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World Leaders

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Somebody posed an excellent philosophical question recently: What would happen if all world leaders were martial artists?

Some people responded with idealistic suggestions, such as that we would have world peace, and respect for our fellow man. Others pointed out that some world leaders actually are martial artists, and are not exactly known as great peacemakers.

I started imagining how it would really look, given the types of interactions we have in the world of martial arts. In my first scenario, I thought about how it would be if the two main candidates in an election were martial artists.

Candidate: I have a good feeling about getting elected. I have worked hard all my life to help others and to live a life of discipline.

Political Advisor: I am sorry, but that is not going to help you. All the polls show that you are going to lose the election.

Candidate: WHAT???!!! How can this be???!!!

Political Advisor: Our data shows that the voters prefer the other candidate, because you are just a 6th Dan, but he is a 14th Dan.

Candidate: 14th Dan???!!! You know that’s not even a real thing, right?

Political Advisor: Sure it is. He has a diploma.

Candidate: He bought that on the internet! I have trained for 45 years in a traditional style, with an acknowledged master. I have lineage, tradition and credibility. He has only trained for about ten years in a McDojo, and then set up his own style and bought a diploma.

Political Advisor: Yes, but…

Candidate: But what???

Political Advisor: But he’s a 14th Dan.

Candidate: <sigh>

Ok, so maybe that is more a swipe at the gullible public than at the political leaders, but you get the idea.

Then I thought about what might happen in a meeting between the presidents of two nations. Here is how the meeting preparations might go.

Advisor: Mr. President, please remember that when President Judokov enters the room, you must stand and bow to him.

President: Why should I? He is here to seek our help. We are a more powerful nation.

Advisor: Yes, but he is a senior grade. He’s an 8th Dan and you are only a 7th Dan.

President: Oh right. Very well. I will show proper respect.

Advisor: Good. And he must also be seated at the head of the table.

President: But it is MY table, in MY house, in MY country!

Advisor: Yes, but… Senior grade.

President: Oh, fine then. But I’m not happy about it.

Advisor: I understand, but it is correct etiquette. Oh, and one more thing… You have to agree to whatever he asks for.

President: WHAT??!! That’s ridiculous!

Advisor: Senior grade.

President: Stupid martial arts.

At this point, people might be forgiven for thinking that I am cynical about martial arts, but this is not actually the case. The thing is that mixing politics and martial arts has never worked. A dojo is not a democracy. The hierarchical system in martial arts works very well within any one group or organisation. It just becomes too complicated when we expand beyond any one group. Of course, with a hierarchical system like this, it is always open to abuse, and we can see with the politics just within the martial arts that these abuses are common. When we add money and ego to the mix, the temptation can be too great for many. While we may criticise this, we should also recognise that this is human nature, and it is by no means limited to martial arts. (Just take a look at any professional sports body and you will find corruption and egos too.) If we were to extend the potential for such abuses to world politics, then we may indeed end up with scenarios like the satire I outlined above.

Idealistically, I am in favour of the notion that the whole world would be a better place if the world leaders were truly martial artists, with all the correct ethics that go with that. But politics tends to attract, well, politicians. And politicians are not exactly renowned for being the most ethical or honourable people in the world.

I’m off to fire my political advisor…



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Seamus O’Dowd (6th Dan SKIF) has been a student of Martial Arts for thirty years, and has trained with many of the top instructors of Shotokan Karate in the world. He is an occasional contributor to a number of Martial Arts magazines, and produced a number of DVDs, including one entitled “Kanazawa No Bo” with the legendary Kanazawa Hirokazu Sensei. He also regularly travels to many countries to teach karate, tai chi and bo-jutsu.


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Guest Monday, 18 June 2018
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