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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Orthogonal

Wes said something interesting during a discussion between him, Jeff, and I about the Spartans.

"The eugenic infanticide adds to the overarching idea that 'great warrior' carries no ethical weight but is only a marker of a very limited skill set, superstition and all in their case."

The part in bold is the part I think is important here.

People tend to draw relationships between things that aren’t really there. There are some good, honorable people in the martial arts, so people decide that the martial arts is a path to honor and virtue. There are great fighters in the martial arts, so people decide that the martial arts are a path to becoming a great fighter. There are incredibly physically fit people who practice martial arts, so people decide that the martial arts are a great path to fitness.

The problem, of course, is that for every one of those examples, there’s a counter example. There are absolutely terrible people in the martial arts: child molesters, rapists…there’s likely a murderer somewhere in the mix. I’ve known martial artists who preached about the virtues of honor and discipline while they had sex with their students (and the martial artists in question were married).

The black belt who can’t fight is so common it’s a cliché. Taken on the whole, honestly, there’s probably more martial artists who can’t fight than ones who can. Maybe I’m being uncharitable with that, but I don’t think I’m wrong. (At least in the US. Maybe if you go worldwide, the numbers change.)

The guy who needs an extra long black belt to fit around his belly is as cliché as the black belt who can’t fight. There are plenty of unfit people in the martial arts.

None of this is to say that the martial arts can’t be a path to fighting skill, fitness, or greater moral virtue. They CAN be, but there are no guarantees. The practice of a martial art doesn’t inherently make you a better human being. You have to work at it.

John Connors pointed out that while most martial arts schools purport to teach people to be, well, better people, they rarely actually have a system for doing so. Which is not only ridiculous, but also arrogant. There’s nothing about a particular physical activity that makes you a better person.

Racquetball coaches don’t (to my knowledge) spend their time crowing about the moral improvements that racquetball brings, and yet I’m sure that some kid out there was positively influenced by a racquetball coach. I played racquetball when I was a kid, and the guy who coached me was a far better human being than some of the people I’ve met in the martial arts. Again, it’s not that it’s not possible for people to learn virtue, discipline, fighting skill, or whatever through the martial arts, it’s just not a given.

If you want to learn to fight, find people who know how to teach you how to fight.

If you want to become healthier, find people who can help you get healthier.

If you want to become a better person (however you define that), find people whose moral compass you admire and let them guide you.

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