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Training Values (2) – Honour

January 7, 2018

A few years ago, a teacher in the Singapore Chinese martial arts community organized meet-ups and sparring sessions to raise the profile of his own classes and hopefully get more students. Of course he didn’t explicitly say that, so practitioners from other Chinese arts would respond to the invitations and turn up in the name of Chinese culture and martial brotherhood and the like.

Generally, traditional Chinese arts focused more on striking than on grappling. It’s a sociological and historical thing, Well, this teacher claimed to have been trained in grappling, wrestling and such through one of the Southern styles. During the meet up, he was sparring with someone much lighter than him, with much less muscular strength than him, and yet he was being out-grappled, quite easily. And because this teacher had no skill in dealing with basic grappling situations such as being clinched, he chose instead to gouge the other person’s eyes.

That was a few years ago. Up till now the other guy still wakes up in the morning with blurred vision and eye pain from that vicious eye attack. Quickly rushing him to the hospital wasn’t much help. Bear in mind the motivation for that attack: this teacher did not want to admit he had no skilled options for dealing with someone who wasn’t out to kill him or injure him. The only parts of him that was under threat was his ego and his dreams of building his own martial arts kingdom. But to this wannabe king, that was enough justification for his viciousness. And the other person now has lasting eye injuries because of that.

It’s people like him that make me ashamed to say that I am ethnically Chinese, or that I also train in Chinese martial arts. Can you imagine what would happen if this wannabe king was ever hired by businesses to conduct team building activities for their staff? Any advanced certificate in training and assessment doesn’t matter. With such a person conducting the team building, there is always the chance that a manager will get his/her eyes clawed out if he/she gives any of the staff a lousy annual staff appraisal.

This teacher is a person without honour.

Honour in the Bujinkan

Because the main training system we use in the Bujinkan is the Tori-Uke system, which means we train in scripted situations and responses. honour is very important. It is essential that all the people involved have good reason to trust each other to follow the script. Anyone who significantly deviates from the script might seriously injure the other. And when the scripted technique is inherently dangerous (neck cranks or instantly damaging versions of onikudaki or mushadori) the person being demo-ed on needs to know that he/she is safe because it won’t be done at full speed or force.

It is an open secret that in arts that use the Tori-Uke system for training, there are sick people who enjoy taking the opportunities to inflict pain on other people. Of course that happens in other arts too. But in those other arts, such as Muay Thai, for example, the sicko needs to have a lot more skill in the first place, to set up the situation for inflicting pain and then doing it. In Tori-Uke arts, the set-up is done for them. They are given a bunch of trusting, unsuspecting, unresisting victims. If the sicko ever becomes the teacher (as described in this post ( then he dictates the set-up. So whether you’d be injured that day is a matter of chance and whim. Do you really want to bet your safety on chance and whim?

Of course such people won’t show their true colours straight away, or they’d scare away all their students. But you’ll see hints here and there if you care to look.

Years ago, I visited this class that had one guy paired up with this girl for training. And during the class that guy repeatedly cranked on the locks and all that and had the poor girl tapping away. Believe me, I was so pissed I wanted to change partners to train with him, to see if he dared to try such nonsense with someone more skilled and less forgiving. But a small still voice within my mind told me to just ignore it. So I did. Later on, after the class, I saw the two of them getting all lovey-dovey with each other. Oh, so they are a dating couple? Okay…

My point is not to comment on their relationship or speculate on what they might be doing to each other behind closed doors (“Hentai desu ka?” “Hai, hentai ne”). Whatever they do to each other in private is totally none of my business. But that the guy would do all this to a woman out in the open shows 1) his own tendencies, that he enjoys inflicting pain on others; AND 2) his teacher is totally fine with it. What does that imply about the teacher?

A person without honour is the greatest threat to your safety during training.

Of course, some people will think that such tendencies can be forgiven or ignored if the teacher has real skills. What many people do not understand, however, is that real skills need to be based on reality. Someone without honour may not be grounded in reality. Their ego may not allow them to even consider that they do not know everything there is to know. How will can they teach real skills if that is the case?

I’ll explain more about being grounded in reality in my next post. But for now, if you start seeing hints of what I describe in this post in the training you attend, don’t just brush it off and ignore it. Pay attention. Talk with other instructors, even from other martial arts, and see what they think. In the meantime, train safe, train well. See you at the next class!


Junjie 俊傑
Bujinkan Ninjutsu


From → bujinkan

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