Excerpts From A Martial Arts Article By Dr. Holder Published In TaeKwon Do Times

Dr. Holder is a Kung Fu Grandmaster and heads the North American Wing Chun Kung Fu Association. Although this article was written for and published in “TaeKwon Do Times” magazine (The readership obviously being Martial artists), we thought the philosophy of the article had a more global message so we included excerpts from the article in this newsletter addition.


Philip holder, PhD.
Copyright by Philip Holder 1997 – 2014


In the course of our development (as martial artists), we will pass through many stages of growth. People in general do the same. We (martial artists) all go through many changes as we develop from novice to instructor levels. Similarly all people develop from children to adulthood. Even after reaching physical maturity, it is hopeful that we will all aspire to higher levels of character and virtue throughout our lives. This is the higher goal in martial arts and is significantly more important than knowing how to fight fighting.


Some people actively pursue becoming better people. Others never learn from their mistakes and are therefore doomed to repeat them. Which group do you fall under? Martial arts needs to be utilized as more than a means of fighting to realize its full benefit. It can enhance the overall quality of one’s life.

Let’s say that you have trained diligently for years. One day, you are attacked on the street. You fight like a champ, trashing your attacker(s). In those few critical seconds or minutes your training has saved your life. All of the years of training, sweat and practice would have proven worth the effort. Hopefully you will never be in that position, therefore, it makes sense to use the great philosophies of ancient wisdom to make our lives and the lives of those around us better in all respects.


At one time or another every student is going to hear his or her instructor speak about the need for courage. What I rarely hear is an instructor defining courage for his or her students in an all-encompassing way. In order to have or display courage we first must define what it is. At different times in our lives, courage may take on totally different meaning for us. One thing for sure… it means much more than merely standing up to the neighborhood bully. Sometimes it even means walking away.

Young children watch the “Power Rangers” or “Batman” and associate their actions with bravery and courage. At that young stage of maturity, if you are willing to run into a burning building to rescue a helpless alien, no doubt about it, you have courage. As a teenager, you may perceive the toughest guy on the football squad to have courage, or the person who is not afraid to take on the toughest dude in the school. You may be considered to have courage if you are always willing to take on a dare or engage in dangerous and risky behavior. These are all juvenile and superficial interpretations of courage.

The key to whether or not a person’s behavior exemplifies courage depends largely on whether it is based on a positive motivation and whether or not the behavior is directed towards creating a positive and constructive outcome.


Acts of courage do not of themselves make a courageous person. Often times the person who has to be the toughest guy in town, or who is always the first to take on a dangerous dare, is in fact the most insecure. He or she constantly tries to prove to themselves and to others that he or she is not a coward. Often, the person who places a disproportionate value on winning that match or doing the most death defying deed has a core of insecurity. Their life is a constant battle in which they attempt to prove to themselves and others that they are not cowards and that they have value.


Some people never learn. Even as adults (physically in any event), their primary concern is convincing others that they are the toughest or the smartest. They ,in reality, are attempting to convince themselves. These people are recognizable. They are the ones that insist they have all of the answers and that everyone else is either incompetent, stupid or incorrect.

Those who constantly put others down are usually doing so out of insecurity. A person of true courage is too busy creating and building to take time out to be critical of others. A person of courage is content to be judged by his or her accomplishments. He or she does not attempt to condemn and insult others in order to make others appear small in comparison to themselves. In envisioning the overall outcome of your life ask this… Is who you can beat up, or who you can belittle, going to help anyone, or uplift the quality of your own life? I don’t think so. Negativity breads negativity. Positive acts result in growth.


In youth, we tend to equate courage with daring and/or with violence and aggression. Some people grow up and pass through that stage. Others do not. They remain juvenile delinquents throughout their lives. They are consumed by the need to prove that they have worth through knocking others down. This is because they simply don’t feel, inside, that they have any value.

None of us are perfect. All of us have things in our past that we are proud of and thing we would have done differently if we could have a re-do. I certainly have things in my past that I would have handled differently given the opportunity to do them over… Don’t you? The truth is that we cannot go back in time and do them over. But we can start each day by trying to be the best person that we can, in all that we do now. We can each be a glowing example of and demonstrate the honor and integrity often talked about but too often not evident in our lives. I’m not talking about besting others. I’m talking about using each problem we encounter in our daily lives as a challenge to do better. I’m talking about using each challenge as an opportunity to develop our personal level of character and integrity. This is where true courage is shown.

Our goal should not be to convince others about how great we have been or how great we are now. We all have things of which we are proud. All of us, at times in our lives, have fallen far short of our potential for good. Being perfect is something none of us will achieve. Our goal should be to aspire towards perfection of character. The martial arts can be a great tool for this if not tainted by ego, selfish goals or self righteous pride.

True courage surfaces when you abandon the easy road and brave the more difficult path when you know it is the more honorable way to go. It is present when you are more interested in helping others than in having them think that you are a big-shot. It shows when you are able to do the right thing, even if your peers think you are a coward for doing so, or when there may be a cost to you for doing the right thing. It is easy to do the right thing when there is no risk. What separates the men from the boys (and ladies from the girls) is when you do the right thing despite the risk.

It takes much more courage to gracefully handle the ridicule of those who are against you and/or friends and acquaintances than it does to fight the local bully. It is far better to look like a mouse to others and feel like a lion within yourself, than to look like a lion to others and feel like a little mouse. Our pride is often more fragile than our flesh. It takes greater courage and character to help others along than it does to point out what another person is doing wrong. It takes greater courage to accept your faults and try to do better next time than it does to deny your shortcomings and blame someone else for all your problems. A person of true courage doesn’t where it like a neon sign saying “I’m Brave”. It is seen in his or her compassion and understanding and wisdom to know when to show compassion and when to be firm in his or her position (Not every hill is worth climbing. Choose your battles wisely). It is seen in a willingness to help others. It is evident in a person’s ability to make decisions that show character rather than those that are simply easy or expedient. Courage resides subtly in those that aspire to higher levels of consciousness and understanding rather than in those with a quest for recognition and glory.

Gaining courage is not something that happens in a day, a week, or a year. It is an ongoing process throughout our lives. It is found not by looking for it, but instead through a constant effort to learn about ourselves, a willingness to admit our mistakes and shortcomings, and by using adversity as a way to “exercise” our character. It is no different than how we use diet and exercise to enrich our bodies. The ability to show kindness, a willingness to be tolerant of those who disagree with you, and the ability to ignore those who try to insult you and distract you from your goals, takes far more courage than punching someone in the mouth.


Most of us, during our lifetime, have at times placed our values in areas that are less than what we should expect from ourselves. There were times when being a great fighter was more important to me than being a helpful teacher… When being right was more important than facilitating growth. It was an evolution and growth process for me. I still attempt to be a better me each day. So it is with us all. The key is to learn from our errors. It is all a matter of having the “courage” to take the right path.


Even if you were the best fighter in the galaxy, you will be forgotten when the day comes that you are defeated, or someone else replaces you. If you are viewed as a contributor, builder, and as a good person you will always have the support of others. A person of true courage chooses his battles wisely and for the right reasons. It is never from ego, anger, fear, or pride. To gain anything, something positive must result from your actions. Hurting others for anything other than your safety or the safety of another is not courage, it is cowardice and insecurity. As Teddy Roosevelt said…” Speak softly and carry a big stick”. Notice, he did not say beat them with a big stick. Remember the old saying “It is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt”. True courage is displayed through character, integrity, compassion and the capacity to exercise strength and set boundaries. With this philosophy, you will show that you are a person of both character and courage.

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