Today I would like to share an article I submitted to Black Belt Magazine a few years ago.  It’s about the powerful contributions martial arts training can have on both the individual and society.  While the article didn’t make it into print, I still believe it provides some insightful commentary into how martial arts training can make the world a better place.  Hopefully you’ll think so too.

 

-Adam

 

Why the World Needs Martial Artists

 

Our world can be a dangerous place.  Violence, conflict and aggression have become common fixtures that seem difficult to avoid in our society.  We need only to flip through a local newspaper or tune into a television broadcast to be confronted with stories and images of fear and horror that argue convincingly that the world is falling to pieces and that the end may indeed be near.  Assaults, theft, murder, brutalization, and wars make many would-be parents question what kind of world they would be bringing their children into.  Even the most optimistic and progressive thinkers would have to agree that we, as members of the human family, have a big problem.

 

In a very real sense we stand at a crossroads in our species’ evolution, facing what some experts consider to be a precarious choice between a plunge into self-destruction on one hand and a rise to self-awareness and transformation on the other.  I think we can all agree that the world doesn’t need any more aggression, anger, hatred or violence.  What is called for now is a new paradigm – a shift away from those old behaviors and into a new model for the future in which compassion, balance, moral strength, and integrity are its hallmarks.  As students or teachers of disciplines that can be (and often are) interpreted as nothing more than methods of inflicting physical harm, we find ourselves in a unique and pivotal position to be either a part of the problem or part of the solution. 

 

When one is sailing on the surface of the ocean buffeted by waves and currents, it can become easy to forget about the depth and magnificence that lies beneath the surface.  In a similar manner, recent emphasis on Mixed Martial Arts and Reality based styles has drawn the attention of many martial artists away from the wealth of knowledge, tradition, values, and untapped potential that lies beyond the mere act of damaging another human body.  It has become easy to forget that there is far more to the martial arts than fighting itself.  This is not to say that the combative nature of the martial arts isn’t important – far from it.  Rather, it is the view of this article to demonstrate how important and beneficial a fully integrated martial artist is to the world.

 

Martial Arts (Re)Defined

 

While Martial Arts literally means “arts of war,” or “traditions of training for combat” the term has come to represent far more than the mere skills used to defend oneself or others from physical threat.  Without doubt, the most noticeable characteristic of any martial art is the physical component.  However, the Martial Arts have also come to be regarded as a reliable and powerful practice of Self Improvement.  Indeed, this non-physical facet of the arts, while subtle and intangible, may in the final analysis, be more profoundly transformative than the physical qualities alone.

 

These seemingly opposite aspects of martial art training – Self Protection and Self Perfection are actually two sides of the same coin which, at a fundamental level cannot be separated.  That doesn’t mean we haven’t tried.  Hundreds of martial arts exist that focus exclusively on either the physical or mental/spiritual aspects of training to the detriment of the other.   Nevertheless, this split must be healed if we are to embrace the wholeness of Martial Arts training and use the knowledge we gain to make the world a better place.

 

Often, focus on one side of the equation may serve to develop its polar opposite, but this is still a fragmented, hit/miss approach.  To really cultivate mastery in the martial arts and in life, we must work to consciously develop all the qualities that lie at the heart of martial arts training be they physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.  While hard-line advocates at either extreme may reject the idea of expanding their boundaries to become more comprehensive, if we are to become complete martial artists, who benefit themselves, their art, and the world, only the broadest vision will do.

 

Let’s take a look at some of the characteristic attributes developed through martial art training on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual levels to better understand everything martial art training has to offer.

 

Physical Attributes

To begin with, the physical benefits of martial art training are somewhat familiar and easy to recognize because they are tangible and measurable.  Through training in the martial arts, you can feel yourself growing in strength, flexibility, speed, or endurance.  The feedback mechanism is awareness of your own body and can be evaluated through your senses.  Through continued training you are able to watch your abilities improve.  What follows is a list of commonly recognized physical attributes of martial arts training.  It is not meant to be exclusive or complete, but a representation of the more frequently observed qualities.

 

Speed

Power

Coordination

Timing

Sensitivity

Body Mechanics/Kinesiology

Flexibility

Strength/Conditioning

Balance

                                   

= Health, safety, security, Self Protection

 

Taken as a whole, these attributes equate to increased health and strength while simultaneously augmenting our sense of safety and security in the world.  As a byproduct of martial arts training, these are the abilities needed to facilitate effective self-protection.  We become more capable of defending ourselves or those we care about from harm by training our bodies for the possibility of a physical confrontation.  In addition, we can become healthier, stronger, and more physically capable of handling the challenges life throws at us. 

 

Unfortunately, many martial artists stop here and never take their learning beyond the physical level of development.  Doing so can often result in a serious imbalance whereby a practitioner dedicated solely to the physical aspects of his or her training, lacking the wisdom and good judgment that come from more thoroughgoing approach, foolishly or unintentionally puts themselves in harm’s way.  Take for example, someone who, trained in the martial arts, goes out looking for a fight in the hopes of testing his skill or simply administering a beating to another.  Doing so could lead to serious injury or death and is clearly not about self protection.  Rather it is about ego gratification, something that can be addressed through mental and emotional development.


Mental and Emotional Attributes

Next, let’s briefly explore the realm of the mental and emotional qualities attributed to training in the martial arts.  These characteristics are more subtle than their physical counterparts and can be difficult to measure and even more difficult to teach.  Often taught under the umbrella of “Life Skills” or “Self Development” lessons, the mental and emotional aspects of martial arts training can often arise spontaneously as students confront and learn to go beyond their weaknesses, fears, personal limitations and inner demons.  They may also be taught in a more concrete or structured manner such as a workshop or seminar.  Elusive and difficult to pin down as they are, these qualities are very real and should not be underestimated.  Like the physical characteristics, this list is a reflection of some of the most common mental and emotional traits associated to martial arts training.  

 

Discipline

Confidence

Patience

Humility

Focus/Concentration

Detachment

Receptivity

Courage

Intentionality/Will/Desire

 

= Emotional Intelligence/Maturity

 

The essence of these attributes really amounts to one thing – maturity, both intellectually and emotionally.  Often referred to as Emotional Intelligence, this collection of skills and character traits defines the personality profile of a well adjusted and self actualized individual.  Such characteristics are the hallmarks of people who have taken personal responsibility for the quality of their lives and their training.  They have been able to grow beyond a conditioned and reactive response towards conflict and are making choices that support their commitment to growth.  Through dedicated training in the martial arts these traits can be carefully cultivated, allowing us to realize our hidden potential.

 

Spiritual Attributes

Lastly, let’s examine the most elusive and abstract set of qualities – those of the spiritual dimension of Martial Arts training.  Much more challenging to develop and measure, these qualities are often considered the epitome of the enlightened warrior.   A few examples of these traits might be:

 

Mindfulness

Expanded Awareness

Compassion

Lightheartedness

No Mindedness/Mushin

Peace/Nonviolence

Unboundedness

Intuition

Unity

Empathy

Joy

 

= Self Perfection/Enlightenment

 

The sum total of these traits could best be described as self-perfection or enlightenment.  An individual who displays such qualities has used the martial arts to transcend ego consciousness and come to a higher sense of self.  As Bruce Lee might say, “Punches and kicks are tools to kill the ego.”  Such characteristics usually come only after many years of dedicated practice and training, often under the guidance of a highly evolved instructor.  Rather than a set of rules or moral guidelines one must try to uphold, these qualities have become the personality traits of a highly evolved human being.  For martial artists who have reached this level, it is the most natural way to be. 

 

Certainly, we could dedicate a great deal of time exploring each of the qualities described above.  This listing is only meant to provide the most basic overview of the more familiar benefits derived from training in the martial arts. 

 

At this point we need to make an important distinction.  In this context a martial artist is notthe same thing as a “fighter.” As reflected in the name, martial arts imply the skillfuldevelopment and use of techniques for self protection.  As we have described above, such training can lead far beyond the mere act of self defense.  When properly practiced, it can become a path that helps us become complete and integrated human beings.  Fighting, on the other hand, while making skillful use of the physical aspects of the combative arts, makes no effort to evolve past the violent, competitive and animal-like behavior that is typical of the most basic and survival-based biological responses human beings carry as part of their genetic heritage.  To some this might seem like splitting hairs, but in the final analysis, very fundamental differences exist between martial artists and fighters and it’s important to be aware of them.

 

Why is this?  As the title of this article reminds us, the world needs martial artists.  The world needs well adjusted, mature and compassionate people who are capable of protecting themselves and others.  It needs individuals who take responsibility for themselves and their physical, mental, emotional and spiritual evolution.  It needs people who can powerfully express their intentions in the world.  It needs people who see physical conflict as the last option.  It needs people that chose peace from a position of power.  What it doesn’t need is more violence, anger, or aggression.

 

Speaking as one who is making the transition from being a ‘fighter’ into a martial artist, I can clearly perceive the differences in these two approaches, most notably in the amount of time it takes to achieve mastery; it does not take long to become a proficient fighter, but it can take a lifetime to become a truly complete martial artist; a lifetime dedicated to becoming the very best you can be.

 

***

So in the end, despite the chaos, confusion and hostility that we’re exposed to every day, martial arts training can offer a ray of light into a world that is in desperate need of saving.  We, as martial artists can be the bringers of that light.  Regardless of what martial art you study, embrace it fully; find the hidden treasures within it and within yourself.  Allow yourself to be transformed by your training.  Become the person that you know you can be and share that with your fellow human beings.  As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”