I started to name this article “The Highest Form of Martial Arts” after a conversation I overheard today. I was reading a book today (The Essential Rumi, if you must know. I happen to love poetry) and engrossed in trying to make sense of the stanzas.
Side note: Poetry and martial arts are very similar animals. On the superficial level–which anyone could interpret easily–both are simplistic and can be faked. But on a very deep level, the true essence the master is trying to impart may require the gift of understanding or intense study and reflection. One day, I will explain why I say this.
Anyway, as I read a group of young men were sitting nearby discussing Kung Fu. They are studying with a teacher I know personally, and because I know him and his type–what they talked about did not surprise me. See, in the martial arts, the apple falls near to the tree. And a teacher’s preferences, prejudices, dislikes, misunderstandings, specialties, and shortcomings will almost always be manifested in the student. Unless, of course, you have a student with the “gift of understanding” or ample time to study and reflect on his teacher’s lessons–and his own experiences. The path to growth for the martial arts student can be determined by the teacher, be limited by the teacher’s lessons, or they can surpass the teacher’s teachings.
So today I will only focus on one thing I heard: The highest form of martial arts is self-preservation.
I disagree. Not only is this statement misguided and shows the lack of progress in the art, this is a very selfish and immature belief in the art. Let me explain.
When we begin study in the art, most of us do so for selfish reasons. We want to lose weight and look good. We want to learn to fight and feel like a hero. We want to feel safe. I know those goals don’t sound very selfish to you, perhaps I should say they are “self-centered” reasons. Either way, once you develop your skills to proficiency, it is natural to want to share those skills, am I right? That is the natural path for advanced students and experts in the art; we want others to be healthier and more fit. We want others to be safe. We want to protect our loved ones. We want to teach others to do this for themselves, as did we. This is why many martial artists will most likely become a teacher or a protector of the community. Can you see where I am going next?
I would like to take it one step further, if you will.
Self-preservation is natural for any man, even one who does not know the martial arts. If you arm a man, and then attack him, the most basic thing he will do is use that weapon to protect himself and protect the people he loves.
But what about arming a man, and then he witnesses a complete stranger under attack? How many of us are prepared to risk our own lives to protect someone we have never met? We don’t know if we will be hurt in defending that person. We don’t know if the “victim” deserved to be attacked. It would take a special kind of man–a special kind of martial artist–to use his weapons and skills to come to the aid of someone we have nothing to do with.
We live in a world where people will be saved by CPR, and then turn around and sue the man who administered CPR for breaking our sternum. We will sue a police officer attempting to protect us from our own, drug-crazed child, for trying to kill us and the only way they can protect us is to kill our child. We are in a selfish, ungrateful world. I came to the defense of a woman who was abused by her boyfriend years ago–only to have the boyfriend (with the victim by his side) call the police and accuse me of attacking him. It is no surprise that many will hesitate to assist with someone in danger.
But my feeling is that fear of helping someone backfiring in our face is not the concern. I honestly believe that most people do not come to the aid of someone in danger–even a child–because of the fear or being hurt themselves. And for the martial artist to train for 5+ years, be willing defend himself–but unwilling to defend someone weaker and more vulnerable, to be disgusting and cowardly. 12 years ago, I had a student who was attacked by a small group of three men in a restaurant while with another beginner. The student defended himself well. He suffered a broken nose, but all three of his attackers suffered injuries, including broken noses and lacerations. They stopped the fight when they were too exhausted to continue fighting, and my student victoriously asked them to continue fighting and they declined. Yet his classmate did not help, and the result was that I suspended him for a month to think about the consequences of his cowardice. Out of shame, perhaps, the student never returned. Some may disagree with me and my decision to admonish my student. They were both beginners. They were both trained well, and much stronger than the average punk on the street. But even if they were advanced students, the willingness of a martial artist (or lack of it) to jump in an altercation to help someone else is true courage. Courage is not fighting a man you know you can beat. It is not struggling to stay alive. It is not having the absence of fear. Courage is doing what you fear doing, to place yourself in an unsure position, where you may be hurt–and there is NO benefit in doing so. You cannot teach courage; it is something that is a by-product of good martial arts teaching.
And that is the higher form of the Martial Arts: To use your weapons to defend someone else, when there is no benefit or threat to you or your loved ones. Consider this: A chicken will fight to defend himself or his chickens. If you are a martial artist who will only fight when threatened personally, or your family is threatened, you have the courage level of a chicken.
But fight to defend a total stranger, and I will admire you as a true hero.
I found the following clip, which should illustrate the cowardice, versus the courage of total strangers. Please watch the video in its entirety, and have a talk with yourself about this article. Thank you for visiting my blog.