Showing posts with label arrogance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label arrogance. Show all posts

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Martial Arts Lessons and Character

Self defense
Self discipline
Self confidence
Self respect

Google “martial arts advertising” and you’ll find a limitless supply of advertisements proclaiming that martial arts practice teaches these. They are good things. I certainly won’t dispute that developing good self defense skills, self discipline, self confidence, and self respect is good for anyone.

Yes, self defense skills are wonderful. No one is going to argue that self discipline isn’t important. Self confidence and self respect are both awesome. All of these traits are drilled and reinforced by martial arts practice. My concern is that I’ve encountered too many martial artists who haven’t developed these things in a healthy, balanced manner. What happens when things get out of balance?

Learning self defense by training in martial arts seems redundant, but it has to be addressed. Everyone who trains for a while will run into people who have learned this lesson badly. These are the guys who develop some skill but never quite learn when and where to apply the skills.  They have self defense skills, and perhaps self respect, but they haven’t learned to respect others, and it shows in how they use their skills. They can be seen subtly, and not so subtly, bullying the people they train with, making strikes and throws harder and more brutal than necessary. They use the implied threat of their skills to intimidate their training partners and the people they deal with in and out of the dojo. Hardly the ideal of what self defense training should develop into.

Self confidence is often what gives us the courage to attempt something new or to go into something that isn’t a sure bet. Having it means not hesitating to do little things.  Being self-confident means being willing to take risks, even if the main risk is to our ego. It’s amazing how often the biggest thing being risked is our ego or a little personal embarrassment, and that risk is too great. Healthy self-confidence includes being able to take those risks and be ok with the results whether you succeed or fail.  Where self-confidence fails us is when we have too much of it. Think of all the arrogant jerks who really believe they can do no wrong in the dojo. Where do they get it? Where is this arrogance learned?

Self discipline is a wonderful trait, and I often wish I had more of it. I’ve seen what can happen when when you have a good stock of this. I’ve also seen people get too disciplined. That guy in the dojo who wants to make it into a lower weight division who diets to an unhealthy level while bragging about how his self-discipline helps him do it. Or the woman who trains day in and day out without taking a break, never giving her body time to rest and recover, even when she’s injured. There’s self-discipline, but it isn’t leavened by any wisdom.
Self-respect is wonderful. It’s the healthy recognition of our own value as human beings. That knowledge gives us the mental strength to not be destroyed by every bit of criticism. Even more, it braces us against the pressure that comes from all sides of society to change or do things just so other people will like us. Without self-respect, we can be talked into all sorts of things because those around us want us to do something. Peers can push us to dress in a certain way, behave badly, they can even convince us to be disrespectful to one person in order to impress another. Self-respect though has to be balanced with respect for those around us, or you’re just a jerk.

Most of the advertisements I run across seem to be aimed at parents, but there are plenty of adults who would like to have self-defense skills and improved self-confidence and self-respect. Martial arts training, without question, should make us better at some sort of combat, but the other stuff? How does learning to fight really improve general self-confidence, or self-respect, or self-discipline? Frankly, does the combat training really improve self-defense skills, or does it teach something else?

Beautiful handmade weapons bags

Martial arts are often taught in a style that I don’t think will do too much for developing any of the character traits advertised. How does standing in rows repeating techniques develop personality traits? Even practicing techniques and skills with partners won’t necessarily teach anything but the techniques. It’s even quite possible to learn bad lessons that develop poor character from working with partners.

Training with partners, you’re likely to learn what sort of character your partners have. Someone who has learned to boost his own self-confidence by abusing less skilled partners will abuse you. He’ll make the pin too hard or crank the joint lock a couple degrees further than is really necessary or throw you hard while doing nothing to take the sting out of the fall. This is certainly not the way to learn how to respect your partner, much less yourself.

If the teacher is arrogant and disrespectful of his students, then the students will learn to be arrogant and disrespectful to those around them. Even if the teacher is not arrogant or disrespectful, if he permits seniors to be arrogant and disrespectful towards more junior students, the students learn that arrogance and disrespect are acceptable.

In classes where students are not treated with respect by teachers, there is no reason to expect the students to learn self-confidence or respect. A self-confident teacher isn’t afraid to make a mistake or be wrong. That’s what her self-confidence is all about. A teacher who has confidence in herself, and respects herself, will give students individual respect and the room to develop self-confidence.

There are far too many ways a teacher can give students lessons in poor character, and sadly there are far too many people with less than wonderful character teaching martial arts. Martial arts practiced in such a way teach students the physical aspects of the art without learning anything about character or maturity. Teachers can be arrogant and teach that anyone who isn’t good enough should be ridiculed. Students who ask difficult questions can be treated with condescension.  Everyone can be abused, and only those who suffer the abuse without complaint or cry can be called worthy. When I think about it, it’s as if there are more ways to teach martial arts badly than to do it well.

There is a delicate balance. How do we teach self-defense without teaching how to bully and abuse?  How do we teach confidence without teaching arrogance? How do we teach students to value others while we are teaching them to value themselves? How do we teach confidence without shading over into cockiness?

Martial arts studios, dojo, and dojang, have to make time to emphasize something other than the raw violence of what we train. In the judo dojo that I love to be in, the reminders for safety and mutual concern and respect between partners are as frequent a part of the discourse as are the suggestions for improving throws and joint locks. No one is going to learn a lesson that isn’t being taught. If a martial arts school advertises that they teach self-defense, self-respect, self-confidence and self-discipline, we shouldn’t be afraid to ask “How do you teach that?”  

Rory Miller and Marc MacYoung are always making the point that self-defense is a legal concept, and that if you don’t know what constitutes self-defense legally, you can put yourself in all kinds of trouble. If the school claims to teach self-defense, do they teach anything about appropriate response and the complexity of the situation, or do they default to cheap slogans like “better to be judged by twelve than carried by six”?  Does the school spend time emphasizing how rare the use of force should be and what might appropriately call for it, or do they throw out techniques and let students figure it out for themselves?

When a school says it teaches self-discipline, do they teach self-discipline or just discipline? Self-discipline is about being able to focus and do something on your own. Does the school give students time to work on things on their own, or is every moment scheduled and directed and driven by a teacher? Unless students have time on their own, they’ll never learn how to direct and discipline themselves. No one can learn self-discipline while external discipline is locked down tight. Students need room to develop their internal self as well as the cool physical skills.

How does the school teach self-respect? Or more importantly to me, do they teach respect for self and others? Do the teachers and senior students model respect and treat everyone with respect? Or do they belittle and abuse anyone below them in the hierarchy? Are students treated with appropriate praise and legitimate criticism or are they yelled at and demeaned when they make a mistake?

Self-respect and self-confidence are closely aligned. Do students have the opportunity to work on goals without the constant pushing and driving of instructors and fellow students? Do students have the opportunity to fail? Real self-confidence comes from knowing you can do things yourself, not that you can be moved along a track with others as long as you pay the monthly dues and the test fee. It’s not until we’ve experienced some failure and kept on going that our self-confidence and self-respect become genuine and deep. If the bar is set so everyone always passes, or if students don’t have the chance to fail, they won’t develop genuine self-confidence or self-respect. At best they’ll have the illusion of it, which will be fine until something happens to put stress on that confidence and respect, and then it will shatter.  Genuine self-confidence can handle the setbacks. Genuine self-respect won’t be damaged by what comes from outside because it has the depth to absorb the damage that life inflicts.

If the school isn’t actively working at teaching these lessons, it probably isn’t teaching them passively either. Despite the myths and legends, good character is not an automatic byproduct of martial arts training.  Advertising is nice, but what do students really learn in martial arts class?

Monday, February 9, 2015

Budo Vices

Budo training is often lauded for promoting virtues like self-confidence, self-control, self-respect, determination,  and resolve. It helps people stand up to bullies and be better people and to get along better in society. Budo training is actively promoted as being good for developing these valuable traits in children and adults. It’s just an all around good thing, right? Unfortunately, where there are virtues, there are usually vices as well. There are all sorts of bad lessons and characteristics that can be learned in the dojo.

As wonderful as I believe budo training can be, it is not without pitfalls, dangers and tempting looking diversions that lead to dead ends. Just looking at the list of virtues makes me think of their closely related vices. How can self-confidence be a vice? I’ve known plenty of regular folks as well as martial artists who had such an over-abundance of self-confidence that they were arrogant. These people couldn’t imagine not being capable and correct. That’s bad enough in someone you have to deal with in a business or social setting. Now picture that in someone training in a martial art with other people.

When you train with other people, you need a relatively realistic estimate of your own ability. If you are arrogant, you’re not just socially painful to deal with, you can be physically dangerous to yourself and those around you. Arrogance gets people hurt. Even people who aren’t arrogant, but just over-confident are a danger to others and themselves. If you spend enough time around the dojo, it is inevitable that you’ll hear the fateful words “Oh, I can do that.” When overconfidence is in play, the words are almost always followed by someone crying out “Ow!”  Either a technique was attempted ineptly and hurt the person it was being attempted on, or the poor guy (why is it almost invariably a guy?) failed to defend himself from an attack he was sure he could deal with easily. Not to mention that arrogance is unpleasant to be around.

Ego is another thing that causes a lot of injuries, both to people whose ego’s are too big, and to the poor folks who have to deal with us. Ego is a special risk for martial artists, because we deal in physical power. The temptation to believe that because we can do these things makes us special is huge, and anything that denies that can trip us up. Every once in a while my ego gets out of the trunk I keep it locked in and causes me problems. It’s sure that I’m better than whoever I’m doing randori with, or that I can still keep up with that 19 year old guy, or any other fantasy that is just out of my reach.  My ego is happy to convince me, and when I go along, I usually end up slumped against a wall, holding a bottle of water and wondering who took all the oxygen out of the air, because as hard as I’m breathing, I don’t seem to be getting any. This side of ego can drive us to try things we really shouldn’t.  It’s different from arrogance. Arrogant folks often can’t imagine that they might not be able to do something.  With this particular ego problem, we are denying our own limitations. It’s fine to push your limits and to stretch them.  It’s not good to deny that those limits exist.

A different problem is getting too attached to a goal. I have seen people who were blindly determined to achieve a goal. I say “blindly” because they couldn’t see clearly the obstacles and pitfalls in front of them. Someone so attached to a goal that she can’t see what is required to get there is a scary thing to see, especially in a martial arts setting. It’s easy to damage yourself and others just from training too hard. If you keep training past the point where your body can maintain reasonable physical control, it’s inevitable that you or your training partner will get hurt, just because at that point you don’t have the fine control required to protect yourself and your partner. That’s a simple judgement problem.

Additionally, when a goal becomes all someone can see, they become blind to everything but that goal. A martial artist like this can be dangerous to themselves because they will try risky or even outright hazardous training practices. When the goal becomes that big in someone’s eyes, it can get in the way seeing your training partners as anything more than tools for achieving your goal. I’m not arguing against goals, I’m just saying goals need to be kept in perspective.

Respect is critical in a budo dojo. If someone doesn’t respect the people they are training with, they aren’t going to be considerate of them. Part of showing respect for your training partners is taking care of them, making sure they don’t get hurt. People who don’t respect you aren’t likely to care if you get hurt and can’t train anymore. Without respect for you, your training partner won’t take you into consideration. When you train together in something with as many potential dangers as budo, you want your partner to respect you so you don’t get hurt.

On top of that though, you also want their respect when it comes to your training. Whatever level you’re at, you need partners who will respect that and train with you so you get what you need out of the training. A partner who doesn’t respect you is not going to bother thinking about giving you the energy and intensity that is appropriate for your training. They will just toss off whatever they feel like. If they’re feeling sloppy, you’ll get a mushy, sloppy partner. If they are feeling annoyed or upset, you could get slammed around with more energy than you can handle. Plus you get to deal with the clear impression that this person doesn’t respect you and doesn’t think you are worthy of their time or attention. There is little that annoys me faster than someone who doesn’t respect their training partners.

One vice that I see all too often, especially on the internet, is budo tribalism. The attitude that “What I do is the real thing, and everything else is weak and corrupt and worthless to practice.” I have seen this from judoka talking about BJJ and I’ve heard it from BJJ guys talking about judo, and I hear it from from folks in Karate and Taekwondo talking about each other. I hear it from MMA people talking about everyone. The most vicious of these exchanges though are usually by people in one branch of an art talking about other branches of the same art. This true whether it’s Aikido or Karate or Tae Kwon Do or Tai Chi or just about any other art.

For too many people, whatever they are doing has to be the greatest in the world. I’m not sure why this is. There is no such thing as the ultimate martial art. Every art makes it’s own assumptions about what kind of attacks to train against and what is the best way to do so. What is it about budo that brings this sort of attitude out so strongly? So many people want to knock down the training of anyone who doesn’t train the way they do. It’s sad to see, because the people who adopt these tribal attitudes cut themselves off from one of the greatest sources for growth as budoka, outside perspectives.

I train in Kodokan Judo, Shinto Hatakage Ryu Iai, and Shinto Muso Ryu Jo. I love getting outside perspectives. They keep me from getting too full of myself. They also help me maintain a realistic perspective of what my arts’ strengths and weaknesses are. No art does everything, and any art that claims to do everything is unrealistic.  By talking with people in other arts, and occasionally training with them, I get the benefit of their experience and perspective.  My judo has grown immensely from interacting with Aikido and Aikijutsu practitioners. My understanding of iai has been expanded, and my appreciation for the limits of my training, through the experience I’ve gained meeting and training with people who do Hoki Ryu and Suio Ryu and many other sword arts. Jo is a wonderful weapon, but like all weapons it has limits. Those become clear when I train with folks whose background is different from mine. A little yari (spear) or naginata (glaive) practice will really open your eyes.  I don’t like to think about some of the chain weapons. They’re just brutal.

The folks who go tribal and declare that everything else is inferior cut themselves off from all the things they could learn from outside perspectives. Worse, they have to continually delude themselves that all those other guys have nothing to offer them. It’s must be tough to live like that. Every piece of evidence that someone else’s training might offer something theirs does not has to be discredited and destroyed. Nothing else can ever be truly worthy of praise. Us versus them just isn’t a good way to live, and it’s certainly not a good way to train.

The last vice I’m going to talk about in this post is jealousy. This one is pernicious and sneaky. It creeps up on you. I’ve seen people get jealous over lots of things in the dojo. Some people have natural talent (I’m not jealous of them. Really. I’m not...Well, maybe just a little). Some people have cool toys. Some people just have more time to train than the rest of us. What seems to cause the worst jealousy I’ve seen is success. Whether it is success as a student developing good technique, or success in competition, or success as a teacher, all of these things can generate jealousy. In the dojo, the worst things I’ve seen have been over success as a teacher.

Teachers are the leaders in the dojo. When one teacher starts to be jealous of another teacher, for whatever reason, the dojo is in trouble. This is one of those things I really don’t understand, even though I’ve seen it. One teacher becomes jealous because another teacher is more popular with students or is able to achieve better results developing students. Instead of doing the proper budo thing and trying to figure out how to improve their own teaching, they become jealous and upset at the other person, leading to arguments, fights and almost invariably, an irreparable fracture in the dojo. The jealousy leads to fights, arguments, accusations and end in two dojos that don’t like each other, not to mention all the students who just quit because they refuse to put up with the poisoned atmosphere before the split. I hate seeing this happen, but that green eyed monster is all too much a part of us as humans, and it happens far too often. Jealousy doesn’t just hurt the individuals involved, it hurts everyone around it, and can destroy the dojo.

Just as cultivating the budo virtues makes individuals better and improves the dojo environment for everyone, letting budo vices develop hurts you and it makes the whole dojo a less pleasant place to be. Arrogance, ego, disrespect, tribalism and jealousy can ruin individuals, groups and dojo. We all have to watch out for them within ourselves with the same sort of diligence we put into developing the budo virtues of 知 wisdom, 仁 benevolence, 義 righteousness, 信 trust, and 礼 rei.