When I was thirteen years old I was part of a taekwondo martial arts club. I wasn’t very good at it, but I enjoyed trying to master skills that could potentially protect me from harm - protect being the key word. I didn’t ever think about using the skills that I had learnt in the gym to inflict needless harm on another human being and, as far as I could tell, neither did any of the other people that I trained with. My taekwondo instructor would reiterate the importance of this point at the end of every session we had:
“All martial arts are to be approached with respect and used with extreme caution. The skills that you learn are intended to promote peace, not inflict violence.”
Additionally, our instructor made sure to remind us that if any of us were found to have violated this moral code, we would not have been welcome back at the gym.
Back then I was merely a skinny thirteen year old boy, with no more than one hundred pounds on my wiry frame - I wasn’t about to go Jean Claude Van Damme on the world, hitting everyone that I saw with a spinning head-kick, but that was besides the point. The instructor was trying to teach me, and the other people he trained, about the moral values that lay at the foundation of the martial arts and that mattered to me whether I was a three-hundred pound muscle mountain, or a one-hundred pound waif.
As I reflect on my experience with martial arts in my youth, I find it hard to understand why, and how, the UFC star Conor McGregor was welcomed back into not only his gym, but the sport of mixed martial arts as a whole, after having violated the moral code of martial arts that I learned about all those years ago.
The violation I am referring to, is the well publicized incident in which McGregor punched an elderly man in the face, simply because he had refused to drink a shot of McGregor’s whisky. The whole sorry incident was even caught on CCTV. McGregor avoided jail time for the incident and was fined $1,117.
Given this blatant disregard for the moral code central to martial arts, why is McGregor being allowed to fight again? When he does fight, he will be on the biggest stage that professional martial arts has to offer, fighting for the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), and he will be fighting for an amount of money that makes his previous fine pale in comparison; $3 million.
It seems that the financial incentive for the UFC is the most probable reason that all sense of morals has been put on the back burner in this situation. The two highest grossing pay-per-view events hosted by the UFC have had McGregor as the headline fighter and I guess that the’re expecting more of the same when he returns.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about forgiveness. I believe that we all make mistakes and I equally believe that we can be genuinely remorseful of these mistakes and change as a person in their wake. McGregor’s attitude leading up to his comeback does appear to be at distinct odds with the confrontational persona that typified his early fighting career and it suggests that such a change has occurred within him. A change that has even lead to some people thinking that McGregor is now “humble”, a quality that would have been an oxymoron next to his name only a few months ago.
However, even if McGregor has truly changed, as admirable as this change in character is, the nature of the mistake which he wants to move on from - a violent assault, using the skills that were taught to him through martial arts under the condition that he obeyed the moral code that underpinned them - should, surely, mean that he is never allowed to be in a position to benefit financially from martial arts again.
How will it look to young budding martial artists when they see McGregor in the spotlight once again?
If my thirteen year old self had seen this big star of the sport that I loved, being welcomed back with open arms, after blatantly violating the morals of the sport, then what would have stopped me, and my friends who I trained with, from thinking that it was OK to do the same?
Young children are impressionable, I had my own idols that I drew inspiration from as a young martial artist - Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee - luckily none of these pubic figures lived a life that could have lead me to stray into dangerously immoral territory. For today’s youngsters who practice martial arts, it may well be that Conor McGregor is one of their idols. If you are one of them, maybe think twice before taking inspiration from a man whose actions are in direct contradiction to the morals that underpin the sport you love.
Irrespective of your age, I would ask anyone to think twice before buying the pay-per-view for McGregor’s comeback fight and avoid adding to the already inordinate amount of money that McGregor’s moral flagrancy will be making him.
Thanks for reading,