Wing Chun Articles
Are You a Coward?
by Philip Holder, Ph.D. Grandmaster: North American Wing Chun Association Copyright by Philip Holder
In the course of development as martial artists, we will pass through many stages of growth. Our lives in general are very similar to our maturing in martial arts. We all go through many changes in our martial arts development between novice and instructor levels. Similarly, we all go through many changes from the time we are young children until we reach adulthood. Even after reaching physical maturity, it is hopeful that we will all aspire to higher levels of character and virtue throughout our lives. This is the higher goal in martial arts. It is significantly more important than the fighting.
Some people actively pursue becoming better people. Others never learn from their mistakes and are therefore doomed to repeat them. Which group do you fall under? The martial arts need to be utilized as more than a means of fighting to realize their full benefit. They should be utilized to enhance the overall quality ones life. Let's say that you have trained diligently for years. One day, you are attacked on the street. You fight like a champ, trashing your attackers. In those few critical seconds or minutes your training has saved your life. All of the years of training, sweat and practice would certainly have proven worth the effort in this situation, but is that all we train and study for. Isn't it a waste of all the potential benefit of the martial arts if we can't use this great knowledge to make our lives and the lives of those around us better in all respects.
At one time or another every student is going to hear his or her instructor speak about the need for courage. What I rarely hear is an instructor defining courage for his or her students in an all-encompassing way. In order to have or display courage we first must define what it is. At different times in our lives, courage may take on totally different meaning for us. One thing for sure...it means more than merely standing up to the neighborhood bully.
Young children watch the 'Power Rangers' or 'Batman' and associate their actions with bravery and courage. At that young stage of maturity, if you are willing to run into a burning building to rescue a helpless alien, no doubt about it, you have courage.
As a teenager, you may perceive the toughest guy on the football squad to have courage, or the person who is not afraid to take on the badest dude in the school. You may be considered to have courage if you are always willing to take on a dare, skip school or badmouth your teacher. These are all juvenile and superficial interpretations of courage.
As an adult you may feel a sense of courage by going skydiving or by fighting in that full contact, no holds bared tournament. Again, this is a superficial type of courage. Don't get me wrong. I think that skydiving (for those who don't mind jumping from a perfectly good working aircraft), and fighting in contact tournaments is great. My students and I do a great deal of full contact fighting. Any constructive activity that you enjoy is a positive thing. The key to whether something represents courage or not, and whether it is a positive and constructive activity, lays in your motivation for doing so.
Acts of courage do not of themselves make a courageous person. Often times the person who has to be the toughest guy in town, or who is always the first to take on a dangerous dare, is in fact the most insecure. He or she constantly tries to prove to themselves and to others that he or she is not a coward. Often, the person who places a disproportionate value on winning that match or doing the most death defying dare has a core of insecurity. Their life is a constant battle in which they attempt to prove to themselves and others that they are not cowards.
Some people never learn. Even as adults (physically in any event), their primary concern is convincing others that they are the toughest or the smartest. Through convincing others, they hope to convince themselves. There are always that insecure few that insist that they have all of the answers and that everyone else is either incompetent or incorrect. You don't have to look far to find this insecure behavior in the martial arts community. You would think and hope that martial arts would be the last place that you would find this behavior, but unfortunately, it is frequently found. Ultimately, however, people like this are usually viewed as troublemakers in the end. As well the ones that make claims about being the toughest guy in town, eventually come across someone who cleans their clock.
Those who constantly put others down do so out of an internal insecurity too. A person of true courage is too busy creating and building to take time out to be critical of others. A person of courage is content to be judged by his or her accomplishments. He or she does not attempt to condemn and judge others. An insecure, paranoid, and basically scared person will attempt to belittle others in an attempt to make themselves look bigger (If they are lower, I will look higher, mentality). They will always attack others in anticipation that they will soon be attacked. In actuality, this behavior will only serve to show such a person as the petty and paranoid individual they are.
In projecting the overall outcome of your life ask this...is who you can beat up, or who you can belittle going to help anyone, or uplift the quality of your own life? I don't think so. Negativity breads negativity. Positive acts result in growth.
In youth, we tend to equate courage with daring and/or with violence and aggression. Some people grow up and pass through that stage. Others do not. They remain juvenile delinquents throughout their lives. They are consumed by the need to prove that they have worth through besting others. This is because they simply don't feel, inside, that they have any value.
None of us are perfect. All of us have things in our past that we are proud of and things that we are not so proud of. I certainly have things in my past that I would have handled differently given the opportunity to do them over... Don't you? The truth is that we cannot go back in time and do them over. But we can start each day by trying to be the best person that we can, in all that we do. We can each be a glowing example of, and demonstrate the honor and integrity often talked about but sometimes not evident in martial arts. I'm not talking about besting others. I'm talking about using each problem we encounter in our daily lives as a challenge to do better. I'm talking about using each challenge as an opportunity to develop our personal level of character and integrity. This is where true courage is shown.
Our goal should not be to convince others about how great we have been or how great we are now. We all have things of which we are proud. All of us, at times in our lives, have fallen far short of perfection. Being perfect is something none of us will achieve. Our goal should be to aspire towards perfection of character. The martial arts can be a great tool for this if not tainted by ego, selfish goals or self righteous pride.
True courage surfaces when you abandon the easy road and brave the more difficult path, when you know it is the honorable way to go. It surfaces when you are more interested in helping others than in having them think that you are a big-shot. It shows when you are able to do the right thing, even if your peers think you are a coward for it, or when there may be a cost to you for doing the right thing. It is easy to do the right thing when there is no risk. What separates the men from the boys (and ladies from the girls) is when you do the right thing despite the risk.
It takes much more courage to brave the ridicule of your friends and acquaintances than it does to fight the local bully. It is far better to look like a mouse to others and feel like a full grown lion inside, than to look like a lion to others and feel like a little mouse inside. Our pride is often more fragile than our flesh. It takes greater courage and character to help others along than it does to point out what another person is doing wrong. It takes greater courage to accept your faults and try to do better next time than it does to deny your shortcomings and blame someone else for your problems.
A person of true courage doesn't where it like a neon sign. It is seen in his or her compassion and understanding. It is seen in a willingness to help others. It is evident in a persons ability to make decisions that show character rather than those that are easy or expedient. Courage resides subtly in those that aspire to higher levels of consciousness and understanding rather than in those with a quest for glory.
Gaining courage is not something that happens in a day, a week, or a year. It is an ongoing process throughout our lives. It is found not by looking for it, but instead through a constant effort to learn from the philosophy(s) of our martial arts, by a willingness to admit our mistakes and shortcomings, and by using adversity as a way to "exercise" our character. It is no different than how we use diet and exercise to enrich our bodies. The ability to show kindness, a willingness to be tolerant of those who disagree with you, and the ability to ignore those who try to insult you and distract you from your goals, takes far more courage than punching someone in the mouth.
Most of us, during our lifetime, have placed our values in areas that are less than what we should expect from ourselves. I am not pointing a finger at anyone. I am no different than you. There were times when being a great fighter was more important than being a helpful teacher. When being right was more important than facilitating growth. It is human to error. It is a shame not to learn from our errors.
You can use the great power of our martial arts philosophy(s) to grow and develop through these many stages of consciousness if you chose to do so. It is all a matter of having the "courage" to take the right path. You can aspire to higher levels of awareness. You will then be abler to say, "I am happier with myself today and for tomorrow than I was yesterday".
Even if you are the best fighter in the galaxy, you will be forgotten when the day comes that you are defeated, or someone else replaces you. If you are viewed as a contributor, builder, and as a good person you will always have the support of others. This support contains far greater power than your fists. A person of true courage chooses his battles wisely and for the right reasons. It is never from ego, anger, fear, or pride. To gain anything, something positive must result from your actions. Hurting, or belittling others for anything other than your safety or the safety of another is not courage, it is cowardice and insecurity. As Teddy Roosevelt said, "Speak softly and carry a big stick". Notice, he did not say beat them with a big stick. Powerful martial arts skills are your big stick. Having the powers acquired through martial arts training is only a small part of the battle though. Using those powers responsibly takes far greater courage.
Aspire to be a representative of the martial arts that will bring honor to the arts . Petty fighting, one-ups-men-ship, or trying to support your art by belittling the arts of others shows cowardice and insecurity, regardless of your fighting prowess. When you are tempted to say "Our art has "X" and theirs doesn't", or "our art is better than theirs because etc., etc.", stop and think about your statement before your mouth makes you look foolish. Remember the old saying "It is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt". Why not just say... "Our art has 'X'. Let me show you how that might benefit you.", or "There are many good arts. I feel that the one I study is best for me. Maybe this approach will work for you too."
In doing this, you show character, security, intelligence and courage. You will bring honor the your art and the martial arts in general. You will show that you have overcome insecurities and fears. You will show that you are a person of both character and courage.
Grandmaster Philip Holder
Courtesy of Grandmaster Holder and the Wing Chun Center
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