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Thread: Philosophy: Virtue and Ethics in the Martial Arts?

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    Default Philosophy: Virtue and Ethics in the Martial Arts?

    Virtue and Ethics in the Martial Arts? Too many people think that you study martial arts to learn self defense, or fighting. Why is it then that many of the old masters become reclusive and paint, or write, or simply sit and think? Miyamoto Musashi who is considered by many to be one of the finest swordsmen in Japanese history spent his last years living in a cave, painting nature pictures. Why? What did he know, that we have failed to see?

    We hear much talk of the values and virtues of a martial artist or what can be found in a deep study of the arts. What we often times overlook is the understanding of what those virtues are, and how they interact.

    I'm going to offer a few definitions. You might not agree with all of them, and that is perfectly fine. Everyone has a unique viewpoint based on their own influences and experiences. These come from my own, so may differ somewhat.

    First, the difference between "Morals" and "Ethics".

    We often times hear about "Morals". Morals are defined as "The lesson or principle contained in or taught by a fable, a story, or an event.". The 10 Commandments in the Judaic and Christian faiths are examples of morals.

    Ethics are a little different. Ethics are defined as "motivation based on ideas of right and wrong".

    Another way to look at it is that ethics are founded on logic, and provide a systematic basis for human interaction. Morality, by contrast, tends to be dogmatic and rigid, often times influences by religious tones. They are similar, but different.

    There are literally hundreds of ethics and virtues there. I'm going to focus on 8 ethics, as well as 3 combinations, and a universal. Others may have different views, and I welcome different perspectives.

    The 8 are : Compassion, Honesty, Valour, Humility, Sacrifice, Honour, Justice and Spirituality. The eight virtues are derived from the three principles of Truth, Love, and Courage. All that is good, or done with good intent, derives from the three principles.

    Compassion - Compassion is the ability to be sympathetic to the feelings and sufferings of others. To share their pain, and, to do what you can to ease their misery. For a martial artist to show compassion, it can take many forms. A kind word to a training partner who is growing discouraged is one way. Compassion is sharing the suffering of others. It is being there for them, and listening to them with empathy. When friends are compassionate, it feels as though they are helping us carry our burden. The joy of experiencing their love lessens our suffering.

    Honesty - "Thou shalt not steal or lie", but more than this, seek the truth in all things. Strive to be honest in all your actions. Look deep into yourself for, only by knowing yourself can you know truth. One of the phrases that most of us heard often when we were growing up was, "honesty is the best policy." But there is another aspect of honesty that we need to consider -- living the truth! A popular book of several years back asked this question in its title, "Who Are You When Nobody is Looking?" Are you one person in public, but another person entirely when you think that you can "get away with it?" Another part of Honesty is understanding this.

    Valour - Valour is more than just courage in battle, or in the face of great danger. True valour is the courage to stand by your convictions and, to act in defense of them. Courage also, to look at your failings and, bravely, take action to rectify them. Being valourous is not charging heedlessly into the fray. It may be staying behind so that others may escape.

    Humility - True humility is the opposite of pride, without humility the path of the martial artist will be a rocky one. For, if your spirit is filled with pride then how can you learn? We have all heard the comment "Empty your Cup". But how many of us really do? Too often we let our self be hardened and fall short. Humility is part of being a perpetual student. Humility is the virtue of seeing ourselves as we really are in relation to God (if we are religious) and to others. It is living our life according to this realistic assessment and not thinking more or less of ourselves then we ought. This is difficult because we are prone to swing to either extreme. We tend towards pride when we do well, and we get too down on ourselves when we don't. Humility is an important virtue for a martial artist to have.

    Sacrifice - Sacrifice is to love your fellow creatures enough, that you are bravely able to give of yourself. To give without thought of reward or gain. To sacrifice that which you do need to aid those that are in need. Look deep into your heart and soul that you may find true generosity of spirit. We see sacrifice in our dojos every day. The dedicated student that gives up their own training time to help another student who is behind is just one form of sacrifice.

    Honour - Honor is one of the most misunderstood of virtues. Too often someone will end up in a fight claiming their honor had been slighted. Honor has nothing to do with the 'your mamma' insults of children. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "Our own heart, and not other men's opinion, forms our true honor." So what then is honor? While examining the concept I came across 9 rules of Honor.

    They are:
    First Law Of Honor : You must always be true to your own inner values.

    Second Law Of Honor : You must never claim victories that you know in your heart are not truly victories.

    Third Law Of Honor : Regardless of how the outside world perceives your victories or losses, your behavior must always be true to your own perceptions.

    Fourth Law Of Honor : To be an instrument for another's pain or death does no one honor--regardless of the circumstances.

    Fifth Law Of Honor : There will always be some more capable and some less capable than you, in any given activity. In time, each will occupy all points on the continuum. Therefore, think not in terms of victory and loss, but think in terms of an interaction where both have the opportunity to learn and grow.

    Sixth Law Of Honor : An attitude of victory or loss, or lack of honor, if held incorrectly, will bar all doors. However, the attitude of interactions for growth's sake, by itself, will not necessarily open all doors.

    Seventh Law Of Honor : To create high ideals for one's self and to begin to live by these ideals is, indeed, the true path toward growth if, and only if, the creator bends them for no man. But, however great these ideals may be for their creator, force them not upon another.

    Eighth Law Of Honor
    : To maintain honor and other ideals it is necessary to attach the highest value to them. The higher the value, the quicker change will be accomplished. Just as money is only paper until Man places a great value on it, wisdom is just words until the seeker places great value on those words.

    Ninth Law Of Honor : When all is said and done, no individual can escape from the cares of Honor with respect to The Alliance of The Rule. It is upon this level of Honor that we discover that the boarders of honor are respect and love.

    Honor can be simply defined as: "When thou givest thy word thou art bound by it. Whatever the perils thy word is thy bond. But, true honour is more than this, thus the Paladin, who values honesty and valour, for from them cometh true honour. A pure heart is an honorable heart.". It is however so much more.

    Justice - What is justice? Everyone has a sense of what they think justice is. Many believe it is nothing more than a standard of fairness. The Virtue of Justice has been described thusly: “Justice is the truth of what is right and wrong in human action and the love of what is right.". People sometimes think of justice as only having to do with courts of law. Justice is the devotion to truth, tempered by love or mercy. It can take many forms. Hearing both sides in a dispute with your heart and mind is part of it.

    Spirituality - Spirituality is the ability to be at peace with yourself and the world. Thus the person who finds joy and calmness in closeness to nature. To seek also, the true nature of your inner self. To find true spirituality is to be blessed indeed, for tis but the first step on a path that will lead to great wisdom and true peace. Spirituality can be a deep religious faith. It also can be completely separate from religion. Some will see it as 'Ki' or 'Chi'. It is different for everyone, yet at the time the same. A simplistic definition would be to "be as one with yourself and the world".

    The Three Principles

    The eight virtues are derived from the three principles of Truth, Love, and Courage. All that is good, or done with good intent, derives from the three principles.

    Truth is the truth that is inherent in all things. It is the truth that we discover when we are able to see clearly, free from other distractions.

    Love is the love that we find in our hearts for all things. Love is what drives us to do acts of kindness. To love is to see beauty and joy all around.


    Courage is strength of spirit and determination to act for the greater good. Courage to never give up, and to face overwhelming odds bravely.

    These three principles, either separately, or in combination, form the virtues:
    • From Truth comes Honesty
    • From Love comes Compassion
    • From Courage comes Valour
    • Truth and Love combined create Justice
    • Love and Courage combined create Sacrifice
    • Courage and Truth combined create Honour
    • From Truth, Love, and Courage comes Spirituality
    • Pride is caused by the absence of the Three Principles, the opposite of Pride is Humility.

    The One Principle

    Infinity is the One Principle from which the Three principles derive. Truth, Love, and Courage are eternal forces, therefore they derive from Infinity, from which the Three Principles, and Eight Virtues flow.

    There are more virtues. Many are very similar to those above, shades of difference separating them.

    What of Integrity?
    Integrity is the virtue of practicing what one preaches. Or more importantly, practicing what one believes is right. A 'man of principle' is not a man who understands a principle, but a man who understands, accepts, and lives by a principle. Integrity is the virtue of being the person we claim to be. It is "walking the talk," or "practicing what we preach." We cannot say one thing and then do another and still be a person of integrity. If we think we can, we are only fooling ourselves. To be honest means to be real, genuine and authentic.

    This shows respect for ourselves and for others.

    Some believe deceiving others is all right so long as you are not caught. This may work some of the time, but not always. Whether we are caught or not, we should care more about who we are as persons. Sir Thomas More (former Chancellor of England and famous for his integrity) is quoted as saying that we hold ourselves in our hands like sand; if we let go for a moment we are lost, never to regain ourselves.

    Why is it that today, we seem to have such a lack of virtue in the arts? Too often we hear stories of the 'McDojo". Schools where the instructors either teach unsafe, untested, watered down or otherwise flawed skills? Or the ones who felt the need to either buy a high rank, or otherwise self-promote themselves to a high status? We hear of the physical predator who feels the need to break his training partners to show why he is the 'man'. Or instructors who when they take the odd shot from a student while training, feels the need to 'beat' them. 1 person I know has lost a lost of students due to the fact that anytime they beat him, he will not rest until he has regained his 'spot'. This resulted in a number of injuries inflicted on his students by him. Its a shame because he is a talented young man, but lacking in many of the virtues of a true martial artist.

    Given the problem, what can we do if anything to solve it? Is the answer a wave of laws, fraud busting and such? Or should we strive to be the best we can be in our acts, words and deeds? Can we individually bring up the karma of the arts simply by living as close to these ethics as we can?

    For me, the answer is obvious. I'm not perfect, and I know I never can be. Many times I have missed my mark in my actions or words. All I can do is strive each day to be better, and perhaps one day, truly find the enlightenment that I know is inside the arts.


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    John M. La Tourrette (05-28-2007)

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    Default Re: Philosophy: Virtue and Ethics in the Martial Arts?

    Maybe they finally realized there's nothing to fight about.

    ...that, and they were confident enough in their ability that they knew if some poor sap thought differently they could dispatch them.

    What do you do when you have nothing left to prove?
    "It is sobering to reflect that one of the best ways to get yourself a reputation as a dangerous citizen these days is to go about repeating the very phrases which our founding fathers used in the struggle for independence." – Charles A. Beard

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    Default Re: Philosophy: Virtue and Ethics in the Martial Arts?


    Ask Musashi.
    For ANY and ALL KenpoTalk issues, please use theContact Us link here or at page bottom right. Do NOT PM me for site support.

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    Default Re: Philosophy: Virtue and Ethics in the Martial Arts?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bob Hubbard View Post

    Ask Musashi.
    I love that book written about him.

    Dr. John M. La Tourrette

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