Disclaimer: Sometimes, I write stuff about the wonderful, positive impact that I believe martial arts and self-defense training can have on people's lives. When I write these things, it is because I honestly believe them. Martial arts can do a lot of wonderful things for people.
Other times, I write about the terrible, negative impact that I believe martial arts and self-defense training can have on people's lives, and I believe those things too. More importantly, I believe that they are the sort of things that not nearly enough people actually talk about in this industry/community/whatever we are. The media presents martial artists as these paragons of ancient warrior virtues who can do no wrong, and that's an image that isn't just wrong, but it's wrong in a very fundamental way. Martial arts are not practiced by people who are somehow better than other humans. They are practiced by humans. That's about it.
So I partly post this stuff so that others can see it, and know it's there, and not walk through their martial arts journey with blinders on.
And I post it partly as a self-check, to see if the things that I'm seeing are really there, or if it's just stuff I'm making up in my head.
On with the show.
Thanks to a combination of reading Never Let Go, and just a general frustration with a gap in my reading knowledge, I finally got around to finishing T.H. White's the Once and Future King. For anyone not familiar, this is one of the definitive versions of the King Arthur myth, at least in modern English literature. Disney even made a movie of the first part of it, which is the part before all of the tragedy and depressing shit happens.
This post is about the depressing shit.
Specifically, it's about Lancelot, and a revelation that occurs about him somewhere in the book. I cannot remember if Lancelot himself is aware of this truth, or if it's just authorial knowledge, though I think it is the former.
Here's the deal. Lancelot is the best knight of the round table. He works himself tirelessly, almost from birth, to train himself to embody the physical and ethical ideals that Arthur has set forth for his knights. He is strong, noble, quick, skilled...he's such a bad-ass that he eventually has to start entering tournaments in disguise, because no one is willing to fight him. He is unfailingly polite to women, loyal to his friends, merciful to his enemies...he's the perfect embodiment of the chivalric knight.
The revelation that comes out in the book is this: everything that Lancelot does, all of his hard work, his strict adherence to the rules happens because Lancelot knows that, at his core, he's actually a horrible person. Let's be honest...for all he does right, he sleeps with his best friend's wife, helping to precipitate a crisis that ultimately destroys Camelot. Lancelot isn't good because he's driven to be good. He's good because he's driven to be evil, and he's trying to hide/deny that fact by burying it underneath a chivalric cover.
Ten points if you see where this is going.
Reading the Once and Future King, I couldn't help wonder--what if that's where all of this stuff in the martial arts comes from? Is all the honor, respect, discipline, and other "morality" that has crept into or been grafted onto these arts really just an elaborate mechanism to help the people who practice this stuff cope with the idea that they are training to "manufacture corpses and cripples" (Rory)? More worrisome...what if the "ethics" are there to cover up the fact that we LIKE doing this stuff?
Part of me...hell, most of me believes that's not true. But then I think back on some of the biggest proponents of the various versions of martial morality that I've met over the years, and I have to say...some of them were pretty terrible people.
Something to think over.