Balance and Harmony

the social responsibilities of a martial art

Perhaps you’ve heard the stories.

The ones about famous generals or martial artists who became pacifists in their old age. This essay is not really about that, but the topic should be addressed in order to place some of the art’s higher or more advanced teachings into context.

We begin by tossing out the word ‘pacifist.’ Because while anyone of us has the right to be a pacifist, martial arts by its nature is neither concerned with war nor pacifism. It advocates neither. Its main concern is training the body and the mind to react under certain types of attacks, confrontations or adversities. It unapologetically takes into account the life threatening nature of assault and hand-to-hand combat. And ironically, a number of pacifists enroll in the martial arts to learn how to protect themselves.

If we dig deeper into the guiding principles of the founders of martial arts, we don’t necessarily uncover pacifism. Instead, we discover principles for living an upright or worthy life.

What makes a life worthy?

Timeline: the 20th Century Development of Martial Arts Principles


Judo was founded in 1882 by Jigoro Kano (1860–1938), a Jiu Jitsu master.

On 18 April 1888, Kanō and Reverend Thomas Lindsay presented a lecture called “Jiujitsu: The Old Samurai Art of Fighting without Weapons” to the Asiatic Society of Japan. This lecture took place at the British Embassy in Tokyo. Its theme was that the main principle of judo involved gaining victory by yielding to strength.

Kano said, “We should not forget to make full use of every opportunity during our practice to improve our wisdom and virtue. These are the ideal principles of my Judo.”

“The ultimate objective of Judo discipline is to be utilized as a means to self-perfection, and thenceforth to make a positive contribution to society.”

Shotokan Karate

Shotokan Karate was founded in 1902 (formally named in 1936) by Gichin Funakoshi (1868–1957). His guiding philosophy included his Twenty Precepts of Karate.

Within these twenty principles, based heavily on Bushido and Zen, lies the philosophy of Shotokan. The principles allude to notions of humility, respect, compassion, patience, and both an inward and outward calmness. It was Funakoshi’s belief that through karate practice and observation of these 20 principles, the [student] would improve their person.[5]

The Dojo kun lists five philosophical rules for training in the dojo; seek perfection of character, be faithful, endeavor to excel, respect others, refrain from violent behaviour. These rules are called the Five Maxims of Karate.[9] The Dojo kun is usually posted on a wall in the dojo, and some shotokan clubs recite the Dojo kun at the beginning and/or end of each class to provide motivation and a context for further training.

Funakoshi also wrote: “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of the participant.”[5]


Aikido was founded in 1925 (formally named in 1942) by Morihei Ueshiba (1883–1969), a Jiu Jitsu master.

In his book, Principles of Aikido Paperback — July 22, 1989. Mitsugi Saotome — a principal student of Morihei Ueshiba, the Founder of Aikido — explains the philosophy and practice of the popular martial art, [stating that it] emphasizes harmony and peaceful resolution of conflict.

The Ki Society

The Ki Society was founded in 1971 by Koichi Tohei (1920–2011), known as the foremost aikido student and senior-most instructor of Morihei Ueshiba’s aikido dojo. The Ki Society’s name literally means “the way of realizing the [original] unity of mind and body.” It quickly focuses its new students on the Principles of Ki.

The principles of the Ki Society are Relax, Keep Weight Underside, Maintain One Point and Extend Ki. These principles are shared worldwide, including being taught at Great River Jiu Jitsu.

Great River Jiu Jitsu

Elements contained within Jiu Jitsu can be traced back as far as 2500 years ago, but the art is generally recognized as formally emerging around 880 AD.

Great River Jiu Jitsu was founded in 1991 by Scott Walter (1954- ), a Jiu Jitsu master. The Great River colored belt curriculum leading up to the first degree black belt incorporates The Fundamental Principles for Standing in the Face of the Truth. Sensei Walter maintains that the study of principles, undertaken from the very first moment of strapping on a white belt (versus not revealing them — if at all- until the advanced degrees), provides students with a better perspective on what it is that makes martial arts — and life — more positive and successful. Higher degree principles include Respect, Appreciation, Gratitude and Value.

Harmony, not division and hate

Each of these arts are strict and highly disciplined in the teaching of martial arts and technique. Yet each of them is simultaneously focused on deeper principles of living such as balance, harmony, personal unification, wisdom and self perfection.

As depicted here, far from being pacifists twentieth-century martial arts masters have laid out serious programs of human development and improvement, applied at deeply fundamental levels.

The samurai is a model of impeccability. The samurai warrior was known to be fundamentally upright and rock-steady, a solid anchor within the community, deeply responsible, highly respected, undeniably reliable, unswervingly loyal, highly skilled in any effort they undertook, masterful in the art of war and strategy, and relentless even in the face of certain death. (mw)

Today we look to organizations like the Boy Scouts, or the military, or higher education to produce our modern day warriors. Not warriors in the military sense, but rather warriors of everyday living, or perhaps warriors of the business class. To achieve this noteworthy goal, however, many of these men and women end up turning to the martial arts, not just for self defense training but also for deeper development of character, including more substantial inner mental and emotional strength.

It is interesting to note that today’s families, workers and individuals are increasingly turning away from organized religion to find guiding principles offered by various arts and disciplines. While martial arts is one avenue, other studies include yoga, meditation or philosophies such as Stoicism.

Today our need for inner development has as much to do with self defense as for self-defense. Our lives are deeply stressed due to relationship issues, economic pressures, competitiveness, anxiety, illness, emotional traumas, psychological pressures, crowds and rudeness, political drama, religious posturing, healthcare and much more.

My teacher strongly encourages his students to apply the principles of martial arts to their everyday life circumstances. After all, how many times in their life is the average person going to be jumped or physically attacked? Yet in many ways, we are under attack constantly.

The martial artist is trained to live and walk in the midst of all this, remaining calm and balanced. In more advanced studies, the martial artist is challenged to improve not only their own life but to help bring harmony and deeper value into their world.

Harmony, not division and hatred.



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Mark Walter

Mark Walter


Construction worker and philosopher: “When I forget my ways, I am in The Way”