In American culture the image of the western cowboy has always been awarded a very special place. The theme of the Cowboy both in literature and film usually describes a common man who is willing to stand against great odds to do that which is right and who does so even if it means great risk or personal sacrifice. To many it seems that in today’s world (with the exception of the military) the younger generations have forgotten that greater aspect of life.
Being willing to make such sacrifices or to take such risks even in the face of public ridicule or the threat of physical harm is something that we, as martial artists, also believe in when it is the right thing to do right. One only has to consider the Tenets of Tae Kwon Do: Courtesy, Integrity, Perseverance, Self control and Indomitable Spirit to realize they are exactly the same words Louis L’Amour might have used to describe one of his western heroes.
Imagine trying to describe Gary Cooper’s character in High Noon. Would words such as Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit be accurate when describing a sheriff willing to stay to defend his town against a gang of ruthless outlaws even when the townsfolk themselves refuse to help? Of course it would.
Would Self Control and Humility describe for example Alan Ladd’s portrayal of Shane? Remember when Shane first enters the town bar in order to retrieve a soda pop for the young boy and is then accosted by one of the cattlemen? Shane had previously been introduced as a gunfighter who knew how to handle himself but then he allows himself to be insulted in order to avoid a conflict. Who could forget Ben Johnson’s bullying and the ensuing laughter from the other patrons as he throws a drink on Shane? The hero’s reaction is the very definition of self control.
The guiding principles of the martial arts like Taekwondo might seem to have been taken directly from western folklore, yet in reality that is not the case. In fact, on several occasions the reverse is true. Many for example consider the movie The Magnificent Seven to be the consummate western. It typifies the varios different and classical types of western heroes. The Man in Black (Yul Bryner) is the strong silent leader. There is a strong sidekick (Steve McQueen), a young overeager kid, a veteran gunslinger, and an outlaw on the run. They’re all here. The Magnificent Seven was so influential in fact there were several sequels made and the characters have become almost stereotypical. In reality however the movie is an almost exact remake of the Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa.
Perhaps we should consider that like cowboys Tae Kwon Do students and other martial artists also strive to achieve their goals by following a sort of code of conduct. Whether it be it the Code of the West or the Tenets of Tae Kwon Do, such traits as respect, courtesy integrity, self effacing pride while still remaining humble, and the courage to uphold one’s convictions seem to be universal principles common to all hero types whether they be packing a .45 Peacemaker or a Japanese Katana.
Consider John Wayne’s words in his last great movie the Shootist:
I won’t be wronged,
I won’t be insulted,
I won’t be laid a hand on.
I don’t do these things to other people
I require the same from them.
Perhaps more of us should have a little Cowboy in our souls
By Master Ronald Stone, Instructor at the American Dragon Martial Arts Schools in Winter Garden, Florida. Master Stone is also a veterinarian and owner of the Veterinary Trauma Center near Clermont, Florida and an Amazon best selling author in the Western Novel category.