This is a continuation from Part 1 of the Forrest Morgan interview. Forrest Morgan is author of the popular text “Living the Martial Way”, and is also a veteran of the United States Air Force. He currently works with the Rand Corporation doing strategy research and analysis and is an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.
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MA: Do you see any conflict in civilians seeing themselves as warriors yet having no combat or military experience?
FM: None whatsoever. That was the purpose of my book, to help those practicing combative sports or budo systems enrich their training by putting it in the context of living a warrior lifestyle. It was written for everyone, regardless of occupation.
MA: What advice could you give people who eventually discover that they are in a non-warrior dojo or style? Can they become warriors too?
FM: Absolutely. That was my situation, precisely. With “Living the Martial Way” I sought to help people enrich their training by filling in some of the holes left behind in sport or budo training.
I suspect, however, that truly serious aspiring warriors in non-warrior dojos will eventually seek additional training elsewhere, just as I did, to fill the technical and tactical holes you can’t fill with a book. Remember – all systems are artificial, so no one system can fill all of a warrior’s needs.
MA: Could you talk a bit about kata training and if you still pursue it?
FM: In short, kata is both the curriculum and principal training method used in traditional systems. It involves doing the techniques in series over and over again until they can be executed flawlessly and without conscious thought. Although we take it to a higher level in martial arts than is done in most other activities (we strive for mushin), there is nothing particularly mysterious about the method in itself. It is used in many modern activities outside of Asian martial arts, from CPR training to small unit infantry tactics. Relentless rote practice and drill, with an instructor correcting every flaw, is the way to train people to perform critical actions under stress.
As for my pursuit of kata, like I already said, I am no longer in active training (degenerative arthritis), but when I was, I practiced kata several times a week.
MA: Do you think the focus of martial arts has changed over generations? In feudal Japan the arts were used by Samurai on the battlefield, but now we have some arts that are never used in military combat. Is there a sense that martial arts are now about life preservation and self defense over the killing of enemies?
FM: In the broadest sense martial arts are no more or less focused on preserving life today than they were in feudal Japan. Now, as then, martial arts are about training to defeat adversaries in order to protect a designated individual, group, or institution. In feudal Japan it was the daimyo and his family. Today it is your own family and friends if you are a private individual, your community if you are a police officer, and the nation if you serve in the military, intelligence community, or a federal police agency.
That said, the late martial arts historian Donn Draeger argued that true martial arts are not about self defense because a samurai’s duty was not to defend himself, it was to protect his feudal lord. Well, as much as I respect Draeger, I think his position on this point was a bit overly restrictive. Although the samurai were expected to die in the service of their lords if necessary, even they needed to preserve their own lives to the extent possible to fulfill their duties. Similarly, although modern soldiers must sometimes die for their country, they are not expected to do so needlessly. They must defend themselves to the extent possible in order to accomplish their missions today and live to fight again tomorrow.
In sum, true martial arts incorporate both objectives: preserving life and taking life.
MA: Do you have any tips for taking a dance or sport art and enhancing it to put it more inline with warrior training?
FM: That’s a hard one to answer in brief. The short answer is read “Living the Martial Way”, but I know that is a bit of a cop-out. So allow me to offer an answer only slightly longer. First, recognize from the start that you aren’t going to get all you need from a sport art and certainly not from dance. You will need to broaden your training. Second, once you come to that conclusion, ask yourself why you are practicing the sport or dance. If you get pleasure from that activity separate from any expectations of warrior training, fine, carry on. But if you’ve been deluding yourself in thinking you are practicing a martial art when you’re dancing or playing a sport, it’s time to face facts and assess your tactical training needs more objectively. Dance is dance. Sport is sport. Neither are martial arts.
MA: How have you balanced the demands of the warrior training lifestyle with your military duties, professional duties, and home life?
Well, my wife’s answer to that question would be, “Not very well.” Between a demanding fulltime job and teaching at Pitt, I work six-to-seven days a week. I am in the gym four-to-five days a week, averaging two hours per workout. I have a never ending list of things I want to get done in my “spare time”, something I never seem to have. My wife and I tend to have different priorities for the items on that list, and she frequently asks why I haven’t gotten things done that I haven’t even thought to add to the list. Need I say more?
Seriously, though, we are a warrior family on the go. My two youngest daughters train in Chito-Ryu karate-do (I also have grown children). The older one, a shodan, is in college. The younger one is a high school honor student active in multiple extra-curricular school activities. My wife (a sandan in jujutsu, by the way) does a lot of volunteer work, maintains her own workout schedule, and takes care of the rest of us. We do our best to juggle life’s demands and keep our priorities straight: family first, obligations to employers (and school) second, fitness an important third, lots of other stuff next, and personal entertainment a distant last. My daughters would not necessarily agree with that order, but they’re learning.
MA: As you’ve continued your study, have you found more and more connections between applied psychology and martial arts mysticism? Is there anything in the martial world that still simply baffles you?
If there is an area in which my thinking has evolved since writing the book, it is on the issue of mysticism. Maybe it’s a function of age or maybe it’s a byproduct of extended education in a field which insists that conclusions be based on evidence, but I have grown increasingly skeptical about the mystical aspects of the martial arts. Applied psychology is another matter. That will always be a facet of combat between human beings. And I don’t discount the possibility that martial training can create internal phenomena that can’t be objectively measured. But when warriors convince themselves that such phenomena will give them an edge in deadly combat, they risk deluding themselves in the tradition of the Chinese secret societies who, believing their chi would protect them from modern weapons, rose up against the Western Powers in the 1900 Boxer Rebellion. In sum, if you believe your training has enhanced your chi (or ki), that’s great, but when the bullets start flying, I’ll take Kevlar.
MA: How has your pursuit of the martial way enriched your life on the whole?
FM: Well, that’s another question that would take a book to answer. To avoid trotting out my accomplishments more than I already have, I’ll just say that, to a great extent, I owe the ambition and discipline that has helped me to achieve whatever I have managed to achieve to the martial way.
MA: Where would you like to see the martial arts taken by the next few generations?
FM: I would like to see future generations get more objective about their martial training, neither mistaking it for, nor pretending it to be, something it is not. I would like to see professional warriors take a more analytical approach to assessing their tactical requirements and tailor their training accordingly.
The Readers Ask…
Reader: Should traditional martial artists be more concerned about putting modern knife and gun self defense and tactics into their training?
FM: The answer to the question above, which I directed to professional warriors, goes equally for serious practitioners outside the warrior professions. If you are a warrior, you should objectively assess the threats you are likely to face in the environment in which you live and work. If those threats include the possibility of armed assailants, then you should be training for that, whether the system you study includes it or not.
Reader: Should female traditional artists be concerned about changing techniques to fit their body and capabilities (it seems as if traditional arts were developed and designed for men)?
FM: That is an excellent question, one that speaks to a warrior’s tactical mindset. The answer is yes.
Most traditional arts were indeed developed by men, for men (and right-handed men, at that). That said, a few women warriors have developed their own martial arts. For instance, according to legend, Wing Chun Gung Fu was developed by a Buddhist nun with a woman’s body in mind.
Samurai women also developed certain arts to defend their households (naginata-jutsu, for example). But the overwhelming majority of martial arts are designed for men fighting other men of approximately equal size. So yes, women need to assess the kinds of threats they are most likely to face, objectively appraise their own physical capabilities, and tailor their techniques and tactics accordingly. Instructors should help their female students do this. If they don’t, women should seek training elsewhere.
By the way, this answer also applies to men of small stature. But women face additional threats that most men do not.
Reader: Have you changed your mindset or approach to training since the publication of your book? Has the exposure from the book itself changed anything about your mindset?
FM: Well, as I mentioned above, my attitude about the mystical claims of some martial arts has grown more skeptical over the years. However, the only area of the book I truly regret writing, because I’ve since learned I was wrong, was where I offered dietary advice.
In “Living the Martial Way” I advised readers to adhere to an extremely low-fat, hi-carb diet. I based that advice on the writings of Robert Haas, author of Eat to Win and several subsequent books, and my own experience with that kind of diet. I’ve since observed that the hi-carb diet was just one of a long history of fad diets, and there are aspects of it that may not be healthy. My lesson in this is twofold: first, I should stay in my own lane. That is, I should not try to advise people in a field in which I have little expertise. Second, if I do venture into scientific areas, I should do my research in the published results of credible scientific studies, not popular writers.
As for whether exposure from the book has changed anything about my mindset, I am happy to report that it has opened my eyes to just how many good, traditional martial arts instructors there are in this country, striving to provide their students high-quality training. When I wrote the book, I felt as if I was the proverbial lone voice in the wilderness. While I had come to believe that martial arts instruction should be about realistic combat training and the pursuit of excellence in a warrior lifestyle, all I could see around me was a bunch of dancers, prancers, and players. After the book was published, however, serious martial artists began contacting me, and I discovered I was not alone in the values I hold dear.
There really are a lot of people out there who take this stuff as seriously as I do and are striving to maintain warrior traditions. Folks like Bruce and Ann-Marie Heilman, and my daughters’ sensei, Terry Valentino. We are still a small minority to be sure, but to quote an old X-Files cliché, “we are not alone.”
I’d like to extend a big thank you to Mr. Forrest Morgan for his excellent insight! He is a strong voice in the martial arts community and has a rare talent for putting things into perspective. I’d also like to thank the readers for coming up with some great questions that I am sure I wouldn’t have thought to ask.
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There’s a certain pantheon of martial arts books that are considered classics or must-reads. The most commonly cited examples are The Book of Five Rings, The Art of War, The Bubishi, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, Karate-Do: My Way of Life, etc. Among these predominantly aged texts stands one that is routinely cited as brilliant, yet written during our own generation. That book is “Living the Martial Way“, and it has effected the lives and paths of thousands of martial artists all over the world.
Author Forrest Morgan doesn’t boast epically high ranks in multiple styles, nor does he stand to inherit any deep dark martial arts secrets from hidden masters. Despite that, he has managed to pierce the heart of the matter and create a manual for the ways in which modern day soldiers and citizens can apply the martial way and warrior mindset in their every day lives.
I had a chance to ask Mr. Morgan some questions regarding his background, mindset, and opinions on how he sees the martial arts. I hope you enjoy this interview and gain something valuable out of it!
MA: Thank you very much for participating in this interview Mr. Morgan. First off, could you give a little background about yourself for anyone who may not be familiar with your martial arts or military experience?
FM: Certainly. Put simply, I am a man who has chosen to serve his country and live a warrior lifestyle. That said, I do not claim to be particularly accomplished in either of those pursuits. I spent 27 years in the U.S. Air Force, but was never decorated for valor or even saw combat. I actively trained in martial arts for 30 years, but was never a tournament champion. The highest grade I reached in any system was 3rd dan. However, over the years in which I served and trained I gained some insights or at least I believe I gained some insights, readers can decide for themselves about warrior culture and how martial arts training relates to that culture. I chose to share those insights with other martial artists.
To provide you a short synopsis of my life and career, I began formal training in Taekwondo Chung Do Kwan in 1972.Â Four years later, then a newly promoted 1st dan, I enlisted in the Air Force. I spent the first three years in the Air Force (after basic training and tech school, of course) as a communications analyst at Misawa Air Base, Japan, where I completed my bachelors degree in night school. On urging from my flight commander, I applied for Officer Training School, and, to my surprise, was accepted.
After commissioning, I became a space operations officer and worked at various levels in that field for most of the rest of my Air Force career. About 18 years in, however, my career took a turn, and Living the Martial Way played a part in making that happen.
That was about a year after the book came out, and I was a student at the Air Force’s highly-selective strategy school, the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS). Back then the school chose one student a year to send to a civilian university for a doctoral degree, with the expectation that the student would eventually return to the SAASS as a member of the faculty. It was a competitive selection. As I had written a successful book, I had an edge on the other applicants and was chosen.
As a result, I spent the next several years at the University of Maryland studying under a future Nobel laureate (he received the prize in 2006). From there I spent a couple of years in the Pentagon on the HQ Air Force staff in the long-range strategic planning division. Then it was back to SAASS where I finished the last three years of my career as a professor of comparative military studies.
With the education and experience the Air Force was so generous in providing me, I managed to get a post-retirement job at the RAND Corporation doing strategy research and analysis for the Air Force, the Army, and other defense clients. I’ve been doing that for nearly seven years now. For the last three years I have also been an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. I teach in the security and intelligence studies major.
MA: Could you dive a bit more into your martial arts education?
Sure. As I said, I was a 1st degree when I joined the Air Force. I spent the next seven years away from my instructor. I trained whenever and wherever I could and also taught on a couple of Air Force bases, but back then, I believed in loyalty to style and remained a Chung Do Kwan 1st degree. In the early 1980s, however, I was assigned to a base near my instructor and returned to formal training, earning 2nd and 3rd degree over the next several years.
However, by then I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with taekwondo as a martial art. The rich, combat-oriented system I had learned in the early 70s was being watered down, converted to a pure sport, and repackaged for mass consumption.
Example of Chung do Kwan Sport Sparring:
Beyond that, I had become skeptical of proponents claims that it could be effective in all tactical situations. I could see that even the fuller system I had been taught was deficient in close-quarters combat (where most personal attacks occur) and ineffective on the ground. Therefore, on my next military assignment, I set out to find training to fill the holes so to speak. Over the next 15 years or so I studies several different jujutsu systems, earning a 2nd degree in Hakkoryu and a 1st degree in Akayama Ryu. It was several years into this period that I wrote “Living the Martial Way”.
I continued active training until my retirement from the Air Force. About that time degenerative arthritis forced me off the mat and hardwood. I still maintain my physical fitness with low-impact cardio and weight training, but martial arts training is now more than my eroded joints will tolerate.
MA: That is a shame that your joints will no longer tolerate full training! But I suppose the mental lessons learned never go away.
What was it that first got you interested in the arts (self defense, hobby, etc)?
FM: I started martial arts training for self defense and to build my self esteem. I grew up in a suburb of Detroit. It wasn’t the inner city by any means, but it was a rough, blue collar neighborhood nonetheless. I was a tall and gawky teenager tall enough to get the bullies attention, mouthy enough to piss them off, and too skinny to back it up. As a result, I was pushed around on a pretty regular basis.
By my mid-teen years I was fed up with it and determined to study martial arts. My parents refused to pay for it, so I read books and kicked and punched a homemade heavy bag until after my first year of college when I could pay for my own training. I visited a number of schools and chose the one that looked the toughest. Fortunately, it was also one of the few I could afford.
MA: You are the author of Living the Martial Way, a very popular book among traditional artists. What was your original impetus for writing this book?
As I said above, by the mid eighties I had become dissatisfied with what taekwondo had to offer. As a military member, I had met a lot of martial artists from other systems and trained with some of them. I had lived in Japan a couple of years, studied the language and culture, watched the local police demonstrate their empty-hand combative measures, and watched the Japanese military train in their unarmed combat system. I had studied various Asian philosophies in college. As a result of all of this, when I returned to my home organization, I soon realized I was much more informed about martial arts, Asian history and philosophy, and… well, personal combat in general than any of my peers or superiors in the taekwondo association, people who had grown up in a single style, swallowing the pabulum about the supposed superiority of that style that the organization fed them. Consequently, as I explained in the introduction of “Living the Martial Way”, I set out to deliberately learn what my organization was failing to teach me, technically, tactically, philosophically, and spiritually.
Over the next few years, as I researched and learned, I enriched the training I was giving my own students, bringing in techniques from other systems, developing scenario-oriented street tactics, assigning the senior students outside readings, and holding discussion sessions with them (often over pitchers of beer). My senior students and I became a tight-knit group, something of an elite squad, envied by students at other locations in our organization (and resented by some other instructors). It was an invigorating period in my life, but as my assignment at that base approached an end, several of my students became concerned. You’ve got to write a book, one of them said. We can’t get this stuff anyplace else. I laughed. We had learned a lot, but certainly I didn’t have enough material for a book, or so I thought.
A few years later, while winnowing away the hours on midnight shifts manning a command post at HQ Air Force Space Command, I began outlining my ideas just to see if there was enough there to call it a book. What I discovered was not only did I have enough material for a book, but I had too much for a single book. I had to cut it in half.
MA: Do you feel as if martial sport is growing at a faster rate than traditional martial arts? Are you concerned that sport may push art into extinction or extreme obscurity?
Yes, martial sport is certainly growing faster than traditional martial arts. Indeed, it has been since kumite and randori were first introduced in karate-do, judo, and kendo training in the 19th century. Will it push it into extinction or extreme obscurity? Well, it depends on what you mean by art and, beyond that, what you mean by traditional martial arts.
You may be surprised to hear that I am probably not the traditionalist some people think I am. Rather, I am a warrior in the true tradition. That tradition is not slavish adherence to a particular martial organization, style, or set of katas in the name of tradition. Rather, it is to seek out and master whatever combat methods are needed to assure victory in the specific strategic context in which you expect to find yourself. That does not mean, if you’re a police officer, that you practice sport karate in the belief that it will prepare you for the tactical demands of your job, and neither does it mean that you practice traditional 17th century sword techniques with the same expectation.
Few professional warriors who truly need unarmed combat proficiency for their jobs elite military forces, police officers, intelligence operatives, etc. spend much time practicing what most people consider traditional martial arts, especially the ultra-traditional kodo or classical arts, such as kenjutsu, kyujutsu, jujutsu, etc. And you wouldn’t want them to.
Would you want the U.S. Army trying to defend the nation with swords and spears? What would you think if the U.S. Navy refused to equip itself with state-of-the-art warships because wooden sailing vessels are more traditional? Even the less archaic, non-classical, traditionally-oriented martial arts, such as karate-do, aikido, jujutsu, etc., systems that strive to maintain their customs, training methods, and techniques unchanged from the late 19th or early 20th century, are usually not directly applicable to most 21st century threats without some amount of modification. These systems are not true bugei (martial arts), which are purely utilitarian in nature, they are budo (martial ways), systems practiced for self improvement.
There is nothing wrong with that. Budo training is valuable in itself. I have enjoyed it and gotten great benefit from it, physically and spiritually. Many of the techniques and some of the tactics taught in budo systems are, with modification, suitable for real combat, but they are not martial arts, strictly speaking. They are martial ways.
Whether these systems die out in favor of martial sport remains to be seen. No doubt some of them will. However, true martial arts will never die out. As long as human beings are in physical conflict with one another, they will develop and practice methods to restrain, defeat, and kill their enemies. The methods will evolve in response to changing tactical requirements, or they will (and should) be discarded.
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Continued in Part 2
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Martial arts offer us a conundrum. On one hand, we are taught to never seek out violence, and to avoid hurting others at all cost. On the other hand, it is commonly known that there can be no exact substitute in the dojo for the fury and adrenaline of real danger, and thus our life protection skills can never be complete without at least brushing with combat.
This catch-22 is all too familiar for most civilian martial artists, and has helped charlatans stay in business for years without ever having to prove anything.
Modern day artists have one luxury that previous generations never had – the prevalence of video. It’s true that there is no substitute for the feeling of uncontrolled violence, but at least we can see what it looks like and ask ourselves the tough questions regarding our own preparedness.
Today I found an excellent video that demonstrates an all too classic scenario – a muscley street thug causing trouble with a person he thinks might be an easy target. The cause of the confrontation is unknown, but the thug can be found confronting the man aggressively on his own doorstep. Watch as the situation escalates, and what happens when the thug finds out the hard way that he picked a martial artist for a target:
I like this video because it is very ‘real’. The martial artist wasn’t outside of a bar, or at a ruckus sporting event; he was simply at his home when trouble came his way. This is the kind of thing that could happen to anyone, even individuals who make good decisions to stay away from questionable areas.
One thing that impressed me about the martial artist was his patience. He sustained significant verbal abuse, and got screamed at right in his face. That experience causes the hair on the back of the neck to stand straight up and puts a person in a very aggressive mood instantly. Nevertheless he maintained himself and didn’t show any signs of agitation.
Secondly, when the thug went so far as to put hands on him, he didn’t react with an immediate death blow, or ground and pound pummelation. He pushed him away to try and create distance and give the thug yet another opportunity to go away. The martial artist also kept his hands in front of him in a ready-to-use position (not quite as good as Geoff Thompson’s fence, but still good and unaggressive).
Eventually, as the thug noticed he wasn’t getting anywhere, he began to escalate the situation by throwing a trash can around and pushing the martial artist persistently. It was soon after that that the martial artist made the personal decision that he no longer felt safe, and made an attack. Once he made that aggressive motion, he didn’t go back to trying to be passive. He controlled distance and kept his hands up. He waited, still patiently, until the energetic thug, bounding around with unchecked adrenaline, tried to close the gap. At that time the martial artist punched him square in the face with a well executed straight punch.
As the thug limped away the martial artist maintained distance and control, but did not follow up with further punishment. He used enough violence to eliminate the threat, and then allowed the situation to dissolve.
At no point did the martial artist try anything fancy. He kept a natural stance and hand position. He made small movements and kept control at all times.
This martial artist may not win 1,000 tournaments with style and panache, but he had ‘it’ when ‘it’ really counted.
Video and the Law
One very important take-away from this video is that the martial artist behaved well in accordance to the law. He tried his best to de-escalate the situation, and did nothing to provoke the thug. He defended himself once the thug began showing signs of persistent physical aggression. In fact, the martial artist would probably have been justified punching the thug out the first time he went to push or grab him. (Indeed, the one thing that makes me nervous in this video is the possibility of the thug having a knife and being so close inside the martial artist’s personal space).
This video also shows the abundance of video these days. Flip cams and cam phones are all over the place, which means if trouble starts (especially in a crowded area like in the video), there is a very decent chance it will be on video. We as martial artists can use that to our advantage. We can make obvious signs of non-aggression so that later in court we can use that video as evidence of our control and focus on self defense.
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