Reasons for Training in Martial Arts
By Matt Hurt
of White Rose Martial Arts
All over the world today it seems that the study of Martial Arts has become more popular than ever. With societies the world over becoming more civilised and the advancing development of different weapons, hand-to-hand combat for the most part is no longer a part of daily living. However it seems that with each generation Martial Arts is growing and becoming more popular.
For instance, in his films Bruce Lee became an icon, for many people, epitomising what Martial Arts are all about. Now, in part thanks to him we have styles that are composed of two or more ‘original’ styles and merging them together. We have worldwide televised competitions and fights that attract millions of people towards combative arts, magazines, as well as dojos and training centres in every town, city and possibly even village in the UK.
People have been practicing Martial Arts for centuries. I would like to know what past Masters truly thought of the Arts. Whether it was an almost religious activity to them or simply something they just did to survive or perhaps was there pleasure or fun involved? Many people take up Martial Arts for different reasons and as an instructor sometimes it is frustrating when some students do not carry on with their training and stop after only a short while. There is something that they miss out on and miss the bigger picture of what Martial Arts has to offer them, but what are these things? On the other hand, why do some of these things cause others to train for the rest of their lives?
I definitely fall into the latter category, I started training in Martial Arts at the age of five and twenty years later I am still training. I did take a break from training but it was not long until I came to miss it. You could assume that by now I would be a very high grade with many Dans on the end of a black belt, but that is not the case. I love learning, of course, but also just the act of doing, the practice of Martial Art is something that I would say I am addicted to.
I am addicted to learning about Martial Arts, understanding the traditional and mysterious secrets carried in the Kata. There is something attractive about trying to understand these concepts and in moments of realisation you can make a connection way back in time, imagining that people centuries ago were thinking and doing the same things. Even today Karate-Ka all over the world are performing Kata and the knowledge that people share and have in common brings people together. Then there is the growth in skill level, testing yourself, your body and your mind. This then leads to the internalisation of these skills in muscle memory so that you would not have to think and instead just do, in certain situations, all brought about by the methodology – the process by which we learn Martial Arts; repeating action until it sinks in. This is a healthy process for me, having the same qualities as meditation.
There are many other parts to Martial Arts that I am addicted to but for the moment, why do I want or need these skills, my awareness of my body, my awareness of how to use force in myself and others? I am not a violent person and have not been in many fights, and would always prefer to avoid any physical confrontation with anyone. I believe that practicing Martial Arts give people a sense of empowerment and this could be a key reason why I and many other Martial Artists will not seek to use violence in a confrontation. Through developing your speed, strength, control and skill you will develop a quiet, genuine confidence or reassurance. This can bring about change in a student’s life, given that it is taught in a positive way. In the most part Martial Arts clubs will teach students about respect and showing compassion to others. This can happen very quickly once a student starts training on a regular basis. Given time students can become empowered by being taught to remain open minded and open to learning more so as to progress to the next belt level, each time learning that determination, patience and perseverance are an important part of life. A Martial Art has a holistic quality to it. Students can take these principals and apply them to other areas of life. They could stand up to bullies, use these attitudes in studying for exams, applying for jobs, or once in a job understand that you can progress by putting in some continued effort.
I believe that training has empowered me in many ways throughout my life. It is this that can help satisfy someone’s ego. Not only do they have an outlet for any pent up aggression, where during their training it can be let out in a controlled way, but also in reality people may not feel a need to ‘prove’ themselves should their ego be challenged. This could be brought about partly through taking a few knocks every now and then in training once you have become more advanced. Sparring is always done in a controlled way and with a degree of compliancy and students can learn how easy it is to inflict harm upon somebody else and develop a respect for this.
If I am honest I would say that ego is a reason why I train. I do enjoy receiving respect from friends and people I meet that come to know of my skill level. I should say in a healthy way though. For instance if you had saved up and brought a nice, new car, you would enjoy compliments from friends about the car and feel good because of how hard you had to work and how disciplined you had to be to save for the car. Another part of Martial Arts that can affect the ego is the belts. I know that when I become a black belt, the next day after that I will want a 1st Dan. I’ve often questioned whether there will be a day when I am happy with the grade I have at a certain time and if this happens what will I have learnt for me to be satisfied? Again this is healthy if other students are affected in this way as it can develop someone’s persistence and determination to reach goals and continually improve their self.
I also find continued and regular practice of Martial Arts to be energising. Physically, with adrenaline often pumping around your body during, and/or after a session you can feel great but also the improvements to your health and fitness are bound to make you feel better about yourself. Martial Arts have often been compared to meditation and I feel this is true; you can energise yourself and refresh your mind. As you must act when learning, there must be action, you must be present in the ‘now’ and this naturally allows you to put other stresses to the back of your mind and ‘escape’ for a while. At the same time your sub-conscious mind will digest these things allowing you to think more clearly when you are in a much more positive state after some training. This leads me to my next point, which is perhaps one of the best things about Martial Arts.
By doing and repeating action, internalising movements and creating links between the body and mind, a great thing happens. Something that I think could be a reason why martial Arts are still as exciting today as ever. As the student develops these skills using the body and mind, a real sense of ownership happens, as the techniques become ‘yours’. The learning process is probably a big reason why certain people get the ‘bug’. Every time a student digests a technique and masters it for themselves, understanding it with the mind and body, this enables Martial Arts to constantly develop and stay fresh as these techniques are passed down. It is a process of creation and invention all over again as each individual discovers a technique for them self. Bruce Lee himself stated that all kinds of knowledge ultimately amounts to self-knowledge and this is particularly true in Martial Arts.
Without meaning to sound too serious, it is also simply lots of fun. The fun can come from challenging yourself, making improvements to your fitness, pushing yourself to increase your stamina as well as challenging other people. Being competitive with others can be fun as you also teach and help others to learn naturally. Working with others in class can bring about a real sense of togetherness as we all try hard to learn together. Often we also help each other to learn by making our own mistakes. By doing this we can allow our partners to make realisations about their own techniques which can be a great atmosphere to be in when people share ideas with other Karate-Ka.
Also as it involves contact, the tangible quality of Martial Art is quite a special thing. When a student becomes more advanced and we do Flow Drills or sensitivity drills like Chi Sao, students can have interactions without speaking as we encourage students to learn about and increase their sensitivity to an opponent’s movement and they are working together for a common aim. So not only will students often form quite close friendships with their fellow Karate-Ka but also it can really help with how comfortable they feel in dealing with people they come across in everyday life.
So writing this essay was essentially an attempt to understand what my ultimate goal in Martial Arts is and also to encourage others to question their motivations too. I know that I want to achieve a black belt and progress further after that too. I also want to increase my skill level and make use of my body to maintain good fitness for the rest of my life. Many people could argue that I can do this in other activities. With regards to this I will argue that there is something almost primal about training. Violence is a natural part in every human being. The want to protect yourself and others is a strong feeling, and this leads ultimately to a greater feeling of peace. The Martial Arts are very old now and many people would say it is old fashioned, particularly with the popularity of cage fighting and MMA where a lot of people will train simply to fight and brawl. Obviously many people in this field are incredible athletes and many of the best fighters usually have a very strong background and mastery of one or more disciplines that they have worked at for many years. I say so what? What’s wrong with old fashioned?
Why not get kids up on their feet and active, learning how to interact with others? Why not allow them to learn that with a bit of effort they can achieve something, not just physical but also mental, as they develop more respect for others and become more disciplined. It’s also great when parents of students meet and chat with other parents, building up a sense of community. When parents train with their children it inspires others to do more activity with their families. Adults that train can get all of the social benefits; improve their health and become more empowered and confident. People who stay with Martial Arts do not stay simply because they want to become fighting machines. I believe they do it for these other reasons. Their knowledge of some self-defence skills brings great confidence, practicing it regularly brings health and fitness, improves concentration, and develops discipline and mental and physical co-ordination. All of these benefits are so important for people’s physical and mental well-being. It enables more human interaction in their lives as people from all walks of life train together and form friendships. Students can unwind from the stresses of work or their particular environment. Essentially it brings people together and provides something for them to be proud about.