I remember back when I was a kid, there was no Disney+ or Netflix. You have to look in the TV Guide to see what was on, or you could just flip through the channels. I remember one afternoon I was doing just that, searching for something to entertain myself and I discovered a strong man competition on ESPN. These men had bulging muscles that they used to hurl barrels, lift weights, and pull trucks. They demonstrated incredible feats of strength which they had trained for years to perform.
That leads to a question about strength. What is it? In our martial arts classes, we don't do bench presses, but we do try to make our punches and kicks stronger. We aim to hit the target pad as hard as possible or break though multiple wooden boards. These are absolutely feats of strength, and they are impressive. Our students train for years and years to make themselves as strong as possible.
But physical strength is not the only type of strength. In martial arts, we look to develop the whole person, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. And though physical strength is impressive, there are other feats of strength that are equally hard to perform. This week in class, students have been hearing about virtue, that is, the quality of being morally good. But what does this have to do with strength?
Virtue is something everyone knows about. For example, take the virtue of honesty. If I asked you if lying was right or wrong, everyone would most certainly tell me how wrong it is to be dishonest. The same thing could be said of stealing. We all know on an intellectual level that stealing is wrong. However, in both cases, there have been times where we are tempted to tell a lie or take something that isn't ours. We have all, at some point in our lives, not upheld the virtues that we know to be morally correct. So when we talk about being emotionally or mentally strong, part of that is having the strength to act in a way that is virtuous. No one gets strong simply from looking at a dumbbell. You have to actually do the heavy lifting. The same can be said of acting in accordance with our morals.
Now, most of us reading this (if not all) are not body builders or strongmen. Why not? Because it takes hard work, dedication, and most importantly a desire to train in those areas of strength. The same can be said of virtue. So we need to seek a way to create that desire in our young students. Just like people might congratulate a weigh lifter on breaking their record, we need to acknowledge and point out when students do the right thing. We shouldn't wait for them to fail to punish them, but rather seek to praise them when they do right.
And just like there are benefits to exercise, there are also benefits to kindness, generosity, honesty, and other virtuous behaviors. We must point out these positives to our students by teaching empathy towards others and a confidence that allows for humility.
The impressive thing about a person who can lift a lot of weight is that they are literally pushing or pulling against a tremendous force. That is what makes them strong. But we must remember to not only be physically strong, but mentally as well. We must push against the pressure to act with corruption, and instead, stand strong and act with integrity. This strength is what is truly important in life, and whether you can break concrete with a punch or not, people will recognize and appreciate your virtuous character.
About the Author
Master Matthew Eyler is a 5th degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do and a New York State certified general and special education teacher. He has over 20 years experience practicing self-defense and teaching students of all ages and abilities.