The Purpose of Martial Arts

This past weekend we promoted twelve new black belts. As part of the exam we often talk about the purpose of training in the martial arts. I thought this was a great opportunity to share some of those thoughts with you.

General Choi, the founder of modern day Tae Kwon Do, once wrote that the purpose of the martial arts was “to eliminate fighting by discouraging the stronger’s oppression of the weaker with a power that must be based on humanity, justice, morality, wisdom and faith, thus helping to build a better and more peaceful world.” He wrote this sometime around 1945. It’s interesting how much that still applies considering how much the world has changed since then.

A martial art is a fighting art. There should be both a fighting component as well as an ‘art’ component. In that regard, learning to fight in order to defend oneself should be a part of any martial arts study. To earn the rank of black belt every student should develop at least some degree of skill in the fighting aspect of the art they study. Every student is different though. We all have our own physical strengths and limitations. While not everyone has the physical, mental and emotional attributes to be a high level competitor it is possible to develop the skills necessary to protect themselves to at least some degree of effectiveness based on their own individual abilities.

Developing the ‘art’ side of the martial arts is also a part of the students overall training experience. The techniques of the art should have a certain aesthetic appeal. In order for the techniques to be effective they should be performed cleanly and efficiently. The forms or patterns, if they’re an integral part of the art you study, should have a certain look to them. The coordination of movement, breathing and execution of technique is a worthwhile challenge. It teaches us to focus, it teaches the value of repetition and discipline.

I often tell people that the martial arts are really just a tool that allows us to teach what’s really important. Obviously, being able to defend yourself would be very important should the need ever arise. Keeping your body and mind strong and healthy through physical activity is of course of significant value as well. What matters most as a martial arts student though is the art of how you choose to live your life. Most every martial art has similar tenets that are the foundation of the art. We use the five tenets of Courtesy, Integrity, Self-Control, Perseverance and Indomitable Spirit.

Courtesy – Courtesy is simply how we choose to treat the people in our lives. We use the common courtesies, please, thank you, you’re welcome, yes sir, yes ma’m, no sir, no ma’m etc… Remember the golden rule. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

Integrity – Integrity is knowing the difference between right and wrong, and doing the right thing no matter what anyone else thinks, or says, or does.

Self-control – This isn’t as simple as it sounds, but self control is really nothing more than controlling your body and your behavior.

Perseverance – Life is full of challenges. These challenges are often uncomfortable. That can actually be a good thing. If we stay where we’re comfortable then we don’t have the opportunity to get better and improve. When we expand our comfort zone, when we don’t give up, then its through those challenges that we truly being to grow.

Indomitable Spirit – This one is always the hardest to explain to younger students. Breaking it down, its a spirit that won’t be dominated. It’s like perseverance, only bigger. No matter what the odds are against us, no matter how extreme the challenge, we just keep going. This could appear as a physical challenge related to an injury or illness, it could be a challenge in our personal or professional lives that is out of the ordinary. We will all face these types of challenges, and our experiences from the past will help shape how we adapt to these challenges.

Yes, a black belt should be able to defend him or herself to a certain degree. Yes, a black belt should have good quality technique and be in strong physical condition. Most importantly though, a black belt should be someone who lives their life in a manner that is appropriately respectful and suitably humble.

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