don’t confuse skills with deeds


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The Hagakure says the following:

In China there was once a man who liked pictures of dragons, and his clothing and furnishings were all designed accordingly. His deep affection for dragons was brought to the attention of the dragon god, and one day a real dragon appeared before his window. It is said that he died of fright. He was probably a man who always spoke big words but acted differently when facing the real thing.

This passage makes me think about the tendency to confuse the trappings and the skills involved in “warriorship” with the deeds that are the REAL substance of it. How many times have you seen the IT/web professional who accumulates helmets, plate carriers, chest rigs, 2K carbines and attends 3-5 “tactical carbine” courses a year? Nothing wrong with that, but don’t confuse the trappings with the “doings”. And beyond that, to me this passage talks about the difference between the “appearance” and the “guts”. The webdude with the tactical firearms hobby who “dies of fright” when the Tactical Gods drop him into a real firefight illustrates that skills and mindset/attitude are two different things.

It’s the same with the martial arts, strutting around like you are “SOMEBODY” because you have a black belt shows me that you have a self-esteem problem. You are a person with a skill. Your skill is no more or less important than a person with a skill in carpentry, dance, accounting or electrical engineering. Show me what kind of person you are by what you do in the world. You don’t have to be a SEAL or a tactical guru to be “someone”. The type of person you are will always be more important than the skills you acquire.

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13 thoughts on “don’t confuse skills with deeds”

  1. If only there were a carbine god to deal with such matters, haha.
    When I run into someone who thinks that a belt color conveys skill, I like to tell them the true story of how Kano invented them some 100-odd years ago to let people know who could teach in the Kodokan, and who were still in the early stages of learning. So like the menkyo that came before them, the belt’s sole purpose is to let others know who they can come to for help; it says nothing about how good the person is.

    1. Belts do convey ‘skill’ in the sense that you have to be able to do xyz skill sets to get xyz belt – but that isn’t the same as ‘doing’ it in reality or for reality and/or mean that you are more ‘worthy’ as a person than someone else.

      1. Exactly. People don’t respect soldiers/LEO’s/etc because of their weapon skills, they respect them for their service. Trying to gain respect by practicing the skills is akin to putting on a uniform as a costume.

        That’s not to be confused with looking for training simply because you want too, as a hobby, as training for self-defense and so on. Nothing wrong with that and there are many highly skilled people who do just that. Some who are even better at those skills than folks out “in the field”. But a PV2 in Afghanistan is out there “doing it” even if an IPSC champ is twice as skilled with an M4. To be honest I would rather have the combat vet with solid basic skills at my back than a 3 gun wiz with no “street experience”. Of course I’d really like the experienced warrior who ALSO has advanced weapon skills.

        In a nutshell, I’m not intending to demean the “average joe” who wants to train. I am talking about those who try to fill a hole in their self-image with the trappings of the warrior while providing none of the service.

      2. Re: skill; That’s arguable. It was not uncommon for a mediocre-talented person to have ownership of a school passed down to him because a) there was no one else, and/or b) he was able to teach better than someone who may have been “better skilled”. While connected, rank and skill are not directly proportional.

        Re: doing, worthy, and Tom’s response; This was the point I was getting at. Rank or the Badge are meant to be icons that more easily identify you as someone who can provide a service. They are intended to be symbols of selflessness, rather than measures of ego.
        I think we’re all saying the same thing, but it’s nice to work it out in your own words. =)

    2. I am not using the word “skill” to mean the same thing as “good” or “excellent” technique/ability. I am simply saying that, within each martial art system/school, there will be an ‘if/then’ process: If you are taking Tae Kwon Do and can do a certain number of forms, self defense techniques, answer certain questions and/or demonstrate a certain level of proficiency (based on their internal standard), then they will award you a certain rank/title – that’s all. Does that skill set/ability/proficiency mean that you will be able to survive/serve/accomplish missions in the real world? Not really. Does it mean that you have worked and earned a title/rank based on your demonstrative skill? Yes.

      The BIG difference between recreational/civilian/non professionally required ‘martial’ training and ‘career’ or professional training is the ‘tricks’ mentality. Military/EMS/Law Enforcement “School” training is all VERY fundamental at best. Then there is the ‘apprenticeship’ phase of shadowing veterans working in the field, then there is the final ‘phase’ of training where you are on your own, but observed/supervised more closely than more experienced peers. In civilian/recreational ‘martial’ training it’s all about an upward spiral of intricacy and complexity in the techniques – usually only ‘tested’ internally. It’s a self perpetuating system on the recreational side. “Professional” training is about application/service/mission accomplishment whereas the ‘Recreational’ training tends to be ‘system mastery’ focus. These are two very different goals.

      Re: skill; That’s arguable. It was not uncommon for a mediocre-talented person to have ownership of a school passed down to him because a) there was no one else, and/or b) he was able to teach better than someone who may have been “better skilled”. While connected, rank and skill are not directly proportional.

      Re: doing, worthy, and Tom’s response; This was the point I was getting at. Rank or the Badge are meant to be icons that more easily identify you as someone who can provide a service. They are intended to be symbols of selflessness, rather than measures of ego.
      I think we’re all saying the same thing, but it’s nice to work it out in your own words. =)

  2. I agree with you 100%, Tom. I have been involved in the martial arts for my whole entire life (I’m 19 years old), and I’ve reached the rank of black belt in the art of Tang Soo Do last year. I don’t go around telling people that, and most of the people I know don’t know about it. I don’t see any need for people to know about it.

    However, I have seen other black belts in my gym, and in other gyms always reminding lower ranks of their “superiority”. I honestly see this and find it to be pathetic. I see them train, and I hate to sound arrogant, but even many higher level black belts in my gym are not as capable as I am. While their technique looks crisp and clean, they are unable to apply their skills to fighting where action and reaction is key, while technique is much less important.

    I have been in a situation on the street where I’ve needed to be able defend myself in the past (My attacker had wanted money that I didn’t have and tried to stab me as a result.), and it was probably some of the worst technique I’ve performed in a very long time. To defend myself, I had honestly used my high school wrestling experience as much as I used the decade and a half of my martial arts I had under my belt. This had been the first time that I’ve ever had a confrontation like that, and I had learned that my skills were not as important as being able to keep a cool head and reacting quickly.

    Even with the years of experience and practice, I wasn’t able to walk away unscathed. I’m not trying to say I’m a “SOMEBODY” as a result of this experience, because I am not, but what I am trying to say is that skill is not even half of the equation. Some of the “peacock” black belts in my gym probably would have been cut up a lot more than I was.

  3. I think this post by Tom touches on the fallacy of ‘character education’ being synonymous with ‘martial arts’ training… You can USE martial arts training to create ‘teachable moments’ of character awareness/sportsmanship/citizenship, but I don’t think there is an intrinsic or automatic relationship between teaching martial arts and character development.

    1. I think that our dabbling in sky diving, rock climbing and rappelling did as much…or MORE “character development” than martial arts did. Facing ones fears in an endeavor that could truly be “life or death” if you @#$% up teaches you that you CAN overcome your fears and operate. I’ve always thought that they served as “inoculations” against the “pucker factor”.

      1. Agreed. Reminds me of a Japanese/Zen/Martial Arts anecdote about training for years and years by carrying water, chopping wood and the ‘final test’ was walking across a log over a deep ravine – all that other stuff is important but the real ‘test’ is going to be if/when you deal with the real risk of life/limb.

  4. “How many times have you seen the IT/web professional who accumulates helmets, plate carriers, chest rigs, 2K carbines and attends 3-5 “tactical carbine” courses a year?”

    How many times have you seen the cop who shoots only the minimum qual each year?
    Why the slagging on the civvy who takes responsibility for his personal security, gets training, and gets decent gear all on his own dime and his own time? Would you prefer civvies not train?

    1. [sarcasm]Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying. And Cops should be the only people allowed guns too.” [/sarcasm]

      I suggest you re-read the post and the comments.

      I believe I said a number of times that there is nothing wrong with the “average joe” training/buying gear. But for some people it comes to a point where they are doing it to satisfy their ego or to be able to boast “I’m a better shot than a cop”. Well goodie for you, but while cops SHOULD be better shots as a whole, shooting is one of the skills/tools of being a cop. It’s not the equivalent of BEING a cop. You can outfit yourself with the entire kit of a SEAL and pay for all the training to be as good a shot as one, but you are in fantasy land when you start telling yourself that you are “as good as one”. As good to who?

  5. In some of our schools, when the student is tested before wearing the Black Belt, she/he is certainly evaluated for the physical skills that accompany the rank. The traditions/ancestors of the Black Belt/Martial Arts also expect that emotional and spiritual skills are evaluated. That is, who is the person who will wear the Belt? What values does he/she express in daily living? How does this student treat other people? Can this student walk in a humble way, with peace and strength? These are but a few of the concepts and virtues that are essential to wearing the Black Belt earned in some of our schools.

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