Courage by Master Ronald Stone
In the original Magnificent Seven movie, one of the seven gunmen hired to fight a large band of outlaws and protect a small farming town, explains to the local Mexican children (who all view him as a hero) that it is in fact their fathers who have real courage. He is fighting against outlaws who outnumber him ten to one yet admires the farmers for having the fortitude to withstand nature, long hours of backbreaking work, starvation, and deprivation to provide for their families. “That is real courage,” he explains. “I have never had this kind of courage.”
In our style of Haemukwan Hapkido we teach that physical courage is certainly admirable, but if you examine it closely you will see that in such instances the hero usually had some level of training to condition their mind and bodies to face the threat. Police, fire fighters and military veterans are the ones most recognized as being courageous, and rightfully so, but again such individuals all had some level of training to prepare themselves for such a possibility. Most of us are terrified of the thought of being in a burning building but once a fireman learns how fires react and how they can protect themselves fighting a fire becomes less of a fearful act.
In like manner, the martial arts like Hapkido provides repetitive training against physical and moral threats that helps condition students to the prepare for the time when such a situation might arise.
Having someone throw a punch at you might be intimidating to the average untrained person yet after practicing defenses against punches for some time the thought if being attacked becomes less frightening. The more you understand something and the more accustomed you become to dealing with it the less frightening it seems.
Ask the average person about courage and they will mention such physical acts as facing an armed gunman to rescue someone or will use the example of someone who sacrifices themselves to save another, such as the soldier who throws themselves on a grenade to save their comrades. Again, these examples would absolutely be correct, but it isn’t all there is to the notion of courage.
When my daughter was younger, she asked me about my profession and asked what it took to be a veterinarian. She was surprised when I answered that it took courage. She was puzzled until I explained that at one time or another everyone has heard the expression “the courage of one’s convictions.” Acting in a moral manner or refusing to compromise ethical principles when no one is watching, can take a great deal if intestinal fortitude. Sticking to your principles in the face of public criticisms, personal attacks, or the threat of economic damage is something that can weigh on both mind and body. It takes a lot of courage sometimes to “stick to your guns.” Rich businessmen aren’t the only ones who get ulcers, acid indigestion or hair loss from worry.
My Hapkido instructor once pointed out to me that not everyone is born with a dominant personality or the instinct to “attack into an attack.” Many of us tend to shy away from threats and violence, and often cower instinctively in response to physical and verbal assaults. Just as the military trains and prepares their troops by exposing them to simulated threats (firing ranges, obstacle courses, explosions etc.) the martial arts trains its pupils to “gain courage” by exposing them to repetitive physical drills and by explaining the details of attacks and defenses. Again, when you understand and are familiar with something it becomes far less frightening.
Perhaps more importantly however are the tenets of the Martial Arts. The development of an indomitable spirit and the concepts of integrity and perseverance are equally as important in developing personal courage. The inspiration of my instructor who has shown up to teach class for years despite personal and physical issues has been indescribably important to me. I have
learned not just to face physical threats but to have had the courage to persevere in my daily life as well. Doubt and worry and fear of life’s imponderables seem less important to me than they did years ago.
Courage can certainly be an instinctive act of self-sacrifice performed solely for the benefit of others but perhaps it can also be the act of maintaining steadfastness in the face of hardships. Calvin Coolidge once said, “Press on, nothing can take the place of perseverance.” Perhaps therefore perseverance is one of the tenets of the martial arts.
By way of example, when I was in my first year of college, I thought the workload was unbelievably hard and was asking myself if I could bear up under the burden of all those courses, thesis papers and examinations. At the time I had joined a taekwondo class and for my first belt exam was required to break a pine board with my bare hand. It seemed unlikely I could do that, and I was sure I would end up with a broken hand, yet my instructor at the time explained how to do it and said he had confidence in me. To my surprise the board broke and my hand was fine.
I returned to my dorm room that night with a new outlook on things. If I would break a solid wood board with my hand, I reasoned, then why would I ever be afraid of a simple written exam. The martial arts taught me to confront my fears and conquer them, which may be the definition of courage we all look for.
About the author: R.W. Stone is a veterinarian in Florida. He is an avid horseman, martial artist, best-selling western author, and a firearms enthusiast. Currently Stone is ranked a sixth dan in Haemukwan Hapkido, a third dan in Daehan Yudo and a second dan in Kukki TaeKwondo. He is the Master Instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Academies in Ocoee, Florida. Read his daily thoughts on Martial Arts at www.facebook.com/groups/koreanmartialarts For more information on Hapkido visit www.haemukwan.com