When I started my training in martial arts I did not think about all of the culture, rules and traditions – “I just wanted to kick some ass!” As I was always one of the smallest on my estate I tried everything to make myself bigger and to be able to fight. So I started going to the gym and I joined a Karate club. I had a clear vision of being just like Bruce Lee.
Moving forwards 20 years and I now appreciate all of the rules, traditions and morality associated with The Art of Empty Hands, especially the aspect of “Do”. Looking around I find that the emphasis on the moral aspect of martial arts appears to be decreasing. Quite a few teachers seem to promote aggression and the disrespectful behaviours of macho men/women. Good examples of this can be observed in the worlds of Boxing and MMA where fighters try to dominate their opponent before they even step into the ring, making as much hype as possible around their persona in order to generate more money. Two fighters who highlight this particularly in my opinion are Connor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. Both are exceptional fighters with excellent skills, but they are extremely rude to and about others. Behaviours like this puts me off from watching MMA and makes me question whether these famous fighters are the best role models for young people? I personally do not think they are and I have more respect for an average fighter who has respect for others. He might not be at the top of his profession but he is a humble hero who promotes the best behaviour for the young people that take up martial arts classes.
From running my own classes I have noticed that people are drawn to moral martial arts where you can learn honour, diligence and respect and how this fits in with traditional systems such as Karate, Aikido, Ju Jitsu and others.
For me the philosophy of Karate works, giving people that train not only a physical workout, but in addition teaching them a structured, moral code. This is the essence of the phrase “Karate ni sente nashi”, “Karate does not attack first”. The name Karate “Empty Hands” is telling in itself in that it signifies that empty hands are about protection and that the hands being open is a welcoming gesture. Karate should be used only for good reasons with respect to others and in case of danger to self or others. Kaicho Nakamura has pointed out a few key principles in Karate that really resonate with me and that I try to impose in my training and life so that my existence is meaningful and helpful:
- GI – Rectitude – To take the right decision in every situation and to do it without wavering. The right decision is the moral one, the just one, the honourable one.
- YU – Heroism – Bravery means taking risks to our position, status or self-interest on a daily basis.
- JIN – Compassion – We should always try to find ways to express our compassion for others.
- REI – Courtesy – We should practice it constantly especially in modern times where we are lacking in courtesy.
- MAKATO – Truthfulness – In all dealings with others, we should develop a sincere, honest straightforwardness.
- CHUGO – Devotion – always be devoted to your family, friends and teachers.
The above are great tips for an honourable life. I guess the question is how many of us follow them in our lives once we step out of the dojo? We can hear in the media about martial arts instructors scrounging on benefits, molesting children and taking people’s money. It is easy to preach about honour, diligence and respect on classes and then get involved in corrupt behaviours and doing harm to others. Many instructors want to be perceived as holy, without a mark against their character. We would all like to be like that, but reality if often different. We all have faults, but we can strive for perfection through our choices and actions. I do preach about honour and respect and I have to confess that I am not always perfect, but I try to follow the path of Karate do, self-education and excellence. Since I started to employ these principles I have noticed that my life has changed for the better and I am now helping others through Karate. I wish for all instructors to be an excellent example to their students, we certainly need more respectful people in this world.