I would like to introduce you to a concept many Guros know nothing about in the FMAs: Chivalry and martial arts virtue. One of the drawbacks to the commercialization of the Filipino arts is that those who rape these arts care only for the superficial benefits of learning the arts. They want fighting skill, technique, income from product sales, prideful bragging rights to adding another notch on one’s belt, skills to impress people.
The real change in learning the arts, if they are learned properly, is how this art changes the man inside. Sure, you will end up with strong arms and courageous heart. What makes an FMA man unique from others is the transformation from prey to predator, from just another beast in the jungle to its King. You have the ability to kill any man around you, yet those in your presence (or out of your presence) are safe from your hand and your tongue. What other schools develop this kind of fighter? You, a killer who serves weaker men, capable of taking lives–yet everyone feels safe in your presence?
We look at the art as a gift that we are fortunate enough to be granted, and therefore the art is not be misused. Only other fighters should ever have to worry. We are not men who stand by and allow others to be abused in our presence. We seem to engage in a lot more verbal altercations because we are not afraid to engage in a physical one. In situations that most people would snap their fingers later and say, “I wish I had said ___!”–we don’t, because we say it. We stop fights, when weaker martial artists would warn how stupid it would be to get involved. We are men like Alex Gong, who died trying to stop the man who broke into his car. We don’t stand by and let things happen because we didn’t spend our lives training just to be a victim… afraid to use what we’ve got. We are not fearless men–just courageous. Courageous men are those who do what we are afraid to do. That’s why I call the martial artist who don’t help victims “cowards”. They know it’s the right thing to do, but they are afraid to do it. They call us “stupid”. So be it.
The martial artist doesn’t worry about what you think. He will speak his mind and be ridiculed and argued with. He will stand alone on something he feels strongly about, even when his peers are screaming bloody murder because they are offended. When the rest of the martial arts community is going east, he’s going west. When they tout A as the best thing since slice bread, he will practice B. He is the one people often respect only when it’s popular to do so, or when he is in your presence and has just put you on your ass, or he is dead. Want an example?
Yeah, if it weren’t for his movies, most of you would have called him a fraud. (In the storm of the outrage at my “Fallacy of FMA Empty Hands” article, I wonder what would happen if I made a movie) He didn’t even prosper as a teacher because he was so different. Traditional Karate/Kung Fu people didn’t respect him when he was teaching. No, they waited until he became an actor. But you know what? He did have a few fans, but he converted those fans, one at a time–in person. Because a martial artist’s skills cannot be put into words, or demonstrated at a distance on a stage or youtube. He knows this, and that is why he doesn’t jump on bandwagons. The rest of you watch something on TV or read about it on the net, then you want to do it. He’s not convinced; you’ll have to prove it to him. He isn’t worried about any reputation other than the one he earns through his skill. Some people only worry about the reputation from the outside; he is concerned with the character on the inside. And believe it or not, fighting spirit is something you carry inside and it shows when you are actually fighting. Everything else is superficial.
There is a regal quality real martial artists must display away from the art and school, and this is where the chivalry of a martial artist is displayed. It has nothing to do with being a “great guy” and “supernice”. These are terms I always hear about some martial artists, when people are vouching for another. But they are not qualities that define you as a fighter, and they have nothing to do with the character of a martial warrior. We don’t need to win popularity contests. We don’t need to be humorous, aimiable, approachable. Those are things some people are born with, but the martial arts develops the following virtues:
- Courage. You can know all the arts in the world, be the strongest of them all, have the fastest hands, but it you choke up when the time calls for action, you are not a warrior. Period. What would you say of a police officer who allows a crime to happen while he stood by doing nothing? If that cop were a martial artist, he would say something like, “well, I’m just waiting for the real thing.” No excuse is acceptable, unless people would get hurt–and even then, I question inaction.
- Even-tempered. A warrior who cannot control his anger is an inferior one. When he fights, he is fighting for a cause, for a purpose. Not because he is in a rage. A fighter with no self-control can be destroyed by an inferior opponent who exploits this weakness. A good example? Mike Tyson vs Holifield. Where or not you think he was inferior, Evander held his composure even when being cheapshotted by Iron Mike. Mike’s rage made him forget his strategy, and Holified picked him apart. We don’t fight out of anger, we defend, we punish, and we do it because it’s the right thing to do. We are protecting people (or ourselves) and we need to be able to control our thinking and judgment while doing so.
- Honesty. The warrior can always be counted on to tell the truth. This must be a given. A warrior who lies about his background to impress people–or whatever reason–is no warrior at all. But we have people who will stand by their illegitimate Sifus and Guros and Masters and Grandmasters “because they know their stuff”, and the question is–how can the quality of that “stuff” be reliable when everything he says is questionable? Let’s say a warrior kills a man while he is alone. Who can attest that the killing was justified? And I would question the loyalty of a student who stands by a liar. Maybe it’s just me. At the risk of offending my readers, a good example is a popular Sifu’s brother here in Northern California with thousands of students. It’s common knowledge that they lied about the origins of their art. Now the brother went to jail, and students are being told that he’s in China, training the Shaolin monks. Are you serious? And you believe that? Well, one of their student tells me, I don’t care about that, all I know is, the shit works. I should slap you for that.
- He is reliable. When a warrior gives you his word, you must be able to count on him that he will keep it. Everyone know that this man is a man of his word and no one worries that they will be let down. I have this issue with one of my own students, in that he says “God Willing” whenever he makes a promise–which makes it worse. Because it’s so often that he lets people down, it’s an insult to put it on God. I have little use for people who can’t keep his word–as do anyone else. Keeping your word is one of the simplest things! All you have to do is be sincere, and be honest. And those who lack in this department have issues with their skill as well, as how can you progress your own martial arts skill when you can’t even count on yourself for anything?
- He hides the faults of his friends. It is said that a man whose friends are not safe from his tongue might as well not be safe from his hand. Do not confuse this with allowing a friend to do wrong. There is a difference. We protect the reputations of our neighbors, unless they are corrupt men. However, even the most honest, the most virtuous of us have faults, and friends do not magnify those faults. If there is a shortcoming one of your friends is guilty of having, you have a duty–as a friend–of reminding him to stay on the right path. And you also have a duty to protect how others see him, unless people are unsafe around him. Teachers who bad-mouth other teachers (this happens a lot) show how weak they are. I have an issue with people who tell me things about another man they have not said to his face. Now if this person is not treated as a friend and is an enemy instead, have at it; he’s your enemy.
- He is just to his enemies. To treat a man unjustly is wrong. We do not lie about him. We do not slander him. Because even if he is an enemy, he should be so because his character is evil. Warriors do not take good men as enemies. If you find that a good man is your enemy, you might want to look at yourself and why you count this man as your enemy. Either way, we still treat our enemies justly, and do not allow the fact that we are foes to turn us into unmerciful, dishonest men. This is why, in Islam, there is the presence of protections such as mukatab (allowing captured soldiers to buy their freedom) and other rules allowing for fair and just treatment of the enemy. Even in fighting–just fighting–the warrior must answer to a higher power that expects him to conduct himself as a man of dignity and chivalry. A good example of a fierce warrior who was praised for his treatement of his enemy? Salahuddin. Read about him here.
- People benefit by knowing you. It’s so much more than kicks and punches. You are a person who people admire, respect, and look to for advice. The martial arts journey exposes you to many more people in a leadership role than the average man, so your insight is profound on matters outside of fighting. Yet, because of your position of strongman, leader and teacher–you are able to adapt and deal with situations in ways quite different than the non-warrior. And because of this, people’s lives are enhanced by knowing you. You are a protector who knows and mentors a lot of people. That must be beneficial. Look at the people how know the grandmasters and masters of their styles on a personal level. They must have been affected in ways other than the fighting arts. This is what separates fighters from warriors, teachers from masters.
- He is of strong moral character. Going back to the premise of this article, the warrior still serves, obeys, and knows that he is subject to laws and codes of decency despite that he is powerful enough to take what he wants–even strong enough to kill the leader he serves. He is one who has no chance of becoming a tyrant, and conducts himself as a gentleman at all times. Show me a strong man of low moral character–whether he is dishonest, adulterous, indulges in alcohol and drug abuse, has a filthy mouth, or greedy–I will show you a man who will be soon undone by those traits.
This article, by the way, was inspired by a conversation I had with a young Karate teachers at yesterday’s GSKA tournament in Stockton. He seemed to be a good kid, sincere in his desire to teach good martial arts classes. However, within 10 minutes he was expressing his disgust at overweight martial arts teachers. I asked him if he had ever fought one of those overweight teachers, and of course, he said he had not. I reminded him of the saying that one should never make a judgment of another martial artist, unless he had fought against that teacher or his style–or made an offer which was declined. We spent the next 20 minutes talking about how the martial arts involved more than the technical aspects. And no, I am not speaking of the vinyl “Tenets” in the window of your dojo–nor am I talking about good grades, blah blah blah. Martial arts shapes how you conduct yourself. Some of us are more aggressive than others, some are more intellectual, and some are more likeable. But the rules of martial arts chivalry are universal. Regardless of style, you must be shaped by the art if you are to say that you have matured within the art. No man should be trusted with teaching classes who has not been taught these things.
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