Loyalty and Integrity

“If your boss demands loyalty, give him integrity.

If your boss demands integrity, give him loyalty.” 

That was the advice John Boyd gave to his acolytes in his days at the Pentagon.

They, like everyone in the military, had careers in motion. They reported to new commanders at every step on the path. And they had a new set of subordinates who reported to them.  

Boyd taught them the subtleties of aerial combat. The precision engineering and mathematical analysis they needed to move their projects forward and which generations of pilots needed to win in battle.

He also taught the qualities of character needed to thrive in a hostile, competitive environment, and keep your self-respect, earn the respect of others and assure your effectiveness.  He made it clear that if your boss insists that you be honest with him and others, no matter what, then you are free to give him your loyalty.

And he warned that if your boss wants you to be dishonest, because he says so, and he’s the boss and you are on his team, don’t do it.  

Which pissed off a lot of important people.  

I described Boyd’s contribution to combative theory, and the amazing insight he gives into the fighting tactics of our kata, in my article Too Fast To See

In my book True Karate Dō, we understand John Boyd as a modern-day Musashi Miyamoto, with more experience and wider influence – whose discoveries reveal dimensions of our empty hand combatives which deepen our ability to fight and win. 

Boyd was a consummate, undefeated master of his weapon, the fighter jet.  

From mastery in the sky, he rose through the ranks, becoming an instructor, innovator and leader, eventually becoming influential in the conduct of warfare on a global scale.  

He understood that the culture in which he worked was not a pristine field of noble self-sacrifice in devotion to public service. But, so what. He did his best to make things right, and to take care of the people who depended on him – his acolytes and his country.  

The relevance to martial arts is this:  He knew what we can see: as they grow, groups shift their attention from pursuing the ideals for which they were founded to growing the group and increasing its power, and enhancing the status of its leaders.

That happens in empires, nations, companies, clubs, charities, schools, organizations, and in martial arts groups. 

That is why all these groups have a life cycle. They grow because they serve a purpose, and decay as they shift their attention away from that purpose, to serving themselves.  

It is easy to get caught up in the reward and penalty structure of a group, and lose sight of why you joined in the first place.  

People like John Boyd and Musashi Miyamoto did not triumph in their quest for mastery by seeking approval from strangers. They trained diligently, relentlessly. They also sought knowledge everywhere and anywhere they could find it, tested it thoroughly and applied it assiduously.  

That is how they mastered themselves and their arts and proved themselves worthy – of admiration, emulation and respect.  That is a good model for all independent team players. In the dojo and outside. 

Sometimes you are at the plate. Sometimes you are in the field. Both matter.  

In your group you always have a choice. If you are tempted to suck up, or condescend, if you feel disrespected, taxed for no reason, limited in what you can explore, manipulated, unappreciated for what you give, but still you tolerate it, for rank, for convenience, due to timidity, attachment to group status or to your past investment of time, effort and money, then watch out.  

Consider John Boyd’s advice: 

If your boss demands loyalty, give him integrity.

If your boss demands integrity, give him loyalty. 

This applies to relationships with your students and colleagues as well as with your teachers and leaders. Great organizations have this ethos, because the great people in them subscribe to it.  

But it is always our responsibility to follow it. If we don’t there will be no one else to blame when things go wrong.    


Post and copyright © 2023 Jeffrey Brooks, Mountain Karate, Saluda, NC 山林流Yamabayashi Shorin Ryu dojo

Photo by Andrey Kremkov via Pexels

Mountain Karate’s YouTube channel: @mountainkarate

For fine detail and a big picture view of karate you have not seen before, read the unforgettable new book True Karate Dō

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