Why Martial Arts?

I’ve had the chance to try a few different kinds of exercise and methods for improving the body and mind. Soccer, PE classes, lacrosse, yoga, running, swimming, and other pursuits. My experience here in Wudang has helped me understand how vitally important maintaining your body is (I’ve come to think of it as rather like brushing your teeth- you feel better if you do it, and if you don’t, you won’t have much to work with a few years down the road). But so much of my training here is only tangentially martial in nature. So sometimes I wonder, “Why martial arts?” Couldn’t I be just as happy studying yoga or some other art that would keep my mind and body connected without the occasional traumatic punch to the face? Why do I instinctively feel that there is something special about martial arts?

I have quite a few answers for myself, but recently I have been thinking about a new way in which the “martial” bit of martial arts is crucial. What it does is it teaches, in very clear, black and white terms, the lessons of personal responsibility and acceptance. Under the supervision of an attentive teacher or master, the dynamics of a fight or sparring match (and the preparation for such)  strip away excuses and provide clear consequences. Getting hit stinks. You quickly learn to want to avoid that at all cost. But if you got hit, it is because you let your opponent hit you. Hitting you is your opponent’s job. There is no, “I wasn’t ready,” no,” That’s not fair,” no, “Can we do that over?” At the same time, you can’t dwell on the pain of the last hit. You have to accept it instantly and move on, or experience it again, and worse.

Under a good teacher or master, this acceptance of pain and responsibility spreads from the fighting scenario into daily training, and from there into daily life. If you got hit, you need to prepare better, train harder. If you didn’t train hard enough, it’s because you felt ill because you ate too much or didn’t sleep enough the night before. If you didn’t sleep enough, it’s because you procrastinated at work or school and had to stay up late to finish a project. You are %100 responsible for all of these things. At the same time, when once you mess up, you have to accept it and use it to get ready for next time, because next time is coming. There are other ways to learn these lessons, but the martial arts are teaching them to me in clear, non-negotiable terms.