I grew up as a teenager in 1950’s. It was a special time, a time when I felt safe. It was a time that friendships were considered to be the most important thing. And with this came a sense of fair play and responsibility toward others. It was also a time that good values were the norm. This more caring way of life has created in me a strong foundation for the years that have followed.
I also remember the martial arts when they first started here in the U.S. My first two martial arts teachers had just come from the Orient – one from Korea and the other from Japan. They spoke very little English but their enthusiasm made up for what they couldn’t put in plain words. But it was what they taught and how they taught it that was valuable. It’s hard to explain what it was like to live in the 50’s and then on into the experimental 60’s and it is also difficult to explain what the martial arts were then too. All I can do is to say that these two Asian men were “gentleman,” and they taught a gentleman’s art. We practiced an art that represented fair play, friendship and self-understanding.
We practiced at the local YMCA. Nobody got paid. It was a club where our instructor volunteered his time three nights a week to teach a bunch of “guys” (the correct use of the word) that sweated in white uniforms and loved every minute of the grueling pace set by him.
I want to be very clear here that I am not a “purist” and that I am against professionalism, of getting paid for teaching the martial arts. It’s great that a person can make a living from the martial arts. But perhaps it has gone too far. People are expecting too much. Just like a lot of professional sports today. Money, and I mean HUGE amounts of money, dominant what in my day were sports played mainly for the love of it.
I am concerned that we are moving away from the “gentleman’s art” to an overly commercial, “Hollywoodized” version of martial arts that is to me very sad because we are losing the original intent of martial arts – that of understanding oneself and living a life of harmony and peace. I think that you who have been taught the ART of the martial arts know what I mean. Maybe I’m old fashion but I would rather be old fashion than see these fine arts of self-understanding be lost to greed and exploitation.
What is generally called martial arts today seems to me to lack the “gentlepersons” art. I see a growing trend of violent “Martialists” exhibitions that are getting more and more popular. It’s amazingly to me that many people seem to find this somehow “entertaining.” What example are we setting for our children with this trend?
I thought myself a liberal person, open to new ideas. But I personally find this movement in the martial arts for extreme excesses of money and violent “entertainment” repugnant. I find it against everything fine and good in the martial arts and life. I thought we martial artists were concerned with “raising the standard of the martial arts,” as one of the pioneers in martial arts industry has been saying for years. I think this growing trend of “Martialists,” under the guise of being a martial ART rather frightening.
And yet there are many dedicated individual martial artists who are carrying on the “gentleman’s (and “gentlewoman’s”) art. I applaud these fine people and their courage not to fall into the trap of exploiting the martial arts, yet being able to make “right livelihood” from a profession as well as an art. These people are the real role models for our children because they have truly learned and live what the martial arts is really all about – creating an atmosphere of trust and friendship, where living the “middle way” creates a balance between the extremes of denial and excess. This is the “old fashioned” martial arts that I still love after all these years, an art that has lasted for thousands of years of exploitation and misuse yet has withstood this abuse and has continued to represent in its essence the finest art of human understanding and peace
Last month I asked the question, “I wonder if this way would seem too old fashioned today,” this old fashioned way of respect, deference and “knowing one’s place.” It seems that in society today most people think of themselves as equal to everyone else. In the U.S. we say that everyone is equal according to the constitution. But what we don’t realize is that our constitution guarantees us “equal opportunity,” not equality. We are not all equal; some people are better athletes, musicians, carpenters, that is, naturally having better skills than others. Some people are taller, slimmer, and more beautiful than others. This is just a fact. But the great thing is that we all have the opportunity to be better, smarter, and more capable. The reason that I am bringing this up is that I have too often found that people want to instantly “be equal” to others who are their “superiors,” people who have worked many years to get to where they are in life. I use the word “superiors” with caution. The meaning in the dictionary is, “higher in rank, dignity, or office; of higher quality, intelligence, or ability.” I do not mean being haughty or arrogant. I just mean that we cannot all be immediately equal to everyone, especially considering that we are all limited in some way. I also mean that we have to earn the respect of others by our deserving of it through many years of hard work.
People who think that they deserve “instant equality” and the respect deserving of superior “rank, dignity, office, intelligence or ability,” are people who create a “fake it till you make it” persona. They learn the superficial “tricks” that make them seem intelligent or capable, so they come off as a “superior” person. What generally happens to these people, because they have tried to short-cut real respect, is that they become arrogant and haughty. And they become defensive if anyone should question their position they have created through the illusion of “having made it.”
I think that this false sense of equality, or false superiority, is all too often the norm in a society based on aggressive individuality and brutal competition. I think that young people are being given the wrong messages in creating a successful, respectful life. I think that exaggerated symbols of success have been dangled in front of them so as to entice them into the trap of false images, creating a larger-than-life, overblown view of themselves and their place in life. They have been conditioned to think of themselves and their deeds as much more important than they actually are. In other words, they do not know their place; they do not have respect for their “superiors,” thinking themselves equal to them without all the years of hard work that went into creating a life deserving proper deference and respect.
I started out this column last month saying that maybe I’m old fashioned. Perhaps I am, but I think that these “traditional” values of genuine respect and deference, of “knowing one’s place” still apply today. In fact, they are more necessary today in a world that seems to be loosing all sense of proportion, of understanding what right relationship means. I feel it is urgent to teach our young students what real respect means, what deference is and to “know their place” in the larger scheme of things. And to give them the proper skills to gain real equality, to know what it means to work hard for what they deserve. In order to do this we must not conditioned them to want fictitious representations of accomplishment, to desire exaggerated rank advancement or other artificial symbols of success. In other words, we need to teach them real character that is based on real accomplishments gained through years of real hard work. We need to teach them old-fashioned respect – for themselves and others, for this is the way of old fashioned martial arts, the old fashioned way I was taught and that I still feel need teaching.