Win or Learn: Employing Pil-Sung in Your Life


In its rawest form, Pil-Sung is about persisting until you win.

General Choi, the founder of Tae Kwon-Do, used to say,

“if you can’t beat them with your feet, use your hands. If you can’t use your hands, bite them to death. If you can’t bite them to death, will them to death.”

Obviously, we don’t condone biting, and we aren’t using this martial art in a combat setting, but the message is clear: never give up, no matter what.

So, let’s talk about the origin of Pil-Sung. 

We spell it Pil-Sung. But the actual Korean spelling is “Pil Seung.” We made it more phonetic when we saw people were confused about the spelling and pronunciation. The meaning of Pil-Sung, though, has never changed. 

The literal translation comes out to something like “certain victory”. The more traditional version comes out to “certain victory through indomitable spirit and courage.”

What Pil-Sung signifies is that we get a win out of everything we do. It doesn’t mean that we win at everything that we do, like tournaments and special awards. It means that if we compete in a tournament or if we are up for an award and we lose, we develop better ways of training in order to come back stronger, and eventually we will win in the traditional sense. 

The same applies outside of the dojang as well. In school, you can employ Pil-Sung when it comes to things like tests. Say you get a low grade on a test. Or worse, you fail the test altogether. Someone who follows and embodies Pil Sung reflects on what went wrong, makes adjustments to the way they study, works harder, and eventually gets the better grade. 

But in that scenario, the better grade is not the win. The student becoming better at studying and improving their overall work ethic are the true wins, according to Pil-Sung. 

While they don’t use the actual phrase “Pil-Sung,’ you hear this idea echoed out in the world. For instance, a popular phrase you hear a lot in business settings is “win or learn.” Same idea.

My very first Grand Championship was an out-of-town tournament. Back in those days, you couldn’t stow your trophy underneath the plane, so you had to bring it on with you. And these things were pretty big.

So, here I am, walking down the aisle of this plane carrying this huge trophy that I’d won. Naturally, everyone on the plane oohed and ahhed at it as I walked by. I’ll admit, part of me got a pretty fat head about it.

“Sorry ma’am… I didn’t mean to bump into you with my giant Grand Championship trophy!”

But, those plane rides are a lot different when it’s someone else carrying that trophy. You spend the time going back over your fight, trying to figure out what you did wrong, and what you will do differently next time. You become almost like the teacher and student at the same time. As long as you use that time to learn, you’ve won. 

Pil-Sung helps to ensure that you move through life in a positive way. Even though an important part of Pil-Sung is reflection, instead of dwelling in the past and letting your failures or shortcomings hold you back, it gives you the ability to use those failures to help you become better.


Master Gorino’s Tae Kwon-Do offers a trial program for individuals and families in Buffalo, NY and the surrounding areas that allows you to get a feel for the different classes, meet our instructors, and experience our dojang. It’s a great way to see if Tae Kwon-Do is right for you. To learn more or to sign up, register online or call (716) 836-KICK (5425) and a member of our team will follow up with you on next steps. We look forward to helping you achieve your goals. Pil-Sung!



Your browser is out of date. It has security vulnerabilities and may not display all features on this site and other sites.

Please update your browser using one of modern browsers (Google Chrome, Opera, Firefox, IE 10).

WordPress Video Lightbox