Monday, November 13, 2006

Karate and the martial arts in perspective

Recently a teacher friend of mine and I got into a bit of a discussion over the martial arts and the behavior of a martial artist. She claimed that a martial artist was supposed to be a vessel of serenity and to turn the other cheek in a confrontation. I pointed out that first and foremost the martial arts are literally warrior skills. She responded with an all too common misconception that I would like to discuss here: that the martial arts teach you to peacefully resolve problems.
The martial arts teach you to peacefully resolve problems (and other things people believe about the arts)
When I was growing up I clearly remember the day Sensei taught us all how to avoid trouble with others. He started out by asking for a volunteer to confront him in a strong stance. Then Sensei took a stance and in one fluid motion, pivoted on his feet, turned away and ran. He followed this demonstration with a fifteen minute discussion about how to walk around in the neighborhood (never take shortcuts or paths unfamiliar to you, travel with a buddy, always have a look of self-confidence, et cetera). But in my seven years studying under him that was the first and last time that he did that.
As with the majority of martial arts schools, my karate class was mainly composed of learning forms (karate kata), practicing basic techniques (kihon), and sparring (kumite). While I had an immensely capable and wise teacher, we as students had to learn from the start and lay a foundation toward those higher aspects of the arts. I was taught that if someone attacked me, I was to defend myself.
Unfortunately my teacher friend's introduction to the arts was the Hollywood version where the wizened martial arts teacher takes on a pupil and teaches him to never use the art he's being taught. Another mistake people make is that the martial arts will give its practitioners super-human strength and agility and therefore if a martial artist loses to a non-practitioner in a fight then the martial artist is a failure.
A close friend to the family used to work in a criminal detention facility where once an inmate was making a run for it. This friend was an award winning martial artist who had proved himself in many a tournament, however in a moment of panic he was just as vulnerable and human as anyone else and naturally required the assistance of another officer to detain the would-be escapee.
The martial arts do not make us invulnerable, they teach us to deal with pain. Karate doesn't make us better than anyone else, just maybe better prepared. The fact that we put on a uniform and practice warrior arts doesn't make us the aggressor, but it also doesn't make us the victim.


Blogger Andrea said...

You're talking about either ong-bak or maybe the karate kid. Probably ong-bak. Anyway, with that movie trivia out of the way...

Yes, everyone knows that, as with any profession where you have any kind of responsibility, ethically, you should take the route that helps the most people first (for instance, if you work at a nuclear power plant, and a meltdown happens, you evacuate employees first. It's a no-brainer. ) So yes, if you are a martial artist, and you are confronted with a problem, your first reaction should be to try to find a solution that doesn't involve hurting anyone, and after that, causing the least amount of damage possible. I think this is something that most people understand about that. There are fanatics, and people who just don't listen, which is what I think you are talking about in your article.

So, with that said, I'd just like to point our the simple fact that the martial arts, as the name suggests, is the study of fighting. Why would someone waste years of their life studying fighting if they were taught that they should always, no matter what, take the non-violent route? Would it not then be the evasive arts, the preventative arts, the art or running away, anything but MARTIAL arts? This concept is almost too blatantly obvious to mention.

2:20 PM  

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