Posted by: B Gourley | August 1, 2012

Understanding the Martial Artist in your Life

There’s a certain mindset common among those who study martial arts – particularly martial arts that emphasize the skills of real fighting (i.e. jissen budō) – that can make them enigmas to others. Here are a couple of insights to assist you in understanding that mindset.

1.) No, I’m not a sadist: or, nice and kind aren’t the same thing: You may notice that while the  jissen budōka (martial artist) you know tends to be polite and modest, he or she may engage in behavior or display attitudes that seem a mite harsh. Less diplomatically, a jissen budōka may be like the father who teaches his child to swim by nudging the kid off the end of the dock. People are generally conditioned by society to be “nice.” This conditioning usually establishes firm roots because it seems like “niceness” is being helpful to our fellow-man – a laudable goal. However, if you examine “niceness” carefully, you’ll see that what it’s really about is ingratiating ourself to others – a much pettier goal.

When people come into the dōjō for the first time, they may feel that those training are a bit sadistic. Newbies often don’t target their strikes or kicks within a foot of their training partners for fear they might strike them, and they often let off before locks are applied because they don’t want to hurt their opponent. Eventually, those who stay around realized that their attempts to be “nice” can actually retard the development of their training partners. While I’m not suggesting that one should be reckless, unsafe, or competitive, if one doesn’t receive good attacks, one can never develop good technique. Therefore, within the confines of training that is safe, as well as spirited, one must work at developing one’s attacks, both for one’s own development and to assist one’s training partners in their development.

Plato said, “Be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle.”  I firmly believe in the virtue of this practice, but “kind” and “nice” are not the same thing. Being “nice” is about being likable, but being “kind” is about doing the best we can for our fellow-man. Sometimes, doing our best for our fellow-man hurts. The saying about teaching a person to fish comes to mind. Giving someone a fish is nice; facilitating his or her learning of how to catch a fish is kind. Giving someone something they don’t earn is far from compassionate, it’s robbing that individual of the confidence that comes from building self-reliance.

2.) No, I’m not a masochist either: You may notice that occasionally the jissen budōka comes home with severe contusions or other minor injuries. I don’t claim to know much about masochism, but, as I understand it, it involves sexual arousal upon application of pain. I can’t say that pain has never excited me in the least. The logical follow-up question is, “What’s the pay off?” If one were a UFC fighter, there’d be a paycheck. However, for most the rest of us, that’s not the case. Even those who make a little income from teaching generally don’t make enough to make the beating worthwhile.

There’s a confidence that derives from knowing how much one can take without injury and how successful a self-healing machine one’s body is. This confidence is quite valuable. One may or may not want to do as many muay thai students do, and forcefully slam one’s body parts into hard objects. However, even if one doesn’t do so, there is a toughening that comes from the run-of-the-mill taking of one’s lumps through receiving techniques. One needs to find one’s own balance as to how much toughening is beneficial. Of course, if you’re injured more than you’re well, you need to reevaluate your training or your approach to your health.


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