Traditionally in East Asia people practiced martial arts for self-defense, health, and inner cultivation. Some people were more interested in one or two of them, some in all three.
Some wanted to be safe, some to be awesome, some to get healthy and strong, some to get a job, some to become an immortal, a sage or a wizard. There were all kinds of people in the olden days. As there are now.
Then, as now, empty hand martial arts were not a primary military fighting skill. They were secondary to staves, clubs and edged weapons. Today they are taught in a professional setting for fitness, determination, will, tactics, and also to be used as a last resort if primary weapons systems fail or are unavailable.
Now, as then, martial arts are used by small groups of people to make their lives better.
Today, with so many arts practiced in close proximity to each other, on the same block, in the same town, on the same internet pages, styles often critique each other based on what they value rather than what the other style offers. But even so, the most common critique of martial arts is that the benefits it claims to offer – for health, fighting competence, and spiritual training – are overstated.
It is worth considering for us, as participants in martial training, that the opposite is much more likely to be true – that the benefits available through martial arts training for our health, combative skill and spiritual development – are wildly understated.
After a few years of training a guy at a seminar said he felt completely comfortable fighting three unarmed attackers or two armed attackers. This man’s students might have thought the world of him, and he might have been good at some of his skills. But what he said showed a very dangerous level of foolishness. Critics of martial arts look at imperfect people practicing martial arts and ascribe the shortcoming of the individuals to the arts. This is convenient for the critic but not valid.
You may observe an imperfect guy in the school down the block and wonder what he is up to. But he might be way better off than he was a year ago, or way better than he would be without training. And who knows what he is going through. Now, if he is wearing a high rank and behaving foolishly then that is suspect, but it does not tell you much about the efficacy of martial training. It tells you about that guy in that school.
It tells you something even more relevant than that. For our purposes, to fulfill our own objectives as martial artists – whatever those objectives may be – it is worth remembering this: it is not the art that works, it is you.
If you are training hours a day, every day, without fail, year after year, putting your heart into training, you will get the rewards. Anyone who has been at this for a long time will tell you there are no exceptions: if you do the work you will get the results.
Do not be discouraged by people who have mild commitment, who do occasional training, who have learned ten styles in five years, have vague goals they cannot describe in words, inexperienced people with home-made training methods that seem right to them, or concocted from the best of the ten styles they were beginners in. Those people get frustrated. They feel that the martial arts have let them down.
The “martial arts” cannot do it. We do it. We choose good sources of information. We get good guidance. We learn what to. We do it. If we mess up – in any of those areas – we don’t cry over it – we learn from the error, decide not to repeat it, and set off in the right direction. If we need to learn some chin na, kyusho, ju jitsu, or other skills to be able to interpret our kata more completely then we can seek it out and add it to our tool kit.
There are many highly skilled practitioners in the world today. The level of combative skill of some is amazing. The level of fitness and good health that come from training is obvious when you go to a dojo and then look around at the condition of people who do not train in anything. Many of the people who train now remember back to when that was their condition too.
Look into your heart. See the difference in spiritual mastery you have developed over your years of training. Spiritual mastery is not something strange – it does not mean staring off into the middle distance like a magical martial man of mystery.
It means you stay calm under pressure. You are not easily provoked to anger. You are able to act when you are needed, and to keep your distance when appropriate.
Spiritual mastery means that, over time, you learn to discern the seeds of coming events and are able to choose a course of action wisely – making the most of opportunities even when they are barely perceptible, and able to sense trouble before it emerges. You cultivate an uncrushable spirit. You become a mature, reliable person.
Those are all real fruits of martial arts practice. Arts are presented in various ways. Different ones appeal to different people. But in no case is it the martial art that gets the result. It is the practitioner.
Post by Jeff Brooks
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