July 14, 2024


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Wisdom in the Martial Arts by KJN Ronald Stone

Wisdom in the Martial Arts by KJN Ronald Stone

The encyclopedia defines wisdom as the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight. Wisdom is associated with attributes such as unbiased judgment, compassion, experiential self-knowledge, self-transcendence, and non-attachment, and such as ethics and benevolence.

When one considers how we might recognize another martial artist as wise we must first try to compare the factors that might influence our opinion. 

Certainly, a very athletic person, or one who has learned many techniques can be quite impressive, but that alone does not automatically bestow the honor of being considered wise.  Consider this, although a chimpanzee is far stronger than the average human and can be taught to kick, jump and do back flips, that does not make it a martial artist.

By the same token a person who has learned many techniques without understanding the principles behind those techniques is also not truly wise in the arts.  There is a reason people frown upon the term “monkey see, monkey do.”  That is why the above definition of wisdom mentions the need for “understanding” to gain wisdom.

For example, one might learn a particular wrist block, without an understanding of how to properly enter its application, how to react to counters, and how to utilize concepts like torque, redirection, or the utilization of an accompanying neuro stun, the wrist in actual combat may not be effective.   

In a similar manner the truly wise practitioner must have experience.  Imagine if you will, being shown only once how to apply that same wrist- lock, and for argument’s sake let us assume that it’s philosophy of application was well explained.  You might gain the necessary understanding of why that lock must be applied in that manner, but if you do not practice the technique often enough to gain a degree of instinctive muscle memory, if you do not practice enough at varying speeds, with 

different levels of awareness, and against different levels of resistance, you might fail again.  Understanding must be joined with experience to acquire true wisdom. 

In the genre of western literature there is a familiar storyline about the small-town gunslinger who has learned to draw and shoot amazingly fast.  With nobody in town to argue or educate him further he begins to believe he is the best around.  Best that is until a stranger arrives from somewhere else to challenge him and during their confrontation that local “Fast draw” doesn’t even get to clear leather.  He got educated quick as they say.

The author has personally met supposedly high-ranking martial artists who were not even aware of techniques which in Korea or Japan would be the norm for white or yellow belt level students.  They had been taught by “kiddy Karate” instructors who had little or no understanding of the why’s and wherefores of the art they professed to teach, and who had never been properly educated to the belt level they claimed to hold.

The author was once honored to attend an international grandmaster- master level examination from a prestigious Korean organization.  One of the men I met there was a sixth dan in another Western Hapkido organization.  When I asked if he was testing for his seventh dan he replied that he was testing for a second dan. I was surprised and confused until he explained that once he saw what others who were professionally trained were capable of at his rank, he realized the difference in preparation and requested to test in what he explained was an “authentic style”.  This person had experience, and some understanding, but with the new acquisition of knowledge of what was possible he changed is attitude completely.  Obviously, his decision also required a great deal of personal ethics.  They could have stoked his own ego by continuing in his former organization perhaps as a seventh dan someday, yet he instead preferred to gather more true knowledge, even at the expense of rank.

I have never forgotten his example.      

Wisdom also requires common sense, insight, and self-awareness.  There are lots of people who wind up having to defend themselves who got into that predicament by making a really bad decision, or by allowing personal issues like pride, ego, embarrassment, or competition to cloud their better judgement.

It has been said that the number one self-defense skill is good decision making. This can be gained from the experience and knowledge wisdom gained from martial arts training. As you get wiser, and your martial arts skills increase there is a rise in your situational awareness that helps you naturally avoid dangerous people and places. Spatial awareness for example can be developed through the practice of techniques and forms *Kata or Poomse).  The ability to start and stop on the exact same spot is an example of this spatial awareness being applied in the martial arts. You can learn to sense when someone is getting too close to you even if they approach from behind. 

Furthermore, one of the tenants of the martial arts is humility and once learned this trait helps one gain a psychological advantage.  If you understand yourself, it may perhaps be easier to understand the situation you find yourself in.

Attaining the virtue of wisdom is not easy and it takes a great deal of time.  To quote a line from the movie High Road to China, “The oxen are slow, but the earth is patient.”

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 fourth 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 visit www.kmaia.org