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On Oaths and Tenets

The rituals at the beginning and ending of martial arts practice are important components of each practice.  The ritual that starts the class serves the important purpose of preparing mentally, emotionally and spiritually for the practice of martial arts that follows. Ending with a ritual that acknowledges the teacher, the students and the space in which we practice are important closures.  Both rituals contribute to remark the lines of authority and hierarchy that are important to the practice of martial arts.  In addition they are important to the cohesion, structure and discipline of the school as a whole.

In our school the tenets and oath are part of these important rituals.  Although I think the beginning and ending rituals are essential, I resist the recital of the tenets and the oath, and even more, bowing to the [ITU] flag. Although I do not have a problem with the words that we recite in the tenets and in the student oath, tenets and oaths hark back to religious national and/or political organizations with rigid principles or dogmas that are defined in hierarchical and punitive ways.  So, my starting point in reciting these in Tae Kwon Do is one of discomfort, to say the least.  Outside of KICKS I do not bow to flags. I do not feel comfortable bowing to a flag of an organization that I know is male dominated.  I am willing to belong to the organization, but bowing to its flag is quite another thing.  I take bowing very seriously as a sign of respect and commitment that I need to contextualize in relation to specific individuals and occasions in order that the ritual may maintain its meaning.  For this reason I oppose bowing to the ITU flag. I resist tenets and oaths generally, but more particularly, I resist the ones we recite because I situate them as part of a male dominated organization (although I realize that Sabum Nim has modified them).  It is difficult for me not to visualize a room full of men and a few women reciting these words in a cuasi-military fashion.  In spite of my discomfort/opposition I do recite the tenets, I do recite the oath and I bow to the flag.

I treasure and respect martial arts as a movement art and as a set of powerful physical techniques that have been studied and perfected throughout the centuries.  Moreover, I was initiated into martial arts within a tradition that arose as a space created by women as an alternative to the myriad forms of exclusion that they experimented within the male-dominated marital arts tradition.  Here I learned a much different concept of hierarchies and authority.  I train at KICKS because it forms part of this important women’s tradition in the martial arts.

When I recite the tenets and the oath, I interpret each of the words in my own way even while struggling with the male tradition and the images that the recitation brings to my mind.  I bow to the flag solely out of respect for Sabum Nim and what she brings to martial arts.  I disagree with her reasons for engaging in this ritual, but I engage in it, and even more so, I lead the ritual.  I do so because martial arts, and the women’s only space within which to practice martial arts that Sabum Nim has created, against all odds, are more important to me than my strong disagreement with the ritual.

When Sabum Nim experimented with making the ritual optional it undermined the discipline and authority that is necessary in a martial arts school.  I immediately perceived this, and despite my opposition to the ritual, I embraced and enforced it.  Most students probably do not realize my deep opposition to this ritual because I perform my role with formality and with deep respect for the school.

I would most enthusiastically favor developing a new ritual for opening and closing each class. Rituals are powerful and can be empowering in many ways.  Moreover, as I said earlier, I see rituals as an integral part of the practice of martial arts.

PS  What is said above explains my resistance to even writing about this topic.