Thursday, July 17, 2008

Martial arts values

The following is excerpted from this great article at Kimsoo Karate. Check out the whole article.

As a lifelong martial arts instructor, I know that while traditional training can bring many benefits, it is also a double-edged sword.

When abused or misunderstood, or when seen as a way to power and control, martial arts can bring harm and regret to the unfortunate practitioner. Undoubtedly, martial arts training has strong potential physical and mental influence -- for both good and evil -- on students. The mental influence does not come from movements but from an individual instructor.

This is why it is critical that any student (or the parents of any student) must consider carefully, above all else, what kind of individual one would study with for mental and spiritual guidance and influence.

A tournament, sport, and sparring-oriented instructor will teach values such as aggression, dominance, and mental focus on one thing above all else: winning the match and taking home the trophy. To achieve the mental strength and focus required to triumph above all competitors is a great achievement of athletics. But pursuit of this goal and these values can rarely come without scorning development of humility, patience, respect, and sincerity. Those contrary, aggressive traits do not have to be spoken aloud for their influence to be felt in students' lives.

Unfortunately, although martial art movements do not develop aggressive personality traits, some organizations' consistent over-emphasis on competition has resulted in a negative, harmful spiritual environment in martial arts dojangs.

The instructor interested in assisting students become better human beings, build their characters, develop self-esteem, confidence, sincerity, humility and responsibility is not likely to have trophies lining the front windows of his school. In a traditional class, the visitor is much more likely to see emphasis on formality, etiquette, non-violent behavior, full control of techniques, forms of old Grandmasters, student cleaning of the dojang, and a Training Hall Oath.

Instruction which only teaches the physical, technical side of martial arts, in order to fight and win tournament trophies, will turn out violent people with troublemaker attitudes. Traditional values and a scientific teaching method will shepherd students' bodies, while instilling virtues of sincere attitude, confidence, self-esteem, and modesty. Such traditional training will produce a mentally and physically balanced person. A scientific teaching method entails (among other things) proper breathing, rhythm, dynamic balance, and movements which are studied and refined to allow the maximization of speed and power without causing either sudden or progressive injury to the body.

What strengths or virtues do you think your martial arts practice has developed within you? How does your training or environment promote these virtues or strengths? Do you think your training has contributed to overdevelopment of any particular aspect of your personality?


  1. The strawman argument in this article is appallingly blatant.

    The author of this article starts by asserting a bogus premise with a clear bias: "A tournament, sport, and sparring-oriented instructor will teach values such as aggression, dominance, and mental focus on one thing above all else." (emphasis mine)

    As with most things, there are good coaches and bad, good instructors and bad. Pat, suffice for now to say that I disagree with the entire perspective being asserted by the author of that article. I'll give this some thought and try to post a response on my blog answering the questions you've posed as well as hopefully providing an alternative to the position of this guy's article.

    I'll give you one thing. This article is provocative. :)

  2. Like Steve, I strongly disapprove of this article, for so many reasons that I'd have to write an entire article in response!

  3. Cool! I can't wait to see y'all's extended comments on your blogs. You're right, Steve. It sure is a provocative article ;-)

    But despite the author's having missed the boat regarding the nature of sparring arts, I didn't read that as his central theme. What I got from it was this:

    The way you train in a given art can lead to over-developing some traits and under-developing others. I was curious as to what folks thought they were over- or under-developing in their particular practices.

  4. Well, I've given that article probably more attention that it warrants. If you'd care to read my response, check it out. I wish I had more time to devote to my post, but I have other commitments.

    Specifically, regarding the questions you ask, I would say that our school is well run and very well balanced. Honestly, the biggest issue I have with BJJ and the BJJ culture is a pride that results in a reluctance to acknowledge alternative styles and alternative methods as being legitimate or worthwhile. This is far from pervasive in the style, but I'd say it's the most common form of arrogance I've seen and one that I try to be wary of.

  5. Having gone to my fair share of karate tournaments, I can see where Kim Soo gets his angst and strong opinion.

    I think perhaps speaking in those absolutes is a bit strong though.

  6. It's good to read this after learning recently that admitted murderer Hans Reiser used his black-belt level Judo skills as a latent threat to his wife, and eventually choked her to death.

    My own training has been, luckily, not the hard competitive style. Even my Judo instructor, who was raised up in a very competitive dojo, is constantly pointing out the fact that we don't compete, and we talk about that side of the practice.

    I don't think competition is as bad as the quoted author makes it sound. However, I've noticed that competitive dojos attract competitive people, and some of them will do absolutely anything to get to the top. This is, in my opinion, why you see (rarely though) students come in off the street and take on black belts with ease. Especially if the black belt just doesn't care about competitive fighting.

  7. I see the author's point, but it does slip into the Karate Kid Cobra Kai bad guys vs. Mr. Miyagi's lone student.
    A little sterotyped, but I'm sure the model exists.
    Our Taekwon Do school (one of the largest organizations in Oregon)was very competitive but very structured and polite.

  8. Tournaments are optional at our dojo but I have been to my share. The children’s division normally has the greatest number of competitors. The worst example I saw came from a parent not an instructor. A young boy, who was a local favorite, competed and was awarded second place. His father came out of the stands, grabbed the trophy and handed it back to the center judge. He explained that his son does not accept second place. The boy was crying as they left the tournament.

  9. Ha, DR. I was also thinking about The Karate Kid when I was reading this article about instructors teaching aggression and domination as virtues.

    Michele and Ikigai, I have seen a few bozos like that at karate tournaments. Most memorable was a tournament official having to physically restrain and escort out a coach who was ranting at his player, who I think was also that coaches son.

    I haven't seen any of that sort of nonsense at any judo tournaments ever. It is simply not tolerated, at least at the local and regional level tournaments I've been to.

    And something that surprised me - After seeing early UFC and that sort of thing I thought that MMA and non-judo grappling was really cool, but populated by testosterone junkie a-holes. I was completely wrong. The grappling tournaments I've been to have been hard-fought but before and after the matches there was a sense of almost brotherly (sisterly) affection and concern for one's opponents. This was a truly remarkable environment with none of the immature posturing I've seen at karate tournaments and even better than the judo tournament environment because the civility in judo is imposed by the referees to create a sense of decorum whereas the civility in other grappling tournaments seemed more brotherly.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...