A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to compete at an in-house tournament hosted at the Wu Dao Kung Fu School in Cambridge, MA. When I walked into the building and approached the floor to begin the competition, I noticed a frame on the wall listing the various rules of the school. The top rule on the list in particular caught my eye: “Leave your ego at the door.”
That particular rule struck a chord with me. It really hints at the fabric of all martial arts training. There are thousands of styles of martial arts. It has existed for a millenia. Martial arts is bigger than any one student, school, or philosophy. It encompasses a limitless amount of cultures and belief systems. Despite that, there are many martial artists who continue to fall victim to their own ego.
My first Kung-Fu teacher always instilled the idea of respect in us. To treat others the way you would want to be treated. I’ve done my best to carry that philosophy with me every day of my life. I’ve always been taught to treat other martial artists with a tremendous amount of respect as we are all on a similar journey of self-discovery and growth. You would think that all martial artists would remember that commonality when interacting with their peers.
Yet, I’ve encountered martial artists who simply believe that they are superior fighters simply because of their style. I’ve met martial art veterans who insist that their respect be commanded by titles rather than being earned for their own actions. I’ve met teachers who have instilled improper lessons on their students. Martial artists are very vulnerable individuals as they spend the entirety of their training reflecting and improving on themselves. In that process, many martial artists reach a state of “mastery”. When that happens, the line between humility and arrogance can be blurred very quickly. I’ve learned to avoid the folks who demand respect in any capacity.
Please understand that this isn’t meant to be an aggressive critique, nor is it virtue signalling. Instead, think of it as an observation as well as a warning to my peers and elders. Many of the martial artists I’ve met are simply the greatest people I’ve ever met. Many of those great martial artists have taught me on a personal level. Therefore, it deeply unsettles me when I see people use their training as a means to entitlement or forced respect.
We all move at different paces. We all have different goals and ambitions. We all have different paths. If we’re lucky, many of those different paths can lead to the same destination of excellence and self-fulfillment. Don’t be short-sighted in thinking that your beliefs or your methods are the superior way to anyone. Don’t forget that respect in the martial arts should be earned. Otherwise you’ll be doing yourself, your peers, your teachers, and all future generations of martial artists a great disservice.
Respectfully Yours, Gray Wolf