Editorial: Did Putin learn nothing from martial arts?
Putin’s martial arts credentials questioned
No serious martial artist would make Putin’s blunders.
It should now be perfectly clear to everyone — including Vladimir Putin — that it was a grave strategic blunder for Russia to launch an unprovoked invasion upon a peaceful and democratic neighbor, the Ukraine. Despite vehement denials, things have gone badly both for Putin and for Russia. All thanks to the ‘martial artist’ Putin’s utter failure to grasp a single core principle of martial arts.
Indeed, Putin had already lost his war before he started it, principally by violating this cardinal principal from the ancient Chinese military treatise The Art of War:
Putin — who likes to be considered as a master of martial arts including judo and taekwondo — has instead demonstrated his ignorance of martial arts principles as well as critical strategic considerations. He has:
- failed to appreciate Russian military’s own weaknesses and overestimated its capabilities while floating his fantasy of rescuing the Ukraine from Jewish Nazis;
- failed to anticipate the resolve and ability of Ukrainians to resist his invasion; and he
- failed to foresee how it would unify western nations and strengthen NATO instead of weakening it.
The list could go on into details about Russian-style command and intelligence failures. Suffice it to say that Putin failed to grasp even most fundamental injunction that applies to any endeavor, but most especially to the conduct of war.
Techniques without Principles
Putin’s honorary 9th Dan black belt degrees, however politically motivated, would suggest a certain level of proficiency in both the tactical and strategic spheres. And yet, whatever tactics or tricks Putin may have gathered along the way from judo or taekwondo, nevertheless he has plainly failed to grasp the principles underlying the art of war — unfortunately at a horrific cost in lives and infrastructure, crippling not only a peaceful neighboring country but dealing blows to Russia itself at multiple levels with catastrophic consequences.
This also raises another question. What martial arts teacher or teachers of Putin are responsible for teaching him fighting tactics while failing to teach him anything deeper beyond mere techniques? Did one short-sighted grand master after another lead Putin down the flowery path of flattery? Or was Putin’s martial arts instruction so inadequate that it only prodded him further down the path to his own self-destruction?
Expelled from World Taekwondo
Meanwhile, World Taekwondo has strongly condemned Putin’s “brutal attacks on innocent lives in Ukraine, which go against the World Taekwondo vision of ‘Peace is More Precious than Triumph’ and the World Taekwondo values of respect and tolerance,” in a statement issued on February 28, 2022 shortly after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
The International Judo Federation also announced that it had removed Putin from all positions held in the International Judo Federation, the Budapest-based governing body said in a statement. The move came week after World Taekwondo stripped Putin of his honorary 9th Dan black belt. Putin was also suspended as the honorary president and ambassador of the International Judo Federation.
The 69-year-old Putin is a judo black belt and co-authored a book ironically entitled Judo: History, Theory, Practice. So, if Putin is really a master of the theory and practice of judo, why does he keep getting slammed on the floor?
Untethered from Principles
Despite all his power, influence and wealth, Vladimir Putin is sadly only too typical of modern day martial artists who — regardless of their rank or years of training — remain focused almost entirely upon techniques untethered from the art’s unchanging underlying principles. They may become ‘great’ in terms of technical prowess — yet they remain stuck as little more than an advanced class of technicians.
As World Kangdukwon Kwan Jang Nim Hwa Chong continues to remind us, one should aim to think and act like a general, and not think like a foot soldier.
The novice enlists as a private. The dedicated ones advance to become officers. Only a few become generals who can see and predict the whole field of battle.
Likewise, few taekwondo students ever progress beyond the initial stage of basic training. They may learn and master every technical aspect of training, yet without knowing how to apply taekwondo principles to daily life, they struggle to navigate through life and rarely rise to levels of vision and action that commands the entire battlefield of modern life.
Kangdukwon especially and explicitly emphasizes the ethics underlying taekwondo. Each kwan has a character of its own, a distinctive set of principles transmitted from teacher to students. That of Kangdukwon may be said to emphasize generosity in the broadest sense and constant quest to evolve or ‘modernize’ in adapting to changing circumstances.
Peace more important than victory
World Taekwondo said in its official statement that “World Taekwondo condemns the brutal attack on innocent people in Ukraine. This is against the purpose of World Taekwondo and the values of respect-tolerance.” World Taekwondo has always held on to the belief that peace is more important than victory.
We as martial artists owe it to ourselves and to our lineages to embody far more than the outward accoutrements of power and prestige as flaunted by Putin in public and in private. We owe it to more than our teachers and parents to embody the principles that we stand for.