The (Martial) Art of Good Men
The insider reality of martial arts can offer a deep, rich soil for growing and nurturing enlightened masculinity.
So many people think that the martial arts are mainly about learning how to “beat people up.” But actually this could not be more wrong! I’m a female martial arts practitioner with fifteen years’ experience, who trains in Aikido, Aikijujutsu, and Karate. As well as loving the physical side of the arts, I’m also passionate about how martial arts can empower and enrich our lives.
The martial arts tend to blend hard and soft elements; and if a student can only get one of these, it’s a big disadvantage.
I have a special interest in what martial arts can do for women; and I also believe there are powerful, little-known factors which make the martial arts perfect for incubating and cultivating enlightened masculinity. If you’re already a martial arts practitioner, you’ve probably never really thought about the martial arts as a vehicle to explore and achieve “Enlightened Masculinity in the 21st Century” (to use the iconic words of The Good Men Project.)
Here are 8 of the most powerful ideas to give you a new and different perspective on these incredible arts
"The martial arts are a sanctuary for positive masculine values"
Masculinity gets a bad name when people equate it with its negative form—emotional detachment, toughness, the need to dominate and ultimately violence. But positive masculinity is a set of superb qualities, including nurturance, courage, strength, initiative, independence and a sense of adventure.
The stated principles of many martial arts are often a direct expression of these traits as core values. Nitobe Inazō’s famous (albeit heavily romanticized) summary of the Bushido Code comprised: Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Politeness, Sincerity, Honor, Loyalty and Self-control. Many Karate clubs repeat the “Dojo Kun” at each lesson:
“Seek perfection of character / Be Faithful / Endeavor / Respect others / Refrain from violent behavior”.
It’s good for both men and women to cultivate positive masculine and positive feminine traits. The dojo offers a dedicated place which unselfconsciously honors and promotes the “positive male” values—and teaches us how they play out in action.
Being “over-masculine” is a disadvantage in the martial arts, and students learn to move beyond it.
The martial arts tend to blend hard and soft elements; and if a student can only get one of these, it’s a big disadvantage. Sometimes we need to give a strong block; but other times we need to yield to the attack and blend with it.
It’s a place where men can grab other men’s bodies; men and women can grapple; adults and children (if the club teaches kids) can touch – in an intimate but non-sexual way.
Strangely, many of the techniques don’t actually work as well when you apply them with your full physical force and muscle power. As you become more experienced, you learn to relax and use your breath, precise technique and “whole body” power instead, to achieve the most powerful results.
For this reason, women and smaller men are often said to have an advantage—because having less muscle power in the first place, they tend to more quickly give up on trying to “over-power” and move to the next level.
Some (not all) women can struggle with the harder and more aggressive sides of the martial arts, just as some (not all) men can find the softer, more yielding aspects difficult. The people who can truly master this duality are beyond awesome in their art, and generally are beyond awesome in their day-to-day life.
Very aggressive “macho” types are not welcome in a good dojo
Obviously there are some very macho dojos out there, where people do bully, injure, and generally ill-treat each other. In the long-term this behavior makes no sense, and is not tolerated in a good dojo.
Yes, you learn techniques that can injure or destroy other people. But you obviously don’t actually injure or destroy each other in class. On a practical level, this would soon leave you with no one to train with! Because of the nature of what you are learning, everything has to be highly controlled and kept safe.
There is NO PLACE at all in a good dojo for macho traits such as unhealthy aggression, callousness, or eagerness to seek out excessive danger and conflict.
Some senseis will speak with an offending student directly. Others will simply just hurt the person who is hurting others; or make the lesson undesirable for that student in other ways.