Courtesy is the first of Taekwondo’s Five Tenets, which are some of the main reasons I love Taekwondo. When understood correctly, the martial arts include far more than kicks, punches and blocks. Taekwondo is historically deeply connected to what we could call a religious philosophy. The Five Tenets are a distillation of this philosophy into a set of values that people can universally share in common. They are very plain, and people of differing creeds or religions can agree on their importance.
When we look at martial arts, we have to understand the difference between “mu sul”, “mu ye”, and “mu do”.
“Mu sul” basically means “martial technique”. Blocks, kicks, punches, grabs—in other words, the basic building blocks of technique. In my opinion, most other martial arts schools stop here.
“Mu ye” basically means “martial art”. This includes the process of making technique more beautiful. When we practice forms, for example, we emphasize this aspect of martial arts. Part of mastering technique includes graceful and balanced movement.
“Mu do” basically means “martial way’, as in the way of life of the martial artist. This is the end goal of the Five Tenets, and the reason we organize our school the way we do. Following the Five Tenets creates more than just fighters. They create substance of character.
Courtesy is the first of the tenets because it is foundational to not fighting. It’s more than just being nice (though that’s included!), it means respecting each other. If we all truly respect each other, we can avoid conflict. We can disagree, but learn to live around our disagreements in mutual respect.
In a way, courtesy is another way to emphasize the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Some of our society today might think that courtesy is old-fashioned. That is simply not true. Simple acts of courtesy, like opening a door for someone, or saying “yes sir” and “yes ma’am” can be small ways of demonstrating a deeper respect for others. We should not be lackadaisical in our approach to respecting each other, beginning with family and extending to everyone else.
If you were to ask me if I use my martial arts technique in my everyday life, the answer would be no. However, I use “mu do” every day. It’s how I live out my martial art. I live it in my character.