History and Meaning of Taegeuk
The Korean Taegeuk is a symbol with a rich and meaningful history dating back thousands of years. Its roots extend to the Chinese classic, the I-Ching, a text originally used for divination and fortune telling circa the tenth century BCE. The I-Ching, commonly referred to as The Book of Changes, introduced the foundational concepts of Yin and Yang (Eum and Yang in Korean culture) and the eight universal principles (the Bagua in Chinese culture or the Palgwe in Tae Kwon Do) that would be adapted by Neo-Confucianists, Daoist sages, and a variety of martial arts disciplines centuries later.
At it's most basic level, the Taegeuk symbol exists in a long line of Taijitu symbols like the one first conceptualized by Song Dynasty philosopher Zhou Dunyi in the 11th century CE. A Taijitu is any visual representation of the Taji (the origin of the Korean word Taegeuk), or the "Supreme Ultimate." In other words, any Taijitu, anything that might be called a "Yin-Yang Symbol" represents the entirety of the universe.
Daoist sages like Lao Tzu stress the dynamism of this concept and his words remind us that this is not meant to be seen as a static symbol. The two colors represented in the circle are constantly swirling around and into one another, forever blending, changing, and balancing one another. From this interpretation, it's easy to see why symbols like the Taegeuk and the concepts of texts like the I-Ching found their homes in modern martial arts which stress enlightenment through balance and attunement.
Regardless of the nature of the Taijitu symbol or the context in which it is represented, there are always some fundamental similarities in construction. Most all of these symbols will be circular in nature to represent infinity and eternity. Additionally, as Daoist sages stress, the circle also represents cycles and continual change through motion. The circle itself represents the Supreme Ultimate, the totality of all things.
Additionally, most symbols commonly referred to as "Yin-Yang" can be identified by two opposing colors swirling around one another. These two opposing colors do represent what the I-Ching identified as the two major constituent components of the universe: Yin energy (the feminine, receptive, the dark) and Yang energy (the masculine, creative, the light). These polar opposites are the source for constant struggle as well as the reason for balance. In the I-Ching and in later martial arts texts, these concepts are represented by broken and unbroken lines.
These lines can be combined into eight distinct groups of three known as trigrams. These eight trigrams represent the Bagua or Palgwe, the eight fundamental principles which comprise the universe. These eight "laws" or "commands" have been mapped onto the modern Tae Kwon Do system of poomse, or forms practice, as a way to embody and perform these principles.
Yin Energy: A Broken Line
Yang Energy: An Unbroken Line
Represented by three unbroken lines, the Keon principle is the full representation of Yang or creative energy. This principle is embodied in Taegeuk-Il Jang.
The Tae principle represents Joyfulness and its two unbroken lines remind us that it's more important to consider how to create joy for yourself and others than it is to seek ways of receiving it. This principle is embodied in Taegeuk Ee-Jang.
With receptive energy at it's core, the Ri principle reveals as light but craves to be fed like a flame. This principle is embodied in Taegeuk Sam-Jang.
The two broken lines in the Jin principle encourage us to listen carefully to our fears so that we might develop strength and confidence when addressing them. This principle is embodied in Taegeuk Sa-Jang.
The Seon principle reminds us that we can create change in the world with softness, gentility, and openness. This principle is embodied in Taegeuk O-Jang.
The unbroken line in the center of this trigram is like a river, always true to its path even as it twists, turns, and adapts to its surroundings. This principle is embodied in Taegeuk Yook-Jang.
The unbroken line in the first position reminds us to be decisive only after careful consideration. This principle is embodied in Taegeuk Chil-Jang.
Represented by three broken lines, the Gon principle is the full realization of Yin or receptive energy. This principle is embodied in Taegeuk-Pal Jang
In order to achieve a first degree black belt recognized by the Kukkiwon and the World Tae Kwon Do Federation (WT), a Tae Kwon Do practitioner must exhibit mastery of all eight of these Taegeuk forms. Rhetorical Roundhouse was designed, in part, to celebrate the embodiment and performance of these eight principles as well as the duality of the personal and universal these poomse promote. That is to say, as an individual reflects and meditates on the eight principles of Palgwe, they are embarking on a deeply personal journey. Yet, it is a path that so many others have explored before, it can said to be a uniform way. This combination of individuality and tradition is one of the reasons I believe Tae Kwon Do has found such popularity among such a diversity of practitioners all over the world.