Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Etymology of the Martial Arts

I find that to gain a good understanding of something, it usually helps if one possesses a definition of it in their lexicon (mental dictionary). I was inspired to write this blog after reading about the etymology of Hwa Rang Do in a great and recommended book called 'Hwa Rang Do Defend-Take Down-Submit', by Taejoon Lee. I will also be relaying historical facts as it gets one to think about the context of the big picture. To understand history is to possess an arsenal of knowledge. It helps one to understand why things are the way they are. Whether it be politics, linguistics and pretty much anything.

First of all one should know who the Hwa Rang were. I think they were kind of like the Samurai of Korea. Interestingly enough, the Hwa Rang predominately existed 2 millennium ago, where as the Samurai existed in the last millennium. It is well known that Japan had its own interpretation of China's culture. Perhaps Japan also had some cultural interpretation from Korea.

Hwa means flower. Rang means nobleman. And of cause Do means the Tao, which literally means 'The right way'. It is understandable that the eastern terminology is so misinterpreted by speakers of European languages such as English. Most westerners would conclude that the meaning of the Hwa Rang to be something like flower men or florists, as was previously described. However to understand who the Hwa Rang were, we need to understand the historical context in which the ancient Koreans used them. Buddhism was the state religion of the Sillan era of Korean history. This is when one needs to think. What could "Hwa" (flower) represent ideas of in the context of its use. Flowers are symbolic of many things. In the case of the Hwa Rang, it represented blossoming, enlightenment and nirvana. Rang is slightly easier to translate. It symbolises a man, groom or nobleman. So putting it simply, it could be said that a Hwa Rang is an Enlightened Nobleman.

Let us examine the symbolism of flowers more deeply. A flower in practically every culture symbolises beauty. No one can annihilate what makes a flower beautiful, it just is a thing of beauty by its mere existence. As stated in the book, "These are qualities that the modern Hwa Rang Do stylist aspires to emulate". However I shall state that just as a flower is beautiful without trying to be beautiful, a Martial Artist is strong without trying to be strong, being generous and kind without trying to be generous and kind, loving without trying to be loving, being wise without trying to be wise. This is a description of perfection I believe. It describes a Martial Artist in an autonomous stage in life. Do or do not, there is no try, for to try to be something is to attempt to express what is not fully understood. One should strive towards these morals, attempt to understand and exercise these qualities until they become fully actualised. Very few people achieve this as no one is perfect. This is a fact. To believe that this should be everyone would be the view of an idealist such as myself in previous times. However to occupy high levels of this seems more practical. This is what a Martial Artist strives to emulate.

It's interesting to think about the lexicological interpretation of words, in particular Martial Art labels. Let's take the term Taekwondo for example. 'Tae' literally means to strike with the hand, 'Kwon' literally means to strike, stomp or to smash with the foot, and 'Do' means Tao. As English speakers, we can't verbally express the meaning Taekwondo as our language does not allow us to summarise this information accurately in accordance to our grammatical structure. The best English speakers can do is say 'the way(Tao) of the hand(Tae) and foot(Kwon). I don't know much about languages other than Engalish but from what I gather, the eastern languages are structured very differently. The grammatical structure of Korean for example allows for a semantic field (in this case verbs/actions) to be summarised into one term. Fascinating stuff.

In conclusion, to understand why things are the way they are in the social context of Martial Arts, one must be sufficiently educated in the way of the true Martial Arts and research must be undertaken to achieve this. I encourage everyone to do their own research, which will assist you greatly on your path towards enlightenment. Then share what you have learnt and how you interpret it with others. Hopefully me sharing what I have learnt will educate fellow bloggers, contributing to a community of True Martial Artists now with a slightly larger arsenal of information.

Thank You for reading my blog.

PS: I really had to let all this out and express it to get out of my system!.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you very much for taking the time to share that post! I enjoyed reading it and learning more about the Korean culture.


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