The Long Road To Understanding Traditional Martial Arts

I have shared in previous posts how I was perplexed by some people’s interpretation of traditional martial arts. Some invoked those three words as a sort “simple explanation” to address my questions on health and safety related issues during training. This only fueled my curiosity more. I wanted to look for answers that could help me wrap my head around the responses I got.

I recently stumbled upon an article that made me understand what one of my long-time Filipino martial art practitioner friend has been telling me. It echoed what he said and more.

Reading the article made me think beyond martial arts that evolved into more of a competitive sport. There were several things mentioned that struck a nerve. To quote one of them: “Sport and budo (budo is the term I use to differentiate a martial art from a martial sport) have a few things in common, but not much; although enough, it would seem, to cause confusion. The pursuit of sport karate requires that you win over others. In fact, your success in sport karate, or any sport for that matter, is a direct result of your ability to defeat other people. This mindset runs completely contrary to budo thinking. In sport karate there are winners and losers, but in budo karate there are only doers. Without sounding too esoteric here, the aim of sport karate is to win, while the aim of budo karate is to not lose. As hard as this idea may be to grasp for a ‘newbie’, budo training, pursued with sincerity, leads to the avoidance of conflict; if you don’t fight, you never lose, right? Sport karate does not hinder traditional karate training, it’s a completely different activity altogether.” ~ Budo or Bust by Mike Clarke

I think I understand a little of what he was trying to say here. But I would like to believe that there are many sport practitioners out there across different disciplines who live by the same beliefs and rules that traditional martial arts uphold. Olympism is at the heart of the Olympic Movement. And it shares similar ideals.

Screenshot from http://www.olympic.org/olympism-in-action
e Screenshot from http://www.olympic.org/olympism-in-action

Sadly, competitive sport has evolved in such a way that seems more focused on winning. There are often many factors at play that could explain this. Winning sometimes dictate the level of support like government funding, sponsorships, and more that athletes and their support system can get. That often puts a lot of pressure on athletes to win. But I also know many elite athletes from different sport disciplines who exemplify the values that Olympism promotes.

I believe that this is where the quality of instruction comes in. Finding the right mentors and ensuring that the values are ingrained during training could develop more athletes and martial arts practitioners who embrace the ideals that the two sides of the spectrum represent.

It is always inspiring for me to find people who have journeyed enough in their respective martial arts to gain a better understanding of what it is about. I want to be around people like them. I think our sensei, in his own ways, is on the same path. I am also fortunate to have met many visiting senseis whose actions imparted invaluable lessons on budo. Now, more than ever, I need to pay attention to the ones who get it and try to learn the unspoken lessons from them.

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