Are You Honoring Your Art?





Alexandra Allred


Recently, there was an online discussion about how many martial artists have stopped believing in their own ‘art’ in the world of martial arts. In these tumultuous times of ‘fat-shaming,’ this rather delicate subject presented itself following a well-known bout and two very out-of-shape fighters. Thus, the question was posed, “How come there are so many fat martial artists? It didn’t used to be this way.”

Cue the jokes.

They got their black belt and lost the will to train.

            Now they just study ‘secret death blows’ and don’t need to do sit-ups

            If you train with a blade, you never have to go jogging again.

But it does bring up a serious issue. When the sport of curling was introduced to the Olympic Games, most elite athletes were indignant. How can a sport that allows for a steady diet of Big Macs make it to Olympic status? While the curling world has worked hard in the last decade to turn that image around, however, martial artists have taken a tumble. There are many ‘elite’ athletes, supreme in their specific sport (and skills) who may not necessarily be in top physical form but the arts are different. At least, the arts should be different.

There is no other sport in which serving as a role model and leading by example is part of its own history.

Dating back to as early as the 5th and 6th centuries, martial arts in all its many, many varying forms was founded on the basic foundation – excellence for the mind, body, and spirit. There are many versions of this, including mastering the art of healing and self-defense, learning weapons and demonstrating both the ability and willingness to fight against both real and imagined enemies. Martial arts are the essence of honor, integrity, discipline and mastering one’s own mind. It is meditation and self-control, it is controlling a situation and disabling a foe. It is, at its very core, so powerful that the U.S. Marine Corp developed a program called MACE (the Martial Arts Center of Excellence), based in Quantico, Virginia, to round out their soldiers to be the complete warrior. It is there that they teach the importance of ‘teaching up to their level,’ meaning that each and every instructor must be in excellent physical condition, readied to fight, run, throw down and wrestle at any given moment.

And it was there that five outstanding UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) fighters were invited to challenge U.S. Marines in their training regimen and were soundly beaten in all areas of fitness, assault, weapons, self-defense and evade tactics. [see Seasoned fighters Marcus David, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Brian Stann and UFC president Dana White were introduced to what the marines refer to as ‘tie-ins,’ in which histories of warriors are brought into discussion to tie in the physical and mental disciplines of training but also the discipline of character.

Certainly, we would expect our trained soldiers to be well-rounded fighters but were the early martial artists not the original warriors? In fact, is this not the reason for so many forms of martial arts as the arts have learned to adapt as our forms of weapons and style of fighting have also changed?

Today’s martial artists have forgotten their art or, at least, the true history of their art. At the MACE program, the motto is: One Mind, Any Weapon. At one time, however, this was also a motto of the martial arts. The arts, whether tae kwon do, muay thai, karate, kung fu, hapkido, Jiu jitsu or some of the older forms, were honored by men (and later women) who upheld the idea that one must lead, teach, and live by example. Though it may seem unreasonable to expect our senior instructors to enter into combat with their students as the MACE instructors do, being of one mind, body and spirit can exist. Leading by example and keeping the body as strong as time and training will allow is to be a true masters of the arts.

It was in the early 2005 or 2006 when I returned home to Washington D.C. and thought to contact my instructor, Master Jhoon Rhee. He, the Father of Modern Taw Kwon Do, Master of his own domain and many more, was in his mid-70s, I in my late 30s when he enthusiastically invited me to join him for an early morning workout and breakfast.

What’s for breakfast?


Well, gee … what are we doing?

500 push-ups and 500 sit-ups.

In the decades to come, how will the arts change if we can no longer teach “up” to our students? When our students see that the bar of excellence has lowered, that the mind/body/spirit philosophies no longer matter, what will be our tie-ins for the disciplines of the physical, mental and character?

As for my early morning invite to work out with one of the greatest martial artists in the world, I am ashamed to say, I declined. I was not master of my own domain. Today, however, I have come to appreciate the arts so much more and wonder, he’s 86 years old now, is he still doing 500 sit-ups and, more importantly, could I keep up if I were able to score another invite?