Dinner Table Conversations – Politics, Religion and Martial Arts

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From a young age, most people are taught that talking about religion or politics is rude. It is one of the topics not to bring up at the family dinner or with people you have just met. Martial artists, who value respect and integrity more than most, ignore this rule on a regular basis. And often without realising they are doing this. How you ask?

We know that martial arts can be a spiritual exercise for many people, and many devout practitioners relate to it much like a religion – for better or worse. Some of my friends even refer to going to watch UFC or boxing every week as ‘going to church.’

We develop a strong emotional connection with our dojo (or gym, or dojang, or club, call it what you will), our instructors, our peers and our system. This is part of what makes the martial arts community so great. It is exactly that – a community of people who help and support each other in achieving common goals. One of these goals is self-improvement in terms of personal development.

I also recognise the fact that lineage is important to many systems. Why, where, when and how a system developed as it did explain a lot about the techniques, application, etc. Understanding our lineage helps us have a deeper understanding of our system. Recognising what came before you and paying homage to it is important, without a shadow of a doubt!

So far, so good.

Unfortunately in our age of globalisation, instant gratification, ‘everyone gets a medal’ attitude and short-term fads, this becomes lost very quickly. You can read more about this here.

It’s all about the certificate (or qualification or medal, depending on the style), the membership fees and the brand. This is hidden behind a mask of supposed credibility that comes from belonging to an organisation or having a lineage. If you’ve been around the martial arts a while, you would have seen or heard the following:

‘You will earn the privilege of training in the original, authentic *insert style here*. The difference between our competitors and us is that our organisation is the authentic one, closest to the founder of the system, taught all over the world, etc., etc.

Sounds great? Maybe.

To others, this is nothing but a marketing ploy to get you to pay more for a brand name. There are a few statements like this that I believe you need to be careful of, and you can find them here and here.

Some will agree and others will not, which is fine. This varies greatly depending on style, organisation, country or the practitioners.

The problem is that stylistic or organisational affiliation becomes much like belonging to a political party or a religion – belonging to one excludes you from belonging to any others.

You can’t be Jewish and Christian and Muslim at the same time, at least not legally and without getting weird looks from people. In much the same way you can’t belong to the conservatives, liberals, and democrats at the same time.

Unfortunately, belonging to some martial arts organisations has turned into the same thing. Often belonging to a particular organisation causes practitioners to only practice a limited curriculum with specific people in a specific way.

This has the potential to create a serious lack of depth. They may perform exceptionally well against others in their own club or style but often struggle outside of that bubble. In more extreme situations, it clearly forbids belonging to others. Some even forbid associating (at least publically) with others.

I remember a friend who trains at a club with this very attitude. He wanted to come over for a training session at my school once. As soon as he walked through the door he asked to make sure that we don’t post any pictures or mention his name in social media. He said, and I quote, ‘my Sensei would kill me if he knew.’ This has happened several times over the years. As we teach a variety of styles at my school, I’ve seen it happen a few times with almost every style we teach.

I consider myself to be very lucky in this regard. I have had the great honour of being guided from early on in my martial arts journey by some amazing teachers – and I am fortunate enough that this is still the case. There are many reasons why they are very special, so I will only list a few that are relevant to this discussion. Although they come from different backgrounds in terms of styles and experience, they share some very important commonalities:

  1. The theory behind what they teach is always consistent with what they teach and how it is being taught.
  2. While they all have high-level competition and coaching experience, they have a strong focus on the self-defence side of martial arts, complete with extensive experience to back it up.
  3. While they possess superb technical ability, their core focus is on application rather than the gross acquisition of skill.
  4. They all have (and still do) trained in disciplines outside of their main skill base, and actively encourage their students (myself included) to do the same.
  5. They all – and this is the point of this blog – avoid getting involved in the political side of martial arts, as they understand that it limits one’s ability to learn, gain experience, grow and develop.

I guess this explains why I’ve always been a self-proclaimed political fence sitter. I am interested in the policies I believe are best, not who presents them. The party or candidates are nothing but a tool to deliver the required results. In much the same way, while I was born Jewish and I am proud of my heritage, I am not religious in any way. I have studied the Old Testament, New Testament, and the Quran, and read a lot of Eastern philosophy.

Interestingly enough, the message in all major religions is the same – don’t be an ass. The things people seem to get hung up on in arguments are often the small details that seem, to me at least, inconsequential.

I guess you could say that I am spiritual, not religious.

My approach to training is the same. I study Krav Maga, boxing, BJJ, Jujutsu, and Escrima. While I have preferences, I don’t want to belong to one if it means I can’t study the others. I think they are tools to solve problems, and emotional attachment to a tool can be a problem. You wouldn’t be offended if I said your hammer is not very good, would you?

I also think the stuff that people get hung up about is often the small, inconsequential details, whether they are technical or relating to lineage, etc.

The other issue that often arises from this – again much like in politics and religion – is that it is so hard to engage in rational, adult conversation about it. How often have you heard martial artists hurling venom at each other because of a stylistic difference?

As my friend and excellent martial artist Andrew Chan often says; Instead of being taught not to talk about these issues, we should be taught how to discuss difficult issues with respect and an open mind.

So where am I going with this?

Nowhere in particular, and that’s exactly the point! Imagine that if you flew with one airline and wanted to book a ticket with another, they won’t let you. Why would you treat your training the same?

Don’t limit where you can go! There isn’t – and shouldn’t be – a set road.

Explore. Experiment. Evolve. Enjoy.

Stay safe, stay tuned.

 

Osu/oss

Ron Amram
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Ron Amram

Director and Instructor at Combat Arts Institute of Australia
I'm a martial artist and school owner from Perth, Western Australia. I hold a 2nd Dan in Krav Maga, Shodan in Danzan Ryu Jujutsu, Brown Belt in Dennis Survival Jujutsu and am also a dedicated boxer and a keen BJJ and Escrima practitioner. I love meeting other like-minded martial artists, and always happy to talk about all things martial arts! Osu
Ron Amram
Follow me
Ron Amram
About Ron Amram 7 Articles
I'm a martial artist and school owner from Perth, Western Australia. I hold a 2nd Dan in Krav Maga, Shodan in Danzan Ryu Jujutsu, Brown Belt in Dennis Survival Jujutsu and am also a dedicated boxer and a keen BJJ and Escrima practitioner. I love meeting other like-minded martial artists, and always happy to talk about all things martial arts! Osu

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