THE FOUR PATHS: THE JOURNEY OF A MARTIAL ARTIST
I will freely admit that at 70 years of age my body is not in the same condition as it was at 21 when I competed on my university’s Judo team. However, were it theoretically to come to a showdown between my two selves I know without a shadow of a doubt that my 70-year-old self would completely vanquish my 21-year-old opponent.
The reason should be obvious to any serious practitioner of the martial arts. While I no longer have the knees, waist, or rotator cuffs of a twenty-year-old, I do have something more important, experience.
I remember once being asked if I would rather go into battle as an athletic but inexperienced soldier or as one who was not as fit but was battle hardened with experience. To me the answer was obvious.
Sadly, most of us are unduly influenced today by mass media, whether created by television, movies or the internet, myths and legends are propagated and exhibited daily that are usually far from the truth. One example would be the public’s impression that all cowboys in the 1870’s wore low slung fast draw holsters and carried Colt Peacemakers.
After all, that is the image created by Hollywood and promoted since movies first appeared. The truth is the famed Colt Single action Peacemaker as we know it today wasn’t even invented until about 1873 and at the time was too expensive for most working cowboys to buy. Holsters of the time started out as boot tops that were cut off. One end was sewn, and the pistol was merely dropped into the leather pouch. They were hardly the steel lined low-cut rig that Hop along Cassidy used.
In similar fashion, another myth is the image of the iconic martial artist is a thirty-year-old Bruce Lee with his six-pack abs.
Never mind that he never lived to see his thirty third birthday his pictures were great and are repeatedly run-in movie theaters and television around the world. The young athlete sells, so that is what is shown and duplicated. One wonders however what Bruce would have looked like at 70 years of age.
The point is not to belittle Lee’s motion picture success or his athletic ability, but to demonstrate that reality and media image are two completely different things. Reality does not have editors cutting scenes or cropping help from the sidelines. Sadly, the media portrayal is what people tend to believe and it can often overshadow success in the real world.
Because of the marketed martial arts images that have been promoted so excessively even dedicated martial artists often confuse athleticism with rank in the martial arts. The higher grandmaster ranks are given not for jumping, kicking, and wrestling, but for experience, instructional success, contributions to the arts and knowledge of the applications of techniques.
The first female to be awarded a 10th dan in Judo was Keiko Fukuda. She had practiced since her early twenties when Jigaro Kano accepted her into the Kodokan. He chose her because her grandfather had been Kano’s first Jujutsu instructor and she trained and taught right up until her death at 99 years of age.
I can assure you that after 75 years of training no one had more knowledge of martial arts than she did, nor more appreciation of its history. In her nineties she spent more time in a chair instructing than competing on the mat, but regardless of her physical condition no one questioned her right nor ability to be considered a true martial artist.
Martial artists come in all sizes and shapes, creeds, and colors. The one thing they all have in common however is the journey. Although the arts are currently plagued with greedy or egotistic posers who create or fake rank, the truth is that it is not only athletic ability, colorful costumes or physical appearance that makes one a legitimate artist but rather their extensive experience, knowledge, history of accomplishments, and contributions to the arts that matter.
There are four levels or paths to be traveled and completed during one’s journey to become a true martial artist.
1) The Path of the Protected: The first path to walk is that of the Protected. They witness the effort and work of the Guardians or Protectors who do have martial arts skills. The protected in turn gain a desire to learn skills but still lack experience.
2) The Path of the Guardians: The second path that one must travel is that of the Guardians. These are the protectors of themselves, their family, and friends. They are apprentices under the Warriors.
3) The Path of the Warrior: The third path to follow is that of the Warrior. He is the trainer of Guardians and first line defender of the tribe, the government, and country. Because of their training and experience they can be sent off to wage war in defense of those things they hold so dearly.
4) The Path of the Scholar: The fourth path is to walk the way of the Scholar. The Scholar is a trainer and mentor of Warriors. This person was a great Warrior in their day and is now in charge of using their knowledge, research, and life’s lessons to train the Warriors. These warriors in turn are expected to eventually be superior in skill to their mentors because they will be given knowledge based on experience that they did not have to endure to learn from.
Ronald W. Stone, D.V.M
8th dan Grandmaster, HaeMuKwan Hapkido
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