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Our Identity

D.K. Jang, Sa Bom Nim


Those of us who have Soo Bahk Do studios often refer to our studio members as students and assume that everyone means the same thing when they say that. In this article I would like to share ideas about three different kinds of membership. My three basic types are the “client,” the “student,” and the Jeh Ja-a Korean term that means something like “disciple” in the sense of total dedication (and not as a religious follower). These three types have helped me to think about different training relationships and the ways that we spread Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan.

For me, the relationship between Sa Bom and Jeh Ja is the best model, but it is easier to understand this relationship by comparing it to other possibilities. Take clients, for example. The clients or customers come to the Do Jang with the intention of buying a product and may expect gratitude from the business owner. This economic relationship gives the customer a certain control because it is their demands that must be met in order to keep them training. The Sa Bom, or seller, has less control. He or she must offer a program or personality that meets client demand, or the clients leave. The limits on the potential for human relations are pretty obvious.

We use the words “instructor” and “student” all the time and take their meaning for granted. The kind of student type I am referring to here comes to the Do Jang to achieve a goal but also comes with conditions. He or she is anxious to learn new techniques, attain higher rank, and often trains very hard. Yet many students separate their Soo Bahk Do practice from any moral values. They tend to leave when they have finished the program (passed their dan test), and carry with them no value beyond the techniques themselves.

When an instructor treats a participant as a student, he or she concentrates mostly on techniques and the information that is required to pass tests. The instructor may grade the students in the sense of labeling who is “good” or “great” or “not that good,” based on their technique. There is distance in the human relations and no passion or moral value in the practice. The instructor may encourage selfishness and competitiveness as the student is taught to measure him or herself against others and to always try to top them. The instructor is self-centered, taking credit not only for “my student” but also for the accomplishments of the student as “my information” or “my techniques.”

The Jeh Ja is very different from both the client and the student. In Korean, Jeh means brother or sister, and Ja means child. The term Jeh Ja suggests that the junior is part of the family, the Moo Do family, with a Sa Bom who acts as a parent/brother. To the extent that the Jeh Ja is a disciple, he or she is a disciple of Soo Bahk Do-just as the Sa Bom is a disciple of Soo Bahk Do. The responsibility of the Sa Bom is to provide the connection to the Art and to always work to deepen that connection.


Any martial arts school can have client/owner or student/instructor relations. The Sa Jeh relationship (Sa from Sa Bom, Jeh from Jeh Ja) only happens in the Moo Do world, within the Moo Do philosophy; it is an unconditional relationship between two Moo Do In (Moo Do practitioners) and it is at the heart of our art.


Again, contrast can help me to explain my thoughts. The client and the studio owner do business with the techniques and the philosophy. Though the senior may provide informational materials, neither client nor owner really practice the philosophy; the owner wants the client to buy it. With the student and the instructor, the relationship is based in the authority of the instructor and the instructor's power to label one student as better than another or to neglect or even dismiss a student for not meeting the instructor's demands.


Within the Sa Jeh relationship, the primary duty of the Sa Bom is to nurture without conditions and to learn from the nurturing. The Sa Bom learns from the mistakes of the Jeh Ja; he or she does not show disappointment or create conflict. Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee wrote that the purpose of Soo Bahk Do Moo Duk Kwan is Hwal, a Korean word that suggests the cultivation of life in both moral values and physical values. Both practitioners work on this cultivation as the Sa Bom helps the Jeh Ja to identify with the art–in the words of Kwan Jang Nim, to find “the Art and I.” The Sa Bom shares the history and philosophy as well as the techniques in order that the Jeh Ja may help to strengthen the traditions.

All of us have had very rewarding relationships in Moo Duk Kwan but we also know that growth and change can be very challenging at times. The Sa Jeh relationship is not always easy. Maybe there is a time the Jeh Ja wants to pull away from the Do Jang. It is up to the Sa Bom to believe in the relationship and continue to nurture Moo Do values. Both sides walk on the same path, together in their loyalty to each other and to Moo Do philosophy. If the junior goes against the wishes of the Sa Bom, the need is to somehow guide the Jeh Ja back to Moo Do values, while not enforcing dominance for its own sake.

At the same time the Sa Bom must have the courage to be forgiven by the Jeh Ja if he or she makes a mistake. Such courage makes it easier for the Sa Bom to forgive–an act that is difficult but necessary to nurturing. The Sa Bom cannot love selectively, just as the Moo Do In cannot select only one or two of the Eight Key Concepts to observe. He or she must give all to his or her juniors (even if they act like clients) in the effort to create trust and integrity and to connect juniors and seniors as Moo Do practitioners.

In the Sa Jeh relations, both sides have the responsibility to care for each other. They breathe together, they sweat together, they can smell each other in the sense that one Moo Do In recognizes and is drawn to another. In this way the Moo Do In together create the true Pyung Ahn, the human relations that lead to peace. This is how I understand Oneness. The bond between the Sa Bom and the Jeh Ja, between the Art and I, must be one. The Art does not abandon anyone; Moo Duk Kwan has never abandoned me, no matter how I have been. It only nurtures and encourages me.

What makes me think I can talk to others about these things? It is part of the way that I connect myself to the art. I believe I must have the Sa Jeh attitude toward all members of our Do Jang and the larger Federation because this is the most direct way to practice our philosophy and create the trust and loyalty to maintain our traditions. I feel I owe it to my Moo Do family to help strengthen connections, but it also makes me happy in a way that money or even techniques cannot do.

Yet it is also true that the time is critical; we cannot postpone our efforts to accomplish Mission 2000. The late Kwan Jang Nim Hwang Kee worked throughout his life to share his tremendous love for the Art. He left his philosophy to his son and to all his other children of all ages and backgrounds. Kwan Jang Nim grew up within the love and trust and loyalty of Moo Do, which helps to explain why we all admire him so much. There are no separations between his personal life and his public life; it is all the same, all Soo Bahk Do. He keeps nothing to himself, but like his father, lets the clear, clean stream of Moo Do philosophy flow freely.

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