Diving Deeper on the Martial Artist vs Fighter Philosophy

“Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.”

-Miyamoto Musashi

I felt this quote by legendary samurai and martial artist Musashi fit perfectly at the center of the topic I am going to write about. It is a topic that can lead to a lot of branching paths and may not have a very simple answer. The topic is the difference between a martial artist and a fighter. Is there even one? A recent conversation lead me to thinking on this and trying to examine my own thoughts around the subject.

I believe there is a difference between the two, however there is some mutuality. Not every fighter is a martial artist, but I think every martial artist has some degree of “fighter” in them. There are admirable qualities in both, and many martial artists have found a healthy relationship with fighting, being a “fighter” and the things that can surround that.

Let me tell you a short story about a situation I have encountered more than a handful of times as a martial arts instructor. A student and/or their parent would come to me after class and they would want to know how to handle being bullied in school. The standard protocol would be said with all the enthusiasm of a store clerk, often received very lukewarm because the kid and parents have gone through that checklist. Tell the teachers; tell the principal; tell the bus driver; tell the parents of the offending children.

And this is where the irony comes forward, the contradiction. I must confess I am no great sensei. I am not a Funkoshi, Ueshiba, Kano. My fighting skills are mediocre at best. What I DO feel I have is some very real experience dealing with an opponent most neglect to address: reality. I relay to the student and parent that as unfortunate as it is, and I don’t say that lightly, but sometimes we have to fight. Never look for it. Run from it in fact. Exhaust every single option before you do it. But sometimes it may be the best answer, sadly.

Which brings to light another quote from Musashi:

Perception is strong and sight weak. In strategy it is important to see distant things as if they were close and to take a distanced view of close things. “

We must ask ourselves often what the consequences are of both action AND inaction. My real world experience lacked this when I was younger. I saw only the pacifism and it lead me to take many awful beatings and humiliating situations over the course of my developmental years. I still have the physical and mental scars from this. I worked through that checklist I go through first and what happened was exactly what happens to a lot of these kids still: the abuse continued and often escalated.

What I also found was that a very well timed and placed punch stopped instantly what teachers, administrators and police could not stop in 5 years. This is my experience, and it is an experience that I am sad to say I have seen too often repeated around me.

As a martial arts instructor it is extremely hard to look in the eyes of youth, or even adults and tell them honestly that “if you fight, you lose.” and then turn around and say that there may come a situation where you have no other way forward but to fight.

So how does this factor in to the original question? Maybe that the martial artist should do every single thing to avoid conflict. They should hone their skills and hopefully grow to feel empowered but also understand the responsibility that comes with their power. They perhaps should grow toward working to keep their own ego in check, and mitigate their own toxic behaviors. When we accept that the only opponent we really need to fight is ourselves, it becomes less and less appealing to prove to others around you.

Martial artists will know how to fight when they need to, and things like competition may be very valuable in honing their skills of both physical and mental variety. Competition, tournaments and the like can teach us some very humbling lessons that we may not learn otherwise. They should strive for and hopefully find glory in the failures even more so than the successes. Yes, winning gold medals and being dominant in something can feel extremely good and provide a person with confidence. However, that type of glory can be as seductive as narcotics and lead people to “chase the dragon.”

We as humans are limited at the very least by time. We may be the best fighter, best boxer, best jiu-jitsu competitor, now but there is somebody coming up who will be greater than we are. Maybe their skill is better, their will harder, or maybe they are just younger and have that slightly quicker step than our aging selves. Does this imply we should not do anything competitive in nature the older we get, or just because we are guaranteed to eventually get beat? Hardly. There are still good reasons to engage in these exercises WITH A HEALTHY MENTALITY AROUND THEM.

In jiu-jitsu (and every martial art) we can find metaphors for life, and rarely if ever will I be able to use this pun again: the guard changes. Watch a few BJJ matches or training sessions and you will see how often that is proven on the microcosmic level between two people.

The person addicted to the glory of winning, the big stage that may come with winning, they will often have a difficult time as their twilight begins to remove them from their glory days. They often go on to damage themselves and sometimes others. Their talent will be unmistakable, and surely what they did to achieve such levels commands respect, but have they asked themselves what the cost is? What they have sacrificed, or are willing to sacrifice for it?

Maybe the old virtues of the Bushido should be given some merit, and rather than be a fighter become a martial artist that accepts the change of the guard and understand it is not a threat to them. Maybe they should seek to aid the next wave of students to be stronger, better, and more capable.

A gold medal or trophy will collect dust on a wall or mantle, but when a student you gave something powerful to comes back years later, and they tell you how it permanently altered their life for the better, the meaning of Musashi’s words become more clear.

Think lightly of yourself and deeply of the world.”

It is hard to conceive a greater way of thinking deeply of the world than by helping to lead it to somewhere with a little less darkness, and a few more beams of light.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu - Karate - Marital Arts

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – Martial Arts

Written by Lake Effect Martial Arts student and lifelong Martial Artist Don LeBlanc

Interview with Brown Belt Dr. Gregory ” Wild-man” Wilding

We are fortunate to have a very eclectic student body at Lake Effect Martial Arts. I (Professor Michael) have had the privilege of knowing Dr. Greg since he began BJJ and feel his story is one that needs to be shared. While we get tied up in the mat hiearchy that often clouds our focus and understanding of others, what makes Dr. Greg remarkable in my book is how he has black belts in many other areas of life: fatherhood, academics, career and jokes for starters.


How Long have you been training BJJ? (when did you start)

I’ve been training for about 7 and a half years.


What is your favorite thing about Jiu Jitsu?

There are a couple things. First, the technical aspects of the art. With proper jiu jitsu technique one can control and submit an opponent who is much faster and stronger.  Second, jiu jitsu brings people from all walks of life together to focus on a common goal. At jiu jitsu I get to meet and hang out with people I don’t normally get to meet during other aspects of my life.


What is your least favorite thing about Jiu Jitsu?

Injury but as I have become more experienced I get hurt a lot less.  When I first started jiu jitsu I would always exert force against force when rolling which increases your chances of injury.  By flowing more and using technique, not only do I avoid injury but I’m also much more successful during sparring.


You have quite a lot of outside education. Tell us about your degrees. Were they local?

I have a Masters and PhD in Statistics from the University of Rochester. I came to Buffalo to take a job at the University at Buffalo after I finished my doctoral studies.


Ellaborate a bit more on the benefits of discipline in your life. How has it made your life better? (Think about the talk you gave me before)

Jiu jitsu brings order from chaos.  Not only do you learn to manage the aggression of your opponent, but you also learn to manage your own emotions. This in turn makes managing other aspects of your life easier. Because of jiu jitsu, I am a better dad, husband, son, brother, and a better person overall.

Top three favorite bands? 

I’m old school grunge so Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden. I know I’m old now as I no longer listen to new music on the radio.


You once were in a band…Tell us a little more about that. Do you have a picture?

Here’s a pic.


It was mostly during my time in graduate school that I was in the band.  We were based in Rochester although we played in Buffalo a few times. The Rochester music scene was largely dominated by cover bands but we didn’t want to sell out (which is how we saw it at the time) so we wrote and performed all original music. We used to play in front of pretty big crowds (300+) but we also had gigs where the audience consisted of our girlfriends and we were paid with free beer. Writing music was something I really enjoyed and it also provided me with a way of switching up my thinking when my PhD thesis work was not going well. Being in a band served a similar role as jiu jitsu serves for me now in that it is a creative outlet outside of my academic life at the university.



How many children do you have? Whats the most tiring moment you can recall since becoming a father.

I have two kids aged 8 and 12.  Most tiring moment? Cleaning up vomit when they had stomach bugs at 2AM ranks up there.


Whats your favorite part about training at Lake Effect Martial Arts?

At LEMA the facilities are excellent. I feel I am learning from top notch instructors and as a result my jiu jitsu game has greatly improved. Also at LEMA I have excellent, very supportive training partners.


The laundry bag that you use for your gis while coming in and out of class….Is that something you thought of or did your wife make you do it?

It is an idea I borrowed from a guy at my old gym, Matt Bordonaro. He was extra gross and sweaty like I am after training. Rather than putting my sweaty gi in a gym bag, I rather just put it in a laundry bag and when I get home everything can go in the washer.  A few years from now everyone will be doing this and I’ll be seen as ahead of my time.


Might you be the only person in LEMA history to never accidentally leave something behind at the academy?

I left my mouth guard behind last month. When I came in the next time I found it but wasn’t 100% sure it was mine from looking at it. I had to take a chance and see if it fit.  Luckily it did.

Any last words?

Thanks to everyone at LEMA for their support