I have been asked on several occasions what kind of Martial Art do we study? For some reason the question has always made me pause, not because I don't study a martial art (as loosely defined by society) but because I have never equivocated my training with an art. I have never viewed myself as a martial artist but rather a follower of a Way. I have always felt that the term martial artist lends itself to open interpretations and falls victim to what most people perceive to be the disciplines practiced by those of us that have chosen to practice or follow the path of martial ways. These opinions are usually fuelled(erroneously) by the media and the entertainment industry.
Many reading this may feel it is a matter of semantics, and I have found in my own personal experience that unless a person is actively pursuing a discipline, all of them get lumped together under an umbrella of "it's just kicking and punching - so it must all be the same."
So what is a martial art ? The term martial art is used to loosely describe the many combative systems and sports that exist here in the West. If we examine them closely however, we will discover that they are not all truly martial in nature or arts for that matter. The literal sense of the term martial, implies that it must have a military application, and historically many of the combative systems that exist today have their roots in systems that were used in military settings.
The same can be said for those systems that were developed by the "civilian" populace (like Karate) and many of the combative systems were employed in military and paramilitary settings. For this reason I think the literal definition is too limiting. In fact many of the "civil" arts are part of the curricula for the military forces today.
The real difference is found when a combative system makes the transition to combat sport. I find that one of the stark contrasts is that within the realm of "sport" there are rules and a framework to contain those rules. What may work on the tournament/arena floor, can be completely ineffective in an actual combat situation. The danger then becomes a false feeling of preparedness. A sport practitioner may feel they are practicing a martial art but they may be mistaken. It is certainly not a martial way, but if that isn't, then what is?
In order to shed some light on this term (martial way) we need to go to the Japanese terms of bugei and bujutsu - both which mean literally "martial art" and the term budo (martial way). Where a practitioner of a bujutsu system is focused on learning how to prevail and succeed in combat, a budo practitioner has embarked on a system of physical, mental and spiritual discipline to in order to perfect his character and self. This is not to say the bujutsu systems do not require physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, but it is not their focus. Several of my instructors and Sensei have taught me that to achieve the "do" you have to enter through the "jutsu". Which means that while a system or art may be effective as a fighting system it needs to have the components both jutsuand do to be effective. Too much in either direction can lead to imbalance.
So which should you pursue? Only you can answer that question. Yes I know I sound very much like those teachers who answer a question with a question. The truth of the matter is that we each come to the Martial Arts for unique reasons, be it confidence, discipline, learning to fight etc. I can only say that personally for me the Martial Way is a way a living. Which is why I say, when asked, that I practice Budo or budo karate (which is a subject for another post).
What I do and I hope encourage my students to do, is live in way that reflects a life of discipline and pursuit of excellence not just in the dojo or training hall but in life. My training is not just something I "do" on certain days of the week. It is not interchangeable with other activities, because its a way of living, not an activity I just engage in. It means sacrifice at times, hard work and perseverance.
So distilled to its essence, a martial art is something you endeavour to do and become proficient at, while a martial way is a method of living. They are not mutually exclusive although at times it may seem to be the case. In fact, they are and can be two halves of a whole. Strive to maintain balance in the do or Tao (from the Chinese) and the jutsu.
strong spirit-strong mind-strong body
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