10 November 2010

What's the Difference Between “Perseverance” and “Indomitable Spirit”?

Taekwon-Do has five tenets, virtues that we strive to develop and adhere to. The Taekwon-Do tenets are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and an indomitable spirit. I've always wondered why this list should include both perseverance and indomitable spirit, as these two virtues—at least the English terms—seem very similar. Both suggest not giving up when the going gets tough.

My ITF Taekwon-Do instructor in Korea and I spoke a little about these terms last night where upon he mentioned that the word 인내 translated into English as “perseverance” has a courteous connotative meaning and is not a synonym with indomitable spirit 백잘불굴. Wanting to find out more, I decided to look into these Korean terms.

Let's start with perseverance 인내. Instead of perseverance, better translations would be patience or long-suffering. These latter translations better communicate why 인내 has a courteous implication. I think that patience is a greater virtue, and also much more difficult to cultivate, than perseverance. One can persevere at being stubborn, arrogant, and a multitude other vices. However, long-suffering, i.e. to endure “mental or physical discomfort for a protracted period of time patiently or without complaint,” is the attribute of a saintly person.

Now for indomitable spirit 백잘불굴. The latter part of this word, 불굴, means indomitable, basically to have “an iron will.” Another possible translation is indefatigable, a word I haven't come across before today. It basically means not-to-fatigue, or tirelessness, and alludes to persistence and stamina. The adjective form 불굴의 can also be translated as dauntless; in other words, resolutely courageous or extremely persistent and untiring. One online Korean-English dictionary gives the following example sentence “He has overcome (extreme) difficulties with a(n) undaunted [dauntless] fighting spirit.” 그는 불굴의 투지로 역경을 극복했다. The whole term 백잘불굴 is correctly translated as indomitable spirit. It would not be off the mark to translate 백잘불굴 as fighting spirit.

In summary: Taekwon-Do has five tenets or virtues, of which two, perseverance and indomitable spirit, seem similar. Their similarity is however inaccurate because of imperfect translation from Korean into English. When we look at better translations, patience or long-suffering and fighting spirit, we see that these two terms are quite different in meaning.


Anonymous said...

Thanks. Helped me a lot on an essay I'm writing on the tenets of Tae Kwon Do

SooShimKwan said...

I am very happy to hear that. While I like to do research about Taekwon-Do just for my own enjoyment, I receive most satisfaction from it, when I hear it is of benefit to others.

I hope you do well on your essay!

ananymous said...

what is the difference between perseverance and indomitible spirit they both mean dont give up

SooShimKwan said...

Well, the point of this post was to show that the original Korean words that are translated into English as "perseverance" and "indomitable spirit" do not both mean "don't give up".

A better translation for the Korean word that is translated as perseverance, is "patience" or "long-suffering", which is different in meaning and intention from "indomitable spirit".

Thanks for dropping by.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the explanation. This is among the hardest thing to explain to my students because the English translation are so similar. I hope it is all right for me to borrow from your explanation to explain these terms to my class.

SooShimKwan said...

Hi Anonymous,

You are most welcome to use this post to explain the difference between these two concepts. I am happy that it can be of help.

Anonymous said...

I always learned that Perseverance was personal, internal drive to not give up ("I won't give up"), while Indomitable spirit was about not letting someone or something else stop me ("You can't make me give up")

SooShimKwan said...

Hi. Although your interpretations of perseverance and indomitable spirit are somewhat different from the original Korean meanings, they are nevertheless a nice and practical approach to the Taekwon-Do tenets.

gesportdo said...

Muchas gracias, por su búsqueda del significado de las bases fundamentales del arte que rige, a muchos de lo que vivimos con tanto amor ,el taekwondo