Ethical Behaviour in Martial Arts
By Michael Muleta, CEO, Global Fitness Institute, 8th Degree Black Belt
When we talk about a good martial artist having high ethics, or displaying ethical behaviour, what do we mean?
Ethics can be described as a level of acceptable behavior, which embodies the spirit of martial arts. It involves the ability of a martial artist to incorporate their body and mind, not just in their ability to focus on a technique, but also to guide their everyday actions and judgment. It is the manner in which one behaves in both word and action.
Ethics should be an integral part of the study of any martial art, setting the moral guidelines for all practitioners of that art, from the beginning students to the Grandmaster.
Ethical principles stem from the traditional and cultural elements of a martial art, whilst taking into account modern society and its laws. Of major importance is the concept of nonviolence, respect and courtesy for others, loyalty to one’s family, friends and country, and the tolerance of those who have differing ideologies.
Many instructors constantly preach ethics to their students, when often the best way to transfer these values is when the student can observe it in their own instructor. Making students memorize a set of tenets or a student oath does little for their development of these social principles. It cannot be forced upon someone in short time; it must be cultivated with leadership bringing about a long-term change in thinking and lifestyle.
A proficient practitioner of martial arts should not only be a superior athlete, highly competent in combat, but also an upstanding citizen of their community, with high moral and social virtues. It should be the goal of any martial arts to develop not only great practitioners, exponents and ambassadors of their particular style, but also people of high upstanding character.
The ability to kick, punch, sweep, throw, use weapons are all forms of combat, which does not necessarily require one to be a martial artist in order to perform. Naturally however, a well-trained exponent will perform them better, you would expect.
Most martial arts schools would have a set of behavioural rules, which they would expect their students to abide by.
Most martial arts organizations have their school rules, or a Code of Conduct, which provide behavioural guidelines and expectations of its members. But what about the instructors and the more senior ranks within those organizations, what guides them?
As an instructor, the easiest thing to teach are the physical aspects of the art, as most good instructors can perform and students can imitate. It is much more challenging to be able to provide students with a living model of high ethics and upstanding integrity over a long period of time.
Instructors as Role Models
Students look up to their Masters and instructors, as people supposedly having achieved a level of higher consciousness and morality. They are seen as people of high discipline and skill, striving for peace and love, of superior intellect and foresight.
It is with this in mind that senior instructors and masters need to be aware of their social responsibilities and profound influence they can have on their following of students, who often mirror their behaviour and attitudes, in a quest to be like them.
This can be a great quality if the Master displays all those qualities mentioned, but can also be potentially disastrous should the instructor display many of society’s lesser qualities and vices.
Key ethical qualities
Many martial arts have adopted their Ethical Behaviour Codes from ancient societies. Most ancient Codes base their teachings on humility, honesty, bravery, compassion, sincerity, loyalty and devotion to our families, friends, and country.