05 July 2010

A Philosophical Look at Chon-Ji Tul

A Philosophical Look at Chon-Ji Teul -- Sanko Lewis

The first official pattern of ITF Taekwon-Do is Chon-Ji. The ITF Encyclopaedia defines the first Taekwon-Do pattern as follows:

Chon-Ji [천지/ 天地] means literally "the Heaven the Earth." It is, in the Orient, interpreted as the creation of the world or the beginning of human history, therefore, it is the initial pattern played by the beginner. This pattern consists of two similar parts; one to represent the Heaven and the other the Earth.

In Korean philosophy these two elements (Heaven and Earth) form a syncretic unit often depicted as a red and blue Taegeuk [태극 / 太極] (Korean for the Taijitu). Taegeuk literally means “supreme ultimate.” The symbol is based on the Chinese Taoist idea that all of creation is made up of two opposing forces. These opposing forces are often referred to in the West as Yin-Yang – the Korean term is Eum-Yang. Unlike the Chinese Taijiitu which is usually depicted in black and white, the Korean Taegeuk is usually red and blue. There exists thus a slight difference in the Chinese philosophical understanding of Taijitu and the Korean Taegeuk. Although in essence the same, there is an emphasis in the Korean version on Chon-Ji (i.e. Heaven and Earth). Heaven is symbolized by the red lobe and Earth by the blue lobe in the Taegeuk.

The observant practitioner of Chon-Ji Teul[1] will note that the pattern actually consists of three parts, not two; there are three additional punches at the end (movements 17, 18 and 19). This is actually consistent with another symbol from Korean philosophy known as the Sam Taegeuk [삼태극 / 三太極] (”triple grand ultimate”). The Sam Taegeuk (“sam” meaning three) is a three lobed Taegeuk; the extra yellow lobe representing humanity. The Sam Taegeuk reflects the Korean philosophy of Sam Jae, or Sam Yoso; meaning “Triple Essence,” or the three fundamental essences that defines the universe: heaven, earth, and human being.

Marc Tedeschi explains it in his book Taekwondo: Traditions, Philosophy, Technique as follows: “In this aspect of Korean philosophy, the mind and body are inseparable within a human being, a human being is inseparable from heaven and earth, and heaven and earth are inseparable from each other. Thus, heaven, earth, and human being are destined to exist in unity.”

When looking at the number of movements in each part of the pattern Chon-Ji, it is plausible that the movements have special symbolic meaning as well. The Taegeuk and Sam Taegeuk are often portrayed as surrounded by a series of eight trigrams, known as Palgwae in Korean or Bagua [八卦] in Chinese. A trigram is symbol made up of three horizontal bars. The bars can be either solid or broken and each combination has a particular symbolic meaning. In Chon-Ji Teul, the first part, symbolising Heaven, and the second part, symbolising Earth, each consist of eight movements, which is the number of trigrams in the Palgwae, seen surrounding the Taegeuk. Furthermore, the last part of Chon-Ji contains three movements that coincide with the number of bars in a trigram.

Whether Chon-Ji Teul does refer to the Palgwae is speculative as the ITF Encyclopaedia does not directly refer to it. Regardless, it is clear that Chon-Ji Teul is full of deeper philosophical meaning worth exploring. As "the initial pattern played by the beginner," Chon-Ji sets the practitioner within a specific worldview. It is a worldview based on ancient Oriental and Korean philosophy. The Chinese Taijitu depicts a universe in balance and the Korean Taegeukdo shows Heaven and Earth in balance. The Sam Taegeuk depicts man in blance with Heaven and Earth. There is therefore a possible ascetic interpretation to Chon-Ji Teul: Through the study of Taekwon-Do a human being is to attain harmony with him or herself, and harmony with the universe. This journey towards harmony starts with the initial pattern in Taekwon-Do. This would imply that innate to Taekwon-Do is a quest for achieving harmony: harmony with onneself, harmony with other people, harmony with the Earth, and harmony with Heaven.

An interesting side note may be that a trigram is embedded in the SA-ITF’s logo[2]. Noting that the trigram is a symbol from oriental philosophy, the SA-ITF Constitution explains that the trigram represents the philosophical underpinning of Taekwon-Do, known as Moral Culture. In the logo the top bar of the trigram represent the “spiritual creation and heaven”, the middle bar represents the “human race” and the bottom bar represents the “physical creation and fauna and flaura”.

You can read a more comprehensive version of this post in Issue #18 of Totally Taekwon-Do Magazine, starting on p. 45.


[1] “Teul” is Korean word for pattern. Hyeon and pumsae are synonyms that are also sometimes used.

[2] The explanation of the meaning of the SA-ITF logo was primarily done by Boosabeomnim Chris van der Merwe during his involvement as the SA-ITF’s Director of Constitutional Affairs.

Works Cited:

Choi Hong-Hi. ITF Taekwon-Do Encyclopaedia
Marc Tedeschi. Taekwondo: Traditions, Philosophy, Technique
SA-ITF Constitution

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