This week, I had the honour of emceeing the celebration of Nhai Khanom Tom day (Muay Thai day) at our headquarters of Siam No.1 in Toronto. I gave a brief introduction about the necessity of keeping culture and sport together, but for the sake of time, kept it shallow and not too deep. It is, however an important subject to explore.
What is Culture?
To me, 'culture' is inclusive of several elements of a nation:
- Morals and Ethics
Ultimately, we have to understand the value of absorbing or exposing yourself to another culture. One major experience that occurs when we do so is the feeling of expansion. Just the simple exposure to a different way of doing things expands our field of vision. Perhaps, one groups way of doing things is a better or more pleasurable way of doing things and we adopt it.
Today's Martial Environment
Unfortunately, (or fortunately depending on why you train in Martial Art) todays Martial Environment is obsessed with sport. Coaches are obsessed with breeding the next champion, and athletes are obsessed with becoming the next champion. Which I'm not knocking--Again it's a subjective choice as to why one trains. I just think there is a current imbalance that has occurred in the Martial world. Collectively we seem to be obsessed over the external benefits of Martial Art and seem to scoff, and forget about it's internal potential.
My teacher, is Ajahn Suchart Yodkerepaupri. This choice, was on purpose, but not for the common reasons most have to approach him. Though he happens to be the most accomplished trainer on this side of the planet, he is also the only one that speaks about philosophy, virtues, morals and ethics along side the physical elements of training, and physical application.
That, is the old way of doing things and for me, it is the right way. I read once, that "arming an angry mob only creates a dangerous mob'. When we solely focus on sport, thats essentially what we're doing. We are simply arming and sharpening someones external facets, without refining their internals. The benefit and importance of learning philosophy, virtue, morals and ethics is simply because it improves ones behaviour.
Can we really say we are Martial Artists with poor behaviour?
'Martial Artist' seems to be a word we are all familiar with, but we truly don't know what it is. We don't know how to be one, don't know when/if we are one…but we sure as hell know when one isn't a Martial Artist.
So this weekend, Ajahn was adamant about honouring the teachers of Muay Thai. He wanted to create and sustain a culture of valuing those of give--not take. If you take stock of the entire effect a good school can have on the community, you will see much more than championship belts: You will see a safe haven for those who are too scared to be alone. You will see a place where people transform themselves. You will see bonds formed with people we would not have otherwise met. You will see, a hub for good people to do strong things.
I see this, because I have a school here in Brampton. These aren't just thoughts, these are observations.
In an environment when we obsess so much about the sport and entertainment of Martial Art, we begin to overlook the real benefits that occurring right in front of us. By having students honour teachers, it is our opportunity as Martial Artist to remember the real utility of Martial Art in the community. And when you really look, really look…you will see that the contributions of a good Martial Artist to the human condition are much more frequent, and significant than any sporting accomplishment.
All you had to do was listen to the students speeches.
- One student spoke about losing 60lbs and reviving his vitality, which consequently allowed him to be happily married.
- Another student spoke about finally having a place of peace, after battling so much mental anxiety that nearly hospitalized him.
- A young boy, spoke about having a safe haven to build himself, and get his confidence together after living in so much fear from school bullies--he had role models at his gym that demonstrated strength, so he could reproduce for himself.
So you tell me, in this context, do you think it is really a belt that matters, or is it becoming a champion for yourself that matters?
Culture matters, because it drives behaviour.
I have to believe that we are unique to the major sports (soccer, basketball, football). I really want to. When you see people of opposing origins stepping outside of their familiar norms, and way (bow) is a beautiful thing. It says, 'my opinions and beliefs are not brittle. It is open, and fluid'. That is powerful. Want to see close minded and brittle minds? Talk to a racist.
So this past weekend, I think spending time to honour the teachers and gym owners who dedicate themselves to giving the public an extra avenue for meaningful human experiences is an important matter. We simply become better people by allowing virtues such as gratitude colour our sport, not the other way around. Sport should not be the source of virtues. Sport, simply creates a culture of competition and division. There is a place for it--but a very minor one and should always be that way.
I encourage every student to learn about Philosophy. Learn about virtues. Learn about morals and it's dichotomy in Martial Art. In learning it, you experience it. As you experience it, it shapes you for the better.
I encourage every Martial Art to speak louder about Philosophy. Speak about virtues. Live it. Be moral and virtuous stronger than you are competitive and ambitious. If Martial Artists don't do this, we simply become obsolete. Martial Artists, to me are the bridge between the military and civilians. We can be that bridge. But it's going to take way more than winning belts.
Yours in The Arts,