Martial Arts Teachers: Can You --or How Do We --Do Battle with Ignorance, Racism, Misogyny and Sexism, Prejudice, Gun Violence, and the Other Ills of Society as We Know It Today?
These are, of course, my opinions.
As a teacher of the martial arts, of any style and from any country of origin, you are (can be) a powerful individual. Your power doesn’t reside --only --in your ability to physically defeat an opponent or otherwise cope with physical violence or physical conflict. It doesn’t reside in the fact that you may be more fit than others, more capable as a martial art tactician, athlete, competitor, or fighter.
Your power resides in your ability to be the person, for whatever reasons, be they right, wrong, or simply by chance, who gets to, by position, be an influencer in another person’s life.
Your chance to influence may be fleeting. It may last only for the length of a single class --or it may go on for weeks, months, years, or even decades, but for some period of time you will find yourself in a position where the student or students lined up in front of you listen to you with an openness, with a complete acceptance of your words, with an unfiltered open-mindedness that allows your ideas, comments, and wisdom (or lack thereof) to be something they remember and can access for, sometimes, the rest of their lives.
I have experienced this first hand, as for a period of my life, when I was young, the only people I really listened to were the adults I learned and practiced the martial arts with. Oh, and of course, the actors in my favorite martial arts TV shows and movies. The advise my parents gave me, my teachers at school, and other people who most likely had my welfare more in mind than the black belts at the front of class, weren’t the people I listened to the best. It’s ironic, but true.
So, if and when you, martial arts teacher, find yourself in front of a young man or woman --or a group of them, remember that your real power you own is in your ability to do 1 of these 3 things:
You can say things to your students that empower them, that educate them --and that steer them towards the best ideas and things a human being can know, be, and/or do.
You can say little about anything of real consequence --and your influence might be seen as much ado about nothing in particular, as in “neutral.”
You can promote things that lean towards the dark side, the negative. You can promote fear and/or fear of others, you can be a role model of hyper-masculinity, you can influence your students to be wary, suspicious, cynical, sarcastic, and/or any number of things that don’t represent the best of what human beings can think, do, or be.
As a teacher of “self-defense,” in a world that is being hurt by dumb, hateful fear-mongering, by the worst of human nature instead of the best we can be, you, by way of your position, have a chance to drop hints, to address issues, to tackle, head-on the things that are hurting us as citizens and people of today’s world. You might just say things that stick with these people you’re fortunate enough to teach, for a lifetime, even if your influence with them lasts only a few minutes. You just never know.
Moreover, children (especially) defend themselves with their heads, not with their hands and feet. It is ignorance that does more harm to people --and to the world, than any bully or attacker hiding in the proverbial dark alley. Self-defense is education, as in yours —and through you, if the opportunity presents itself —theirs.
You only teach what you know. You can’t teach what you don’t know.
So if you know little or nothing about the evils of racism, misogyny, of racial hatred, of any of all the things that are harming the world today, then you won’t, when given the chance, be the person your student remembers for opening his or her eyes to a better, smarter, more peaceful way.
As a teacher of the martial arts, of any style and from any country of origin, you are (can be) a powerful individual. You can be a purveyor of wisdom and empowerment, unless of course you aren’t. How do we tackle tough subjects? We do it with the same fearlessness and commitment that we use when we face any worthwhile challenge, we proceed and be bold as martial artists.
If you want to use your life’s work as a tool to build a better and more peaceful world, then it is your responsibility to educate yourself about the issues of the time, coming not from not only a warrior’s point of view, but from a peacemakers.
Well, as we all have been taught, the best self-defense isn’t found in the art of defeating an opponent, it is found in avoiding the conflict before it has a chance to happen. As Gichen Funikoshi, the founder of Shotokan Karate, wrote: “The ultimate aim of Karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the character of its participants.”
As martial arts teachers the work we can do on our own ability to contribute to a better world comes in the form of tackling the scary and controversial subjects people face today --and finding the wisest, most enlightened way to address them --so that if and when you stand in front of an open mind, you can fill it with peaceful and intelligent solutions, rather than something less.
If children defend themselves with their heads, then martial arts teachers contribute to a better world with their heads too --and what they have gone through the effort to learn, for the betterment of society.