March 22, 2010

F.B.I., lady. Hands up!

James Bond has a license to kill. The Beastie Boys have a License to ill. Check out the Web, and you’ll see driver licenses for Mexifornia, Osama Bin Laden’s New York license, and even Robert DeNiro’s Taxicab License from 1976 – no mohawk. Who could forget the Corey Haim-Corey Feldman movie License to Drive - “Some guys get all the brakes.” (Heather Graham was in that!) There are software licenses. Business licenses. Marriage licenses. You might even download a license for the F.B.I. - Federal Booby Inspector. But a moral license? A license to be moral? Actually, it’s just the opposite.

In separate studies, Northwestern University psychologists and Associate Professors at the University of Toronto discovered similar findings. In the first study, psychologists labeled what they called a moral “thermostat,” while the Toronto study of so-called “green” consumerism a sense of “moral licensing.” To quote the UK’s Guardian,

“when people feel they have been morally virtuous by saving the planet through their purchases of organic baby food, for example, it leads to the "licensing [of] selfish and morally questionable behaviour", otherwise known as "moral balancing" or "compensatory ethics".

This latest study only seems to support Northwestern’s, where psychologists,

“had the idea that our sense of moral self-worth might serve as a kind of thermostat, tilting us toward moral stricture at one time and moral license at another, but keeping us on a steady track. They tested this by priming volunteers’ feelings of moral superiority—or their sense of guilt—and watching what happened.”
Thanks for the article go to “We’re Only Human” blog, by Wray Herbert. (Check out the orginal articles, linked in "NIN"genuity.)

This moral licensing, or righteous behavior, is rampant and infectious throughout many aspects of society, including, but not limited to, politics, religion, academia, the arts, and social activism. When people are convinced they are right, based upon what they believe are higher ethical standards, these studies show, they can feel a ‘license’ to bend, obfuscate, or even break the rules. It is interesting at a time of intense national debate on the future navigation of the United States to note the pronounced moral license by which it is being led. And the frustration polls show the vast majority of Americans feel toward those ‘who know better’ than the rest of us about how we should live our lives.

Moral licensing in martial arts can be deadly. Knowing when it’s appropriate to use training can quickly lose ground to, “teaching the opponent a lesson” if we are unaware, unsure, or untrained as to how to know we’re slipping. This perversion of ethics occurs when judge also becomes jury and executioner.

We have to judge, we must judge, when it is appropriate to use training. Judging to use or not use martial arts is to judge the morality of behavior. How do we know when behavior is immoral? The Dual-Life Value, theorized by Dr. Robert L. Humphery, basically states that our right to life, and the right to life of our loved ones, supersedes any earthly or relative value. How can any ideal pursued by terrorists be of higher value or importance than the universal value all of us place on our lives and the lives of people we love? Real human equality is achieved by equating the value we place on our lives and the lives of loved ones to the value others – rich or poor - place on their lives and their loved ones and adjusting our behavior to respect that. Universal immorality occurs when this value is violated, either by disrespect or violence.

Righteousness comes from the absolute power granted by judge, jury, and executioner, apparent when we judge someone’s behavior to be immoral, but then decide to “teach them a lesson,” and carry it out. Moral license perverts our sense of justice by injecting our own relative values of right and wrong, often justified merely by our participation or association with them. I may think littering is a capitol offense, but I can't kill a guy for stomping out a cigarette on the sidewalk. When we force what we want onto the opponent, rather than dispassionately prevent what they want, we are guilty of the very same offense as the opponent.

Everything in Taijutsu is learned through the physical, and the more options we challenge ourselves with creating, the more responsible and effective we can become. Try using a sword or knife without cutting, a gun without shooting, a staff without bludgeoning, unarmed without forcing control. Mastery of the Kukan allows for all of these options. When used as shield, as armor, the Kukan forces the opponent into stalemate, where anything they do does them in. We may have rendered judgment to use our training, but it is the opponent themselves who become their own jury and executioner – they deliberate and execute the sentence. Taijutsu is coded with the ethic of its use, by way of the Kukan – the key to its stalemating strategy found in its positioning by this simple truth, ‘be able to strike, without being struck.’

The "Warrior Ethic" is not measured by what we want to do, but by how sharp our understanding is of what we know we must do. There is no sanctimony in judging moral from immoral, no righteousness in standing up to such immorality, and no elitism in preventing immoral behavior from succeeding. When we base Taijutsu not on what we want, but on what we are unwilling to allow another to immorally take, we grant ourselves the time and space to shield us from attack and protect us from even the weaknesses of our own will.

March 12, 2010


His look was half confusion and that other one, as if I were holding a small piece of shit just under his nose and asking him to smell it. “Treat him as if he’s a third grader,” I said again. And again, I get the “look.”

“If a third grader came running in here and up to you, stamped his foot three times like they used to do in Hong Kong to signal a challenge … how would that make you feel?” He thought about it and I could see the change in him. “Good, keep that as he punches you,” referring to his partner.

His partner punched at him – a solid honest punch, if he didn’t get out of the way, he was going to get cracked. The two met – intersected in a single moment - and his partner wound up on the floor. It was well done. “How did that make you feel?” I asked his partner. He barely thought about it, “He dismissed me.”

That word “dismissed” summed it up. I can remember squaring up with Nagato when I lived in Japan, hell, even now when I square up with him, the feeling is the same – dismissive. I’m not a threat, maybe nobody is for that matter. The utter confidence – how do we begin to achieve that?

There comes a point in training when the understanding of technique is not enough, the raw physical nature of training will not suffice, and to improve our ability means reaching beyond the way we perceive ourselves. Tough stuff.

The image I provided that night was a simple one, but useful for context. And context, we discover, is the key to understanding our greater role. Fudoshin, courage, is a difficult concept to explain, and even more difficult to pass on.

But he got a piece of it that night, so, I asked him, do you understand? He said, “It only makes for more questions.”