“Character Building,” by Nev Sagiba

Every time you go to learn some fighting art, as part of the propaganda spiel, you are told that; “It is character building.” At the same time you can smell the needy insecurity and see the dollar signs in the eyes of the teacher or whoever it is that’s trying to recruit you.

Character indeed! The other thing that is usually evident from body-language etc, is that the “teacher” has never survived a real fight where someone was attempting to murder him.

You could eat the poor fellow for breakfast before he could even realise it. Many people can’t tell the difference, but if you’ve grown up rough, very rough, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

You sort of feel sorry for the poor fellow. Even more so his students. You can see the look of deep patience and compassion in the face of the occasional special forces person attending this poor fellow’s classes. Especially when he starts to waffle nonsense and delusional theories. But you won’t know who these are because they don’t talk about it. Those who are locked safely away because they’ve lost it, will not be attending classes and the others tend to approach with a deep measure of compassion and a viable measure of enlightenment. That’s what real battle does; if it does not send you insane, it tends to offer enlightenment. But it is a too direct path not recommended to the average person.

So! Character! Is this fellow’s example anything to go by? Perhaps he can’t hold a job and so he teaches mushal arts, or something. To those gullibly seeking something or another.

Look, practicing honestly, between any individuals tends to make progress. Especially post battle. Real battle.

Chinese whispers being as they are, when the path of Budo is departed from and becomes degraded into contest sports, this stuff about “character building” sort of finds its way into the spiel and is not removed.

Notwithstanding the fact that the values have just been reversed!

From a protector of life, to a snotty, insecure egotist who wants to accumulate accolades, certificates, sashes and trophies. And boast. You see it often. Too often. False modesty and fake humility forever pointing to their trophies. And stories about “once” and “used to” and “the ring.”

Of course, to a thinker, each has something to offer. Even if it is what not to do.

I have an acquaintance who forever puts forward the argument, “What if you are attacked by the best fighter in the world from boxing, MMA, wrestling and other championship sports.?”

He has this vision of Muhammad Ali or Bill Superfoot or Andre The Giant or Bruce Lee or whoever jumping out of a bush at me, or having an altercation of whose place it is in the supermarket line; and there I will be dealing with “the best in the world.” Without a bell, referee, rules or a purse.

I don’t have that vision. All these guys are too smart to want to go to jail. They make their money, earn their money, through immense pain, in the ring. To their credit. I can think of less damaging ways to make a buck. Such as diving for pearls in shark infested waters. Sharks only hurt when they bite. In the ring it hurts most of the time.

Individuals on drugs are far more dangerous when they go “apeshit,” but the prize fighter usually does not end up that way. Besides, he can have my place in the line at the supermarket anytime.

And if someone wanted to get me, I suppose I’ll just have to do what I did in the past. Try to avoid violence if possible. And if not possible, make it up as I go, I suppose.

Who the hell can tell what tomorrow will bring? I don’t know. I may get a gut feeling, but aside from that, your training should give you a measure of preparedness. And everyone has their good and bad days. That’s life.

As for jail, I’m not sure if that can be character developing. Depends on the jail and the programmes they run there I suppose.

So, where exactly is the “character development” in learning to crush a spine, run someone through, blind, smash, break, cripple, beat to a pulp, break bones and all the destructivity?

There is none. Any thug, rapist, predator and serial killer can do all these things for real. They know the real breaking point of a bone, how to inflict the pain of compliance and other ways to destroy, and they don’t know what a “tap out” is.

And they lose their humanity.

So where is the character building in Budo?

Perhaps it is the fact that in training, if a real dojo, you are regularly facing challenge; you are regularly being disciplined; you are continually being respectful of the physical wellbeing of others. And you are learning that with ability comes immense responsibility; because the goal is not that of a predatorial cannibal. Nor that of an insecure egotist who feels defined by lots of metal cups, or standing briefly on a pedestal, or any other insignificant trivia.

Rather, the goal of Budo is that of STOPPING VIOLENCE. ACTIVE PROTECTION!

The next step-up, very few take. That is qualifying for, and taking employment where the real risk is, in real work, exercising real skill in a career as a PROFESSIONAL PROTECTOR. Where true Budo begins and kid’s play ends.

To be ruthlessly honest, children, dojos are mere kindergartens. Please don’t feel too important about yourself. By all means enjoy the yoga and meditation effects of the dojo. The social interaction. The cardio. The health benefits and relaxation and all that. To the extent that you apply yourself, it will “build character” indeed. To some extent. That’s a given.

But if you can’t or won’t face the real music, in the real world, then kindly have the wisdom to know your real place in the scheme of things.

Titles mean nothing.

Service to humanity through the society in which you live, as a real protector of constructive creativity and value… now that counts.

But you seldom hear of those who hold and care for your wellbeing in their hands. They quietly just do the hard, dangerous and often dirty, high risk work of holding the line that defines a society’s survival.

So that you can safely travel to the dojo and back; and play and fantasize about being a warrior.

There is character and then there is CHARACTER!

One is full of noise, chest beating and kid’s games such as politicking, dancing, faking and braggadocio.

The other, seldom heard of, quietly does the work that counts.

Nev Sagiba


  1. …wasn’t it in 5 Rings? ‘…the flower is more valued than the fruit…’?

  2. hit it out of the park — magnificent yet again!

  3. Jeffrey Flagg says:

    For sure practicing real in the dojo is of the utmost importance IF your goal is self defense. Unfortunately many new students have other agendas. I think Grandmaster John Pellegrini sums it up nicely. He issued some controversial yet totaly accurate statements critical of those martial arts that he believed had become outdated and had strayed from their original intent of self-defense.
    In his opening statement for the 2003 issue of Black Belt Magazine, he said:

    “Forget the fancy high kicks, lose the forms and stop wasting time with healing, meditation and breathing exercises or outdated weapons training. The reason people started training in martial arts was to defend against brutal and barbaric enemies, but in the past few decades the arts in general have become playground stuff. Winning trophies at tournaments, becoming proficient with ancient weapons you’ll never be attacked with, and doing dance and gymnastics moves is not going to save your life.”
    —John Pellegrini

  4. I knew an instructor once who would start his beginners classes by saying “You will never use any of this in a
    ‘real’ fight. Ever. You will never be a World Champion. You will never save a helpless grandmother from a gang of drug crazed ninjas in a dark alley. So drop the Hero Boy Fantasies right now.”
    Those few that stayed and practiced day in and day out became pretty good martial artists.

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