When, and why, do we salute the flags in the dojang?
Understanding the history and the reason we salute the flags can help us better appreciate the significance and meaning behind of this solemn gesture.
History of the salute
To the experienced Moo Do In (martial artist), saluting the flags makes sense, feels natural and is a meaningful gesture to perform at specific times during class. To the beginner however, especially in western societies, saluting the flags may be an awkward experience, especially if they don’t understand the significance and meaning.
Like many aspects of the protocols we follow during class, the salute is heavily influenced by Korean culture. During the South Korean Pledge of Allegiance and ceremonial salute to the national flag, Koreans stand and, with their right hand held over their heart, recite a short passage which affirms their allegiance to their country. This ceremony if often observed at the beginning of official public events, sporting events and school assemblies and graduations(1).
The practice of saluting the flag stems from the heavy influence of the military over the Korean culture. The salute is believed to have begun during the Japanese occupation of Korea but has evolved over time. In 1949, the format was initially changed, then in 1968 a modernised version was adopted by the national school system(2), while in 1972 a presidential decree required Koreans to recite the pledge at public gathering and at the start of each week during elementary and high school(3). Although the words were again updated in 2007 to reflect societal changes, the pledge often provokes discussion about its relevance in today’s society, with some claiming the practice is outdated and a remnant of the previous military regime(4). While controversial to some, the salute and pledge are also seen as a symbol of the national bond and patriotism which unified the South Korean people after the Korean War(5).
It is not only in Korea where you may see people performing this salute. Throughout much of Latin America, the United States, Italy, Nigeria and the Philippines, the salute is given by civilians during the playing of their national anthem and at other solemn occasions(6). The gesture is also often seen in Australia performed by dignitaries and civilians when attending military ceremonies.
Significance and meaning
While we may understand where the salute comes from, understanding it’s meaning and significance gives us a deeper connection to the gesture. The martial arts are influenced by military protocol and custom, however most Moo Do In have little interest in pursuing a military career. It is therefore important to find meaning in actions such as the salute in order to make them relevant in our training.
In 2014, a Polish study concluded that the hand-over-heart gesture signalled sincere intentions from the participants, and was a trigger for increased honest and moral behaviour(7). Specifically, “the emblematic gesture associated with honesty (putting a hand on one’s heart) increased the level of honesty perceived by others, and increased the honesty shown in one’s own behaviour“(8).
Of interest, the notion of placing your hand over your heart while making a solemn oath can even be found in a letter dated 8 May 1826 from Mr Laurence Halloran to the (now defunct) Sydney Gazette(9). This demonstrates that the hand-over-heart gesture is not a new phenomenon, and has a history which extends outside Korea.
There are different ideas about how we can apply honesty in our training. By saluting the Australian flag – Australia's foremost national symbol – we are proclaiming to a higher entity than ourselves of our intentions to act in the highest moral and honest manner. This helps us create a positive frame of mind for our training to follow.
Moo Do is an action philosophy; we don’t just talk about our philosophy, we put it into action. By saluting the flags with our hand over the heart, we perform an action that directly connects us to the fourth of the 8 Key Concepts; Chung Jik (honesty). By performing a meaningful and respectful salute, we not only demonstrate our personal Chung Jik, we also connect with two of the 5 Moo Do Values of Iyok Sa (history) and Jon Tong (tradition).