Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Spirit of a Martial Art

What is the purpose behind Martial Arts?

Many people will give various answers suited to their person wants and needs. I'm not talking about that.
Yes, there are benefits and 'perks' associated with taking a Martial Art. Conditioning, cardio, physical and mental health, self-defence, and many more. But these are bonuses, or byproducts, not the actual purpose underlying the Martial Art itself.

My Master* makes a sharp distinction. He will unapologeticly say before a group of mixed students that a MMA fighter is a Technical Brawler (his choice of words), while a Taekwon-do student is a Martial Artist.

My profession background is in the Print Media. I have been in the industry for 27 years and I see this distinction of tech. and art play out well.

Digital Print is a science. CTP plate making is a science. Offset Printing is a craft.
The differences? A craft (and thus a craftsman) is a combination of science and art.

I think this is a good distinction to carry over into this conversation regarding the Martial Arts. Art is something that does not lend itself well to being analyzed or studied by a scientific model or mindset. An art is something else. We might even argue spiritual.

Many scholars believe that the martial arts practised in eastern Asian have been influenced by the teachings of the Buddha, with notions of enlightenment and spirituality intricately woven into the very fabric of the martial arts themselves. It would be extremely difficult to say that the Buddha teachings promoted war-like (martial) actions.

Yes, “Martial” means or relates to military or combat, or most specifically, war.
The term, or name Martial Arts” is a Western (English) one; sort of a catch-all category that “we've” created. Since we've created it, we define it by our understanding or misunderstanding of it. Although “Martial Arts” has become associated with the various fighting styles of eastern Asia it was originally used in the early 1550's in relation to combat systems on Europe, often specifically to the “Science and Art” of swordplay. So, ultimately, the term “Martial Arts” is a misnomer.

If we go back in history to various times and locations when and where these various “Martial Arts” find their origins, we will not find the term “Martial Art”. What we most often find is various forms of the term “-do”. It means the way of, in the same context as the Tao means the way.

These Martial Arts are not a learned and acquired skill set as we Westerners understand it, but a way of life. 
Granted, we may very well have bastardized it and dissected it into its various components and forced it into what it might be today. But that is our subjective wants picking and choosing.

I don't believe the purpose is to create fighters. I believe the purpose is to create a better (moral) person.
In fact, I would seriously question a Martial Art whose purpose is to create fighters.
Yes, there is definitely a combat aspect within most (all?) Martial Arts, but I'm not convinced this is the purpose behind it.

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has focused near exclusively on the combat aspect of Martial Arts, I fear, at the detriment of Martial Arts' spirit, because, ultimately, when a student is trained in MMA, what is being created is a fighter. The spiritual aspect, the growth and betterment of the individual and the world is forgotten or forsaken. How does a MMA fighter stand for freedom and justice and how do they build a more peaceful world?

Maybe the focus shouldn't be on MMA specifically.
I'd be painting with a broad brush to make this statement. Maybe I should focus on the industry of MMA (The UFC makes for a good example). I should include its fighters, coaches, teachers, promoters, and especially its fans, collectively.
I'm not convinced it's a sporting event. Granted there are numerous opinions as to what constitutes a sport. Competition, a sense of sportsmanship, a learned and trained skill set, as well as a degree of athleticism are how I would define a Sport. (ie, darts, chess, and golf are not sports).

Martial Arts would definitely fall within this definition of “Sport”. But, contrary to popular opinion, I'm not sure MMA (or the UFC) does. Where is the sportsmanship of continuing to strike an opponent once they are down, fallen, or even unconscious?
A great example is Ronda Rousey dislocating Miesha Tate's elbow (warning: graphic video). The question should be asked, was Miesha Tate at fault for not tapping out? Was Ronda Rousey at fault for going through with the arm bar to its conclusion? Was her training at fault for teaching her to continue this in the name of “sportsmanship”?
Or was the industry (fans included) at fault to creating this gladiator type entertainment?

We need to take a far step back and ask the question: What is the purpose and spirit behind Martial Arts?

Choi Hong Hi (founder of Traditional Taekwon-do) states in his JungshinSooyang,“This moral culture is uniquely tied in with Taekwon-Do, not only for the eventual attainment of the highest goals in Taekwon-Do and the promotion of power, technique, and self-confidence, but also for the cultivation of character.”, and as reflected in the oaths of Taekwon-do, especially the final two,
“I shall stand for freedom and justice”, and “I shall build a more peaceful world”.

It forces me to ask the question, what is the Spirit of a Martial Art, and have we lost our way?

* 7th Dan Black Belt in Traditional Taekwon-do, Certified Muay Thai Professional Trainer-Kru, Brown Belt in Brazilian Jujitsu, MMA Instructor, and original student under Choi Hong Hi – founder of Traditional TKD, and one of the few legitimate Martial Arts Masters

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