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I was advised to ask this as a separate question, and would suggest reading the related question and answers.

Suicide has only in the past decade or so received the attention it deserves as a serious health challenge to handle in modern day societies. A few years back, Prof Stephen Platt showed that the highest-risk group had moved from young adult males to men aged 35–55. Recent movements such as Movember Foundation and Suicide Prevention (Twitter: @GrassrootsSP) demonstrate that awareness that this is a problem and willingness to discuss it are recent positive changes.

For these reasons, I find it to no surprise that I've never heard anything about suicide and how to deal with and prevent it in martial arts circles, considering how these often are traditional, and once their teachings are written down, often not willing to update and expand their horizons. However, this could just as well be on my account, that I might not have researched it well enough. What, if anything, do the philosophical teachings of martial arts, in particular ITF taekwon-do, have to say about (the problem of mental illness leading to) suicidal ideation and/or suicide attempts and suicide?

Notes

As a taekwon-do instructor, I am particularly interested in what the ITF philosophy says about this, but the question, I believe, is relevant for all practitioners of all martial arts. I would prefer not to limit this question to ITF taekwon-do alone, but that would probably lead to thesis length answers rather than answers in the spirit of Stack Exchange. I therefore suggest that other martial arts' teachings are left to the comments, or in a separate chat room should this be fitting for the question.

I would highly suggest that a mental-health tag is made selectable.

References

Prof. Stephen Platts original announcement, about the change in the high-risk age group towards adult and middle aged men in lieu of changes in work opportunities.

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    Making this about all martial arts makes this question impossible to answer. Which would be the accepted one between one detailing Japanese martial arts and another western ones? You need to pick one. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Mar 10 '17 at 12:51
  • @Sardathrion I have read both the article and the announcement by Prof Platt himself, so I know that the newspaper article is no-nonsense. I could remove it though, as it is, after all, referencing someone else's work. – Canned Man Mar 10 '17 at 12:54
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    @Sardathrion Do you by this mean Prof Platt's announcement? In that case, I'll have to do some more digging to find a better source. – Canned Man Mar 10 '17 at 14:04
  • OK. I'll remove it, as the paper is, after all, what is of interest. – Canned Man Mar 10 '17 at 14:15
  • Your comment is already well covered by how I've structured my question (vz in particular the notes). – Canned Man Mar 13 '17 at 13:43
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In almost two decades of doing various martial arts from Karate to Capoeira to Escrima, I have had exactly one time when the subject of suicide was brought up and that was more of a general statement on how bullying was bad and how the instructor was available to talk to if we were experiencing bullying at school after a student at the Chun Kuk Do studio I went to made an attempt. Otherwise, the subject has never come up, presumably for the same reason that driving technique or drug abuse (other than a generic "Drugs are Bad" message) never came up, because it was not directly or indirectly tied to what we were practicing.

From a more abstract perspective, I have seen two general "warrior philosophies" that might run counter to a good suicide-prevention message.

Self-determination / Independence

As a general thread of martial arts, the concept is often put forward that the individual can control their own life if they try hard enough, a sort of "magic thinking" that ranges from telling students that they can take charge of their life and that martial arts helps provide that confidence by showing you what you can do, to pseudo-mystical philosophy such as the old chestnut about the martial artist who healed their broken hand through positive visualization. This sort of thinking has a bit of a dark side to it in that it's easy to flip it over and say that, if you can take charge of your life, then any failure is solely personal, possible because you "aren't trying hard enough". Combine that with the occasionally macho atmosphere in martial arts schools where students often don't want to show pain or weakness and will push themselves even when injured and hurting, and it can create a toxic environment for someone struggling with depression.

Noble Sacrifice

While it's technically a different sort of suicide, many eastern martial arts have tales of warriors who choose suicidal actions for the sake of honor whether it's a ritual such as seppaku or Benkei's memetic bridge defense, fighting on even as he was killed by inches. Ideally, this would not factor into suicide due to mental illnesses such as depression as it's specific contexts, but one of those contexts is the idea of suicide for the greater good, which could possibly get twisted around to a "my family/friends/school would be better off without me or would benefit from my death" situation where you're back to a central narrative of suicide for the sake of honor.


Unfortunately, I do not know anything specifically about ITF teachings on the subject (I only did ITF TKD for a few months at college), but I hope my more general experiences might be of some aid.

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  • Your paragraph 'Self-determination / Independence' is interesting in that it shows how what is considered a positive empowering of the student, can in fact be what breaks them. The following paragraph, 'Noble Sacrifice', is something one might well be taught about (300 Spartans, Ajas/Ajax, Olav Tryggvason), and as you point out, a student might turn this around, seeing it as the correct action to take. I do, however, have a big problem with your statement about the attempted suicide ('… after a student … made a… …"please someone stop me" attempt...); it demonstrates serious lack of insight. – Canned Man Mar 10 '17 at 14:13
  • This has nothing to do with TKD. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Mar 13 '17 at 13:49
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    @Sardathrion: Yes, but he asked about martial arts in general, TKD in specific. – Macaco Branco Mar 13 '17 at 13:50
  • In that case the question should be closed as over broad. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Mar 13 '17 at 13:50
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Encouraging students NOT to commit suicide is one of the central aspects of Shorinji Kempo, The martial art I practice. This is in deliberate contrast to the older ideals (based on the idea if not the culture of the samurai) that were very much part of the Japanese society at the time of the second world war. You often hear practitioners of karate or judo say things like 'I live or die by my technique' or 'I will only learn from someone who is stronger than me'.

Shorinji Kempo however was founded after the second world war when those who had put their country before all else had something of an identity crises upon their defeat. The phrase 'Never Give Up' is one of Shorinji Kempo's most defining and most misunderstood phrases. 'Giving up' refers to the act of suicide.

This phrase though is just a small part of the Shorinji Kempo philosophy. There are whole books on the founder's theory of Buddhism called Kongo Zen, but always the message is the same.

For Reference: So Doshin spoke explicitly about how a Chinese monk Persuaded him not to commit suicide in April 1968 as recorded on page 66-67 of "The Words of So Doshin". I would quote this but I know that the governing organisation would not look kindly on reproduction of their copyrighted material. (I think this is a pretty poor attitude but that's by the by)

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  • This was an enlightening answer, particularly how you put it in an historical context, and showed how never give up (an obvious similarity to taekwon-do's third basic principle: perseverance) clearly refers to _not_committing suicide. Could you provide av reference to this? I also have a question to this: How do they—the philosophical teachings of your martial art—consider someone who have succumbed to suicide? (Note: I purposefully chose the passive voice.) – Canned Man Mar 10 '17 at 23:36
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    I'll find suitable a reference later yes (I have several books of the founder's teachings but can't really quote them due to copyright issues and they would be hard for you to obtain). I've been thinking about your question. The best way to put it is that they would see someone who had succumbed to suicide as misguided. The ideas predate a good understanding of mental illness amongst doctors. The founder would probably not even have been familiar with the concept. Perhaps now is a good time to develop the philosophy of this and other styles in light of the development in medicine? – Huw Evans Mar 11 '17 at 12:42
  • This has nothing to do with TKD. – Sardathrion - against SE abuse Mar 13 '17 at 13:49

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