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Martial Arts Mysticism Essay, Research Paper

Martial Arts Mysticism: An Extended Definition of What the Martial Arts Are and Are Not.

The term “martial art” is used in Western society to describe a wide variety of Asian combative systems and sports. The word martial, in martial arts, is derived from the name of the ancient Roman god of war, Mars. The Asian martial arts are grounded in a rich heritage of blood and honor, and they have a great deal to offer serious students. Unfortunately, in most modern schools that heritage has been lost. Sadly, most Western martial artists know little about what is and is not martial arts.

The majority of Westerners envision Buddhist Monks hurling themselves through the air and executing any number of techniques before hitting the ground. Some think that anyone who practices martial arts can break a stack of concrete slabs in one simple blow. While there are many martial artists that can accomplish these feats it takes years of practice and training before any of these can be done.

Simply enrolling in a martial arts school or program isn’t going to turn a person into the next Bruce Lee overnight. It takes years of practice and study in a particular discipline before one is even able to truly begin to understand the style which the s(he) is studying, let alone master it.

Sport applications of combative systems, such as competitive taekwondo, karate-do, and judo, are not martial arts. Putting a combative system in the competition arena requires a barrage of rules to be placed on it, restricting its maneuvers and modifying its application. Over time, as “players” are trained in how to work within the rules to best win the “game”; the system evolves to fit those rules. What is effective in the competitive environment is often worthless in the no-holds-barred world of actual combat, and what is effective in combat, being illegal in sport, gradually fades from the training and is lost to time. As Draeger and Smith pointed out in their book, Asian Fighting Arts, “the more remote a budo (Japanese for martial way) form remains from sportive endeavor, the more positively it identifies itself with combat effectiveness and the classical tradition”(92). Don’t misunderstand me, there are positive features in these activities as there are in all forms of competitive athletics: they promote physical fitness, perseverance, courage, and fair play. And many of these qualities are also valuable in the martial or military aspect. After all, the famous words of General Douglas MacArthur are still carved on the stone portals of the field house at the United States Military Academy at West Point:

Upon these fields of friendly strife

Are sown the seeds

That, upon other fields on other days

Will bear the fruits of victory.

There is also not a particular set of techniques or moves that one can learn that will make him an instant killing machine rushing down to the local police station to register their body as a “lethal weapon”.

Unfortunately, the typical Westerner sees martial arts as something very different than what it was originally meant to be. There are students who “do” some martial art as a hobby or pastime. These folks come to class a couple of nights a week and usually don’t think about martial arts on the off days other than to brag about their prowess or complain about their sore muscles. They put their taekwondo night or aikido night in the same category as their bridge night or bowling night.

I have not studied the martial arts long enough to consider myself an accomplished martial artist. But the travel associated with my military career has enabled me to meet quite a number of supposed martial artists, and I never fail to be amazed at the things they say:

“I do Karate on Tuesdays and Thursdays; other nights I bowl or play cards ”

” I hate Kata. It’s boring and it doesn’t have any basis in reality. After all you can’t do a Kata on someone who attacks you ”

“We spend so much time on basics and forms. I want to learn the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty way of fighting.”

In America, many students turn to the marital arts to learn how to defend themselves from the bully at school or work, or to feel more confident while out at night. Others belong to karate or judo clubs and follow the tournament circuit collecting as many trophies as possible. They have little interest in learning complex philosophical concepts or ethical ideas from past warrior societies.

There is much more to be gained from following the martial arts than technical proficiency and the external rewards of athletic success. A true understanding of the martial way opens the door to a rich heritage of ethical principles, training approaches, and esoteric philosophies that can enrich ones martial arts experience and sharpen the ability to defend oneself.

The true study of martial arts is by no means a part-time pursuit. It is a way of life. It is an entire discipline aimed at the pursuit of excellence, not just in the training hall, but at life. It’s disciples strive to apply the way in every aspect and it’s practitioners tend to be achievers in any field of endeavor. This is what separates the martial arts from other pursuits and makes it so unique. Where one may play a sport or have a hobby, one lives the martial way.


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