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On the Subject of Honour

martial arts, honour, respect

"A sword is a weapon. The art of swordsmanship is learning how to kill, and no matter what flowery words you may use to describe it, this is the truth."

~Kenshin Himura, from the anime and manga series
Rurouni Kenshin~

The above quote may not have been used in the series in the context of this article, but it still holds true.
It may be surprising that Kenshin, a pseudo-samurai, is speaking against the notions of inherent honour in his art. However, looking at it from a purely pragmatic point of view, the very phrase 'martial art' means 'the art of fighting'.

That's right - no mention of 'fighting with honour and respect', no 'be fair to an opponent', just 'the art of fighting'.

Respect is not something we should go to a dojo to learn. It should be learned everywhere in our daily lives. It's a noble thing to try to teach self-discipline in the dojo, but if we don't have this from the start, we shouldn't be taking martial arts anyway. The abilities we, as martial artists, learn are things that have to come with restraint. After all, we are learning how to execute a potentially lethal level of force to an opponent - with our bare hands oftentimes.

This said, one of the main reasons we took up martial arts was self-defence. As such, we must be prepared to do anything it takes to ensure safety, even if it could be considered 'dishonourable'. Groin strikes, eye/throat gouges, use of nearby objects as weaponry - all these are fair ways to protect our lives and safety. If the dojo teaches, for example, that certain strikes should not be ever executed, it is time to seek another dojo.

I don't want to send across the message that martial artists shouldn't behave with honour and respect, but rather, don't begin the path expecting to be taught these things. In fact, if we do NOT display these qualities, advancement is next to impossible in any good dojo. After all, at the highest levels, the art should never have to be used.
The strongest punch is the one never thrown, the most effective block is the one never used, and the sharpest sword is the one never drawn.

Published: 2007-01-10
Author: Michael Smathers

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