Martial Arts Index

Thoughts on Wisdom in Martial Arts

by Pat Goltz

The following is a collection of questions I began to write when I was feeling the frustrations of being an older student of the martial arts. The questions are intended to act as food for thought as a person learns the philosophy of the martial arts, and develops the mental and spiritual understanding of that philosophy.

At that time, I determined at some future date to establish an organization to be known as the Wisdom Martial Arts Association. The purpose of the association would be to encourage the study of martial arts by women, the elderly, and disabled persons. It would also include the purpose of permitting these students to advance in meaningful ways, to be given the honor to which they are entitled, and to provide for meaningful ways in which they can be involved in teaching martial arts.

My thinking was heavily influenced by something Sifu Glenn Abrescy of KemScrima Doh said, when he was describing the way classes were conducted at his school in his absence. He said that in his absence, the oldest student, regardless of rank, was put in charge of the class. This student was responsible for everyone's conduct. At the beginning of class, the oldest student would formally request that the student of highest rank conduct the class on his behalf. This gives respect and honor to the oldest student, while at the same time allowing the most physically competent student to give the students the best training. Sifu Abrescy also said that a person with a white belt who is older knows more than a person of advanced rank who is younger.

My thinking was also heavily influenced by two other things. The first is that in the school where I studied judo, all adult students line up ahead of all children, regardless of rank. Furthermore, a person cannot earn a black belt in judo before the age of sixteen, regardless of skill, but will be awarded a purple belt instead. The second is that I learned that in one Japanese system of karate, a person will not be given the rank of fifth degree black belt until he has reached the age of fifty, because it is believed that such a person lacks the necessary wisdom to qualify for the rank.

These questions attempt to recognize both major systems of philosophy in the martial arts: Asian, and Christian.

I invite your comments.

These are the questions:

Describe the significance of respect in the martial arts.

Tell in what ways respect is appropriately expressed, paying particular attention to the fact that a person of high rank is entitled to respect by virtue of his or her achievement, and a person of advancing age is entitled to respect by virtue of having many experiences and thus more opportunity to develop wisdom.

In Asia, respect of older people is expected. At the same time, it is common for a person with more status to be heavihanded almost to the point of cruelty toward a person of lesser status. One of the positive results of this is that younger people will act honorably and work hard and diligently in order to avoid causing shame to a person who has status over him. The negative aspect is that this denies basic respect to a person of lesser status, even though as a human being alone he is entitled to respect. In thinking about this, what would be some ways in which Americans could adapt the positive aspects of status into American martial arts situations, without sacrificing basic respect and humanitarianism to which all human beings are entitled simply by virtue of membership in the human race?

In regard to the preceeding question, Confucius developed some elaborate thought on how persons of higher status should treat persons of lower status. He believed that a person of higher status, particularly a ruler, should win the affections and allegiance of the people by being fair and reasonable and setting a good example. Write a lengthy discussion of Confucius' thought and write ways in which these ideas can be incorporated into American martial arts instruction.

In regard to the thought of Confucius, contrast his approach to that of Christianity. Tell which is superior and why.

Describe the Japanese code of Budo or the code of the Hwa Rang Do of Korea.

In what way is the code of Budo or the code of the Hwa Rang Do exemplified in Christianity?

In modern times, the emphasis in the Asian approach to the martial arts has been on conquering the self. Describe in what way this is accomplished through martial arts training.

Describe the Christian equivalent.

From the Asian point of view, describe the role age plays in acquiring status. Describe why some martial arts will not award a person higher degrees of black belt until he has reached a certain age.

Name and describe the three forms of ki or chi.

From the Christian point of view, describe the dangers of exercising spiritual ki. For the Christian, what are the alternatives to practicing spiritual ki, and how can a soft martial art that makes use of spiritual ki be practiced in a meaningful way by a Christian?

Describe the use of visualization in the martial arts. How would visualization be used in a school which has the Asian philosophy? How would it be used in a school which has the Christian philosophy?

Quote the code of conduct from your martial art and from your school and fully explain it. State where the code originated.

Christian materials (from the Christian Black Belt Association) claim that the martial arts originated with the ancient Hebrews. Do you agree or disagree, and why? What are the implications for the philosophy of the martial arts to consider the code of ethics of the Hebrews as an influencing factor?

If the martial arts originated primarily in Asia, in what way would this origin have influenced the philosophy of the martial arts?

State whether you agree or disagree with the following: In the United States, the practice of martial arts has lost the balance between the physical and mental aspects of the art. If you agree, in what way has this come about? Describe the way in which the mental aspect is neglected in children, and the way in which the martial arts fail to take into account the mental aspect in promoting the older or disabled martial artist. If you disagree, support your conclusion.

Describe a method by which an older or disabled student may legitimately advance in rank even though he is physically unable to match all of the athletic requirements and correctly perform all of the techniques. Discuss the balance between the physical and mental aspects of the martial arts, and show how that can be achieved in both the older and younger student.

For your martial art, describe all of the elements of technique, and give examples of how an older or disabled student who is unable to perform one or more of them can learn to compensate by achieving excellence in other elements.

Some schools of martial arts will not advance a person to a higher degree of rank until that person has achieved a certain age. Do you agree or disagree with this practice? Explain why. It has been observed by some that the advancement in rank of younger men, who then dominate as primary instructors in the martial arts, has skewed the balance between the physical and mental aspects of the martial arts in some places. Do you agree or disagree with this? Support your answer.

Watch five episodes of Kung Fu The Legend Continues and describe the philosophical ideas which underlie the show. Discuss the validity of these ideas from both the Asian and Christian point of view. Should the networks broadcast this series without also broadcasting a martial arts show with a Christian perspective? Why or why not? Do you believe that this show and others like it are affecting the teaching of philosophy in the martial arts? In American religions? Why or why not?

Describe in detail how your martial art is or should be a way of life.

Describe how your religious faith should influence your understanding of martial arts philosophy. If you have no religious preference, describe the way in which martial arts philosophy is likely to affect your choice of a religious preference.

A poem by Confucius reads as follows:

  If there is righteousness in the heart, there will be beauty in the character.
  If there is beauty in the character, there will be harmony in the home.
  If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation.
  If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.

Explain this poem in your own words, and discuss how a person acquires righteousness in the heart. Do this from both the Asian and Christian perspective. Each line describes two elements: the first is a cause, and the second is an effect. How does each element contribute to the next element listed in the poem?

Western civilization is built upon the techniques of logical thought. Should logical thought be employed in the development of a martial arts philosophy? Why or why not? Can Zen Buddhism be used as a basis for a martial arts philosophy? Why or why not?

Name each of the religions that have influenced martial arts philosophy and describe the basic beliefs of each. Which of these religions forms the best basis for the martial arts? Why? Are the Asian religions compatible with each other? Why or why not?

Give some specific examples of ways in which you can incorporate the teachings of your religion into your martial arts instruction. Describe the ways in which you can do this without violating the religious beliefs of your students who have other faiths.

Describe your own martial arts philosophy, and tell how you arrived at it. If significant experiences in your life affected your thinking, describe them and tell how they contributed.

The following is a statement based on the code of the Hwa Rang Do of Korea: a martial artist should be drug-free and abstain from involvement in the taking of innocent human life or the commission of felonies. Discuss this statement.

The preceeding suggests that the martial artist not be involved in abortion and euthanasia as well as forms of killing which are illegal. Do you agree or disagree with this requirement, and why? If you disagree, describe the way in which a martial artist can hold contrary views and still control the use of his martial arts skills so that he does not use them to harm innocent people.

Describe in what way you attempt to exemplify the code of conduct of your martial art. What is important to you in terms of your own behavior? Do you live up to your ideals? Why or why not? What specifically can you do to improve your attempt?

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