Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Scouts and the Martial Arts

Since the beginning of the Scouting Movement in the late 1800s, Scouting has had an association with Martial Arts.  Scouting began as a sort of paramilitary organization intended to prepare, well, military scouts.  It makes sense that there would be a martial arts or combatives component to Scouting.
People all over the world rapidly saw the benefits of Scouting for youth development apart from the military and over the years the association between Scouting and martial arts has become largely obscured.
One of the original 14 Badges of Merit in the BSA was the Master at Arms award.  Master at Arms had only one requirement (albeit a rather stout one) - "Master (or attain proficiency in) at least two (some pamphlets said three) of the following subjects"
  • single stick (fencing),
  • quarterstaff,
  • fencing,
  • boxing,
  • ju jitsu,
  • gymnastics, and
  • wrestling
The quarterstaff, or scout staff was a standard piece of gear for all Scouts until well into the 20th century and now it is still an optional piece.  Single stick was an exceptionally useful Scout martial art because Scouts are always near sticks.

The BSA's current Guide to Safe Scouting states,

  • Boxing, karate, and related martial arts—except judo, aikido, and tai chi—are not authorized activities.
Some years ago I communicated with some of the BSA upper ups and it seems that the original idea of whoever came up with that rule was that boxing and karate were "against the spirit of Scouting" because they were offensive, attacking arts and the common perception of aikido and judo was that they were defensive arts.  IKR, stupid, but that's how I try to understand what they were thinking.  Now I think that the martial arts prohibition in BSA is almost certainly an insurance thing.

Even with the explicit exclusion of boxing and karate, the Master at Arms curriculum could easily be implemented for individual Scouts, Patrols, Troops, or Crews that wished to make martial arts or self-defense a Program Focus.
All of the activities in the Master atArms list (except boxing) could reasonably be used in partial completion of Sports Merit Badge, and the quarterstaff activity can be used in partial completion of the Scouting Heritage Merit Badge.
A Troop or Patrol or Crew would not be able to re-issue the Master at Arms as a Merit Badge, but there is nothing keeping them from issuing it as an Activity Badge based on a Master at Arms program feature.
So, are there any local Scouts or Venturers up for a Master at Arms program feature involving judo, aikido, quarterstaff, and/or single stick fencing - because I might happen to know a Scouter around here that could make that a reality.

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Patrick Parker
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