There is a camaraderie that forms when you fence with someone and enjoy the experience. I’ve seen this in wrestling, sword fighting, and other martial arts. There is an intimacy to that kind of visceral connection that forges bonds. These types of bonds are not often formed in other places. This is especially true for men in our society who have few opportunities or frameworks to form close physical relationships with others outside of the romantic world. Or for women who are given few places to engage physically with men that don’t involve sexuality.
Yet, like a physical attraction, this type of connection can often screen us from really seeing or acknowledging the negative behaviours and actions of these people. It’s very easy to feel: "I had a great fight with that guy, therefore, he is an awesome person.” But, how much do we really know about this person and their values? Or, if we know their values, how much do we want to excuse them based on the worth of the sparring session we had?
To those we offer respect and friendship, they become a type of leader in our lives and we look to leaders to share with us their ideas on how to live. This is especially true when we enter a new community. Role models tell us how to behave in that community. We learn from them what is acceptable and what is not. They show us what has worth and what is irrelevant. And these lessons are imparted by how that person responds to failure, offers respect, deals with a challenge, and their relationship with honesty. This comes across not just in what they explicitly say but in their actions as teachers, students, friends, and colleagues.
Don’t underestimate your capacity to absorb values. It’s part of our evolved human instincts to survive and fit in. Whether you want to or not, the people you spend time with change you.
So choose your friends, teachers, and sparring partners wisely. Make sure that the influence they’re going to have on who you are is going to take you toward the values you hold close. Yes, developing your martial skills is important, but it is your character that carries you through life. There are plenty of teachers and sparring partners out there capable of helping you develop as a martial artist while supporting and encouraging the best of you as a person.
A few questions I ask myself about teachers and training partners:
Does this person...
- Show care and compassion toward others?
- Seek to better themselves AND those around them?
- Welcome others in who are not like them?
I don’t expect them to be perfect. They don’t even have to be nice all the time. But as people, I expect them to be good ones.
What are your values? What are the choices you need to make to support them?