What makes a martial artist? Taekwondo’s 5 tenets: a breakdown

Taekwondo is many things. Taken as a literal translation, Tae is for the foot; Kwon for the hand; Do as a way of life, meaning that the martial art is the way of the foot and hand. It would, therefore, be naive to think of it as merely a sport. Taekwondo is something that you are, a means of living, breathing, dreaming, being.

It is so much more than just maximising power to deliver a killer technique. It’s about a mental proficiency that utterly consumes and transforms its practitioners into good, dedicated, honest people, who follow the five tenets of Taekwondo:




Self control.

Indomatable spirt.

Here’s a breakdown of what these tenets mean, and how they impact our everyday lives – both in and out of the dojang.


Being courteous means being polite to other people. As martial artists, that means having respect for your instructor and fellow students. Outside of Taekwondo, it’s about time you assessed whether you treat people well enough – and if not, why not? Manners cost nothing.

I always opt for kindness, for everyone, at all times – unless they’ve given me a reason not to. Even then, if I’ve been wronged, I’ll kill them with kindness. You should do the same; be the shining light of positivity in all the darkness that this year has brought with it.

And if you won’t take my word for it, take Johnny Lawrence’s:

Parents: watch out for some bad language

I never thought I’d be agreeing with the Cobra Kai, yet here I am. I blame 2020.


Having integrity means being honest. It means that you shouldn’t lie – to your instructor, to your friends and family and, most importantly, don’t lie to yourself. Be true to who you are.

There is, however, a second meaning. Think of integrity in the same way you’d think of a strong building. If a building has good structural integrity, that means that is strong, stable, well-made. Martial artists must be well-constructed, in mind and spirit, training each part of themselves, to be successful practitioners.


To persevere means to never give up. In Taekwondo, this means that you will finish your pattern; you will complete every bit of line work and get to the end of a batch of press ups, set by your instructor, regardless of how tired you are (remembering to not work yourself half to death, of course).

In the real world, it means that you shouldn’t give up on your dreams, no matter the obstacles you face.

What it does not mean is burning the candle at both ends. Know your limits and work within them, pushing yourself to get the grades you know you’re capable of, scoring the job of your dreams or the promotion at work. It even means completing a book or video game, even if one level or another is particularly tricky.

Self control

Having self control in your daily life means refraining from going overboard on any one aspect of your life. It means avoiding too much junk food in favour of healthy, effective meal planning, or applying a filter to words that would otherwise be hurtful.

In Taekwondo, we demonstrate proper self control through our power output. This means that we can break boards with ease or work a training bag without hurting our partners.

Indomitable spirit

When I started my Taekwondo journey over 14 years ago, I thought that persevering and having an indomitable spirit were interchangeable.

How wrong I was.

As I’ve developed into a confident Second-Degree Black Belt, I’ve come to understand that having an indomitable spirit means showing courage in the face of insurmountable odds. Taking that literally, it means refusing to back down against a fighter who is stronger, or has more experience in the ring.

In real life, you might show courage by revising for a seemingly impossible exam. You might stay your tongue when confronted with verbal abuse, taking the higher ground and refusing to stoop to their level.

Actively incorporate these tenets into your daily life and you’ll move closer to being a true martial artist with every passing second.

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