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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

THAT GUY: The Philosopher

So, you're in your martial arts class, and the instructor has given you a technique to practice.  You pair up, and after one or two tries at the technique (because one or two attempts is plenty to judge the efficacy of a given technique apparently), your partner says, "Bruce Lee said to use only that which works. I think I'm going to not include this one."

Later, the two of you are practicing a specific strike against the bags.  You've been doing it for a while, and you pause to catch your breath, and your friend says, "Great work!  As Bruce Lee said, I'm not afraid of the man who's practiced 10,000 kicks once, but the man who's practiced one kick 10,000 times."

Congratulations, you've been paired up with the Bruce Lee Disciple, one of the variants of THAT GUY: the Philosopher.

The Philosopher is the guy in your school who talks and reads more about the martial arts and related philosophy than he actually does the martial arts in real life.

Depending on the particular variant (the Zen Master, the Bruce Lee Disciple, the Budoista, the Confucian, the Wise Warrior... there's as many variants as there are arts), the Philosopher can always be counted upon to make a comment or provide insight from what she's read about the martial arts, versus physical experience.

True story:

I once got into a discussion about the "universality" of moral precepts in the martial arts.

My friend insisted the values of Bushido are universal to all martial arts.

For those of you who don't know what they are, these include rectitude (or righteousness/justice), courage, benevolence (or mercy), politeness (or respect), honesty, honor (personal dignity), and loyalty (or obedience).

While I agree that many of those virtues are useful and good, it doesn't make it fundamental to my performance or understanding of the martial arts. We never talk about these things in the FMA's as I have known them, although some of these values certainly exist.

His reply?  Well, if it didn't live up to this code - which is Japanese in origin only, by the way - then it isn't a "real martial art".

I am sure all of the martial artists and warriors of the cultures of the world would be surprised to learn that the ways they can hurt or kill someone aren't "legitimate".

Real martial arts. Not Japanese.

In my opinion, we all have some aspects of the Philosopher in each of us, but what makes him or her THAT GUY is when they use philosophy behind our training instead of actually practicing the martial arts, as if the philosophy is a substitute for training - as if the philosophy is more important than the training itself.

THAT GUY: The Philosopher is the guy who will quote the Zen maxim about emptying your cup every time you ask a question about a particular technique. It might be because you may not have enough information to understand the answer... or it might be that the Philosopher doesn't know the answer, and is glossing that over with the maxim to avoid looking like he doesn't know everything.

She is the one who, when presented with training scenarios, will say, "The supreme art of war is to win without fighting", quoting Sun Tzu. While true, our martial arts training (especially in self defense) is often about what happens when de-escalation techniques fail, so maybe we should be training for actual fighting too?

As they say in Texas, the Philosopher is all hat, no cattle.

Have you met the Philosopher?  Got any stories about one you've met in your training? Have you BEEN the Philosopher?  I'd love to know!

Use the "THAT GUY" category to find all of the THAT GUY posts on TSC!

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