The Hwa Rang of Silla

During the era in Korea known as the Three Kingdoms (1st century BC until the 6th century AD), the emphasis on military campaigns to overthrow the neighboring governments residing on the peninsula was of paramount importance. In fact, the major players in this continuous struggle all developed ritual policies to induct the youth of noble families into service, by providing them with outdoor activities such as camping, hunting, swimming, mountain climbing, etc., as well as how to use various weapons; all of this in order to help prepare them for the hardships of battle. Chronologically, there were the Soo-sa of Baekje, the Sun-in of Goguryeo, and perhaps the most famous, the Hwa-rang of Silla. According to accepted historical accounts, two Hwarang approached a learned monk asking him for guidelines in which to lead their lives. This gave way to the Se-sok O-gye or Five Precepts for Secular Life.

They are:
1. sa·goon·ee·choong (사군이충 - 事君以忠) - Show allegiance to one's sovereign
2. sa·chin·ee·hyo (사친이효 - 事親以孝) - Treat one's parents with respect & devotion
3. gyo·oo·ee·shin (교우이신 - 交友以信) - Exhibit trust & sincerity among friends
4. im·jun·moo·tœ (임전무퇴 - 臨戰無退) - Never retreat in battle
5. sal·sæng·yoo·tæk (살생유택 - 殺生有擇) - Exercise discretion when taking a life

Due to the nature of the last two precepts, it is abundantly clear that they are specifically aimed at warriors or soldiers, since most people never enter a true battle scenario and are rarely, if ever, faced with having to kill someone. But the others do represent concepts that any decent citizen should observe and this is because the first 3 guidelines were borrowed directly from the rules of proper social interaction, as laid out by Confucian principles, while the last two were inspired by courage & compassion, qualities which that ancient venerable monk felt should be embraced by any good military commander.

Nevertheless, except for changing “soveriegn” to “country” in the first rule (i.e. Show allegiance to one's country), the same exemplary principles as noted in these 5 guidelines are often encouraged to be followed by aspiring martial artists in the present. Moreover, since martial artists are normally entrusted with deadly & lethal techniques for use in self-defense, there exists a burden on the teacher to assess the character of each student before revealing such information. Therefore the admonition to refrain from teaching anyone who does not possess the following qualities:

1. Virtue
2. Trust
3. Intelligence
4. Courage
5. Discipline

For the term virtue, it isn't meant to focus so much on “chastity” but rather dignity, respectability, and integrity. Trust refers to duty, obligation, and responsibility, and therefore extending it to include “trustworthiness” could also be inferred, thus incorporating reliability, dependability, honesty, and uprightness into this characteristic as well. Apart from the meaning of “smart” which is an inherent trait that you are either born with or not, intelligence refers more to the accumulation of knowledge, i.e. erudition, but it also implies insight and discernment which shows an expectation for one to be sensible and reasonable in tackling any given situation. Courage is fairly straightforward, but remember that being brave is more about boldly continuing forward in spite of fear, rather than ignoring or trying to nullify your fears. And that leaves discipline, which speaks not only of keeping oneself orderly & regimented, but also of being diligent, prudent, and respectful.

Embracing these traits is not an easy task, certainly not 100% of the time, but that is why traditional martial arts is often viewed as a journey, which molds yourself into the type of person you want to become (i.e. a better person). May we all continue to strive with the pursuit of attaining a more refined character.