[FOUNTAIN] A Sound Attitude to Sound Bodies

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[FOUNTAIN] A Sound Attitude to Sound Bodies

"A sound mind in a sound body." This slogan was on the walls of gyms and in elementary, middle and high schools throughout Korea from the Japanese colonization period until the 1980s. Its message, interpreted as glorifying physical strength, served not only the militarism of imperialist Japan but also the needs of the military regime after liberation. The slogan was also used to justify the extremely exacting training of physical education teachers.

Although the slogan is so famous that it has a place in Korean language dictionaries, its interpretation is extremely controversial. It suggests that a person without a sound body does not have a sound mind. Even if we do not include those who are simply not athletic, it certainly severely demeans the physically disabled.

The saying originates from a poem by Juvenal of ancient Rome. Yet not only is its translation inaccurate, but its interpretation is exactly the opposite of what the poet meant. Decimus Junius Juvenalis, or Juvenal, the most famous satirical poet of the Roman period, left five volumes of poetry. The phrase in question is in the 10th poem of the fourth volume, and is considered one of his best works. The poem examined various human desires - for wealth, power, fame, longevity and beauty - one after the other, and warned readers that desires bring, without exception, disappointment and risk. The poet emphasized that what men should truly hope for was simply "a sound mind in a sound body, and a brave heart."

Interestingly enough, the poet reportedly wrote the phrase while he was looking at the shiny, oiled muscles of Roman gladiators. He is said to have been saddened by the elevation of body over mind and wished as he wrote that the ignorant gladiators might have had the ability to think. The poet obviously was not a fan of one of the dominant trends of his era - extreme physical training.

These days, it is hard to find the slogan, because society has become democratized and people are more understanding of the physically disabled. On Thursday, this year's professional baseball season was opened with the ceremonial first ball tossed by Adam King, a disabled Korean child adopted by an American family. Nine-year-old Adam, who is missing both legs, was bright and cheerful, and touched the audience's hearts.

Hirotada Ototake, 24, a famed Japanese man who is missing his arms and legs, married his university love on March 25. The story of Mr. Ototake, who overcame physical challenges with willpower and optimism, is planned for inclusion in an elementary school textbook in Korea. Now, we have a shameful question to put to ourselves. If Adam King and Mr. Ototake were raised in Korea, would they have grown up as cheerfully as they did?




by Cho Hyun-wook

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