Martial Arts


Master Byung Seok Lee


Re-printed with permission
Master Byung Seok Lee, King Tiger Tae Kwon Do

Editor's Note:  This article was sent to me by a good friend and Tang Soo Do practitioner in The Netherlands. It appeared in the January 1997 issue of Tae Kwon Do Times magazine. While written within the context of Tae Kwon Do, it has no boundaries and is relevant for Tang Soo Do as well as any art that utilizes the term "Master" or its equivalent. Thank you Master Lee for allowing its use here.

What Is A Sa Bum Nim?

"King, Teacher and Parents are the same, they should be treated equally"

"I am free like the wind
I live with our nature,
I am strong like a wave in the ocean;
   dreaming of being a better person.
I am powerful like an eagle;
   flying through the sky.

For so many days,
I trained and sweated hard, tasting my salt
I have trained for this day.

I accomplished many long days of physical difficulties.
I have developed both my body and mind.

I am here at the beginning with my lovable disciples.
Now I give them my body, mind and spirit,
  so this will be the tip flame of their life.

I want them to know,
Why we stand up here today,
Why we trained very hard for many days.
Why we are here together, and what our next goal is.

Early morning in darkness, we prepared for this moment.
With the lighting of the flame,
   we are also lighting our new lives.
With birth of the flame,
   we become newborn again.

We have to be a candlelight of our society,
   like a beacon for others to see.
We have to be like the tip of the flame."

(From the Black Belt Tea & Candlelight Ceremony for black belt students given by Master Byung Seok Lee)

What is a Sa Bum Nim? In America we use Sa Bum Nim as a title for a Tae Kwon Do instructor. What does this title mean? Sensei is used for Karate instructors. What is the definition of a sensei? What does it mean to be a master? Sa Bum Nim, sensei, master are all titles for certain ranks of instructors, but what do these titles mean? What are their origins?

Korean martial arts has two roots. One of the roots is from Kyungdang of the Kogooryeo Dynasty. The other root is from the Hwarangdo which evolved during the Silla Dynasty. Kyungdang was the Kogooryeo Dynasty's educational system. This form of education was for the youth of middle and lower classes. The main course of study was martial arts and moral values. This type of education started around the second century; however, similar kinds of educational systems existed before the Kyungdang which was the main educational system during the Kogooryeo Dynasty.

Hwarangdo began during the Silla Dynasty as the educational system for the youth from the upper class. This Hwarangdo was established by King Jin Hung around the sixth century. Certain youth organizations had existed before the Hwarangdo youth organization in which the Hwarangdo organization was modeled. One such organization was the Wonhwa, a young lady's organization. To be in the Wonhwa, the young women had to possess beauty and intelligence. Later, problems arose within the Wonhwa system and the Hwarangdo was formed.

Other theories about the birth of the Hwarangdo exist according to Moo Ye Do Bo Tong Ji, the first Korean martial arts textbook. There was one young boy called by the name Hwang Rang. When he was seven years old he went to the BaikJe Dynasty and learned martial arts, especially swordsmanship. Even at his young age, he was a great swordsman. Everyone in the BaikJae dynasty praised his skills. The people introduced him to their King, and one day while he was performing, he intentionally killed the King for his country, the Silla Dynasty. The people of the BaikJae dynasty became angry and killed this young man. However, the Silla Dynasty people designated a memorial day for him. A mask of his face was made and used while practicing martial arts to help teach them loyalty to their country. From this moment, what we know as Tae Kwon Do began to develop. However, when the Chosen (Yi) Dynasty came to power the fighting arts began to fade away. People were encouraged to be more scholarly and martial arts became unpopular.

During the Chosun (Yi) Dynasty, Korean arts were about to fade away until King Sun Jo experienced the invasion of the Japanese. He encouraged people to study the martial arts once again. However, not much changed. Only a few martial arts were practiced and taught to small groups. Only small groups of instructors and students existed and one instructor had about one to ten students at the most. The students followed their instructors like a father. Fellow students respected one another like brothers and sisters. This is why they addressed their instructors as Sa Bu which means "teacher like father." Nim, is a suffix that is added to Sa Bu, or other titles, and attaches the meaning of respect and love to the title. With this added dimension, the teacher and his students had a better relationship with each other, more like family. Also during this time, they introduced their instructor to others as Eun Sa Nim or Seu Sung Nim. Seu Sung Nim means one who gives wisdom and intelligence. Eun Sa Nim means someone who gives grace.

Modern day titles for instructors have changed. As advanced civilization came to Korea, its martial arts experienced many changes. Tae Kwon Do became more popular and many more started to practice it. A variety of titles for instructors arose as more people began to study martial arts. All the old titles still existed along with the new ones such as Sa Bum Nim, Kyo Sa Nim, and Sun Saeng Nim. The meaning of Sa Bum Nim is someone who teaches good moral values and to be a light of society. Kyo Sa Nim means a person who teaches others. Sun Saeng Nim (Sensei) means a person born earlier, or gained knowledge earlier than another. We sometimes use Kwan Jang Nim which only means head of an organization or head of a house. Kwan Jang Nim does not mean Grandmaster. If someone takes the name of Kwan Jang Nim, it is used under their rules, not by others.

What is master? We must look at this in the Bible. The Bible says a master, a rabbi, or a teacher is someone who has the basic foundation of others' knowledge, or someone who gave others knowledge. The foundation of one's wisdom is that who is called master. Here in America, everybody called master is a fourth or fifth dan and higher. This is not a bad idea because at least fourth dan and higher Tae Kwon Do instructors can talk about the true meaning of Tae Kwon Do and teach their disciples or students. It does not mean that third, second and first dan instructors cannot do this. Here in America hidden rules exist about masters. To be called a master, one must be fourth dan and higher and teach; and assistant instructors must be first dan and higher and teach.

I hope that however people use these titles they understand their proper meaning. If they are Tae Kwon Do instructors, they must be the epitome of the word Sa Bum (a man who is a model for others and teaches them). I hope they are all models to others and teach them ethical, moral values. As for the meaning of the word master - a man who is the foundation of wisdom and knowledge for others - all masters should teach not just one but all sides of Tae Kwon Do. Some people teach only physical values; some only moral values; some only mental values. A true instructor teaches them all.

(See also "Titles in Tang Soo Do" in the Reference section)

Home | Schools | Organizations | Events Calendar | Reference | Articles | Gallery | Who's Who
 News Archive 
| Anniversaries | Products | Testimonials | Miscellaneous | About Us | Contact Us | Submit Info

© 2007 Copyright Tang Soo Do World.  All Rights Reserved