Lessons from the Moro: Self-Denial

Okay, since people love to talk about the Moro and the people and art of Mindanao. They love to claim “Moro Eskrima” (lol), wear the sari/sarong, the pisyawit, play the kulintang, cover themselves with chicken blood (which is haram/forbidden anyway)–even say that their art is from Mindanao, but they have no interest or knowledge of the culture of the tribes of Mindanao. So, I would like to introduce a little of our culture to you, and hopefully you can find some value in what lessons the modern-day warrior can learn from my culture and art.

First, understand that the native culture of the people of Mindanao is based on the Islamic religion. So, you cannot be an Islamophobe while claiming to be doing this culture’s arts properly. Taking a piece of a culture is not really upholding a culture; by limiting yourself to a piece of a culture you are only pretending to be doing that culture. Can someone claim to be an American, but hate the Constitution, not vote, fail to pay taxes, not support the government or the people or the military? Some liberals would say yes, but I would say no–you are just pretending to be American. You may live here, you might have a passport, but to be an American you have to do more than just claim it. That’s like a man who watches gay porno and puts a rainbow sticker in his window, but he claims he’s straight. Just doesn’t make sense.

Therefore, you cannot separate Moro culture and art from its religion. You don’t have to be a Muslim, but you must respect it tenets and at some point–honor them and be knowledgeable about them. Other than that, you are just a guy wearing a dress swinging sticks and knives.

Since we are about a month away from Ramadan, I would like to introduce you to the concept of self-denial and obedience: Sayum/bihilya/magpuasa/berpuasa, or fasting.

Fasting is one of the pillars of the Islamic faith, meaning that we deny ourselves food, drink, sex, or other pleasures during daylight hours. People have a number of reasons for fasting, and they will say things like having empathy for the poor, practicing one’s strength, blah blah blah–but the number one reason we fast is because God told us to. (After all, what other reason could be more important?) Fasting has many benefits, and for the warrior, fasting is a skill as well as a principle.

Fasting is, at its heart, self-imposed suffering. No one is denying you access to anything. No one will punish you if you fail to do it. If the suffering is too great, then just pick up a glass of water and drink it–or pick up a sandwich and eat it. But the weak cannot fast. And what is a warrior, but the strongest of men? As my grandfather once told me, a man who is too weak to deny himself a bowl of rice when he is hungry, is not man enough to resist women when he is married or resist an opponent when he is scared or tired or hurt. Therefore, for the one less concerned with God’s law, fasting is a practice of self-control and inner strength.

And a warrior who can maintain a self-imposed hunger strike  will be able to discipline himself for superiority in the path of the fighting arts. Try it for a week. Wake up before the sun rises (which means no cable TV late at night) and drink water and have a meal. When the sun rises, be all business–no fun, no wasteful TV/radio, no food and no drink–until the sun goes down. It isn’t easy. If you can do this, then you understand what self-control is all about. A little bit of hunger pain and thirst is nothing compared to the warrior of old who sometimes had to endure the heat of the jungle or the desert, the cold of the rain, the fatigue, the pain of unattended injuries for weeks at a time, the swallowing of fear and suspense… and keep fighting. For professional athletes today, I would say that this is one of the things that today’s athletes have lost. Perhaps they have advanced and scientific training methods. But at their core they have become weak, undisciplined failures. These are men who cannot deny themselves the lure of women who mean them no good when they have good wives at home, children who love and look up to them, fans who admire them, million dollar salaried jobs doing what they enjoy, and a team who needs their focus. There is a saying, that a man cannot and will not rise above the level of his character. So if you ever wonder why supposedly great men-Bill Clinton, Arnold Schwartzneger, Mike Tyson, and many others–suffered a great decline when they were at the top of their field, all you have to do is look at their personal lives. These three great men who were inconceivably rich, powerful and champions, were undone by a woman. We could go further to say they were undone by their poor characters and the inability to control their lower selves–their desires that other, less successful men would not have succumbed to.

Trainers of old used to require abstinence for their pupils during training and game time. It is the reason why athletes used to leave their wives at home while they played games or went into training for championship fights. They had to watch what they eat, refrain from alcohol use, get ample sleep and focus. Isn’t this what is required of soldiers in training? Even a guy trying to get a job at Walmart must be on his best behavior when he is trying to get hired.

Fasting is what prepares you for success. Sure you can eat a Big Mac while you are learning martial arts. But if you want to be successful in the martial arts, especially when preparing for competition season, it is the guy who disciplines himself even from a cheeseburger–who will see the most success.

Fasting on a regular basis will develop this kind of strength and discipline. And for those who believe that God directed us to fast, how can any man count on you for anything when you cannot even follow the simple rules that God himself tells you to follow? Every religion I can think of requires fasting, and to have some type of self control. And we are only talking about food and water and sex. If you want to maintain focus, you must learn to fast. Develop the ability to deny yourself these things for a short period of time, and you will be on your way to understanding pain tolerance and suffering, and how the warrior is able to endure it.

Thank you for visiting my blog.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

3 thoughts on “Lessons from the Moro: Self-Denial”

  1. Very interesting topic, and an even more fascinating mindset. A mindset that I don’t see too much of. I used to be a competitive swimmer, and because of the nature of the water both cooling our bodies and adding a bit of equalizing pressure on our hearts, we were indoctrinated into training harder than most other sports would advise. “Pain” was more than just a byproduct or slogan…it was the norm. A prominent swim coach said a few years ago about a prominent swimmer (both of whose names I cannot immediately recall): “He REGULARLY visits pain zones nobody else EVER has.” Although I am far from literally living out that statement, that is the my motivating theme in both martial arts and life.

    I know you tend to scorn “movie reality”…but I believe that there can be some truths in Hollywood if properly applied in life and not taken to the Hollywood extreme. I absolutely love Rambo…NOT because of his killing prowess, but because of how tough he was presented. Yes, I know the scenes in his movies are often over the top, back, and over the top again. But if modified, there are lessons that can apply to anyone’s life, and especially in the martial arts. I also love that quote from the last “Rocky” movie, “Rocky Balboa”…where he is talking to his son and he says: “Life is not about how hard you can hit. It’s about how hard you can GET HIT and still get up and keep moving forward.” And from the original “Terminator” movie, where Michael Biehn as John Connor fighting the Terminator says at one point: “Pain can be controlled. You just disconnect it.”

    Okay, so I admit that I don’t wanna be like Rocky and block with my face. But in my own life and way of thinking, toughness and pain tolerance are to be both admired and cultivated. I think there is something to be said for being able to increase one’s pain threshold. I actively practice this, because in both the martial arts and life, I AM gonna get hit and I AM gonna feel pain.

    Anyone can learn offense. And although often neglected, I believe anyone can learn defense, if they put their mind to it. But at some point, offense will be ineffective and defense will be penetrated…at least for me, at my ability level. But the one thing that cannot be penetrated or rendered ineffective, except by my own self, is my ability to “pull the plug” on the pain, maintain my focus, and keep going. Again, I am far from perfect in this, and I hope I don’t sound as if I am claiming to have mastered this. I have not and never will. It is just the way I divide up my focus and effort on the many things that seek my attention.


  2. I realize that I only tangentially addressed your topic in my above post. In terms of food and sex denial…well, as a Christian I am celibate unless remarried…not up for negotiation. As for food, I have gone, at various periods of time, 24, 48, and 72 hours without eating. Nothing but water. And at those times, I did not try to avoid meal situations…I sought them out. I would sit while everyone gorged and just watch, in order to add to the difficulty. Very tough, but very empowering. Again, it relates to pain control, which leads to self control, which in turn enables one to determine one’s destiny and not rely on the whims of others.

    Again respectfully,

  3. strength to put up with mental pressure and stress is really important for the warrior, almost as important as the physical power too. thank you for reminding me about the rambo and rocky character. syvester sallone does a very good job of showing this kind of discipline. i will go back an watch it again for ideas. thank you!

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