Being a Martial Artist

by Chris Leading Fox (Shodan) (2002-10-26)

(Written in 2002)

It is my belief that as a 21st century martial artist, we are losing sight of some very important characteristics associated with the term "Martial Artist".

I would like to discuss the term Martial Art using Websters dictionary. MARTIAL, according to Mr. Webster, is used to describe something of, relating to, or suited for war or a warrior. ART is defined as a skill acquired by experience, study, or observation. Therefore, a Martial Artist is supposed to be someone who has acquired the skills of, relating to, or suited for war or a warrior by experience, study, or observation.

But, does one being a Martial Artist make one a warrior? My answer is NO! In my opinion, too many of today's Martial Artists acquired their skills by observation (watching) rather than by experience or getting their hands dirty. It is by belief that a warrior is experienced in warfare. I also believe that a warrior must posses certain qualities which hold them above the average observer. A few of these qualities, I feel are: humility, honor and spirit.

HUMILITY, is that characteristic which enables one to realize that even with all their accomplishments, there is someone else who has more or greater accomplishments. This characteristic helps the warrior to respect and not be arrogant with their skills. One of Mr. Parker's quotes on humility, (from Zen of Kenpo), clearly states that "one becomes great when he comes to the realization that what he knows is very little".

Very few people seem to posses humility since there are so many ads in all the martial arts magazines referring to certain and everyone as being a renowned master and the final authority. If this were true, why then didn't they develop the system to which they are renowned and the final authority? I am not casting doubt upon their skills, but they apparently had someone teaching them. Otherwise, they would not have attained their high rank. Does this mean we are to forget our own beginning once we achieve a certain rank? Are we no longer required to honor our teachers and all those who have gone on before us? I don't think so! Honoring our past is how our heritage survives.

HONOR, is a characteristic defined as a showing of merited respect and also a keen sense of ethical conduct or integrity. Honoring our teachers is a form of humility, but it is also paying respect to that which we commit ourselves to: warriorship. I would like to convey a story to back this point. I know an individual who trained at our school until he reached an early intermediate level. He then moved out of town and lost contact with us and our teacher. Several years later, he was seen wearing a unearned black belt. He has jumped from a Purple Belt to a Third Degree Black Belt in a few years through videos. He promoted one of his students (to black belt) and he then broke away and opened his own school (in the same small town). Pardon the pun, but "poo-poo begats poo-poo". People are looking for the quick and easy road to achieve their fast and rapid rate of belt promotions.

Had the first student retained any honor or loyalty from his teacher and what it meant to be a warrior, then he could have passed it on to his student.

SPIRIT, is that characteristic which drives the warrior in all he does. Without Spirit, we as Martial Artists are nothing more than trained monkeys.

Do we acquire a Martial Spirit, born with it, or is it something that can be developed? I think that we are all born with some degree of Martial Spirit because of the single fact that our ancestors were forced at one time or another, to fight for survival. Being a Native American of the Pawnee Nation, my heritage is filled with the glory of our warriors. the majority of our traditional songs talk about the HELUSKA (hay-doo-sha), or warrior societies. Our warriors were in a class of their own, only below the chief and medicine man. They were regarded with the highest honor and esteem, because it was they who protected the people from attack and homeland from encroachment. Even today, our armed forces, our modern warriors are given honor and respect as those in the past.

In addition, I believe that the spirit can be developed. My heritage says I am from a warrior people, but it was not until I began studying Kenpo, that I began to feel my warrior spirit grow. It did not come easy. There were bumps, bruises, black eyes and bloody noses and the like. This forced me to dig deep within myself to bring out the courage and the spirit I would need to continue my warriors path in kenpo that I have grown to love.

In conclusion, since I am only a first degree black belt, and if I never see a second degree black belt, I will be content in knowing that I am trying to live the life of a warrior. Having a high ranking belt (any more) doesn't mean you are a warrior. After all, this is only "in my opinion"!