The Value of Ancient Martial Arts Lessons


(March ‘98/#37)

Every few months I pick up one of the martial mags and come across some old timer lamenting that things just ain’t the way they used to be.

‘Back then students were polite! They never talked back to an official or bad mouthed another school! They understood the meaning of respect!’

And, as an old timer, I have to say that I agree with the other old timers, to a point.

Back in the late sixties and early seventies there were far fewer instances of disrespect, it is true. But the fact is that there were far fewer schools, too.

I studied in the San Francisco Bay Area, and there were probably 30 schools in the whole area! Pick up a phone book now and you’ll discover hundreds of schools, and that’s not counting all the classes being taught in health clubs, Y’s, private schools, and so on.

I went to one of the biggest tournaments in the United States, and the attendance was under 500.

Out of a hundred tournament fighters there might be one or two jerks who argued decisions and acted…well…childish.

These days, for a thousand tournament fighters, there might be ten or twenty. The statistics, you see, are the same, but ten or twenty can make a bigger roar than one or two, so now we think the art has gone downhill.

I do have to admit, however, that officials were quicker to toss the 1 or 2 out then, they are to toss the 10 or 20 out now.

The problem, really, is not with the officiating. Then, as now, the fighters took a decision with a grain of salt, took advantage of the rather closed community to discuss disagreements after the match was over, and conducted themselves accordingly.

The problem, then, as now, was that certain schools would put childish individuals up to fight, rather than work with them on the real lessons of the martial arts. Lessons such as self control.

The number of schools letting out of control students represent them was…1 or 2 per cent.

So, with those statistics in mind let me throw several factors at you, factors that can help you stay out of the 1 or 2 per cent schools that I have just discussed.

If a school is overly proud of it’s trophies…beware. They are advocating the glory of defeating your fellow man as the purpose for studying the art. Tournaments can be a lot of fun, but they should not be the sole reason one has for studying art.

If a school has you put on the gloves and go all out in the first month, beware. How can you fight with karate, or any other art, until you have had time to not only study the art, but to let it ‘permeate’ you?

And there are other items you should beware of. The real factor in making your decision whether to go to a particular school or not is how they treat their fellow man.

Is there glee and destruction? Or politeness and concern.

Let me give you a hint as to where I am going with this month’s column, and where you might consider going with your art.

At the other end of the spectrum, far removed from those childish enough to complain and whine, were the winners. And the winners that I knew treated the art reverently, as something sacred. As small a community as we were back then, a high percentage of us read such books as The Tao, The Art of War, the Book of Five Rings, Zen Flesh/Zen Bones, and so on.

And we all agreed that these books, though they were sometimes hard to understand, shone direct light on the quality of our techniques.

It wasn’t a matter of religious morality, although none disagreed with that, it was the fact that by seeking in the ancient writings we could better define such illusive concepts as ‘empty,’ as in ‘empty hands,’ as in the calm before and directly after the moment of focus. And this calm would lead us towards the mystic concepts inherent in developing our sixth sense.

Weird, huh?

But now, 30 years later, my body gaining a few creaks, those are the lessons that are lasting the longest.

Think about it.

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