Advanced Topics

It is absolutely critical for the intermediate and advanced Taekwondo practitioners to fully understand the meaning of the 9th degree black belt form Ilyeo although they may not be able to perform it at the present moment. The meaning of Ilyeo is the spiritual unity of body and mind.

To begin our discussion, one has to first recognize that almost every human body (or mind) has the ability to adjust itself whether it is favorable or not. For instance, a broken toe will cause other bones to realign themselves to regain the balance. In the same way, any emotional trauma or continuous stress will reshape the boundary of thought process in human mind.

Everyone wants life without stress, emotional trauma, or physical injury; however, this is far from reality in life. The bottom line is that one has to face all these unfavorable circumstances and still stay healthy and happy.

In Taekwondo the body and mind are viewed as a fully coupled system. This has greater implications than the realm of most people's imagination. A well-trained Taekwondoist always trains the mind while performing a physical form by putting one's heart, soul, and thoughts into the physical movements and breath. Pursuing the spiritual unity of body and mind is very different from the modern view of having two separate body and mind systems. The single body-mind system (or perspective) can be effectively utilized to improve one's health, increase self-awareness, and prepare oneself for a greater cause.

Now the question becomes, "How do we attain the spiritual unity of body and mind?" Many philosophers and others have tried to answer this question in words throughout history. But only few have walked the walk. Taekwondoists as action philosophers shall begin their journey in action.

First, one needs to find the channel that connects the body and mind. It is oxygen that both the body and mind need for their existence. To some extent, the human body has the ability to revitalize itself in a relaxed state when enough oxygen is circulated through clean blood vessels.

Second, one needs to open the spiritual eyes to feel (or imagine) Ki energy. It is difficult to isolate Ki energy from other energy sources and forms in science. However, it is convenient to consider it eternal invisible waves at this point. Furthermore, it is somewhat irrelevant whether Ki energy exists or not (can be proven or not) because it is the thought and belief that have the power. This may seem unscientific and doubtful at first, but one will appreciate the power of Ki energy as the journey to the spiritual unity of body and mind adds more hands-on experiences.

Most Taekwondo practitioners are familiar with Dhan-Jeon breathing. The idea is to slowly breathe in and out mostly through the nose and accumulate Ki energy into the lower abdominal area. It is important to master how to control the duration and strength of the breath coming out from the nose by squeezing the abdominal muscles to push out unfavorable air particles completely depending on the intensity of the movements. This technique can be used as a training exercise to expand one's nose-based breathing capacity and a preparation for any combative senarios requiring teeth, tongue, and jaw protection. It should not be confused with any general breathing-in-through-nose and breathing-out-through-mouth exercises. Note that some practitioners breathe out through the mouth when they strike; however, this is a different topic entirely. The details of Dhan-Jeon are omitted here due to various reasons; however, it is important to recognize that the center of gravity of the whole body is located near this area as well.  (Note that breathing through the mouth during an extreme event beyond one's nose breathing capacity is a different topic entirely.  Breathing out through the mouth occasionally to refresh energy flow is also a different topic.  Furthermore, breathing in through the nose and out through the mouth deeply at rest or stealthily with a very small opening is a different topic as well.  All these breathing techniques differ in purpose and result. In the end, the practitioner may want to master how to control all of the body openings including pores and utilize a combination of various breathing techniques without any restrictions as if there are no forms or rules; this includes breathing in [or out] quickly and deeply using both the mouth and nose simultaneously for any dynamic situations.)

It is recommended that the practitioner start with performing the forms in a gentle and slow manner so that one may finish all of 17 forms mostly with the nose-based Dhan-Jeon breathing. Sooner or later, general practitioners will admit that it is difficult to consecutively complete all the forms in full speed and power with the oxygen just from the nose. While trying to breathe in this demanding scenario, one may experience more movement in the lower abdominal section. This is the Dhan-Jeon, and one is experiencing it being open. Note that it is ok to occasionally breathe through the mouth if needed. The practitioner may want to fully breathe out through the mouth at rest between the forms in order to breathe in more fresh air and to control air and blood pressures depending on one's level of experience. Mental focus for air retention should be near the Dhan-Jeon or lower body rather than upper body. The bottom line is that one needs to maximize the oxygen intake and its retention in a controlled manner while minimizing hyperventilation or hypoventilation.

Third, the practitioner needs to open the gate of subconscious mind through mental visualization. It has been a Taekwondo tradition that the master individually teaches his disciples how to use mental visualization techniques for the brick breaking. One should close the eyes, relax the body, visualize breaking sequences and its success, repeat the mental visualization, and then perform. One also needs to consecutively utilize this visualization technique for all of 17 forms as a mental exercise. In other words, one's mind is a 3D canvas and one is mentally performing the forms in the meditation state with physical, emotional, and sensory brain circuitry turned on.

Fourth, the practitioner needs to continuously stretch and open all the physical channels (e.g. joints, muscles, blood vessels, etc) while performing the forms. One has to listen to one's own body and continuously adjust the intensity and focus of the physical movements depending on the muscle readiness, bone alignment, condition of internal organs, depth of breath, and Ki energy flow.

When the practitioner fully understands these 4 topics by doing them (as opposed to theorizing), one is ready to step into the realm of the spiritual unity of body and mind. Once again, Taekwondo training is a life-long journey of attaining indomitable spirit through physical and mental exercises simultaneously. Separate physical or mental exercise alone would not produce desired results.

It is important to perform all of 17 forms mostly through the nose-based Dhan-Jeon breathing (occasionally breathing out through the mouth with or without a Ki-hap; one, two, or three Ki-haps are inherently embedded in each form), sending out mental waves and oxygen to every part of the body and cells, listening to the body and subconscious mind, and controlling energy from the Dhan-Jeon (or CG) simultaneously. Now this is the beginning of one's journey to the spiritual unity of body and mind. The body and mind will consciously and subconsciously learn to breathe, balance, focus, control, and optimize in the fully coupled manner. Each practitioner must go through this on one's own to decode the secrets of body and mind.

As one regularly performs all the forms in this manner, the body and mind will begin to revitalize themselves and reach the optimum level eventually. When this happens, one is ready to live up to one's full potential.

In the big picture, the spiritual unity of body and mind is a prerequisite for the leader like Gukseon (Grand Master of Silla Hwarang). The qualities of Gukseon can be described as combinations of ones in scholar warriors and martial art experts at the same time. In the context of Taekwondo training, the indomitable spirit can be attained through the practice of the spiritual unity of body and mind regularly.

A person who masters one's body and mind is ready to become a leader who can benefit all mankind.

Note that black belt forms (e.g. Keumgang and Cheonkwon) introduce some techniques that convert angular momentum to linear momentum. In other words, some circular movements are embeded in the black belt forms. Advanced Taekwondoists should embrace these techniques and their implication.






Color Belt

  1. Taegeuk 1 - Origin of All Things
  2. Taegeuk 2 - Inner Fortitude and Outer Gentleness
  3. Taegeuk 3 - Heart of Fire
  4. Taegeuk 4 - Dignity of Thunder
  5. Taegeuk 5 - Pride of Wind
  6. Taegeuk 6 - Endless Flexibility of Water
  7. Taegeuk 7 - Fortitude of Mountain
  8. Taegeuk 8 - The End and New Beginning

Black Belt

  1. Koryo - Spirit of Scholar Warrior
  2. Keumgang - Quality of Iron Mountain
  3. Taebaek - Holy Mountain of All Mankind
  4. Pyongwon - Peace in Great Land
  5. Sipjin - Prosperity in Faith, Hope, and Love
  6. Jitae - All Human Endeavor on Earth
  7. Cheonkwon - Unlimited Power of Heaven
  8. Hansu - Great Water (Origin of Life)
  9. Ilyeo - Spiritual Unity of Body and Mind


Note that there could be several different ways to translate the meanings of these forms.