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Code of Character
By O-Sensei Phil Porter in 1986, revised for the USMA, January 4, 1998

The United States Martial Arts Association Code of Character is the most important creation of our USMA leadership team. The Code is the basis of the spiritual development of all Martial Artists, and USMA teachers of the Martial Arts should put it first in their educational efforts. All strategic, tactical, and technical development in the Martial Arts depends upon the bedrock of character. Without character, nothing lasting is possible. With it, anything is possible. This fact makes our USMA Code of Character all important to every Martial Artist.

The 21 virtues listed in this USMA Code of Character are an integral part of both AMCAP, the American Martial Arts Character Achievement Program, and CATMA, Christian Achievement Through Martial Arts. As such, the Code is an introduction to these outstanding programs. Materials on AMCAP and CATMA, now under development, will be published soon.

All Martial Arts teachers and students should study this Code carefully. On first thought, it may seem difficult to make the changes in your life which will foster the acquisition of these virtues. However, you must remember that these virtues are not optional, they are required. If you wish to reach your full potential in any activity of life, including the Martial Arts, if you wish to leave the world a better place than you found it, if you wish to achieve eternal life in the presence of God, in fact if you wish to achieve any worthy purpose, character is your fundamental asset.

Noble causes meet the greatest resistance. Only a goal which ordinary people consider virtually impossible is worthy of your total commitment.

Excellence in the Martial Arts through following our Code is such a goal.

Here are the traits which are required for success as an outstanding Martial Artist. When you become one with this Code, you will walk the frontiers of the human spirit, you will become a pioneer of high endeavor. Does it matter how long it takes? Is there any other way you can go, and still be worthy in your own eyes?

One final and very important note. All of these virtues are simply demonstrations of love. There is but one source of virtue, love; and there is but one source of love, God. Thinking about these virtues and practicing them will bring you love, that is, it will improve your character, which also means it will bring you closer to your own God, your chosen ideal.

Nowadays, young people wear bracelets with the letters WWJD on them, meaning "What Would Jesus Do? He would love above all, because He is love incarnate. When you are virtuous, you come closer to love, you become more like God Himself. It isn’t easy, but what can you suggest for an alternative? Will you keep struggling, or fall to the level of the insects? It doesn’t matter how many times you fail. In striving for love, there are only winners. Some just take longer to get the trophy.

Keep going!

1. Desire. Desire means commitment, dedication, drive, determination to excel. You must be passionately addicted to finding out about your Art in every one of its aspects, purely for the sake of knowing. Intensity is a very important part of desire. It is desire in action. Those who have real desire transform it into goals. Desire must be stated and committed to. Set goals - high goals. Desire is transcendental, today will be better than yesterday, always. Desire is the joy of applying pressure to yourself, keeping hot, getting on a roll, achieving is fun!

2. Industriousness. John Wooden, the greatest coach in the history of college basketball, puts industriousness as a cornerstone of his famous "Pyramid of Success." As our grandmothers said, "Everything comes to those who wait, and WORK." The work ethic is deeply ingrained in our beloved Nation, it is one of the sources of our greatness. The concept that work is demeaning, something not worthy, something to be avoided, is not a Christian or an American concept. We have a great hymn which says: "Work, for the night is coming. Work, till the day is through." The real Martial Artist can’t wait to get to practice. We should be up and about our business every minute of the day. Tackle work, training, study, and every task in your life as though your life depended upon it, it does. Work with controlled frenzy. The true definition of an athlete who trains too hard and too long is "Champion." Make up your mind that you are going to master a great range of techniques and then go to it like a duck after a June bug.

3. Persistence. Persistence is the ability to press on, against all odds, in spite of every setback, injury, or heartbreak. This quality will be the final test of your success. If you have it, nothing can stop you. Without it, failure is sure. Persistence means dogged tenacity, determination, extraordinary willpower, and emotional stamina. It is the quality which, in horses, is called bottom, the willingness and ability to go on and on and on. Only death can find the end of true persistence. Persistence is making yourself one percent better in 100 different ways. Inch by inch, it’s a cinch! Persistence is part of what Coach Vince Lombardi called "being mentally tough."

4. Optimism. This is hope and faith. It is the sincere and rock-steady belief that everything will come out for the best, no matter what happens. Optimism, faith, is the absolute conviction that our cause, our training, our beliefs, all that we stand for, are proper and just. Faith is the rock on which we stand.

5. Dependability. Dependability is the quality of always being there, always being faithful. The motto of the greatest elite fighting force of our times, the United States Marine Corps, is "Semper Fidelis," meaning: "Always Faithful", always dependable.

6. Honesty. Honesty must be practiced in word and deed, about yourself and others. It is being truthful in every single word you say, making your heart and your words the same. "The tusks of an elephant come out, they never go back." Thus are the words of a true Martial Artist. Honesty is being even tempered, letting your live show, and not concealing your petty animosities and hatreds behind a mask of falsehood.

7. Thoughtfulness. Thoughtfulness is caring, love, and consideration. Be courteous and gentle both on and off the mat. Never say an unkind word about any person. Build up your fellow Martial Artists and everyone around you instead of tearing them down. Be prompt, clean, and cheerful so that you will make those who associate with you feel good. Be careful and considerate in training. The quality of leadership that wins is love: in the sense that, like Jesus, you love the other deeply, even if you don’t like him! You say: "No matter what you do I love you, but I simply won’t permit you to do this thing. You are better than that! You must be responsible, and that act is irresponsible."

8. Enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is going the extra mile. It is saying, "Let it start with me." Be the one who takes the lead in every difficult and new team undertaking. Be the prime mover of your Martial Arts class always. Say to yourself, "This training hall must be kept clean, give me the broom, let it begin with me!" Or, "We must all train harder, let it begin with me!"

9. Adaptability. We use this term as meaning the same as resourcefulness. Over and over again we see Martial Arts students who freeze when threatened. They have a frozen concept of the Martial Arts. When the opponent changes, they can’t adapt. One of the concepts of our USMA Tactical Doctrine for the Martial Arts is the principle of adaptive movement. Adaptability is essential on and off the mat. The ability to accept and try new concepts of strength building, new nutritional ideas, new training concepts, is essential to the life of a skilled Martial Artist. It is also the virtue which will make life easy for you and make you even-tempered. Adaptability gives you poise and flexibility.

10. Loyalty. It’s vastly important never to forget who you are and where you came from. Learn to stick with your friends. Loyalty is not only private, you admit it publicly. You are not ashamed of your loyalty to America, your teachers, teammates and friends, and especially to your God. You gladly avow that loyalty, which is an expression of love, before the whole world.

11. Humility. Victories will come, skills will come. Admit that they are the result of the gifts God, your teachers, and your training partners have given you. Know that your success is due to the help of many. Acknowledge that even when you are a world champion, or successful in defending your life in a street encounter, it is only for that day, and that even a week later you might not have made it. Recognize in the faults of others your own failings and say, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I!" Remember these sayings: "My Art has made me, I have not made my Art." "My Art is not a castle I built, it is a well from which I drink." "The Martial Arts do not need me, I desperately need the Martial Arts."

12. Prudence. Prudence is careful, systematic planning and training. The prudent Martial Artist is not greedy, knowing that it will take years to reach mastery. Combine this care with patience, the next virtue in the code, and you will willingly undertake and enjoy those years of training. Start planning how for those years of effort by building the technical and spiritual foundation of your future mastery step by step.

13. Patience. Success is automatic if you have the prudence to plan carefully and then train and wait for the good things to happy. That willingness to wait with confidence is patience. Learn to sweat out the winters of life, there will be plenty of them. Glory in the fact that spring always follows winter. The Supreme Network of forces which guides our cosmos, our universe, sometimes called God, will send you spring after your winters.

14. Courage. Courage is facing every challenge squarely. Face yourself, with all your faults, and pledge to your God to be constant in your forward advance. One of the wonderful sayings of our British heritage is asking, when being informed of a warrior’s death, " Had he his wounds in front?" Make sure that all your wounds are on the front of your body, showing that you faced the music. Courage is love in action. It is the touchstone of your victories. Above all, be brave!

15. Discipline. Discipline is self control. Without it, your Martial Arts team is a mob. Without discipline, your anger, fear, doubt and guilt will betray you again and again. All your other virtues will come to naught without discipline. Discipline is essential to the Martial Artist because it is only repeated practice which can yield the fruits of mastery. In Martial Arts training, there are many frustrating and even humiliating moments of fatigue, injury, change and defeat. They can only be surmounted with supreme discipline. The great wrestling coach Dan Gable (an Olympic Gold Medalist) calls any lapse in discipline such as anger or despondency "breaking." He will not allow his athletes to break. They either have discipline or they don’t wrestle for Dan Gable.

16. Self Reliance. Those who wait for someone else to do it are usually disappointed. Another way of describing the virtue of self reliance is acceptance of responsibility. When you admit you are responsible for your own problems (as a humble person does) you are half way to solving those problems. Rely on your own good judgment, which will come to your through fervent and persistent prayer. Then make a plan and stick to it. Your teacher is just a finger pointing at the moon. It is you who have to go there. Under God, depend on yourself, prove your own worth to yourself, and you’ll be OK. A prayer of sailors is, "Pray, but row hard for shore!" John Wooden includes alertness, initiative and resourcefulness in his "Pyramid of Success." Self reliance includes all three. Increase your resourcefulness and become more self reliant every day. Keep searching for opportunities, then seize the initiative with both hands. Be constantly alert for your chance, and then depend upon yourself to exploit it. As they said in the old American West, we ought to "ride our own broncs and stomp our own snakes."

17. Team Spirit. This virtue is eagerness to sacrifice personal interests or glory for the good of the group. Your Martial Arts training group comes first. Before you achieve mastery, you are nothing without your teacher and your training partners, they make possible your victories. After you become a master, you are nothing without your teacher and your training partners. Without them, who will you show your skills and your medals to?

18. Intensity. Nothing is done without effort. Intensity is focusing your effort strongly at the proper time. There is a time for very hard and intense work, training and competition. It is intensity which makes our techniques explosive. In military tactics and strategy, intensity is called "mass," overwhelming power applied at exactly the right instant in exactly the right place, when the enemy is weakest. Plan to more all out when you decide to move. Use controlled frenzy. High intensity will bring you both top condition and the skills you need. Keep the flame burning bright. Intensity is what the French call "cran," meaning guts. The Japanese word "zanshin," putting it all into one explosive movement and holding still for an instant after the technique, means intensity.

19. Sincerity. Sincerity is a part of honesty, but it is so important that we list it separately. Nothing will win friends and the respect of others as much as sincerity. Sincere people act as they really are, they are too honest to put up a front. They are not afraid to cry when they are deeply moved. Sincere people develop poise and noble demeanor easily. Be sincere and watch your circle of true friends grow.

20. Cooperation. Being a member of a Martial Arts class is a cooperative effort. We can’t progress steadily working alone in the Martial Arts. Gung Ho! Work together. This is the motto of the U.S. Marines, the finest fighting shock troops in the world. If we work together, each cooperating with the others, we are showing people that we understand "Jita Kyoei," the famous saying of Judo which means, literally, "You and me, shining together." Whenever you are asked to do something, think first of how you can sacrifice to do it. That’s cooperation. It is a principle of war, and a principle of life.

21. Self Esteem. Have confidence. Believe in yourself. Trust your own good judgment, after sincere and steady prayer. Learn to be self forgiving and learn to like yourself. This is very difficult, because you have so many faults. But remember that before your God, you are a little child, always making mistakes, but always forgiven and lifted up again. Admit to yourself that you have fine qualities within yourself, and struggle to bring them out. Each time you have a success, congratulate yourself. Use, "I like myself," constantly in your self talk. Poise and confidence are part of self esteem. In fact, all of your virtues go together to make up and build self esteem. Train harder than the best, know that you are better prepared. Then you will have poise, confidence, and self esteem.



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