In the recent “Martial Virtues” podcast I touched upon how good manners and good character have a bearing on self-protection. I thought that particular aspect may make for a good thread as it’s a “do / jutsu” crossover point that I don’t see talked about very much. I’d be interested in hearing everyone’s thoughts and views on this.
The development of virtue and good character has always been an intrinsic part of karate. Even before the “do reformation” we can see this being expressed in important documents such as the Bubishi and Matsumura’s “7 virtues of Bu”. For example:
Soken Matsumura: “The genuine study of the martial arts is infused with self-control, virtue and the development of a calm nature. A person who studies the martial arts like this will be virtuous and will be capable of waiting with a clam heart while the immoral destroy themselves. They will be loyal and will never do anything that will cause disharmony.”
Bubishi: “The true essence of martial arts does not lie in being a hero, but instead in developing patience, sincerity and honesty such that you can be of help to others … You should be a man of dignified appearance , exhibit kindness and be considerate to the needs of others.”
While there are wide-ranging benefits to the individual and the society of which they are part in the development of virtue, I think it is also worth discussing the practical self-protection benefits.
As well as emphasising the need of have external awareness to avoid the actions of enemies, I think there is a strong case to also emphasise the need for internal awareness so we don’t make enemies where there were none before! There can be no doubt that behaving badly makes people want to punch you!
I’m not talking about the pre-determined actions of the criminal here; who decided well ahead of time they are going to use violence for personal gain or gratification. That’s a separate issue. What I’m talking about is escalating a situation / causing a situation through bad behaviour. There is no moral justification for people choosing to use violence when they feel slighted, but the reality is that some people will be feel “provoked” into using violence if they feel they have been treated badly or disrespected.
To give a very basic example: If I were to accidentally bump into someone then good manners would dictate that I admit my fault and offer my apologies. My good manners could therefore deescalate that situation as it is immediately clear no offence was intended and I respect the person I have unintentionally wronged. If I were to offer no apology, then the person may feel affronted and, if they are volatile in nature, that could escalate to violence. Worse yet, if I were to exhibit bad manners and blame the other person for my error while refusing to offer any apology, it would inflame the situation yet further.
Good manners can therefore be a form of “pre-emptive de-escalation”.
We can’t reason with the unreasonable, and some people will seek violence no matter what. However, there are undoubtedly some people who will become violent simply because they feel wronged by bad behaviour. Good manners therefore remove that potential source of violence.
If we unintentionally do something that inconveniences another, then we apologise and make it right. If there is a queue, then we wait our turn. If someone is speaking, we don’t interrupt them or talk over them. If someone shows a kindness, then we acknowledge it. If someone has a differing view to us on a given topic, we show them respect and make our case calmly and without seeming to be judgemental. If we don’t know someone that well, then we should not act as their close friends may act toward them (don’t be overly familiar). And so on. Fail to act as we should and it can result in harm to one’s reputation, irritation, and perhaps even violence if the person on the receiving end of our bad manners lacks self-control and has a volatile nature.
I wonder if this aspect of self-protection is overlooked too much? Generally we see lots of emphasis on physical skills (arguably too much), awareness, escape, etc (which aren't empasised enough), but little on how to not be the kind of person people want to punch. Surely this is a hole in a truly holistic self-protection skill set.
In some quarters of the martial arts there is an inadvertent trend toward a “bad-ass-ary” which mistakenly thinks that being aloof, arrogant and “taking no s###” (i.e. the ego must be indulged even if that means engaging in violence) are intrinsically part of being “tough”. The reality is that exhibiting such a dismissive and unforgiving persona can make one more vulnerable to attack and hence is bad self-protection. It also exhibits a fragility of character.
Is there a risk that some will “throw the baby out with the bathwater” by rejecting or underplaying the character development aspects of karate by lumping it in the problematic aspects of “do” (i.e. form without function, non-functional practises such as three-step and five-step sparring, etc.)?
Surely good manners and an intent to develop character must be a fundamental part of any practical approach; regardless of whether one chooses to use the label “do” or “jutsu”?
I hope this makes for an interesting thread and I look forward to exploring this topic with everyone.
All the best,