Thursday, August 17, 2023

Understanding the Foundational Basis of the Martial Arts By Scott Shaw


By Scott Shaw

            Many people identify the martial arts with as solely a method of hand-to-hand combat. They are, however, much more than that. The martial arts are, in fact, a means for the practitioner to raise their physical and mental consciousness to a new level of refined universal understanding. Though based in physical techniques and understandings of combat

            Just as when one begins to study the martial arts, they are taught the basic techniques, so too must the individual who wishes to take the next step in the martial artist learn that there are more to the martial than simply physical techniques.

            When the non-practitioner hears of the martial arts, commonly one of two images is brought to mind: either that of the martial arts master effortlessly throwing his or her opponent across the room and delivering high flying kicks through the air, or the refined monk who sits deeply in meditation high atop a mountain—using his martial arts only when confronted by the most severe form of evil.  Though these images have come to define the martial arts, they are, in fact, quite far from reality.

            To begin to comprehend the essence of the martial arts we must first understand that these ancient systems of self-defense were borne in a period of history when the need for an individual to possess refined methods of hand-to-hand combat were essential to battle off the continued onslaught of invaders who were willing to take the wanted by whatever means necessary. From these ancient societies came a long period of ongoing confrontation and battles which attempted to define which army, which system of self-defense, and even which student was the best.

            Some may argue that it is no different today. One must be able to protect themselves in the violent world we live in. As such, studying the martial arts is, “A must.”

            Commonly, if a martial artist makes this statement, it will soon be followed up by, “You really need to study my style of martial arts.  It is better than all the others.” Or. “What! You go to that school. That teacher knows nothing.”

            Certainly, the Hong Kong Kung Fu movies have come to optimize this style of competitive mindset which flourishes within the martial arts. To watch one of these movies the story commonly unfolds with the student initially defending his master. He then is commonly put the test, loses his first fight, only to retrain, battle through an untold number of combatants, finally and rise to the level of the ultimate winner.

            Though these movies are oftentimes fun to watch, and they do give us a unique insight into the politics which dominate the martial arts of yesterday and today, they are also ideally descriptive of the way not to live your life as a martial artist.  For if you live your life at a level of conflict—criticizing and challenging others—you will forever be dominated by a life defined by battle, be it verbal or physical.  This only leads to a life completely void of any peace or tranquility.

            Many a martial artists will at this point state, “But, violence and confrontation is what the martial arts are based upon.”

            It may be true that the martial arts rose from the realms of conflict. This does not need to be their final criteria, however.

            From the martial arts one has the potential to master physical and mental techniques which will raise their body and mind to a level never experienced by the average individual.  Though this potential exists, in the modern era we still find many a martial artist holding onto the confrontational mindset which defined the early development of these ancient forms of warfare. This is optimized by the practitioner who believes their system is the best system of self-defense, their instructor is the only true instructor, and their organization the only association worthy of governing anything.

            If you live your life at this singular level of one-pointed, non-explorative existence, you will never be allowed to experience the understanding which another teacher or system may possess.  You simply close yourself within self-imposed walls, thinking that you are already in an environment where you possess everything you need to know.

            One of the main reasons this commonly occurs in the modern martial arts is that, unfortunately, at the root of many people being drawn to the martial arts is insecurity. Insecurity, due to the fact of living in an aggressive, often times, violent society and needing a method to protect one’s self. Insecurity based in undefined feelings that one’s unworthiness. Thus, they are sent down the path of desiring to defeat others and prove their worthiness by any means possible. Insecurity based in low self-esteem developed by any number of physical, psychological, or emotional occurrences.

            Though virtually every person who is drawn to the martial arts based in insecurity will never admit it, this insecurity comes to be the defining element of their time spent in the martial arts—be a month, a year, or a lifetime. With this as a basis, they are lost to the world of attempting to make themselves more by criticizing, berating, and attempting to defeat others.

            Though insecurity is commonly a bases for an individual’s initially involvement in the martial arts. It does not have to be an end point.

            The martial arts where initially formulate and refined in Asia. Hand-in-hand with these systems of self-defense was associated a deep sense of spirituality—based predominately in the philosophic schools of Taoism and Buddhism. With this as a formulating bases, the refined understanding possessed by these schools of thought gave way for the martial artists to develop a new interpretation of the self, the world, nature, the universe, and one’s interaction with all of these elements.

            This is not to say that one must embrace Taoism or Buddhism if they wish to elevate their understanding of the martial arts to a more refined level.  It is simply meant that one does not need to be bound by the very animalistic levels of insecurity and competition which many practitioners of the martial arts commonly embrace.

            To begin to raise your understanding of the martial arts you must initially understand, that, yes, physical training and even physical competition are a part of the martial arts. But, it is how you, the individual, interprets this training which causes you to view the martial arts either simply as a pathway to physical domination over others or a means to lead your body and mind to a new more refined understanding of self, life, and the universe.

            This being stated, a teacher can demonstrate to you how to kick, how to punch, or how to throw an opponent. It is you, however, who must ultimately practice, come to develop, and hopefully someday master these physical techniques. This is also the case with how you choose to interact with individuals and the world around you.

            You can see the world as confrontational. Or, you can see each situation, each obstacle you encounter as a means for you to become a more whole and refined martial artists and individual.

            Simply because an individual comes up to you and instigate a physical or verbal confrontation does not mean that you are obligated to take part in it.  You have the choice; you can walk away.  If they say something negative about you, so what.  Simply realize the motivating factor for their statement and then you will not be dominated by their insecure need for domination.

            It is you who must choose to step beyond the controlling hands of small mindedness and move onto whole mindedness—making not only yourself but the entire world a better place through your practice of the martial arts.


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 Scott Shaw Hapkido Taekwondo International