When Are You a Martial Artist? Pt. 1

Here is part one of a very intersting article that discusses the meaning of the term ‘Martial Artist’ and the point where you can say that that term applies to yourself.

When Are You a Martial Artist?

More than a belt

Once you begin to study martial arts, when are you a martial artist? Do you qualify after your first introductory class? Or are you a martial artist after you enrol in a school and become an active student? Maybe you are not a martial artist until you learn a few techniques well. Do you have to take your first test? Are you a martial artist when you reach green belt? And, of course, all black belts are martial artists, aren’t they?

This is a difficult question. An easier question is, “When do you think that you are a martial artist?” To answer the question, we must examine the true meaning of being a real martial artist. Frankly, most people believe the moment is when they put on the uniform. Becoming a martial artist, however, requires much more than wearing a uniform. Participating in exercise fitness classes, throwing punches and kicks to the latest pop music doesn’t make you a martial artist either.  Neither will you become a martial artist by training with bouncers and bodyguards, cage match bullies, and bad-tempered tough guys capable of pounding someone into dust.

Are you collecting techniques or perfecting the details?

The aim in this topic is not to give a definitive answer to the question of when you become a real martial artist. Instead, the intent is to offer ideas that encourage you to think about your practice. After years of serious study, you will begin to profoundly understand what it means to be a martial artist.

In the beginning of your practice, no matter the style or discipline, you learn basic techniques. Basic techniques are the building blocks or foundation of the system. Through continuous repetition of the basics, you will become a technician. Adding intermediate or even advanced techniques to your repertoire does not make you an artist. You simply become a technician with more tools. Many people develop habits of consciously or unconsciously collecting new techniques. Indeed, learning new techniques is exciting…new punches, new kicks, and new forms. But, you must learn to enjoy the basics.  In order to develop the essence of the art, you must learn to concentrate on the details. As you practice, ask yourself, “Is my hand right? Am I striking with the right surface?        Am I relaxed until the moment of focus? Did I drive through my target? Did I recover quickly? Is my stance right?”

Perfecting all the details is an important aspect of the art. After all, a student who has practiced more than five years should know, not only more techniques, but his basic skills should be better than one who has practiced for only a year. A student of ten years should have even better basics than one who has practiced for five years…after twenty years, better still.

Martial arts…not martial arts

Two words describe our practice: ‘Martial’ and ‘arts’. The definition of the first word, ‘martial’, is certain. The meaning is, “of, pertaining to, or suggesting war,” and unfortunately describes the prevalent view of martial arts. Today, most people relate martial arts to violence of some sort. We usually ignore or forget the second word, ‘art,’ in the context of martial arts. Art suggests spontaneous creativity, a changing of consciousness, beauty and elegance. Art inspires us and adds to our life.

Martial Arts or Fighting?

So what distinguishes martial arts from any other violence and fighting techniques performed since the beginning of time?  Martial arts began in the sixth century with Tamo Bodidharma, a Shaolin monk. In a simple monastery in Hunan Province, China, Tamo realized that martial techniques, if practiced with the correct mindset, could be used for much more than just self-defence. Tamo pushed the monks to challenge themselves to greater heights, forcing them to break through limitations and develop their bodies in remarkable ways. By concentrating to master difficult physical moves, students learned to better focus their minds.  More importantly, they cultivated powerful discipline and will, which changed their self-image. The earlier picture of simple monks, overweight and lethargic, transformed to one of acutely focused individuals, living up to their personal convictions and beliefs. Under the guidance of Tamo Bodidharma, these first practitioners integrated deep introspection, meditation and physical techniques to create a complete practice that is now known as martial arts.

Check next Thursday’s post for part 2.


Sensei Matt Thurman – Aikido Nottingham

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