Budo is not a means of felling the opponent by force or by lethal weapons. Neither is it intended to lead the world to destruction by arms and other illegitimate means. True Budo calls for bringing the inner energy of the universe in order, protecting the peace of the world, and molding, as well as preserving, everything in nature in its right form. Training in Budo is tantamount to strengthening, within my body and soul, the love of the deity who begets, preserves, and nurtures everything in nature. – Morihei Ueshiba
It’s hard to believe that we are a decade removed from the horrific events of 9/11. Like the rest of the country, I spent today remembering where I was on that crisp, fall day; what I was doing and what was running through my mind. I reflected on the overwhelming sense of loss that transformed our country forever, and the tremendous impact that the actions of a few were able to inflict on our nation’s psyche. As I thought about what I wanted to post on this evening, I wondered whether the tragedy of September 11th contains any lessons for us as martial artists. I believe that it does.
Martial arts, at its core, is a path and means of creating peace. To those who do not practice martial arts, whose only encounter with it may be through movies or televised MMA bouts, this fact might seem counter intuitive. How can something which teaches people how to kick, punch, strike, manipulate weapons, and defeat opponents possibly promote peace? But for those of us who have made these arts a part of our lives, we who have internalized the sentiment of Ueshiba’s quote above, we understand that every kick we learn is accompanied by a lesson in honor, every strike with a teaching about humility, every weapon carries with it a modicum of justice, and our greatest opponent is at all times ourselves.
Every year in April, Ahn Taekwondo, our dear friends in Cincinnati OH, hosts the Ahn Classic; an extremely successful and always friendly tournament. Shin Ho Kwan, though we’re not the biggest fans of competitive Taekwondo, like to lend our support and almost always attend, usually sending a small but strong delegation. In order to officially commence the event, Grandmaster Ahn, bordered on each side by an entourage of high ranking black belts, takes the microphone in hand and offers some words and thoughts. I don’t think that many people actually listen to what he has to say. In fact I’m always appalled by the fidgeting and whispering that run like an undercurrent through the venue as Grandmaster Ahn assumes his place at the front podium. Most of the people in attendance are too busy calming their nerves, checking and double checking their division, worrying about how many points they’re going to score or which competitor they’d really like to beat. Or they think his message is empty, the same thing each year, his English hard to understand, and his words those of an old man that contain no relevance for them. How wrong and mistaken they are. Every year, he speaks powerfully about the uniqueness of martial arts. He explains how, ironically, through the development of a competitive spirit, martial arts allows us to attain the highest vision of ourselves and how it empowers us to bring peace to our world.
There is so much truth to his words and the lesson they contain rings truer on this day than most others. Indeed, more than almost any other physical activity, martial arts promotes self-cultivation, the development of morals, the nurturing of the spirit, the application of reason, the consideration of both thoughts and actions, the obligation to stand up for those unable to stand up for themselves, and compassion for all other beings. In a post 9/11 world, few lessons could possibly be more important.
Once, a grandmaster was teaching a class of children. He took a map of the world that was on the wall of the training hall and before the eyes of his students, he ripped it into hundreds of pieces. The students stood, stunned as the pieces littered the floor. The grandmaster called a boy to the front of the room and instructed him to put the pieces back together. He then left the boy alone and went on teaching the class. In no time at all the boy had completed the task and presented the repaired map to his teacher. “How did you complete it so quickly?” the grandmaster asked. “It was easy,” the boy replied. “On the back the map, there was a drawing of a person, I simply put the pieces of the person back together and thus I was able to repair the world.” This is the true practice of Budo. Often, it seems in martial arts, the person in need of repair is us. Our practice provides us with the opportunity to put the pieces of ourselves back together and in so doing, we too can fix our world.