|Politics in the Martial Arts:
Forget about it!
Life is too short to be angry at those who just don’t get it.
The martial arts have a stigma about them. One conjures images of reverent warriors with bowed heads and
sharp blades, all living by a code of honor that speaks of discipline, humility, temperance, and loyalty.
Leave it to the United States to market this very aura and then make a mess out of tradition. America’s hunger
for such values combined with a thick checkbook have somehow tainted the martial arts in an effort to gain
what they offer. The media and the American merchandising machine have martial arts instructors and
schools popping up all over the place. The problem is that in America, success is too often gauged by “bigger
is better”, and bigger requires more money. Money requires a greater student population which means that
everyone with the ability to pay dues is allowed to train, and things just kind of go downhill from there.
Probably the nastiest of by-products to American martial practice is the politically charged atmosphere that
seems to accommodate large organizations. The problem? Competition… plain and simple. It’s not that a
little competition isn’t good for the soul; it’s that it is usually misdirected. Schools (and arts) compete against
each other, organizations fracture and compete with rival branches, and students begin to compete with each
other in an unhealthy way. This competitive environment is sometimes influenced in part by that great evil:
money. The fuel? Ego, huge amounts of ego.
Everyone has their own point of view, and to believe any one person has the “right” point of view is arrogant.
That said, I’ll give you my take on politics in the martial arts just to provoke some thought. After all, I’ve been on
the receiving end of political BS as much as anyone I know of. I’ve learned a lot about people and what drives
them to succumb to such idiocy, and I make it a point to purge my own training environment of this poison.
One’s martial journey should be all about self discovery. It’s the instructor’s job to make sure that discipline,
humility, and camaraderie all taught in a balanced format. Respect flows in both directions, and a senior only
commands as much respect from a junior as he exudes in his own persona. And while any martial arts
organization is military in its hierarchy, rank and individual progress threaten to upset the structure.
Ego and jealousy are the two components behind every political event in the dojo. Jealousy because one
student appears to be progressing faster than another (or being rewarded more for knowing less); ego
because perhaps one feels that he knows enough to challenge his senior or instructor… possibly striking out
on his own. The failure? Loss of personal focus and/or humility… two of a true martial artist’s most crucial
So what does one do after being a witness or a victim of martial politics? It’s very simple… look inside
yourself and ask if what you’re doing or what you’re seeing feels right to you. If the events affect your martial
course, then move on to something else. If you can continue on your present course without being deterred,
then stay the course. Whatever you do, make sure that you have not compromised your goals or your values,
and don’t lower yourself to speaking ill of others. Be above them… and let it go.
I have seen so many practitioners that feel scorned by such events. They carry a cargo of bad feelings with
them and most of them don’t even know why. They can tell a good yarn about what happened… how so-and-
so said such-and-such and blah blah blah. All the while they show that they didn’t grasp the martial way in the
first place, and expose the weakness that comes from not being able to rise above what usually amounts to a
misunderstanding. These events, while sad statements in and of themselves, eventually weed out the ones
that were never meant for a life of peace for which the true martial artist aspires.
Personally, I have found it very rewarding to leave these people to toil in their own angst; for their discontent
does not affect my course. That is practicing what I preach in regard to personal focus. Despite the few
comments that I have heard in an effort to degrade me, I continue to train and teach in a manner that pleases
me, my instructors, and my students. Besides, none of my antagonists spoke to me face-to-face anyway. I do
not wish any of them ill of any kind… that would not speak well of my own martial mindset.
I recently saw a sign that proclaimed “Success is the Best Revenge”. This made me think of the very subject I’
m addressing here. Rather than revenge, I’d like to think of it as inspiration to those who let the politics
interfere with their path. I’m still here, doing what I said I would do and loving every minute of it. Why?
Because it is important enough to me that I chose to focus on it and stay the course. This who I am and this is
what I teach.