Board-breaking, nunchuck-twirling, high-flying-acrobatic-drop-kicking—the martial arts are a dazzling spectacle. No wonder why my Dominican brothers want me to come out of my (ten-year) “retirement” from Tae Kwon Do. If people like to see kids, turtles, pandas, and men with red beards do karate, they will definitely be fascinated to see a fighting friar. I can see the title of my next movie: “Kung Fu Friar and the Quest for the Golden Rosary”—a box-office hit.
But martial arts are more than just a way of entertaining the crowds. They are more than just physical training for self-defense. The most important thing that I learned from my years of training in Tae Kwon Do as a kid was the moral formation. My master would drill us on the “Ten Commandments of Tae Kwon Do.” Here is what we had to recite at the beginning of every class:
Be loyal to your country.
Be a good son or daughter to your parents.
Be faithful to your spouse.
Be on good terms with your brothers and sisters.
Be loyal to your friends.
Be respectful to your elders.
Respect and trust your teachers.
Use good judgment before killing any living thing.
Never retreat in battle.
Always finish what you start.
I am forever grateful for the self-discipline that I learned from Tae Kwon Do. I am thankful because drilling these rules into my head helped me to stay out of trouble. I became a better man to my family and to everyone else around me, thanks to Tae Kwon Do. But I found something lacking every time I recited the “Ten Commandments of Tae Kwon Do.” My body was trained from all the physical exercise, my mind was trained from all the daily meditations, and even my conscience and decision-making were formed from the moral teaching of martial arts. But my heart was lacking formation. Tae Kwon Do taught me obedience, but this obedience was lacking in love. I obeyed my parents, but that did not necessarily mean that I loved them.
I realized then that only God can form the heart. Only through God can all our actions be ordered, and ordered in love.
Here are the Ten Commandments from Divine Revelation:
I am the LORD, your God: you shall not have strange gods before me.
You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.
Remember to keep holy the LORD’s Day.
Honor your father and your mother.
You shall not kill.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods.
The Ten Commandments are not a list of rules imposed on us against our freedom. They are instructions on how we should love. When the rich young man asked Jesus what good he must do to gain eternal life, the Master instructed him that he should keep the commandments of the Lord. These commandments are to be followed because these commandments come from God, the “One who is good” (Matthew 19:17)—”the supreme Good and the source of all good” (CCC 2052).
And then the Master instructed the young man to empty himself of the world and to follow his Master in order to reach perfection. The heavenly Master reminds us that the commandments are for our perfection, aided by the counsels of obedience, poverty, and chastity. In this we are able to love God and our neighbor with an undivided heart.
If we truly want to serve in love, then our hearts need to be formed for greater love. The Commandments are indispensable guides for living in love, which is why Moses told Israel to “drill them into your children” (Deuteronomy 6:7). Every time we recite the 10 Commandments we are reminded of the instruction of our Master, who freed us from the slavery of sin: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Following these divine commandments, we will not only obey; we will lay down our lives.
Image: Katsushika Hokusai, Martial Arts