Martial Arts with Integrity



At-Home Training #1


I know I’m not the only one disappointed that we’re not having class tonight. If you want to have some martial arts at home tonight, here’s something you can do instead.

The subject for the day was supposed to be Master Carlson’s Grab Bag of Doom. For this lesson, we’ll explore the history and culture where taekwondo comes from.

See if you can do the following:

Part 1:

Take 15 minutes and learn to read Korean. Now you can read the crazy squiggles on belts and uniforms and rank certificates! See if you can write your name, or see if you can read these words:

Overachievers: Give this podcast a listen.

Part 2:

Take 1 1/2 minutes and take a look around the Taekwondo Museum in Seoul, Korea. If you pause at 29 seconds, you can see nine bronze plates on the right half of the display. Those show the emblems of each of the original nine kwans, the original taekwondo schools that joined forces to create Kukkiwon, the official governing body of taekwondo. The one right smack in the center is Kang Duk Won, which is the kwan that you are training in today. Here’s a better look at it:

Overachievers: Learn a little about the larger facility. It looks like the videos are broken, but they aren’t. They’ll load if you click on them, and you can see Korea’s national taekwondo demonstration team doing a very flashy performance.

Part 3:

You’re probably ready to move around by now. Most of you have a jegi already, but if you don’t, you can make one really easily. Take it outside! Start with some jegi chagi (the warm up exercise) to get your hips ready to move. Then try some traditional jegi games.

Overachievers: Try hitting it with your taekwondo techniques. Try everything–punches, ridge hands, roundhouse kicks, side kicks, spin hook kicks, or whatever else you can think of.

Have fun, and let me know how it goes!


Episode 7: Language and Culture


Most people learn at least a little language and culture when they begin studying martial arts.  Taking it further than that has its pros and cons.

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The Meaning of the Double Phoenix Certificate Design


If you practice a Korean martial art, there is a good chance that your certificates include an image of a double phoenix.  The image is so widely used, I even found it on this attendance certificate:


The double phoenix image is very popular on almost any kind of certificate.

As an aside, the flower in the image is the rose of Sharon, which is South Korea’s national flower.  It’s not unusual to find it depicted on formal certificates as well.

The double phoenix image is very widely used in Korea, even outside of martial arts.  It is depicted on South Korea’s presidential seal, again with a rose of Sharon.

South Korea presidential seal

When we westerners hear the word “phoenix,” we generally think of the Greek phoenix, an immortal fire bird that always rises again from its ashes.  Despite the similar names, this bird has nothing to do with that.  Instead, the Asian phoenix is a mythical heavenly bird.  In Korea it is called a “bonghwang,” but it has its roots in ancient China under the name “fenghuang.”  If you’re interested in the Chinese roots of the fenghuang, I highly recommend listening to this episode of KungFu Podcast.

The Asian phoenix is depicted as being made up of parts of a variety of birds, including the tail of a peacock.  With the tail being such a prominent feature, the image is sometimes mistaken for a peacock.  It also has the body of a mandarin duck, the head of a golden pheasant, the wings of a swallow, the beak of a parrot and the legs of a crane.

golden pheasant head


parrot beak


mandarin duck body


peacock tail


swallow wing


crane legs


The bonghwang is rich in symbolism.  It represents virtue, beauty, prosperity and morality–essentially, the “art” in the martial arts.  Correct training develops character, justifying the “virtue” connotation.  Correct techniques should be effective first and foremost, but coincidentally when perfected they produce a stunning aesthetic, making the “beauty” meaning appropriate.  The “prosperity” aspect was perhaps more relevant in older times when martial artists may have needed their skills to protect their homes and livelihoods, but even today the benefits of martial arts training can extend to all areas of life.  The “morality” meaning emphasizes that we should never misuse our physical skills.  It is no surprise that so many groups find the phoenix to be a fitting image for their certificates.