Martial Arts Teach Non-Violence

Martial arts training, when it is taught properly, as in, it involves an emphasis on character building, leads to improved self-esteem, confidence, respect, and self-discipline, as well the ability to defend oneself and/or others unable to defend for themselves against potential physical harm. How does that relate to non-violence? By developing the qualities listed above through dedicated training in the martial arts, the practitioner gradually eliminates behaviors motivated by fear or anger. If an individual is not acting out of fear or anger, they are more likely to be concerned with the welfare of all beings considered, and thus more compassionate towards others. Once confidently skilled, the martial arts practitioner has nothing to prove to anyone but themselves, and has a set of moral checks and balances that has been instilled in them of decent and kind human behavior, and has the desire and discipline to abide by it.

In the beginning of the training, the student learns the importance of respect and discipline. Some students deal very well with authority while others have to work at it, but all that want to learn must abide by the rules set forth in the Dojo (training hall.) Let’s not forget that the word “martial” relates to military, thereby revealing that martial arts is a hierarchy and is thus ruled by a head master – A benevolent leader and teacher. The students that are higher in command also follow the example of proper conduct modeled by the head master, and so it goes down the chain of command. The higher the rank, the greater the responsibility.

Students are always encouraged to discipline themselves in and out of the Dojo, but if they do not exercise self-discipline, then discipline will come from a senior rank. As the student continues training, they realize the power that their headmaster and seniors hold, but even more importantly the control of power that is exercised. Coupled with the nurturing that the individual student receives causes them to truly respect their teacher. Respect out of admiration, not intimidation. Respect has been earned by the headmaster by giving respect to the student first. When this relationship of respect develops, it changes the student. They begin to learn respect for all beings because they have learned to respect themselves through their teacher’s guidance and behave well.

In a case study about promoting safety in an Oakland school situated in a community with a reputation of drug dealing, poverty, and high rates of crime and violence, a grandmother living in the community is hired as a school campus monitor. She is able to promote peace in the school where no others could before simply because the students respect her, and thus listen to and comply with her instructions. She has helped change the face of this school through teaching respect by example.

To teach “it,” the head master must live “it.” The students want to become like their teacher, and so they must model the behavior of their teacher. Without this modeling system in place, everything would fall apart.

It was discovered by game rangers in South Africa in 1999 that the white rhinoceroses they had been protecting for years were getting killed at an alarming rate. A total of 39 rhinos were killed on this preserve, and it was not the work of poachers. After much investigation it was found that the killings were being conducted by a group of adolescent elephants. Why were these young elephants committing such heinous acts for no apparent reason? It had never happened before, so what had changed?

three elephants alone

Twenty years prior researchers made a decision to deal with an overgrown population of elephants in Kruger National Park. Their decision involved killing the large adults because they could not be relocated, and transporting the children to other parks. The traumatized orphans grew up without any adults to teach them proper behavior. The result was devastating. Reckless teenagers went on a killing spree and displayed aggressive behaviors to tourist vehicles, which eventually got five of these delinquents put down. To avoid killing all of the troubled elephants people began studying them to uncover the source of their violent behaviors, and found that the guilty elephants were suffering from an excess of testosterone.

The remedy entailed using specially designed trucks to bring very large bull elephants into Kruger National Park. These older and larger bulls established a new hierarchy on the reservation, in part by sparring with the young bad boys to curb their sexual drives. This lowered their levels of testosterone, which in turn calmed their aggressive and lethal behaviors. Since the arrival of the bulls not one rhino was killed! It is quite impressive how the pecking order of the elephant world quelled violence. In essence you could call this hierarchy the “martial arts” of the elephants.

There are many people that believe violence is a learned behavior (Culross, Cohen, Wolfe, Ruby, 2006). Evidence from the U.S. Department of justice showing violent crimes committed by people that were themselves victims of violence supports this argument. Take for example, the son who was beaten by his father grows up only to perpetuate the viscous cycle by beating his own child, but what accounts for the child who chooses to break the chain and raise their child tenderly; and what about violence committed by someone that was never exposed to violent behavior?

Human beings ARE animals. This should not be forgotten. We are not above animals! If left on our own to raise ourselves, ultimately we (collectively) will give in to our animal instincts. The instinct to survive or dominate, by violence if compelled can be seen in animal societies all over the world. Ever heard of survival of the fittest? The weaker animal being left behind to die or even attacked by stronger animals. What about two infants playing together, raised by peace loving parents, that hit the other child when their toy is taken away? This child did not learn the violent behavior from their environment, so it must be a product of nature rather than nurture, just like how the Kruger National Park elephants instinctively acted out violently from their hormonal imbalance. This is not to say that all animals/humans will react violently without guidance, but sometimes nature provides the recipe for this to happen.

This begs the question, nurture vs. nature? A bit of both? Does it really matter though? Violence is not good whether it was learned, or as a result of physiological drive. What’s important is that martial arts solve the question by addressing both.

People that don’t understand the education behind martial arts argue that martial arts teach violence because mock fighting is practiced. Often parents will state that they don’t want to put their children in martial arts because it will teach them to be violent. What these people don’t realize is that the “fighting” is practiced so that the student hopefully won’t ever have to really fight. If someone knows how to protect themselves they are not worried about how someone else can harm them. The training is also conducted in a controlled environment by a teacher that is monitoring the attitudes and behaviors of the students to make sure it is decorous. This controlled environment allows the student to explore their animal nature, indeed to realize it exists, and then learn to control it, instead of letting it control them.

The primary purpose for studying martial arts is completion of character, not the ability to beat someone up. An accomplished martial artist is on a quest to perfect all aspects of themselves, mind, body and spirit. Commitment to this path means that they will have to face the truth at all times. Inevitably weaknesses will be uncovered, and the student will have to make a decision to confront them honestly and move forward in their training to overcome it, or push it back in the shadows and hide. Those who hide will not grow.

One of the headmaster’s greatest skills is their ability to mirror the student. They help the student see exactly who they really are. Martial arts training will never lie! If a student is not working hard enough on their techniques or losing their focus during training then it will show in their performance. Poor awareness can lead to a missed block. A missed block can lead to a punch in the face. A punch in the face can lead to a wake-up call to pay attention. Paying attention along with the will and discipline to improve will lead to a better technique. Better technique will lead to confidence and respect. Confidence and respect lead to improved communication skills, self-esteem and courage. High self-esteem, good communication skills and courage lead to integrity. A person of integrity has conviction about doing the right thing and no desire to propagate violence.

Through a disciplined, truthful and courageous process a martial artist becomes a master of themselves, no longer manipulated by unconscious lower, animal drives, like violence. Martial arts teach non-violence because it is about bettering oneself, not besting others.

© Shizumi Crimi 2013-2016

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