The terms martial arts and martial artist are ones that I have always found interesting. Martial means that we are dealing with something to do with force, with warriors, with soldiers, with combat. In effect we are dealing with brutality or violence whether organised or not. The art side would seem to infer something softer, perhaps something that comes naturally to the surface through someone's soul as a way of expressing themselves. Art implies a thing of beauty.

Of course violence (ugliness) and art (beauty) are polar opposites but we know that the Taoists see beauty and ugliness as just opposite ends of the same continuum. Indeed Lao Tzu the great Taoist scholar wrote :

When all the world knows beauty as beauty, There is ugliness. When they know good as good, There is evil.

In this way Existence and non-existence produce each other. Difficult and easy compete with each other. Long and short contrast each other. High and low attract each other. Pitch and tone harmonise each other Future and past follow each other.

Therefore, evolved Individuals Hold their position without effort, Practice their philosophy without words, Are a part of All Things and overlook nothing. They produce but do not posses, Act without expectation, Succeed without taking credit.

Since, indeed, they take no credit, it remains with them.

There are many aspects of this poem which I think are relevant to the way we as martial artists should act consciously and sub consciously.

Firstly "When all the world knows beauty as beauty, There is ugliness."

Many different martial arts practice the use of forms as a way of learning. The practice of forms can be a thing of beauty - of art. However, the underlying reason for most of these forms is to learn the martial arts elements of striking or kicking. In other words we combine both beauty and ugliness.

"When they know good as good, There is evil."

Most martial artists are peaceful people who abhor violence. It appears to be contrary to common sense that peaceful people should practice a violent sport. Again the martial artist knows that by "practising violence" he or she can achieve peacefulness. The martial artist can be aware of evil in the world while not immune to it can become detached from the extremes of human behaviour by becoming "centred" and confident in his or her abilities. In other words they become evolved individuals.

Evolved individuals, as one might expect, have discipline and practice respect. That is respect for others and respect for themselves.

In our academy we use the tenets from the Tae Kwon Do school of martial arts as these provide an excellent grounding in what we should strive for in our pursuit of mastery in martial arts.

The tenants are :

Courtesy This includes respect for others opinions, beliefs, abilities. It means being polite and not giving offence to others. In terms of deference it means that we should be respectful of our seniors and do our utmost to emulate and learn from them. It means we should be respectful of our own abilities and do our utmost to achieve our goals. It also means that we should be deferential to people junior to ourselves as it is incumbent upon us to pass on the knowledge that we have learned from others. At the same time the passing of knowledge enhances our own knowledge and abilities as leaders.

Integrity Here we are talking about truth, sincerity and strength of character. When training in a martial art one needs to be able to give and receive feedback and to give honest appraisals of those who you help to learn. Constructive criticism or praise can only be given effectively if it is done with honesty, i.e., with integrity. One also needs to be true to one's self. Martial arts training does not take place in three easy lessons and one needs to believe in the road that is being travelled as much as one looks forward to the final destination.

Perseverance As I have mentioned above one doesn't become a martial artist easily. It is a long road and there is much to be learnt from others and from ourselves. This can only happen if the student of martial arts has sufficient perseverance. There will be many times when the student is struggling with some aspect of his or her training and becomes disheartened. At this time it might appear that no progress is being made. Indeed some may feel that they are going backwards rather than forwards. This, though, is simply a time when the students sub conscious is taking its time to assimilate the new knowledge. Letting the body and mind assimilate the new concepts or demands upon them. Soon after the mind and body will be ready to "move on" to a higher level. Therefore perseverance is one of the most important elements of becoming a martial artist as continued practice is what is needed to continually improve.

Self Control Those who know others are intelligent; Those who know themselves have insight. Those who master others have force; Those who master themselves have strength.

Those who know what is enough are wealthy. Those who persevere have direction Those who maintain their position endure. And those who die and yet do not perish, live on. - Lao Tzu

Martial arts requires a considerable amount of time including learning from others, learning about one's self and teaching others. It often requires putting self -interests aside which paradoxically is in our own self- interest. This is because we often get a lot more out of interaction with others and learning from others in the long term when we forego our own short -term interests. However, self- control doesn't end there in terms of martial arts. We recognise that it is a violent sport and often we need to have control over our bodies so as not to harm others. We also need to be sufficiently in charge of our egos and emotions so as not to respond inappropriately when injured during training with others. In a competitive environment it has long been recognised that emotion should not enter the ring with a combatant as it clouds their abilities, i.e., their self-control.

Indomitable Spirit When I think of indomitable spirit I do not necessarily think of a person who refuses to give in and carries on the fight to the last breath. Instead I see indomitable spirit as choosing the "right" fight and making sure that all the tools are in place to fight effectively now and in the future. This could involve living to fight another day. This "right" fight might not be a physical confrontation. It might be ideological or to do with social justice or social change.

This last tenet could be said to encapsulate all of the others. Here we see Courtesy, integrity, perseverance and self control all tied into a strong will that the student must achieve in order to become the evolved individual we mentioned earlier when we said.

Therefore, evolved Individuals Hold their position without effort, Indomitable spirit Practice their philosophy without words, Self control Are a part of All Things and overlook nothing. Integrity They produce but do not posses, Perseverance Act without expectation, Courtesy Succeed without taking credit. All of the above.

Since, indeed, they take no credit, it remains with them. Mastery

So the martial artist is a person who achieves peace through violence, who teaches by learning and learns by teaching, who mixes beauty and ugliness. The martial artist understands that having physical strength is not demeaned by serving others and by being respectful and courteous to people of all ranks and abilities.

I have often thought that the progression through martial arts is a bit like an hour glass shape. If we were to use our club structure and our tenets as the basis of the example it would go something like this.


Black 1st degree - Indomitable spirit Brown / Black White - Self control Purple Red / Red / Red Brown - Perseverance Green / Blue / Purple - Integrity White /Yellow/ Orange - Courtesy

Starting at the bottom we begin to learn respect for the martial art skills that others have and we need to learn. We learn to be courteous to our teachers and begin to be more respectful of others around us.

The next stage is we begin to appreciate what we have achieved, what others who have gone before us have contributed to our progress and we begin to understand our responsibilities to our chosen direction.

The following stage is dominated by the need to improve ourselves. Some self doubt might creep in and here we need to persevere in order to continue the progress.

At the brown/black white belt stage we are learning control in terms of the martial arts techniques themselves and concentrating on adaptive strategies. The mental development required is to realise that while coming closer to some of your original goals you discover that you have greater responsibilities to others around you, that you must set examples to others and high standards for your self.

The black belt stage is where the indomitable spirit is shown. The student has climbed the mountain and sits on top. The student is master of the mountain but upon surveying his or her domain discovers that there is a range of mountains still to climb - a lifetime of learning to be had.

The black belt does not simply give up. He or she begins the next climb - passing through the narrow part of the hourglass and into a wider world of knowledge to be discovered and then disseminated. In a strange sense the hourglass opens into a "wider world" because the black belt now has the ability to look within. He or she can now discover truths that were not apparent in the early stages and truths that are not available to those who do not strive to become evolved individuals treading whichever path they choose.