Gradually as the years have passed I worry or think about the fighting or street aspect of martial arts less and less. I try to look at the other benefits and positive virtues that the arts can bring into both my own and my students’ lives. I now know I will never be the greatest fighter in the world or some sort of unbeatable fighting machine. When I came to this realisation it was like a weight lifted off me and it created an opening to more and more aspects of the arts that then became both viable and more accessible in my personal growth.
I don’t want anyone to misunderstand me. I am not saying that being able to defend yourself and being in good shape is not a good or helpful way to go about training in martial arts. In fact this is one of the most important springboards and building blocks on which you can base your advancement of martial arts. I am pointing out that there are other facets of martial art training which, when the initial rush of learning purely combative techniques is over, can enhance your understanding of both yourself and the arts you practice.
In recent years the combative side of the arts has resurfaced in a big way and all the talk seems to be about which is the most effective method to use and which is the best way to deal with an opponent in a street fight? Physical and mental strength, as well as dominance over your opponent, are the order of the day and the best fighters are revered as being on the cutting edge of martial art development.
Unfortunately if a good fighter loses it seems as though they are no longer worthy of applause or respect because we are too busy lauding the next all conquering hero.
Again, I have to stress that I do believe that one of the martial arts most basic gifts is to enable the practitioner to defend both themselves and their family but, and this is a big but, in recent years I have seen the needle swing between the esoteric or philosophical side of martial arts to the other extreme of no holds barred or street (Stated lighting with a lot of practitioners having no sense of balance between the two.
It is obvious that most beginners start in the arts in order to defend themselves, to get fit or to become involved in a competitive sport. Someone new to the arts cannot be criticised for actively seeking involvement in any or all of these areas. I feel it is the responsibility of the more mature members of the martial community to make the students aware of the other areas and facets of martial arts practice and development.
Probably the biggest paradox of martial arts is in the relationship between the purely fighting and self-defence aspects and the philosophical, historical and moral aspects of the various disciplines. As we are learning to fight and inflict injury on an adversary we should also be balancing this with the knowledge that as we grow in strength we should also be maturing and becoming more understanding and compassionate toward our fellow human beings. Katsuhiko Kashiwazaki’s instructor said to him, As you grow in strength you should grow in kindness. This means that as your physical skills develop your moral, mental and emotional states have to develop in a commensurate way.
The paradox is that, with the correct training, the stronger the fighter you are the less likely it is that you will enter into a fight without a very good reason. Aligned with the development of your fighting skills is a growing confidence that allows you to walk away from rather than having to engage in a fight. All the arts I have studied, while stressing that you have to have the basic physical skills necessary to defend yourself and your family, see this stage as the beginning of your martial art journey. In the Filipino art of Kali the triangle of Love,
Compassion and Humility is held in the highest regard and is used as a building block for the students understanding of the art.
Love is used to denote the highest level of human emotions. If we train in potentially lethal techniques we have to understand that they should be used only when necessary and out of love. If I hit or maim my opponent I do it because I am defending myself, my family or my loved ones. I do not fight out of hate or jealousy or for any other petty reason. Wherever possible our aim should always be to respect and preserve the life and the well being of our fellow human beings.
Humility is stressed because there is always someone who is better or more skilled than you are and under God we are all fallible, flawed human beings. I personally believe that any skills I have are ‘On loan’ from God and can be taken away from me at anytime, therefore I am thankful for any talent and skills I have been given. For me it is hard to be arrogant when I see so many skilled practitioners around me and I realise that what I have does not really belong to me but to the creator.
Compassion is necessary because we have to remember that we are all learning and we all make mistakes. Therefore, whether in the training hall or outside, we should strive to be compassionate and understanding of our fellow human beings feelings and emotions.
The truly great martial artists I know and respect have found the balance between training in and teaching some of the most violent martial arts known and having the moral and emotional stability to know when and when not to use them. They also have a confidence about them that comes from years and years of inward and outward growth that is reflected in their attitude in the training hall and in life in general.
As mature martial artists and human beings training in arts when we are taught techniques which can kill or maim, we have to be balanced enough to know that this is only a last resort and is the lowest level of the disciplines we practice. Knowing and understanding our physical, mental and emotional states can help establish us as well balanced human beings who can walk away from a fight as easily as finishing one, can extend the hand of friendship as easily as the hand of war and motivate our fellow human beings to understand that love will win over hate. This is my hope, I hope it is yours too.