Part One – What’s in it for me?

For many years I thought the martial arts were about fighting and combat and on the face of it they are. Martial means warlike, its name comes from Mars the roman god of war. But just as war is not the first goal of a general, nor should combat be the first consideration of a martial artist. So what are the martial arts if they are not primarily about fighting?

Well, let’s look at why we fight. Most people fight when they encounter a problem that will not go away and cannot be avoided. A problem which offers us violence if we do not deal with it. When all other avenues have been exhausted we finally resort to fighting. This is where a knowledge of combat becomes necessary and throughout history there have been those who have recognized that combat is at times unavoidable. These individuals have often discovered other benefits of training for combat which are obviously healthy through the physical demands of combat training which strengthens the heart and muscles and also the calming effect that physical exertion has on the emotions. This calming effect also opens the door to our spiritual side which happens when our emotions are quietened. It’s for this reason that some martial artists exude an air of calm serenity whilst at the same time having a physical presence and energy which is neither threatening nor inviting of physical threat.

This being the case, many people have taken up the martial arts to develop these attributes specifically through its training. The martial arts are therefore about personal achievement and progress, getting the result one wants, protecting oneself and what one has, AND… sometimes one has to fight to achieve that.

A good martial art has many benefits, for instance;
1. Physical fitness – it builds heart strength
2. Physical strength – it builds muscle strength
3. It helps maintain a healthy weight through calorie burning
4. It calms and relaxes us – it brings us a sense of peace
5. It’s a great hobby – it’s a great escape from the daily grind
6. It builds confidence in us – we face challenges better
7. It’s a great way to meet people and make friends
8. It can become a lifelong passion – it’s a lifelong study if you want it
9. It brings purpose and meaning to our lives and
10. We can protect ourselves from harm through its teachings

The problem is though that too many martial artists think of fighting first or about winning trophies in competition and not enough about using the strategies of the martial arts in a way that will improve their lives and the lives of others around them. In my mind too many people trivialize what the martial arts can bring through only seeing its fascia and not its heart.

The martial arts are not about violence and hurting people they are about learning about oneself and improving oneself, having a sense of progression in one’s life which brings purpose and meaning. It is a lifelong study because no matter how much one learns, there are always more discoveries to be made. It’s not for nothing that the ancient oriental martial artists called the study of the martial arts ‘the way’ short for the way of life as in the endings of a number of well-known martial arts with ‘do’ which means way, such as:

Karate-do – the empty hand way
Judo – the gentle way
Aikido – harmonious spirit way
Tae kwon do – hand foot way

The martial arts are much more than what we see in demonstrations or films and like anything that can take a lifetime to study, they are not easily defined.

Proper study of the martial arts brings life-long benefits, not for everyone because not everyone continues their journey. Some take up the martial arts for a specific reason but quit once they have achieved their short term goal. Others stay forever because of the continuing challenge that the martial arts will bring. When we are young these challenges are mainly physical but as we age they become more cerebral. The martial arts, done properly teach us how to control our emotions, how to approach life more strategically, how to deal with problems, maintain our calm under stress and to connect with our spiritual nature. A good instructor will teach you this but he can only point the way, he cannot tell you how to experience these things, that is for the individual who pursues the martial arts for long enough and deeply enough. As a stylist who has over 50 years in the martial arts I can tell you that the journey gets better. As my body is able to do less, my mind is able to do more. But still the physical practice keeps me young and healthy, gives me understanding of myself and others and brings a purpose and meaning to everything I do.

The martial arts are truly a way of life and if you study them well you will always be improving the quality of your life.

Tony Higo

Next time – what’s wrong with the martial arts?