Do Your Martial Arts Build Character?

I’m a martial artist. I have been since the 1980’s. I grew up idolising Jean Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. I know who Stan The Man Longinidis is, I watched American Ninja, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the first movie I ever purchased on VHS and memorised. I use to practise with my bo (6 foot staff) and jo (4 foot staff) every single night, as well as my nunchuku. I loved the sai. Raphael was my favourite Ninja Turtle. I use to do pushups and sit-ups every single night, and chin ups when I could; and practised ALL of my basics and kata each night. No wonder I didn’t meet expectations in year 12/VCE. I lived and breathed martial arts and not just Japanese ones.

One of my mentors in martial arts and a man I respect immensely sent me a link to a video of a street fight somewhere overseas to analyse, with some questions. A study in fight dynamics, he called it. I will not link to that fight here; this is not something that I’ve ever watched or want to watch again. As a martial arts instructor, I suspect it is an important thing to understand.

Fighting is vicious. We become sensitised to it through our movies and games. We separate from it and draw the line at “I’d never do that,” forgetting somehow that what we watch represents the brutalising of another human being and that we are okay with it.

As martial artists and as martial arts instructors (I am now more firmly planted in the European martial arts; although I still keep my body aware of its Japanese roots in movement), we can easily forget the very real dangers with which we deal.

It is not just that we learn and practise brutalising and killing techniques but that we teach them to other people. It is not enough to say, “But it’s just sport now,” when that sport had its origin in real fighting and can easily be reverse engineered to cause harm. I wonder, are we mitigating the risk of that harm?

I firmly believe we have a responsibility through our classes to learn and teach others character building, self-governance inducing behaviours, values and beliefs and to be extremely wise with whom we allow to hold seniority in our schools.

I firmly believe that the martial arts should be a vehicle for producing better citizens. I firmly believe we should develop better means of training our students and better, more thorough means of screening them. I firmly believe it does not matter if it takes three years for someone to reach “trustworthy” status, because the health, wellbeing and even lives of all my other students depends on my decisions; and I care deeply for my students’ wellbeing.

I will encourage others to do the same at every appropriate opportunity as I see fit.

Fighting can be fun and it is not always brutal. Fighting for sport, for play, is great and can be extremely safe. Of course, if it is a martial art and if that martial art is weapons based, then there is an automatic, inbuilt risk of harm. We just have to do everything reasonable that we can to protect those under our care and instruction, so that they and the rest of our community can continue to enjoy the great parts in the most safety we can muster (and safety does not equal protective gear … although that may be an important part of it!).