Humility and Arrogance in the Martial Arts, part II

This is a continuation of an article I wrote almost a year ago, simply entitled “Humility and Arrogance in the Martial Art”. Take a look when you get done with this article, you might find it interesting.

There is something you find in the martial arts that really irks me–arrogance AS humility. Need a definition?

You ever meet a martial artist who thinks he’s “all that and a bag o’ chips” but tries to act like he’s a humble guy? Sort of a chump acting like a tough guy acting like a lamb? Ooo… somebody get my stick. And quite often, the guy acting humble is in no way as good as he think he is, although he tries to act like he thinks he’s just “okay” skilled? Whew!

I’ll give another example. I was with a group of martial arts teachers in 99 at the end of a tournament. We were discussing technique and tournaments when a man approached who had a background in Kenpo and Aikido. I remember that his last name was Bader, because some of the guys joked that “Master Bader was coming”. This guy was the most obnoxious because not only did he look to discredit every point made by anyone in the group, he also attempted to act as if he knew more than the rest of us while maintaining that he only knew “a little”. Basically, he was an arrogant man who wanted to act like he was a Master pretending to be a novice. Very annoying. So finally, when discussing the backfist–which he stated was not a powerful weapon–I offered to prove to him that powerful backfist strikes worked, and that he would not be able to stop it if I used it.

“Show me.”

Sorry, but you’ll need to put on this headgear. You know the rest of the story.

(He declined)

See, martial artists have been watching these old Kung Fu movies and they think that they have to act humbly, and acting humbly will somehow make them look more knowledgeable. Well I have news for you. This only works if you really don’t want anyone to know that you are a good martial artist. But in the case of the fake humble martial artist, his humility is an act. He really wants people to think he’s good, and he really wants people to know that he’s a good martial artist. So in the case of Master Bader, the Kenpo and Aikido technician who doesn’t like hurting tournament fighters, although he thinks we can’t fight… his nickname is quite fitting.

But why do people do this? Is it really arrogance? I don’t think so. I believe that most of the martial artists who do this are really unsure of themselves, and pretending to not know anything protects them from challenges from the “show me” people. It may also be an excuse for martial artists who lack skill, in case they are questioned about what they know or don’t know. All I know is, this is not the way of the martial artist. Sorry. “Always a student”? That’s a technique collector. Either that, or it’s a guy who is too quasi-humble to say, “I know what I’m doing.” Martial artists, for some reason, have a hard time saying that, and they really don’t like hearing anyone else say it.

And I just love when somebody says, “You don’t know all of us, how can you make such generalizations/sweeping statements?”  Why not? I’ve done this for 30 years. I’ve faced hundreds of opponents. I think I’ve seen enough for my “generalizations” to be pretty solid facts. If your doctor told you without seeing you, that he thinks your illness is “just a cold”, you’re not going to question him and insist on running lab reports, right? Why is the martial artist any different?

Oh, because we’re not supposed to act like we know what we’re talking about. NO, we’re supposed to act like we’re acting like we don’t know what we’re talking about, but really we DO know what we’re talking about, but we’re just acting like we don’t really know.

Oh em gee. That’s too much. Is the life of a warrior that damned complex?

Oh, excuse me, I’m not a warrior. I’m just an uneducated guy who’s been doing this art all my life, but in reality I chose this profession because I’m not bright or hard-working or ambitious enough to get a real job, and all I know is…. um, three little styles containing only a few self defense moves. But I’m still learning, so all I can do is teach a few techniques I was lucky enough to pick up by hanging around the real masters, but I’m always a student so if I can learn by teaching you I willl, although the goal is to help people grow which is all I really want out of the martial arts–to mind my own business and you do your thing and I do mine…

Would you like a lemon-grass, liver-and-brussel sprout smoothie to go with your khaki shorts and sandals and rainbow sticker and Volkswagon Beetle?

No, the martial artist is not supposed to be humble. We are not supposed to be troublemakers, but if you are teaching and you don’t think you’re the best in the business, you shouldn’t be IN the business. I mean, you’re teaching people to save their own lives and protect loved ones! Really, would you trust the safety of your wife and children to a man who can’t even frikking admit that he can teach you to kick someone’s ass? Ooo! Don’t use profanity, Mustafa! That’s so rude! You’re kidding right? The bad guys are fully confident that they can take on most people–or they wouldn’t be in this business–but you don’t want a teacher who can assure you that he’s better than Ronald McGuro up the street because he might “offend” somebody?


I’m sorry, but if I was looking for a teacher, and he told me that the Guro up the street is a better fighter…. I’m joining the dojo up the street. If I couldn’t fight, and my son is getting picked on at school, I’m taking him to study with the toughest teacher in town. And I don’t have time to decipher if this guy really doesn’t know his stuff or he’s just pretending. That, my friends is called “playing games”, and no one in this business should be engaging in that kind of thing.

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