The Paradox of Non-Violence in the Martial Arts

For the longest time I refused to teach children other than my own or close family friends. The reasons for this decision varied. One main reason is that, if I were to open a school, I did not want my place of business turning into a babysitting service. I was also concerned that my approach to teaching martial arts may not agree with the values of the child’s parents. Parents today seem a bit more lenient. Martial arts classes are typically a place where discipline is instilled and excuses are not accepted. Perhaps the biggest reason I’ve held back on teaching younger people is because I wasn’t sure how to teach the important concept of non-violence while also showing them the best ways to inflict pain and do damage to another human being. Point sparring and forms are good exercise and good for tournaments, but it is not what I train for or primarily teach. While forms are still a major part of training, what I teach leans more towards combat or self defense.

Recently an opportunity opened up for me to begin teaching at a local rec center. For me to only teach those over 18 would mean giving up quite a few things, the most obvious being income. However, that should almost never be a deciding factor in a decision like this. There are many ways to make money. I’d also be giving up the chance to stretch myself as a teacher and go a little beyond my comfort zone. Teaching in any field gives us a chance to deepen our knowledge of a subject. Finally, I felt like it would be selfish of me to deny young students, who were disciplined enough and eager to train, just because of their age. Some children are wiser beyond their years than others, proving that age is just a number. It would not be fair to judge a student based on their age. Just from attending tournaments and training sessions, I’ve seen that some elementary or middle school aged children are more disciplined and more proficient in their study than their adult counterparts.

When I was just out of high school I accepted any job I was offered–nothing illegal, of course. Then I came to the conclusion I only wanted jobs that made some sort of difference in the world. If I could make money while contributing to society, that seemed ideal to me. This opportunity at the rec center is a chance to make a difference, not just teach people how to fight.

I believe I will be contributing in a number of ways. These ways include the obvious benefits of martial arts training such as helping people get healthier, building their self- confidence, increasing their self -discipline and giving them the tools they need to defend themselves from violent encounters. Beyond all this is what I perceive as the paradox of non-violence in the martial arts.

While debating on whether or not to lower the age cut-off of my students, it occurred to me that teaching the martial arts is actually the perfect vehicle to teach non-violence to the younger generation. With all of the emphasis on sport or combat today I feel like much of the philosophy behind the martial arts has become lost. Thankfully, it has not all become completely forgotten.

I believe that the more a person is able to defend themselves, the less they will feel the need to fight out of ego. There was a scene in the original The Karate Kid movie where young Daniel and Mr. Miyagi are in a row boat training and talking. Mr. Miyagi asks Daniel why he wants to learn how to fight. Daniel answers with, “So I won’t have to fight.” For me, I would say that this is one of the most important scenes in the movie. It expresses one of the most honorable and ethical reasons for learning martial arts.

Like many people, I began learning martial arts because I was picked on in school. I wanted to be able to stand up for myself and defend myself. I was successful in this endeavor. As a side benefit I found I developed a higher level of confidence and was generally a happier person than I had been in a long time. My wife has told me that over the years when we would talk on the phone, she noticed that each time we spoke I had more confidence and that I wasn’t self-degrading anymore. That confidence developed from training in the martial arts. I was changing from the skinny shy kid to the healthy confident adult.

There was also another benefit I found extremely freeing. I no longer felt the need to prove myself. Once I reached a certain level of skill, I knew full well what I was capable of in most situations. Fear of looking someone in the face or looking weak in front of others didn’t concern me. I came to the realization that in the past I may have become angry and wanted fight because of a fear reaction. I was afraid I might get myself beat up or or look weak on front of others. It’s sort of ironic. The more someone threatens me now, the calmer I become.

This is why I decided that I didn’t mind dropping my age requirement. It would give me a chance to share these skills I’ve learned through martial arts training in order to contribute to creating a more peaceful world. Learning to be a more peaceful person through training in self-defense skills is what I call the paradox of non- violence in the martial arts and something I would like to pass on to the next generation.

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