Learning Wisdom

I have read, with disgust, many stories of teachers molesting their students, bilking students out of money and creating cult-like schools. People fall for this and are easily misled because they believe that a martial arts expert is automatically an expert in everything. To misquote Bruce Lee, “We are not all wise men…”

Both martial arts students and teachers all seem to think that martial arts education imparts wisdom. The teacher is many things to his student, when in fact, he may not be qualified to play some of those roles. The martial arts teacher may be in the arts for several decades and the only expertise he has is in the technical side of the martial arts. Martial arts knowledge does not bequeath fighting skill, fighting skill does not lead to teaching skill, teaching skill does not lead to wisdom. Teachers and Masters must know their place, and be disciplined and humble enough to stay in that place.

I have two good friends, one Chinese and the other African American, who had been friends since the 1970s. In the mid 80s, the Chinese friend encouraged a group of his students not to leave for college, and instead remain in town to complete their martial arts education. My African American friend was terribly offended by this and voiced his opinion. His complaints:

  1. YOU aren’t making a good living at this, why would you lead these young men away from the path where they would make a living?
  2. They won’t be accepted as a teacher like you; they are Black. What future would they have doing what you do, in a Chinese-dominated industry?
  3. How dare you convince young men from pursuing an education when they fought so hard to get college acceptance letters? They already have two strikes against them: they are poor and they are Black. Now a third, they’ll be uneducated.

Twenty years later, both my friends still teach, they are actually prospering. But the young men? There were four. Only one is teaching and doing well. Fortunately, he used his winnings from competition and teaching, and completed his education. He is a master chef with a good job with Hilton, and has income to open a nice school in a downtown area with wealthy clients. The other three? One drives a cab. One drives a truck. I hadn’t heard about the fourth. None of those three are involved with the arts.

I agree with my African American friend, but for a different reason. First, the martial arts is a difficult business. However, there is good money to be made in the arts. I just don’t measure success in terms of financial rewards. Secondly, social acceptance in the art, being amiable or popular have NO bearing on one’s ability to make a living. Take me, for example. I am disliked greatly in the FMA world. I don’t have many FMA people I do like. I am seen as a troll by some, jealous by a few, and unqualified by others. But none of those things hurts me or my reputation as a fighter or teacher. In the Chinese martial arts community, I am seen as a senior teacher and I’m not Chinese. One thing I have that many don’t have is skill. It goes a long way in the martial arts community. College education? Irrelevant.

I know the four young men, and none were exceptionally talented. And that is why I thought it was a bad idea to talk them out of a formal education. A martial arts education, in my opinion, is just as valid, however. These young men were decent as martial artists. They just weren’t die-hard expert material. They had to think about what they wanted to do. The path to instructorship in the martial arts is not a decision or a career goal; it is a calling. If you have to be convinced, it simply isn’t for you.

My point of all of this is this:  My Chinese friend, while an expert in the art of fighting–is not an expert in life. He is not wise. Without getting into his personal business, Kung Fu is the only thing he had going for him. He is not an authority on finding a spouse, he is not a spiritual leader, he is not a guidance counselor. He is not a family therapist. He is not qualified to turn misbehaving children into obedient soldiers. He cannot teach anyone the value of life. If you’re depressed, he is no qualified to hear your problems than the pretty librarian at the  local library. He can teach you a form, he can show you how to generate power out of a kick, he can teach you to prevent getting your butt kicked by three guys. But he does not have the wisdom to guide young men into anything but the martial arts. And apparently, he is not even qualified to recognize teacher material either.

The martial arts teacher must understand this about himself. He is not that old monk from the Kung Fu movies who tells the young fighter to make amends with his father. He will never have to tell a student to forgive an old enemy and not kill him. The way martial arts are taught, I doubt if any of the masters of the past possessed this kind of wisdom. They had a high rate of divorce. Most were broke. Many were alcoholics, used drugs, and without their martial arts legends to keep their story going–most were by our definition, losers. The martial artist, if he gave his art what it needed to rise to the level where he would be dominant in his community, probably ignored everything in his life in order to master his art. Therefore, the martial arts master is most likely only a master of the art he teaches. Hate to burst your bubble, but it’s true.

Most of the martial artists I have known over the years have been womanizers or woman abusers. Few were “normal” guys. The ones who were “normal guys” weren’t all that great at the arts. Something about the arts, if you hadn’t noticed…. it keeps us looking fit and trim and young. We are good looking men for our age. We are vibrant, and we have healthy sex drives. You know what happens when you combine a good looking guy, with a strong drive, a gleam in our eye for a dream school we will never achieve? Um, yeah. We divorce because our wives don’t support our dreams. They want us to close our schools and get “real” jobs. We, in turn, become single men who run businesses where our kids’ moms are single and looking to us to fill in where their Dads won’t. Don’t shake your heads, I’m speaking truth right now…. Few of us who struggle are still married.

On the other end, the martial artists who excel in the art are a little more high strung than most guys. We have hot tempers–forget all that calm crap you think we’re supposed to represent, I’m speaking about fighters–so we are prone to arguing and fighting. Our up and down relationships. Other teachers. Guys at the bar. Cops. I don’t know about you, but in my circle of martial arts friends, most of my friends who are good fighters and train regularly seem to all have legal histories, myself included. I sure hope you didn’t think you were coming to FFSL to get lied to. There is a disproportionate percentage of people in our field who have had fist fights past the age of 25, and you can blame the training. Hot temper is a by-product of good training. Yeah, put that in your “Back-to-School” advertisements. Want to curb it? Stop sparring and training hard. It’s that simple.

The martial arts has many benefits. But we mustn’t act as if the arts were replacements for Ritalyn, it doesn’t cure Adult ADHD, and it sure as hell won’t solve relationship woes. We are not training to learn to be honest men. Our arts do not make us better citizens, just because we practice 1,000 punches a week. There have been many masters who have combined philosophy, morality, and fighting arts–but those things are not side effects of training. If you wish to be a wise martial arts teacher, study philosophy or religion. If you happen to be involved in an art where that is already done, then good for you. For the rest of us, we are not automatically becoming wise in anything but martial-related things when we train–and even then, we are only becoming wise in the fields that we pursue our expertise in. What virtues I possess outside of martial arts related topic, I achieved through reading and studying my religion. But I claim no expertise in anything but what I teach. The martial arts teacher must understand that he is a teacher of the arts, and nothing else. The martial arts student must understand this as well. Martial arts masters are not wise old sages, who impart lessons of life, love and secrets about them. If we fully understand that, we can then avoid cult-like schools and masters, and bad decisions made at the hands of teachers who don’t know their place.

Thank you for visiting my blog.