Cuong Nhu students should strive to improve themselves and their abilities in the martial arts in order to serve the people.
This is the first tenet of the Cuong Nhu Code of Ethics. It is one of the guiding principles of our training. In class, we don’t talk about it in these words often, but it is part of what we do every day. We do push-ups to strengthen our character, we kick targets to develop control, and we practice our basics to cultivate persistence.
This first tenet speaks of improvement. “Students should strive to improve themselves.” As martial artists, we are always stretching ourselves, reaching for the next level and seeking perfection. Perfection is unattainable, but it is in our search for it that we improve. It is foremost an internal search – we focus on improving ourselves, rather than others and the world around us. As the four-year-olds in the Pre-Karate class know, the only thing we can control is ourselves. Self-control is one of the first steps to self-improvement. And self-control requires honesty, acceptance, and discipline. We have to be honest with ourselves. We have to see things as they really are, not simply as we wish them to be. We have to accept these truths, even if they make us uncomfortable or hurt our egos. And finally, we have to have the discipline and courage to change, to make the difficult decisions that set us on the path to improvement.
In every class we strive to improve our martial arts abilities. We work to make our reverse punches faster, our lower blocks load at the ear every time, and our front foot straight in each back stance. Getting it right once is not enough; we seek consistency through perseverance.
Note that we do not just improve our martial arts abilities. We improve ourselves AND our abilities in the martial arts. Seeking perfection of our physical abilities is not enough; we must also develop our character.
And here is where the apparent paradox comes in. We focus on ourselves, improving our own abilities and developing our own character. But we do this “in order to serve the people.” How does this work? How do we improve ourselves in order to serve others? This is where the WHY comes in. Why do we study martial arts? We do not study martial arts to show off, to become stronger, to bully others, or to feel pride. Our reasons cannot be so selfish. We seek to serve others, to lead by example, and to help our community.
Serving the people is an admirable goal. Who wouldn’t want to make the world a better place and help others? But going from wanting to do so to actually doing it is another matter. Choosing to speak up for those who can’t takes self-confidence and courage. Staying on the sidelines and criticizing is easy and safe. Stepping into a volatile situation to stand up for others requires persistence, strength of character, courage, and discipline. And to do so safely, we must know our limitations and be realistic about our abilities. As martial artists, we have the tools needed to take these steps. We have the ability to do so safely. And finally, we have the responsibility to choose this path and serve the people.
Our Code of Ethics is dense; it takes some digging to uncover its meanings. And it takes some interpretation to decide what it means to you. What is your understanding of this first tenet? How will you improve yourself in order to serve the people?