Saturday, 5 March 2011

Real Reality Martial Arts

It seems like some of the loudest voices in the martial arts these days are the reality martial arts; those that teach the down & dirty street defence. Kewap, Defendo, Krav Maga and the like are quite prominent in their advertising, but whilst I once believed in the street effectiveness of a martial art in the form that all these systems are offering, I have now developed my thinking to a deeper level that these systems seem to be missing.

Let’s take a look at how martial arts developed all those millennia ago. Martial arts are not unique to the human race are they? No, all carnivores and quite a few herbivores have developed fighting methods of defending themselves and feeding themselves, in fact some styles of kung fu have based themselves on the martial arts that animals use such as preying mantis, monkey style and the like. And this is an important function of the martial arts to allow and help us to survive. Survive to live, eat, procreate etc. Survival of the fittest is a well known saying the world over isn’t it? We all need to survive for as long as possible don’t we?

However whilst survival is important it’s not necessarily fun or particularly fulfilling, the meanest animals on Earth are surviving but it doesn’t look like they’re having a good time does it? People living rough on the streets are surviving and that certainly doesn’t look like it’s a very rewarding life. It is my belief that the skills that we use to survive are the same skills that will help do much more than survive, these skills will also help us to thrive. It’s what I call Survival and Thrival, survival definitely, but thrival preferably.

Martial arts are the systemisation of the laws, principles, rules, strategies and techniques that have allowed the human race to rise above all the other animals on the planet. Over the years the sustained practice under good teachers brought a deeper understanding of the skills and how they may be better and more fully applied to life as well as combat. This is why the ancient masters connected with religions and philosophies and deeper meanings of life because they had studied their arts so deeply they had learned how to use their skills not just for warfare and survival but they had also applied their skills on a more global level. This allowed them to use their martial arts skills in business, relationships, health and as a tool for developing spiritually.

Business and world leaders have recognised for centuries the skills that make a successful life and a life of achievement and for years they have studied the works of Sun Tzu, Musashi and the like, people who had already learned, interpreted and applied their martial skills to achieve a life of fulfilment.

However I get frustrated by the limited thinking of many martial artists today who’s thinking is too limited to survival and not thrival, too based in the physical and emotional levels of the martial arts to realise what else can be achieved using the very same skills. We must look beyond the purely physical skills and ask ourselves the question: ‘is my life better for studying the martial arts?’ most martial artists would say yes to this but what about the follow up questions such as: ‘Am I thriving?’ ‘Am I achieving all that I can?’ ‘Is what I am achieving helping me become richer, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually?’

From what I see of some martial artists the answer is definitely ‘NO’. What do I base my assessment on? Well the fact that they focus on either pure survival techniques or competition. I’ve discussed already what is wrong with survival martial arts so what is wrong with competition? In one word ‘Ego’, it’s all about ego; beating someone else, measuring success by the number of trophies in your cabinet. It’s not REAL! Also it doesn’t help. The word egotist is generally used as an insult isn’t it? Do you like egotistical people? No, they are in your face, pompous and emotionally weak. Egotists generally have some character defect that they are trying to overcome and it’s fairly obvious to everyone around them though not to the egotist himself.

The ego exists to be either superior or inferior to someone else so competition is a great feeder to the ego, as its all about winning or losing; being better than or lesser than. The overall achievement through competition is very little in terms of future application and you end up leaning on past successes to justify current failures. The martial arts skills that make us good competitors are wasted on what is in the main, pointless trophy collection. Beating or being beaten by someone teaches us the false message that success is a measurement against others rather than treating failure as experience we treat it as not being good enough as a person. Whereas competing against ourselves gives us a truer measure of success or failure. As Ralph Waldo Emerson once said ‘there is no nobility in being superior to another person, the only nobility is in being superior to who you were yesterday’.

In summary martial arts are not about winning, martial arts are about achieving the outcome you desire. That desire is certainly survival but once you are surviving, surviving is no longer enough and we move onto thriving and we only thrive through applying the skills of survival more effectively. Martial arts skills are the skills to do this, so think beyond how they help you to survive, think beyond the one sidedness of competition. Think instead about using these skills that you have developed over 1000’s of hours of study to bring yourself a balanced and fulfilled life – that is what REAL REALITY martial arts are REALLY about.

Thanks for reading today and I look forward to speaking again on another martial arts related topic very soon.

Tony Higo
Chief Instructor
National Martial Arts College

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  1. Competition is vital in every area of life. It is an absolute necessity in martial arts. The way you compete or what you compete for may be questioned but that is all.
    Surely the phrase 'a little friendly competition' can be applied.
    To believe that we don't need to compete is surely more arrogant than to think we do.
    When I train if you hit me as i defend then I'll thank just showed me what I should practice more, train differently or be more vigilant for. Similarly in all aspects of life. Does your house door have a lock? Some things are just logic but you'd learn pretty quick to get one if it didn't
    We live in one very beautiful but very diverse world and we all see it very differently.
    Take care

    Daniele Toscano

  2. Thanks Daniele for your comments. I'm not against competition or survival per se. Only the too great emphasis on it. What I advocate is balance. When we balance all the ways we can utilise our martial arts skills we get that beautiful and diverse world you speak of. I appreciate your taking time to comment. Thank You :)

  3. Completely agree with your thoughts on the use of the martial artist attitude being used in all aspects of our lives. I think this is something many practitioners find hard to grasp. Master Yip Chun says that any teachrr should demand of their students the mental attitude to overcome the difficulties in life using the same relaxed and focused attitude with which they practice and advance in wing chun, or indeed , any martial art.
    I dont consider mma a martial art and certainly not a complete system which incorporates personal and mental development in a beneficial way.
    Regards and be well

  4. Well said Daniele. I didn't know that about Master Yip Chun very nicely put