Morality in the Martial Arts. The Ten Components of Conduct.

core values

THE WAY OF MORALITY

It seems the only way this world is going to come out of this deep moral funk we are in is through the teachings of traditional martial arts.  People are at unrest.  We have defuncted all traditional ways of thinking and are searching for a compass to lead us out of this moral depravity.

What better way to teach morality and proper conduct than through the martial arts.  This article covers the ten components of conduct all martial artists should strive for.

Gichin Funakoshi, known as the “Father of Karate,” says it this way:

As a mirror’s polished surface reflects whatever stands before it,
and a quiet valley carries even small sounds,
so must the student of karate render of their mind empty of selfishness and wickedness
in an effort to react appropriately toward anything they might encounter. 
This is the meaning of the kara or “empty” of karate-do.”

It isn’t the technique as much as the attitude that makes a true practitioner of the martial arts.

Think back on all the great masters.  Do they exude arrogance and egotism?  Are they calm and wise?

This calmness and wisdom did not come about by boisterousness and conceit.  There is no room in the martial arts for an ego, however large or small.  The bully, the narcissist, the slouch, none of these types of personalities last long in a dojo.  Respect for oneself and others is the #1 requirement for exemplary conduct.  After all, the martial arts turns your body into one of fitness and strength, and the same happens to your mind.

When Da Mo came across the Buddhist monks that did nothing but sit around and meditate, he whipped them into shape because he believed the body and spirit were connected.  If you neglect one, you neglect the other.

With that in mind, read on about the importance of morality in the martial arts.

Respect.  One of the most important words in the martial arts.

Morality.  Why is it such an important component of the martial arts?

 

martial arts is good for kids

Respect, morality, and the martial arts go hand in hand.

The training of a child through martial arts in correct behavior and right-thinking forms lifelong good habits of mind and body.

However, the level of achievement of morality is directly dependent on how far a student advances in practice.

A boisterous and brazen person is limited in their achievement, narrow-minded and egotistical, thinks their style is the best and their main goal is to kick someone’s butt. This better-than, bullying mentality does not take one very far in life.

In this day and age, the lack of morality is readily apparent in societies across the world.  People seem to forget that it takes community to survive, and community means getting along.  Getting along means respecting one another’s property and person.  Respecting oneself is the ultimate sign of getting along, because if you do not like yourself, you do not like anyone else.

cartoon kids
Respect for oneself and each other

It is not a surprise that Da Mo went to live with the monks, since he was a monk himself.  Under his guidance, the practices of the monks in the Shao Lin temple became the basis for Zen Buddhism.  The moral precepts of Buddhism were originally integrated into the training of the monks by the emperor because after Da Mo’s death, some of them took to the countryside, marauding and pillaging the villagers.

But just because the martial arts and Buddhism carry the same moral precepts, read on, and you will see morality has nothing to do with religion, but with a state of mind and attitude.

Buddhism is a way of life, just like martial arts becomes a way of life.  The two are directly related in the most unlikely place – the practice of morality.  Both lead to a way of exemplary living, a way of life.

 

never depart from the way of the martial arts

 

The Way – the path to an enriched and fulfilling life.

The way of morality in the martial arts is not an easy road.  Only the dedicated will survive, but the benefits are great.

Morality is a living a life of acting and thinking, of living present in every second in both thought and deed.  Morality, as described here, is not what you normally would think. 

The Oxford English Dictionary defines morality as 1) principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong, 2) a particular system of values and principles, 3) the extent in which an action is right or wrong.

For our purposes, a particular system of values and principles most easily describes the role morality plays in the martial arts.  If the monks had not learned to be humble with their art, it would not have survived for nearly 2000 years.  Violent acts eventually die down.  A true sign of an art is how it is preserved over the ages.

This “true art” is threatened.  Traditionalists keep the spirit going, but in today’s world, traditions of all kinds are fading fast, and the carrying on of traditional martial arts is no exception.

The rigid training of the Shao Lin monks, the life-and-death commitment of the samurai, and the struggles of the Okinawans to keep their fighting art alive; they all had moral principles to tame their weaponless defense.

The student learns ways to disable an attacker.  As the techniques increase in level, the ways of defense become more brutal.  Target points on the human body meant for disabling or killing are also target points that will heal.  The student must learn the difference between these two.  Within his two hands he holds the power to heal or kill.  With that comes a huge responsibility.  And that is why there is a system of values and principles that define the martial arts.

Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming and Jeffery Bolt in their book on Shaolin Long Fist Kung Fu wrote about the dual development between deed and thought:  Morality of Action and Morality of Mind.

 

morality in the martial arts

Morality of action.  How one behaves in society, in the outside world.

Humility gains and pride loses

1. Humility.  Humble people admit there is something greater than themselves, something beyond their reach.  This promotes continuous learning, and humility is the foundation for learning.  One must admit they know next to nothing to absorb the gap that is filled in by learning and practice.

“Humility gains” by reminding the martial artist that his training can always be improved upon.  There is always someone better than you.  For every day you don’t train, your opponent gains a day.  No matter how much you know, how perfect your techniques are, there is always more to learn and perfect.

“Pride loses” by creating a feeling of satisfaction and adequacy.  Pride gives the practitioner a false sense of achievement.  Why practice?  This thinking halts your growth in a heartbeat.  Remember the adage, “Pride goeth before a fall!”

Humility is the building block for the other four levels of morality of action, because if one isn’t humble, they certainly won’t be respectful.

2. Respect is intimately related to humility.  Both recognize the goodness in everything.  There is no “bad” style of the martial arts, most are closely related.  There is no reason for dojo wars or cock-of-the-walk mentality.  Each is in this for their own reasons, and each reason is valid.  Who are we to judge whether another person’s reasoning is good or bad, or our style is better than theirs.

Respect gives the martial arts the pure spirit it deserves.  In the dojo we show respect in many different ways; to other students by treating them well, to the dojo by keeping it clean and in repair, to oneself by wearing a clean gi and having a clean body.  And especially, respect to the master of your art, for this is the person that can guide you to the higher levels of ability.  Bowing shows respect to the sensei, the dojo, the other students, and to yourself.  These gestures are important because they help us acquire correct behavior.

3.  Righteousness.  Steadfast and upright.  Doing the right thing.  

Just like the monks of old, fighting for the old reign, for the life they lost to the Manchus, you find yourself standing up for justice, compelled to fight the evils in the world.  It is not an easy torch to carry.  This is what it means to be righteous – morally good and virtuous.  Live a clean life because others are looking up to you and they trust you.

4. Trust – If you are respectful and humble, and stand up for what is right, then people learn to trust you.  They know your word is good and you do what you say.  To be dependable shows honesty and good character, and it shows you are loyal.

5. Loyal – to be faithful to the ideals that one believes in – ideals of family, culture, country, and the martial arts.  A student may be called on to teach, which he must honor.

If your master has taken the time to reach you to the level of achievement where he feels comfortable allowing you to teach, then he deserves your loyalty and respect by passing on what he has taught you.

This is the ultimate compliment to the masters before you.  Without you, your art dies.

Morality of thought.  If a man is a ship, then the will is the rudder.

Can you spend three hours a day training?  If the will is strong, if the desire is there, you can.  It takes long hours to become proficient at your art, it has been said after you throw 10,000 kicks and 10,000 punches you are well on your way to perfection.

That’s a lot of kicks and punches.  How many do you throw in an hour’s practice?  It all adds up.  Without the will to succeed, you quit before the 10,000 is close.

1. Will is the heart of the matter.  The will is the force that gets us through, not only the 10,000 punches and kicks, but through life’s challenges.  In times of personal trouble, sadness, grief, loss, laziness, self-doubt, it is your will to overcome, to survive, that gets you to the other side.

2. Endurance supports the will; it is the will’s physical fuel or energy source.  You may want to succeed, but not have the endurance.  Can you endure those 10,000 kicks over the course of many years?

3 & 4. Perseverance and patience are the will’s mental sources of energy.  Endurance is physical energy, perseverance and patience are the mental energy that gives you the right mindset.  Those long years of practice can only be endured with perseverance and patience.

5. Bravery is the principal action for the will; the spiritual courage to fight truth.  This is not an easy task, fighting truth.  People do not want to see it; they do not want to hear there is a better, more peaceful way to live.  It takes great strength and bravery to endure the onslaught that goes along with standing up for what is right.  Sometimes it means physically defending yourself or your family; sometimes it means speaking out when you see someone wronged; sometimes it means just getting through your day!

As you can see, the five components of morality in action: Humility, respect, righteousness, loyalty, and truthfulness are intimately tied to the five components of morality of mind: Will, endurance, perseverance, patience and bravery.  Perhaps you can also see how these ten components are necessary to advance in the martial arts.  As these qualities are practiced, they become a part of one’s character.  Just like learning respect in the dojo transfers to treating others with respect in the community.

 

Humility is indeed the building block, the foundation for moral character.

 

 

“Once humility becomes a living ideal the thought of showing off or boisterous disappears.”
Master Yang

Whether you are a practitioner or an instructor, it is important to carry these precepts with you.  These are not just for the dojo, but a way of conduct throughout your life.  Your training as a martial artist sets you off from the others.  People look to you to see if you are a bad-ass or if you are someone they can trust.  You are a reflection of your dojo and of your art.  Just like the mirror looking back, you are the mirror for your art.

Promote kindness and goodwill in your world.  It only takes one or two to start the momentum.  Advertise your dojo by putting your best foot forward and being helpful and kind.  Practice humility.  It is practice because understanding what it takes to be humble doesn’t happen overnight.  Perhaps that is why the old masters are calm and wise.  It took a lifetime to get there.

 

Sensei Carol

Posi-talk: The Breakfast of Champions

two boxes of wheaties with michael jordan pictured
Wheaties. The breakfast of Champions. Click here to learn more.

Oh, wait, I got that wrong.  It is Wheaties that is the “Breakfast of Champions!”  Long advertised as the cereal star athletes eat every morning.

Although what you eat is of prime importance in developing a healthy, athletic body, unless you have the drive and the will to power through the rough moments of your training, what you eat will not help you in the least.

 

When a student began lagging after endless pushups, my sensei would say,

“You need to eat more Wheaties!”

If you are plagued by self-doubt about your training, if you are not sure you can take the rigors of the martial art world and are thinking about giving up, read on and learn about the 12-posi-talk habits of champions.  Perhaps what holds you back is not your breakfast but your mindset.

You, too, can be a Champion

Champions are made, not born.  Anyone can be a champion if they put their mind to it.  In this case, we are talking about how a martial arts champion is made.  Sure, people are born with various athletic abilities, some have to work harder than others to get to where they want to go.  It seems some people are born with a silver spoon in their mouth and anything they touch turns into success!

Positive self-talk is something we have all heard about.  The world is full of abundance gurus who are telling us we are as we think.  Actually, this type of thinking is not something new.  As far back as the Proverbs, we are told our thoughts lead us.  This is a hard concept to figure out, especially when stuck in the doldrums of self-doubt.

The purpose of posi-talk is to eliminate the negative self-talk.  Did you know, scientists have discovered we think in words, pictures and emotions at a rate of 300-400 words a waking minute?  Our minds are busily filtering out what we need to know in this instant, and the rest is information our minds store for later.  If you catch your mind racing, too many thoughts, maybe this is why.

Here is how negative talk works.  “Oh, man, I hope I don’t forget my kata.  I will be so embarrassed!”  You forget your kata and you are embarrassed.  Then you say, “I knew that was going to happen!”  The next time, you forget it even more.  Eventually you become discouraged, and feeling like a failure, you quit going to class.

Posi-talk works the same way, but in the opposite direction.  “Oh, man, I’ve got this down.  I am going to blow the judges away and take home that glittering, shiny first place trophy!”  Chances are you win the trophy.  And if you get second place, you say, “I did my best, we were so close.  I’ll get first place next time!”  You go back into the dojo and work on your techniques even harder than before.

The following steps are taken from the November 1990, Black Belt magazine, Posi-talk.  The Secret of Champions.

Bruce Lee on cover of Black Belt magazine November 1990
Black Belt, November 1990, Vol 28, No. 11

The 12-step Posi-talk Program

  1.  Talk to yourself in the present tense:  I am…, I can…, I enjoy…
  2.  Use complete sentences in the present tense:  I am the best.  I am grateful.
  3. Be specific with your thoughts:  I will win the first-place trophy.
  4. Keep the statements brief, easy to remember.
  5. Use words that are colorful and emotionally charged.  I’m going to blow the judges away and take home that glittering, shiny first place trophy!
  6. Say your statements like you mean them!  I am so proud and pleased with my accomplishments.
  7. Say them with emotion.  See your success, taste the feeling of victory, hear the roar of the crowd.
  8. Write ten to twelve of your statements on note cards, one on each card.
  9. Read your cards twice a day – before going to sleep and immediately upon waking.
  10. Softly play music while reading your cards.  The best for this is instrumental music that is played at 60 beats per minute.  Scientists recommend Baroque music.
  11. If you want, record yourself speaking your statements.  This is another way of cementing your posi-talk into your subconscious.
  12. Do this every day for 30 days.  You are well on your way to being a champion!

Note:  Please avoid using words like “should, will, need to, have to, must” and other such words that sound positive but have negative connotations.

Posi-talk Instructions for Instructors

  1. Remove the negative thoughts from your life.
  2. When you hear a student talking bad about himself, stop his talk with positive reinforcement.  Have the 12 steps handy to give to your doubting-Thomas students.
  3. Correct and praise. Correct and praise.  This cannot be said enough.  Find positive ways to change their habits.  Remember to bring your hand back to chamber, Johnny.  You’ll get more power that way.  Great job, by the way.
  4. Make a list of uplifting movies, books and videos to give to your students.
  5. Put up slogans around your dojo.  Here are a few to get you started:

Belief in limits creates limited people.  (Tony Robbins)

If you are afraid of failure, give attention to success.  (Dr. Joseph Murphy)

Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right!  (Henry Ford)

You are just about as happy as you make your mind up to be.  (Abraham Lincoln)

You are what you think about all day.  (Emerson)

The Men at the Top

These techniques are used by champions across the board.  It doesn’t matter whether you are a martial artist or going for the Olympic Gold, talking negative will not get you there.  This isn’t reserved for champions.  You can reach the heights you want to reach by changing how you talk to yourself.  But there is more to success than saying you are the greatest.  Only hard work and dedication – and passion – will get you to the finish line.

An example of passion, hard work and dedication is how Bruce Lee approached his training.  In the same Black Belt magazine is an article called What makes Bruce Lee so Good?  A special birthday commemorative.  His dedication and spirit are what made him a great martial artist.  Few men are remembered so well 50 years after their death.

He was driven, always looking for ways to perfection.  He regarded his body as a work of art, “a piece of granite that needs to be sculptured.”  And sculpture it he did.  Tirelessly training.  He kept on improving because he wanted to “go where no man has gone before.”  I would say he met that goal.  He was never satisfied, always striving for something better.

There were other American greats in the martial arts from the 1960s to the 1990s.  Chuck Norris, world champion full contact fighter is only one of his accomplishments;  Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, known for his lightening-quick left round kick that gets you every time.  Watch this video of Joe Lewis and Bruce Lee.  One punch says it all.

The commentator calls this a 6-inch punch, but it is actually his famous 1-inch punch.  His hand is only an inch away from Joe’s chest when he sends him flying back.  Watch closely, and you will see it is only a flick of the wrist.

Never rest on your laurels

This striving for something better is a mark of humility, and a behavior all successful martial artists must have.  Having humility simply means admitting there is always something, someone, bigger, better and stronger than you.  There is always something to learn.  If you think you’ve reached the end of the road, your ego has taken you for a ride.

People who reach the top do not always have the genetic ability to get there.  Bruce was born with athletic abilities, but if he hadn’t pursued his art as he had, and developed the discipline to become the best, where would he be?  Certainly not on the cover of Black Belt magazine!

Genetic ability is less than half the battle.  Anyone can be successful.  Just follow the 12-step program outlined above.  You can be the most talented person in the world, but if you lack the desire to succeed, you will go nowhere in life.  You don’t have to be a great karate master.  You can be you.  Whatever you want to be.

Remember, only limited people believe in limits.  Nothing is impossible.  Impossible means I’m possible, I am possible. 

I Am Possible

Write this down on your notecard and read it twice a day.  Say it every time you feel down in the dumps.  Change your negi-talk to posi-talk with just three simple words.  I am possible.

Give it a shot.  Take 30 days for a little bit of posi-talk.  Good luck to you.

Oh, and… remember to eat your Wheaties!

 

Sensei Carol

 

 

 

 

Qi – Life Force

Chinese character for chiThere is a power within each of us, but few are aware of how powerful we really are.  This is our life force, and it is known simply as Qi.

The word for “life force” is written three ways:  chi, ki, or Qi (pronounced “chee” or “kee”).  In this article, it is spelled “Qi”.

Ki is the Japanese spelling, and chi or Qi are used interchangeably or when designating a specific Chinese art, such as qigong or chi-kung (pronounced “ki-gong”) or tai chi (pronounced “tie chee”).  However, the meaning of “chi” in tai chi comes from the concept of yin and yang, and is not the same concept we are discussing here. Continue reading “Qi – Life Force”