Kids really do say the darnedest things. In a recent Young Dragons class, I quizzed our young students on why we train Jeet Kune Do. The Young Dragons martial arts program is our Jeet Kune Do class for kids here in Odenton, Maryland. There are two central pillars to Jeet Kune Do practice that truthfully apply to any martial art.
“Self-protection, because that’s how you stop the bad guys,” one of my younger boys responded. “And self-perfection, because girls like that.”
Those weren’t exactly the reasons I had given the class, not anywhere near. There are times as a teacher you have to keep a straight face. This was one of those occasions. Although he wasn’t entirely correct, my young student put a twist on the lesson I had hoped he was learning that made me think he might not be that far off the mark.
So, in teaching boys Jeet Kune Do, how are we raising them to be gentlemen?
Brad Miner, author of The Compleat Gentleman, gives an overview of how the gentleman has been viewed through history, how the concept developed, and how it can be cultivated in modern times. He divides the concept into three subcategories; the martial, the romantic, and the introspective.
The martial should be self-evident. The term chivalry only tangentially refers to things we think of today, holding the door open for a woman, offering her your coat, or helping an old lady across the street. A chevalier is a mounted warrior, a knight on horseback. In learning self-protection skills, young boys learn that there are things worth fighting, and that one must be able to fight. He learns to be strong, both physically and in his convictions. He learns to be prepared, Jeet in one of its highest forms. He learns to face fear.
He will also learn a respect for his female counterparts perhaps not seen in other areas of schooling. I can remember being a young teen training in Korean dojang, martial arts schools, and losing sparring matches, sometimes badly, to girls my age. This was a completely different experience than in wrestling practice in school, where girls were forbidden. In learning self-protection through Jeet Kune Do, young boys will find themselves tapping out to girls, getting knocked down by girls, and disarmed by girls, teaching them a respect for what their own limits as well as what the so-called fairer sex is capable of. They will also learn, through partnered practice, to protect, fight for, and fight along-side their martial sisters.
In a sense, my young student was right. While it absolutely true that young women can and should gain these same virtues from training in Jeet Kune Do, in a time when young boys are faced with messages in the media encouraging mindless violence, objectification of women, and the benefits of acting out of greed, the need for boys to grow into men who have experienced these lessons through training cannot be understated. My young student was not far off. Who wouldn’t respect a young man who has strength to stand by his convictions, respects them and their abilities, is willing to protect them if need be, and above all, do the right thing?