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  1. DAYoung is offline
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    Crouching Philosopher, Hidden Philosopher

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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 6:28am

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    Vices in Martial Arts and Life

    Vices in Martial Arts and Life

    One of the common myths of the martial arts world is that training makes you a better person.

    This is dubious for a number of reasons - I'm going to mention four.

    First, nothing simply 'makes' you anything. if the world were capable of molding character this efficiently, then notions of freedom and responsibility would largely be irrelevant (to say nothing of individual idiosyncrasies, which resist inculcation). Put simply, humans aren't determined by circumstance or happenstance - there's always an element of flexibility, resistance and liberty.

    Second, the notion of what makes a better person is highly situational - claims about virtue in the Japanese Budo tradition, for example, might seem abhorrent to ancient Greeks or modern liberals. It might be possible to make a case for certain universally moral characteristics - but most martial arts schools and traditions are a long way from this.

    Third, the skill sets of fighting are amoral. Even if there are some examples of 'skills transfer', this is by no means necessary. It's quite possible to learn all about timing, distance, and develop great cardio without learning a damn thing about ethics.

    Fourth, it's quite possible that the martial arts offer opportunities for people to become worse (by any standard). That is, it doesn't bring out their best - it encourages their foibles, and then cements them under pressure and habituation.

    It's this last point that concerns me here. I can't speak for others, but martial arts have actually taken some of my characteristic vices, and made them more intense. And when you think about this, it makes a great deal of sense: in a competitive, stressful, often dangerous environment, we can forget a great many important lessons. Instead of seeking to overcome our vices, we heighten them.

    When I say 'vices', I mean it in the Aristotelian sense. For Aristotle, all virtues are mid-points between two vices: one of deficiency, and one of excess. Modesty, for example, is the mid-point between shyness and shamelessness. Now, these are situational - they aren't the same in all people, and they can change depending on the field of endeavour. But they're a handy rule of thumb (a table of the virtues and vices can be found here).

    In my case, a long-lasting vice is foolhardiness, which is the excess of the virtue of courage. It means I'm not a simple coward, and I face dangers (real or imagined) that a coward never would. In fact, a foolhardy man can sometimes be indistinguishable from a courageous man.

    But there's a difference. Instead of facing my fears patiently, and with self-possession, I hurl myself into them. And of course, this is touched by cowardice, if not being cowardice itself. As Aristotle described the foolhardy in Nicomachean Ethics, 'most of them exhibit a curious mixture of rashness and cowardice; because, affecting rashness in these circumstances, they do not withstand what is truly fearful.' In simple terms, I don't really face I fear - I throw myself into it.

    Importantly, this is particularly the case with physical danger: skateboarding, jumping off cliffs, fighting. And this is why martial arts provided the conditions for a worsening of my character, in one way at least.

    There's no doubt that Karate - which I had the most experience with - gave me an opportunity to develop a variety of virtues (though it didn't just 'make' them in me). But it also gave me plenty of opportunities for fighting bigger, tougher people. Sure, I deferred to my training. But in many cases, I just threw myself into the fray, trying to obliterate fear through impatient action. Getting angry helped also - another form of false courage.

    And when I did Judo, this was even more the case. I wasn't used to being thrown or choked. I was older, slower, and I didn't heal as fast. I also had bad breakfalling habits, probably learned from Karate. So when I had to get dropped, I was scared - I just hurled myself into it. Only getting a few hours sleep a night (I had a three month-old son), I was throwing myself into Judo to pack as much in as possible in between work and home life. When we did breakfalls, I was falling behind. I didn't respond patiently or smartly - I hurled myself into it again (the result: serious neck injury, which I still have).

    In simple terms, I never really learned courage in the martial arts. I learned to be foolhardy. In many circumstances I'll brave all manner of threats and perceived dangers. And I'll do so with my wits about me. But in the martial arts, I developed rashness and an inability to smartly and patiently face fear. And this got worse as I got older.

    Enough about me.

    I'm interested in other people's martial-art vices. They don't have to be framed in Aristotelian terms. What I'm interested in is how martial arts have provided a forum for shortcomings to blossom. And I'm also interested in how these have translated into life.

    Has training in the martial arts heightened any of your flaws?
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  2. bob is offline
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    Prophet of Apathy

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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 6:37am


     Style: MMA

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    Hell yeah! Hell no!
    Training in Kung Fu enhanced my vanity. It made me feel like I was exotic and cool and different.

    I'd also venture to say that the perception of difference between foolhardiness and courage is often tempered by the ultimate outcome. If you hadn't suffered a neck injury, do you really think you'd have seen all your previous actions in such a light?
  3. DAYoung is offline
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    Crouching Philosopher, Hidden Philosopher

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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 7:09am

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    Quote Originally Posted by bornsceptic
    Training in Kung Fu enhanced my vanity. It made me feel like I was exotic and cool and different.
    And you're not the only one.

    I'd also venture to say that the perception of difference between foolhardiness and courage is often tempered by the ultimate outcome. If you hadn't suffered a neck injury, do you really think you'd have seen all your previous actions in such a light?
    Probably not. But it would've got me eventually, in one way or another. It really has been an opportunity to reflect.
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  4. sempaiman is offline

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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 8:29am


     Style: Mixed-Up Martial Arts

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    Bruce Lee got in philosophy (thus all those cool JKD sayings) when he injured his back while lifting weights.
  5. new2bjj is offline

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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 1:55pm


     Style: TKD, MT, KEMPO

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    Martial Arts is not going to counter a childhood of neglect and insecurity. But as fair fear goes, I think it is all in terms of grades. I feel tense before I do my cold calls on the phone or in office buildings. I know people that have won kickboxing amateur titles that say the rejection in sales would be too much for them. Everyone is "scared" of something, so we just have to deal with it. "courage" is just confidence that the outcome won't be too bad.
  6. DAYoung is offline
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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 4:09pm

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    Quote Originally Posted by new2bjj
    Martial Arts is not going to counter a childhood of neglect and insecurity. But as fair fear goes, I think it is all in terms of grades. I feel tense before I do my cold calls on the phone or in office buildings. I know people that have won kickboxing amateur titles that say the rejection in sales would be too much for them. Everyone is "scared" of something, so we just have to deal with it. "courage" is just confidence that the outcome won't be too bad.
    I know what you mean, but I disagree.

    Courage is sometimes doing what you must, despite your fear, and in full knowledge of a painful outcome.
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  7. Cullion is offline
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    Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 4:13pm

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     Style: Tai Chi

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    Quote Originally Posted by DAYoung
    And you're not the only one.
    If only he'd found the real kung fu, he really would be exotic and cool and different. Like me.
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  8. Chizilds is offline

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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 4:21pm


     Style: BJJ - SBGi

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    Quote Originally Posted by DAYoung
    I know what you mean, but I disagree.

    Courage is sometimes doing what you must, despite your fear, and in full knowledge of a painful outcome.
    I agree to a certain extent. I have been asked a bunch of times why I train or fight. I just answer "cause it scares me". I heard it in a movie one time I think "you do the thing that scares you shittless, and get the courage after".... seems backwards but thats the way it is.
  9. DAYoung is offline
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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 4:59pm

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cullion
    If only he'd found the real kung fu, he really would be exotic and cool and different. Like me.
    You certainly are different.
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  10. Cullion is offline
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    Everybody was Kung Fu fighting

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    Posted On:
    8/22/2007 5:00pm

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    There's no warmth in your posts any more.
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