In the history of Taekwondo, we find a group of warriors called the Hwa Rang Do, based in the Silla Kingdom. The group was instrumental in the military dominance of Silla over the other two kingdoms, Koryoro and Packje. The Hwa Rang Do were also responsible for promoting the marital arts of Taekyon and Subak throughout the peninsula of Korea.
More on the history of the Hwa Rang Do and Taekwondo History here.
In the three kingdom dynasty, there was a group of young nobles assembled as warriors, but lacked formal training and disciple. The 24th king of Silla, King Chin Heung (540 AD), recongized the skill and talent of this military unit, and commissioned that these warriors be trained in specialized weaponry, such as spears, bow and swords (according to some historians over 108 different weapons). They also began to study Subak – a martial art which, according to legend, was brought to Silla by Packje, the kingdom to the north, with which Silla had made a defense alliance against both pirates and the largest kingdom, Koryoro. Subak focused mostly on foot techniques, with some hand techniques for unarmed combat.
The name “Hwa Rang Do” translates to “Group of Flowering Youth” (or “The Way of Flowering Youth”). The young male warriors can be compared to the modern-day U. S. Navy Seals, and the historical fighters like the Japanese Samurai. They lived by a code of ethics that bonded the men together. (To round out their military training, the Hwa Rang Do were also taught dancing, art, and music.) King Chin Heung wanted this group of warriors to be beyond “just soldiers,” so he requested Won Kang, a Buddhist monk, to incorporate a set of morals and beliefs that would make the Hwa Rang Do warriors dedicated to a cause, not just to a unit.
Won Kang not only saw to the training of the Hwa Rang Do, but also instituted a code of ethics for the young warriors:
The Hwa Rang Do warriors became an example of a finely tuned, elite military branch which eventually led the military to defeat the other two kingdoms and to create a unified country in the Korean peninsula.
After the unification of the kingdom, the Hwa Rang Do spread their martial art training to the general public, mostly by hosting tournaments where the warriors demonstrated their skills.
How does this apply to modern day Taekwondo?
Today’s Taekwondo student is not expected to live the military life of the Hwa Rang Do. But the impact of their code is seen today in the Tenets of Taekwondo and the Taekwondo Oath, both of which were adopted by various kwans during the development of modern Taekwondo.
The Tenets – loyalty, honesty, integrity, perseverance, and self-control – are similar to their code of ethics. A Taekwondo student should know and appreciate the historical context of the current-day principles – principles that should impact his/her life and training.