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KUK SUL DO Philosophy  









Approximately Ten thousand years ago, the ancestors of the Korean people began to migrate from the central Asia to the Eastern coast of Asia.  They moved towards the warmer climate and access to the sea and settled in present-day Manchuria, and Peninsula of Korea.  There, the Korean people created a unique civilization based on the DaeHan Philosophy. 

          The DaeHan Philosophy is purely of Korean origin.  It was nurtured and matured by the Korean people before relations with neighboring nations was established.  The DaeHan Philosophy is based on four distinct characteristics. 

First, DaeHan means head or leader.  The Korean people look for leadership and guidance from the holders of high position.  Examples are the King – Head of State, the Father – Head of Family, and the Teacher – Head of Classroom.  They are regarded as the most important persons in a society. 

Second, DaeHan means big or whole.  Each person is considered a vital member of the community as a whole.  Harmony within the community as a whole is very important in the pursuit of happiness for the individual as well as for the country. 

Third, DaeHan means brightness or optimism.  Brightness in the Korean language implies, peace, cleanness and honesty in life.  To be optimistic no matter what hardships one has faced in the past. 

Finally, DaeHan means higher learning.  The Korean people place great value on education and culture.  They strive for excellence in learning, whether it is literature or martial arts. 

These four distinct characteristics of DaeHan Philosophy permeated into every facet of Korean society.  It has been embedded in Korean culture, religion, economics, politics, and especially in the martial arts.  It still plays a significant role in what constitutes the Korean identity. 

Choi Chi-won, the preeminent Scholar and Warrior of the Silla Kingdom wrote about the philosophy of DaeHan on the tombstone of the Nan Nang Tomb.  Master Choi wrote the introduction of Confucianism in Korea reinforced the DaeHan values of respect to parents, teacher and King and loyalty to the country.

The introduction of Taoism reinforced the philosophy of harmony with nature and with other human beings.  And the introduction of Zen Buddhism reinforced love and mutual help among citizens of the society. 

Head of State 

The first meaning of DaeHan is head or high position.  By 2333 B.C., Dan Kun united many tribes and established the first tribal nation in Korean History.  It was called Cho Sun (Land of the Morning Calm).  The first head of state of Cho Sun was known as DaeHan Bai Kum or "the bright head of the tribal nation."

The philosophy of DaeHan gives the Korean Head of State a simple lesson.  When the water from the upper portion of a stream is clean and clear, the water in the lower portion of the stream will be clean and clear.  Likewise when the Head of State governs the country with love and care, the subject will follow with respect.

 On the other DaeHand however, if the head of State governs the country for his own personal benefit and glory, the subjects will become selfish and corrupt, and will turn away from the Head of State.  In the DaeHan philosophy, the Head of State should not only be educated intellectually in the affairs of politics, economics, culture and martial arts, but also be well versed in the affairs of ethics, love, respect and care for his fellow citizens. 


  In the Koryo Kingdom, a book was written by great Zen Master Il Yun.  Within the book, Sam Kook Yu Sa, there is a celebrated story of a daughter's devotion to her mother.  There lived a girl in the Silla Kingdom, during the regime of Queen Jin Sun, who lost her father a very early age.  She worked as an unskilled laborer to support herself and her blind mother.

 One year, famine swept the kingdom.  Out of work and destitute, the girl, without telling her mother, sold herself as a servant to a rich household for the price of thirty bushels of rice.  She was allowed to work during the day, and return to her house at night to take care of her mother.  A few days went by, and then the blind mother spoke to her daughter. 

"In the past, I have enjoyed peace of mind, even though the food was not the best", she said.  "Recently, the food has been very good, but I do not know why my mind is not at peace.  I do not know what is wrong with me." Said the blind mother. 

With that the daughter told her mother the truth and both of them embraced and wept.  The girl realized that she was only thinking about physical satisfaction--food for hunger--for her mother, but failed to understand the peace in her mother's mind.

The DaeHan philosophy states that devotion to one's parents is not considered submission or repayment, but it is an honor and a privilege, which comes from the pure hearts of the sons and daughters.  This level of devotion has been maintained throughout Korean history, regardless of age, wealth or social position. 

The devotion to the parents does not end with the parent’s death, but is continued in the form of ancestor worship.  Even Confucius, the famous Chinese philosopher (500 B.C.), wrote that he admired the devotion of Korean sons to their parents.  They mourn the death of their parents for three years.

  DaeHan philosophy does not believe in the separateness of life and death.  Life in this world is the continuation of life in a previous world and will continue into another world.  In other words, at birth, the journey in the previous world is at the end and a new journey in this world is beginning; at death, the journey in this world is at an end, but it is at a beginning of another journey in the next world. 

To illustrate this concept, let's examine the following analogy.  You decide to travel by train from New York to San Francisco.  First you must go to Grand Central Station in New York, to purchase your ticket and then board the westward bound train.  At this point let us relate the actions you took before you boarded the train to our life in the previous world.  As a train begins its cross-country trip, we can relate that to being born in this world.  

The trip across the country is wonderful.  Life aboard the train is very enjoyable.  At this point, we can relate activities on the train, such as enjoying the scenery, eating, sleeping, and talking with your fellow passengers, with our life in this world.  Finally you arrive in San Francisco, and get off the train.  Here, we can relate it with the death of our lives.

 However, does getting off the train constitute the end of the journey?  No!  You can visit the Golden Gate Bridge or go to Fisherman's Wharf and eat Alaskan king crab.  By the same logic, after death we will life in another form of life in the next world. 

This type of philosophy not only gives psychological comfort to living persons, but also helps perpetuate ancestor worship. 


          Along with the Head of State and Parents, the Teacher is a very respected member by Korean Society.  DaeHan emphasizes education.  Without the teacher to educate, human beings would be no different from other animals, which only try to satisfy instinctual needs such as hunger, sleep and reproduction.  But because of the teacher, one can have intellectual and martial arts training. 

          Compare the teacher to a mountain guide.  Climbing up a mountain without an experienced guide may lead to disaster.  However, having an experienced guide leading the party will allow the party to reach the top of the mountain and enjoy the view. 

          From a teacher's view, there are three groups of students.  The first group listens to the teacher’s instructions very well.  Following the teacher's guidance step by step, they reach the top of the mountain and enjoy the view.  The second group of students is filled with doubt and mistrust to their teacher.  Inevitably, they will separate from their teachers and wander about the middle of the mountain.

     The third group never pays any attention to the teacher from the beginning and never will step from the bottom of the mountain.  The teacher should know how to handle these three different groups. 

Respect to the teacher does not come naturally.  They earn it by becoming role models to their students in the areas of morality and ethics as well as in their chosen field. 

During the early period of the Lee Kingdom, a very wise teacher tutored the son of the King.  The prince saw the teacher as a perfect gentleman and could not find any weakness. 

      One day the prince decided to test the teacher.  He came to class early and decided to test the reactions of the teacher by placing a very sharp nail in the teachers sitting cushion.  The teacher came to class, sat on the cushion and began lecturing on the day's lesson.  Time passed, and the Teacher continued lecturing without any shows of emotion.

 Curiosity about the nail preoccupied the prince, and he soon began to neglect the lesson.  Had the teacher sat on the nail?  Maybe the nail was not pointing up when the Teacher sat on the cushion. 

          Soon the prince saw a pool of blood emerge from the cushion and stain his teacher's white pants.  The teacher continued his lesson, not giving the slightest notice to the blood.  Astounded, the prince explained to his teacher that he had placed a nail in the cushion and begged for forgiveness. 

          The prince asked the teacher, "I see the blood in the cushion and on your pants.  Don't you feel pain?" 

          "Of course, I feel pain, but I cannot jump off the cushion to express my personal pain in front of you.  I am your teacher.  I have to teach you how to control your emotions in case of pain or emergency", the teacher answered.  "When you become King, you may face many painful situations, such as famine, foreign invasion, or internal rebellion.

 If you jump off the cushion and do not know what to do, people will fault me as a teacher for not educating you properly.  Therefore, this incident is a living lesson to show you how to control pain and emotion." 

The prince respected the teacher more than ever. 

DAEHAN (Big, Whole)

          The second part of DaeHan means big or whole.  An integrated member of a community will enjoy unity, cooperation, harmony and peace. 

  • Unity 

          Human beings originate from different traditions, social backgrounds, levels of education and ethnicity's.  We possess different opinions, ideas, thoughts and behaviors.  But as long as he is thinking that his is part of a whole collective community, there can be compromise among these differences. 

          The value of good and bad in DaeHan philosophy is based on the whole.  Actions that benefit one as an individual, but harm the whole is considered bad.  However actions that benefit the individual as well as the whole group is considered good. 

          The Sun Bi in Koguryu or Wha Rang in Silla placed great moral value on the whole.  They respected each other and would never betray a comrade on the battlefield. 

          Master Won Hyo said one should place value in the benefit of others as well as himself.  For example, the captain of a passenger ship has to sail his ship safely to the destination.  He is concerned with not only his personal safety, but also the safety of the ship's passengers and crew.  The captain and the passengers share the common goal of arriving at the ship's destination safely. 

  • Harmony 

          DaeHan philosophy contains harmony and it had been penetrated into daily life in Korea.  Harmony means two or more different elements combining with one another and becoming a part of the whole without losing their respective identifies. 

          Nature is a great example of Harmony.  Great beauty in nature does not come from a single element, but from many elements, such as a clean water stream, a green mountain, and blossoming flowers.  All of these elements contribute in nature's beauty. 

          When the Sun Bi of Koguryo or Wha Rang began their martial arts training, their teacher did not teach them the techniques first.  At first, the students learned how to empty their minds through Zen meditation.  Then, they learn how to build strong bodies by traveling through rugged mountain terrain and the beaches of the shores of the Korean rivers and seaside.

 Finally they were allowed to learn martial art techniques.  In this way, they learned how to harmonize three elements--mind, body, and techniques--to perform at maximum ability. 

  • Cooperation 

          Geographically Korea is located between China and Japan.  It is the natural land bridge between the two countries.  Beginning in the First Century B.C., Korea has faced invasion by the Chinese, Mongolians, Manchurians, and the Japanese.  Each time, Koreans cooperated with one another to defend the country and expel the invaders.  This spirit of cooperation comes from the DaeHan philosophy. 

          The DaeHan philosophy does not see you and I as separated identities, but sees us as members of the whole.  This mind of wholeness has brought cooperation among the Koreans.  You help other people when they need help.  In return, you receive help from other people when you need help.  This spirit of cooperation has become a way of life in Korea. 

          Master Yul Kok, Secretary of Ceremony during the Lee Kingdom, encouraged villages to provide assistance in the following five cases. 

          1.  When one's house is burned down by fire or washed away by water.

          2.  When one's property has been stolen.

          3.  When a poor man's parents are sick or die.

          4.  When children lose both of their parents.

          5.  When one's family fall into poverty. 

 DaeHan  (Brightness, Optimism) 

          Brightness and Optimism are major elements of the DaeHan Philosophy.  In B.C. 2333, DaeHan Bai Kum, the first King of Korea, established the Cho Sun tribal confederation.  He proclaimed the capital of the new confederation to be A Sa Dal, which means the 'brightly shining and promising place.'  The people of Cho Sun believed that they lived in the birthplace of the Sun.

 Living in this brightly shining place, they believed there could be a peaceful coexistence among the different tribes.  They believed they could live in harmony with nature.  They believed in an optimistic future.  These beliefs of brightness, associated with peace, honesty and optimism, have been carried out in the mind of Korean people for generations. 

          Master Won Hyo of the Silla Kingdom said that every man has an original mind, a purely good mind.  He likened the original mind to bright sun light.  The master believed that the original mind was a good mind.  The original mind is what caused people to help other people without thinking of being paid back or what's in it for them.

 For example, if you see a baby about to fall into a pond, the original mind would cause you to run toward the baby and save him from falling into the water.  This act of saving the baby did not come from the promise of reward money or personal glory.  It is an action that emanated in the original mind. 

          Master Won Hyo expressed the feeling that people could live in peace and happiness as long as they acted according to the original mind.  But when original mind was corrupted by the actions of the false mind, actions such as prejudice, greed and selfishness, people acted according to the false mind.  Harmony in the mind is destroyed and peace and happiness are gone. 

          The Master compared the relationship between the original minds and the false minds to bright sunlight vis-à-vis a cloud in the sky.  On a cloudless day, the bright sunlight (original mine) is able to distribute it's light evenly over the ground (behavior originating from the original mind brings peace and happiness in the mind).

 But when the sunlight is obscured by cloud (false mind), the light does not reach the ground (the behavior of the false mind destroys harmony within the people and the peace and happiness of the mind is in danger.) 

          Master Won Hyo emphasized that maintaining the original mind all the time was the most important way to make good action.  Regardless of the situation, actions originating from the good mind are considered good actions.  However, actions originating from the bad mind are considered bad action.

 For example, when you advise someone, if your motivation originates from the good mind, it can be considered a bad action.  But when your motivation originates from the false mind, it can be considered a bad action. 

DaeHan  (Intellectual) 

          Education in penmanship and swordsmanship has been greatly emphasized throughout Korean history.  The scholarly warrior is the object of great respect from the people. 

          In the Silla Kingdom, the Wha Rang system was established during the regime of King Jin Heung.  Members of the Wha Rang were chosen from the sons of the upper class.  They studied classical literature from scholars, meditation from Zen masters, physical training in the form of mountain climbing and martial arts.  The graduates of the Wha Rang served as military officers or as officials in the civil service. 

          During the regime of King So Soo Lim in Koguryo, Tae Hak, or college level educational institute, was established at Capital City.  There, sons of the upper class learned literature and martial arts.  At the provincial level, Pyung Dang, or local colleges, were established to teacher martial arts and literature to the sons of the common people.

 Graduates of these institutions were known as the Sun Bi--intellectual warriors--and they became the backbone of the military civilian services. 

            The Sun Bi felt a dual purpose in their lives.  As well trained soldiers, they could go to the battlefield to defend the country.  At the same time, the Sun Bi felt that, as learned scholars, they could work in the government to assist the King.


 The Sun Bi considered that penmanship and swordsmanship were of equal educational value.  The harmony between the two was the ultimate goal.  The Sun Bi possessed scholarly charm and warrior's bravery.


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