The Real Basics in the Martial Arts

The Martial Arts is experiencing a natural evolution, from the original development in China as a physical and spiritual discipline, to a means of self-defense and combat, to a competitive sport and forward again to a “spiritual” endeavor. The “spiritual” encompasses the whole of the arts. It is a context within which one can develop the ethical means to resolve conflict non-violently — for the fundamental intent of the Martial Arts is to understand and (if possible) stop conflict before it becomes one — by peaceful means.

The “spiritual” in the Martial Arts is not an ideal to attain, as some romantic goal of “enlightenment” but rather it is understanding what prevents it. And what prevents one from living a life of quality, of spirit, is a lack of character development, those qualities that are needed to create good and healthy relationships, relationships that are based on respect.

This is what the upcoming program on Character For Kids™ is about. It is about “respect.” Perhaps the word “respect” can be used as the central most attribute of character development. Without respect for ourselves, for others and for life in general, the quality or spirit of life suffers. Without respect, conflict between people is the norm. But with respect, our attitude and actions emanate from intelligence, from an understanding of what prevents respect. It is this intelligence, through understanding what prevents respect, which is the essence of a “spiritual” life of a Martial Artist.

The question then is “how” do we teach respect, teach the spiritual life of the Martial Arts, especially to young people. In the past respect was generally taught as a moral commandment as in “honor thy mother and father”. It was what one should do or be and it was brought about by a system of punishments and rewards. But there was another form of character development that was “taught”, not in any idealistic or judgmental way, but rather through drawing out these qualities in young people through situations set up to “test” their character.

The word education comes from the word “educare”, which means to “draw out”. The “tests” in Character for Kids™ are specially designed to “draw out” the innate qualities of character that children have within them. Through these tests children develop respect as a natural outcome of having gone through the experiences set up for them. In other words, young people learn by doing, not from moralizing. They also learn from their teachers, from the adults around them, which means that we must also be educating ourselves along with our students.

Character or spiritual development can also come about through the practice of the physical aspects of the Martial Arts. But this is limited. One can develop the qualities of patience and strength through the vigorous practice of self-defense skills, but without a deeper spiritual or ethical understanding of what place these lethal skills have within the whole, the mere practice of physical self-defense skills alone can become destructive and create more human conflict, more disrespect in relationships.

The development of character is the real basics of the Martial Arts and it must be given equal time to the practice of the physical. Our charge as Martial “Educators” is to help educate children to be intelligent, respectful and virtuous human beings. Teaching physical self-defense skills alone cannot do this. Helping young people understand and resolve conflict peacefully, before it becomes one, takes a combination of physical and mental self-defense skills. The physical skills give the young person the confidence not to fight, not to react unnecessarily in a biologically conditioned fight or flight manner. “Mental self-defense,” or character development skills, give the young person the ability to end conflict before it becomes one. Together, they act as a whole approach to the urgent challenge of violence. In this way, we are educating the mind as well as the body, developing a well-rounded capable human being.