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Honesty, Integrity, Honor, And Courage Are Required

Honesty, integrity, honor, and courage are required

Honesty, integrity, honor, and courage are required. They are not optional.

Normally, I keep my personal views here focused on my teaching and insights that may be useful to others. Recent events crossed a boundary and brought to the forefront questions of honor and courage, integrity and honesty, ethics and moral character. Today, we are seeing something in the real world that is precisely the traditional way of being in the martial arts. In fact, it’s the only way to advance.

Portland. Reading and watching the news. There was an interview with one veteran who emphasized his oath, the oath that he swore to our Constitution. He and all those with him are the embodiment of honor and courage. Their stated goal is to Protect the Constitution. To stand for something takes courage.

These values are not trivial. They are not polite. They don’t make excuses. They are not convenient. They are not easy.

They come with a cost.

And they are essential. Absolutely essential. Without them, it is not possible to gain the insights so essential to the development of internal workmanship (nei gong 内功). Moreover, in the traditional of the arts, someone without these values, these character traits, would not be taught. No teacher with any integrity would teach such a person.

The classics (a generic term for the body of literature on the martial arts) include various instruction manuals for teachers as well as essays on practice. They are, for the most part, only accessible to those who can read Chinese. In one such collection focused on Wudang arts, there is a list of 10 types of people that should not be taught. It is up to the teacher to decide if the person might develop the character to learn or not. For instance, a person who is a drunkard should not be taught. Perhaps that person has suffered something and is using getting drunk to avoid it. Perhaps, with encouragement, the teacher could influence the person to stop drinking. Or, perhaps that person has no wish to heal and does not want to stop. In that case, the teacher should not consider that person a serious student and shouldn’t teach them.

Integrity and honor are more difficult to discern. They can be learned. They can be taught. But only those who already have the basis for them will learn. The notion of integrity runs deep. It asks us to consider who we are, what we value, and what we believe. Not in the sense of religious belief. Rather in the sense of what makes us human. And, the most difficult questions of all: What do we stand for? What do we value? Honor demands respect. It doesn’t ask. Because when someone stands with honor, every part of them, every thought, everything that makes that person human, stands. Honor never stands against anything. Honor always stands for; and what honor stands for matters. It’s not trivial.

It takes courage to stand with honor; to find within ourselves that part of us willing to stand. Courage has everything to to do with whether or not we are afraid. Having courage means we are afraid. Courage is that essential part of our souls as humans that lets us reach into and through that fear, that apprehension, that foreboding and stand. The fear isn’t gone. It’s stronger. It doesn’t go away. It’s courage that lets us harness that energy and transform it into honor. What matters, why we stand, matters more than the fear.

And none of this happens without honesty. Being honest with ourselves is the only way to find out what we are made of, what we value, what we love, and who we are. There is no substitute for honesty. Without it, there can be no honor. Honor requires we be honest with ourselves. We can hide our faults from others. We can pretend to be whoever we wish to others. We cannot lie to ourselves. We have to be honest. Only then, can we learn.

The classics also say that a person who seeks to harm others should not be taught. In some ways, that may seem odd. That’s in part what the martial arts are designed to do. But that’s not what should ever be practiced. Advanced practice is always about developing skills that we don’t want to use and hope we never need. It’s about trying to advance our own knowledge and abilities, not how much harm could be inflicted. At the same time, those skills are what must be considered in teaching. So the opposite type of person, the one who seeks to protect others, that person can reach an advanced level. The insights don’t come to those who want them. They come to those who are ready. They come to those who wait.

And that is part of the cost. The cost of honesty is integrity. Without one, the other means nothing. The cost of courage is fear. Without fear, courage doesn’t exist. Honor has the highest cost of all. It requires we stand. Not for something trivial or mundane, but for who we are. Not for some material want or lack, for our ideals; for who we aspire to be.

Honesty, integrity, honor, and courage are required. They are not optional.

June 26, 2020

Yes, these are abstract concepts. And my explanations may need a bit more work. That is something I have planned. These concepts and values are perhaps more important that the particulars of any of the martial arts.

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