Taekwondo: Leading by Example
by KwanJangNim Gregory Glover
As a long time teacher, I have noted that young people have progressively become more self-centered and materialistic. Since egocentrism is to some degree one of the defining characteristics of childhood one could easily dismiss it as a cause for serious concern.
There are two aspects of this trend which I find to be deeply disturbing. One is that many of today’s youth are holding onto this egocentricity more tenaciously than ever before and are not transitioning out of this stage as quickly and smoothly as did the youth of twenty years ago. The second, and in my opinion, greater concern is that in their pursuit of personal pleasure and material gain they are becoming less cognitive of the rights, wants, and needs of others. The lengths to which they are willing to go to satisfy themselves is often detrimental to others.
Being inconsiderate is bad enough, but an ever-increasing number of adolescents seem to be receiving gratification from deliberately causing pain and indignity to others. They lack empathy. These behaviors range from verbal abuse, theft of personal property to outright physical abuse. Since such incidents have become more common in school, we can safely assume that they occur with even greater frequency when these kids are left unsupervised. Although instances of this nature are common, I am not yet convinced that deriving pleasure from the pain of others is an integral part of our “Human Nature” It is therefore my intention to offer a hypothesis for this degenerative behavior pattern and to relate how traditional martial arts training can ultimately prove to be a remedy for this malady.
The shift in prevailing attitude from an emphasis on “God and Country” to “if it feels good, do it”, which gained momentum in the early 1960’s, seems to have provided us with a whole generation of adults who have a desire for immediate gratification. The problem became compounded in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when these members of the “ME” generation began pairing off and producing families. A person who chooses not to put others before self will not, in my opinion, make a very good parent. An individual’s parenting ability and proclivity for reproduction do not seem to be directly related. In fact, although I have no precise data to support this opinion, I suspect that there is an inverse correlation between one’s ability to provide a stable, nurturing environment for a child, and the number of offspring produced.
One inevitable consequence of having too many egocentric adults is an astronomical divorce rate. All too often, people enter marriage with unrealistic expectations of what they can get out of it, rather than what they can bring to it. When the relationship does not turn out to be as gratifying as anticipated, (usually the case) more and more people find that a divorce is a convenient way out. Current statistics indicate that over fifty percent of all marriages in the United States will end in divorce. Now a staggering number of children are victims of divorce and all its associated problems.
No statistics are available on the divorce rate among traditional martial artists, but if such figures were available, they might indicate a much higher rate of stability than the national average. One might expect that since martial artists are trained to be more perceptive of the motivations, attitudes, and intentions of others, they would likely be more successful in selecting more suitable lifetime mates.
Observations of children of “broken” homes over nearly twenty years suggest that in most cases one of two scenarios prevail. In the first and more common scenario, the single parent retaining custody of the children is hard pressed to meet the physical and emotional needs of their children. The single parent must also spend extra time working to earn more money just to meet basic physical needs (food and shelter). This leaves the parent with grossly inadequate time and resources to deal with the emotional development of their children or to provide any ethical guidance.
In the other situation divorce need not necessarily be a mitigating factor. A single parent or estranged parent might for example shower the children with extravagant gifts to offset feelings of personal guilt such as not being able to provide a stable, caring, or nurturing home. Sadly, many parents from intact homes feel they owe it to their children to provide them with everything they ask for. For the average household this would require both parents to hold a full-time job. The result once again is that a shortage of parental time requires detracts from the daily program and all too often what suffers is the moral guidance of the child.
A clear link has been noted between absentee parents and numerous emotional and behavioral problems. A 1989 study of 5000 eighth grade students in California found that the more hours children cared for themselves after school, the greater risk of substance abuse. Latchkey children were determined to be “twice as likely to drink alcohol and take drugs as children who were under the supervision of adults after school.”
What does all of this have to do with those of us who aspire to become outstanding martial arts instructors? The more I learn about my art of Tae Kwon Do, the more convinced I am that such knowledge must be accompanied by a code of ethics governing its use. A school which merely instructs its students in martial techniques, (especially those which are potentially lethal), imbues them with technical proficiency but doesn’t address the moral aspects of when it is appropriate to use such techniques, is neglecting a vital aspect of its students’ development. In short, the greatest problem facing our society today, that of amorality can be attributed to either the inability or unwillingness of a great number of individuals to invest more of themselves in the care of those for whom they are responsible.
It seems easier to provide material things for our children rather than taking the extra time and energy to mold into them, and to model for them, appropriate codes of conduct. In the context of martial arts instruction, it is much easier to merely demonstrate how to perform a specific technique than it is to go the extra distance (caring), to inform them when and why they might elect to use such a technique. Furthermore, the student should be apprised of circumstances under which the use of a particular technique might be inadvisable. It is easier to teach Sport Tae Kwon Do with its narrowed, restricted rules of conduct, than it is to teach traditional self-defense where rules if any at all are blurred. What I have learned at the school I train and teach at makes it quite impossible for me to ever separate physical Tae Kwon Do from its’ requisite mental training.
I was once enrolled in a school where students were taught to defend against a simple middle-section punch with no less than five counter-strikes, including a knife-hand strike to the cervical vertebrae just below the base of the skull, and a front snap kick to the groin. Throughout the entire year in that program no one ever suggested that these measures to subdue an attacker could and should be adjusted in accordance with the severity of the attack, the situation, or the identity of the attacker. (i.e., drunk family member vs. home invader). I have seen self-defense video presentations which instruct a defender to proceed as follows: When an attacker grabs you by the wrist you will break his knee with a side kick, strike the side of his neck with your forearm, execute a knee strike to his groin and then perform a palm heel strike to the hinge of the jaw. Finally, stand menacingly over his crumpled body.
Overkill seems to be the order of the day in many schools. Is it any wonder that today’s gun toting youths are so willing to use them on anyone who offends them or who might possess something they want?
All martial arts schools must provide basic technical instruction for their students to stay in business. The American Dragon Martial Arts Academies where I train however, reflects the standards of traditional Tae Kwon Do values and is truly a caring school where students regardless of age or physical ability, are taught effective techniques for self-defense while high standards of ethical conduct are cultivated. In my experience, martial arts schools of any style in which a head instructor can take a close personal interest in the development of each student, are rare indeed. It is this capacity for genuine caring that makes the ADMAA relatively unique, and generally distinguishes the “family oriented” nature of member schools of our parent organization, the USNTA. Remember there is a difference between win at any cost and protect at any cost.
Parents, who provide “material things” for the young people of this country while neglecting emotional development and moral guidance, fall far short of the mark. By the same token so do martial arts schools which teach their students skills to inflict great bodily harm or even cause the death of a fellow human being without impressing upon these same students the importance of restraint in using such skills. Martial sports may be about winning, but the Tenants of the martial arts include humility, respect, and integrity.
To salvage and rebuild what remains of a once proud nation, we must, as a people, find our way back to a code of ethics that includes the high moral principles of our founders. This country already has an overabundance of people in various roles of leadership who profess to have such standards but fail to support that claim with their actions. Some don’t even pretend to have integrity in the first place.
Since one cannot hope to legislate moral standards in a free society, our best hope for survival is to flood our society with secure, self-confident, caring individuals of strong character to serve as role models for others. Such leaders would espouse and live in accordance with, standards of ethics and guidelines for behavior that strongly resembles the code of conduct of the HwaRang of ancient Korea and the USNTA’s Student Oath.
As traditional Tae Kwon Do progressively touches the lives of more individuals, and as other truly “traditional” martial arts schools persevere along similar lines, the hope for a better future continues to grow.
Respectfully yours in Taekwondo,
KwanJangNim Gregory V. Glover
Executive Committee Chairman/USNTA
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