Lung Fu Do

The Way of Wisdom and Strength

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With Power Comes Responsibility

One of my favorite “karate stories” is about an Okinawan master named Ankoh Itosu. At the time of this story, Itosu is “old” —at least in the eyes of the bullies who watched him from across the street. One bully in particular (a young man named Kojo) thought that it would be fun to attack the old master. Even if he didn’t “win” the fight, he’d have bragging rights for having taken on the famous Itosu. So Kojo hid in an alley until Itosu walked by. With a yell he leaped from cover and hit Itosu as hard as he could. Master Itosu simply grunted in surprise. He quickly trapped Kojo in a wristlock and hit a nerve center that had the bully crying with pain. He then marched his assailant into a nearby tea shop, never relaxing the wristlock or pressure point.

After the tea was brought, Itosu asked why it was that Kojo had attacked him. The young man humbly admitted that he had picked the fight to impress his friends —Itosu had done nothing to provoke the attack. Kojo then apologized for his behavior. The next question surprised me: Itosu asked Kojo, “Who is your teacher?” The young man admitted that he had no teacher —he and his friends were “self-taught” and part of the way they practiced was to pick fights with strangers. Itosu nodded at the answer and said, “That explains it.” As he released the painful hold, Itosu invited Kojo to study with him. He then gave one condition, “If you study with me, you’ll have to stop picking fights with old men. You could get hurt that way!”

As I said earlier, the question, “Who’s your teacher” surprised me at first. It took me awhile to understand that karate teachers do more than teach physical skills. They must also teach the character qualities that go along with martial skill. In other words, with great power comes great responsibility. Before deciding what to do with Kojo, Itosu wanted to know who it was that was responsible for Kojo’s character training. When he found that Kojo had no guidance, he offered to teach the young man himself.

We take this issue of character training very seriously. Simply teaching someone how to fight without teaching when to fight (or even better, how to avoid a fight) would be wrong of us. Power without character always creates a bully. That’s why we expect our students to be respectful of others (and by others we mean more than just parents or teachers). Choosing to value the people around us helps to keep us from hurting them. We expect our students to develop a good sense of responsibility. Obeying those who have authority over us, getting our work done without complaint, following through on our promises —all of these show the kind of self-control that is needed in a martial artist. And lastly, we expect that our students won’t fight unless they are in physical danger. There are lots of times when we might feel like fighting (especially when we’re young), but people with martial skills can’t indulge their feelings. We have to use our physical “power” wisely. If we don’t, then we’re no better than the people we train to defend against.

As we grow in physical skill, we must also grow in “character” skill.  

-Mr. Eric, CFK 2010