The final rationalization of bushido thought occurred during the Tokugawa period (17th century) when Yamaga Soko (1622-1685) equated the samurai with the Confucian "superior man" and taught that the samurai's essential function was to exemplify virtue to the lower classes. Without disregarding the basic Confucian virtue of benevolence, soko emphasized the second virtue, righteousness, which he interpreted as "obligation" or "duty." This strict code of honor demanded conscious choice, and so it fostered individual initiative while yet reasserting the obligations of loyalty and filial piety. Obedience to authority was stressed, but duty came first, even if it entailed a violation of the law. In such an instance, the true samurai would prove his sincerity and expiate his crime against the government by subsequently taking his own life.

By the mid-19th century, bushido standards had become the general ideal, and the legal abolition of the samurai class, in 1871, made bushido, even more, the property of the entire nation. In the public educational system, the emperor replaced the feudal lord as the object of loyalty and sacrifice. Bushido became the foundation of ethical training.

With links to both the hwarangdo and the samurai, loyalty in taekwondo has become an important virtue. Being loyal to an instructor, school, or organization is easy during good times, but being loyal through bad times may be difficult, that is why it is a gauge of true loyalty. However, students should not confuse loyalty with blind loyalty No matter how strong the loyalty has been in the past, once the subject of the loyalty is involved in anything improper, immoral, or illegal, the loyalty should end. Also, if the subject of the loyalty is found to be a fraud or impostor, the loyalty should end. Even a hwarang or samurai would not maintain his loyalty to a false master. Do not let your loyalty cloud your judgment, after all, for most students, the martial arts are just something they do for enjoyment.

Your martial arts "master" is just a teacher, a person you pay to teach you the martial arts. You do not "worship" and declare undying, unconditional loyalty to your high school teacher, professors, your minister, the president of your company, or even to the president of your country; nor should any of them require it. Listen and watch, analyze what you hear and see, take and use what is useful, and reject the superfluous self-righteous "bull." Respect and show loyalty to your teachers and leaders, but apply conditions to the loyalty.

  • Clark, J. (1996). Bushido, The Way of the Warrior. Asian Studies at Pacific University. [Online]. Available:  [2004, October 17].

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