Martial Arts. The Way of the Warrior. Ancient fighting arts that have been around for so long that the origin of most of them have become blurred. The ancient and popular arts of Karate, Taekwondo, Kung-Fu, Aikido, Judo, Ju-Jitsu, Ninjitsu, Hapkido, Capoeira, Kenjutsu. The off-shoots of the ancient arts; Kick-boxing, Muay Thai. The plain esoteric arts; Pentjak Silat, Muay Boran, Escrima, Kali, Taekkyon, Tang Soo Do etc…
On the 19th of March, 2011, I witnessed, and participated in my very first Taekwondo competition, the Chungdokwan National Championships. It is a memory that will be with me for a very long time.
I have always been fascinated with the world of Martial Arts, but never before have I been a partaker in one of its ‘festivals’. Hosted in the Bracknell Leisure Centre, the tournament was….something else, for want of a better word.
Many people get most of their knowledge of the Martial Arts from TV and movies, but in reality, it is so much different. While in the movies, the moves are all choreographed again and again, and the actors either good, bad or downright atrocious, in the festivals that celebrate the ancient ways of self-discipline and self-defence, there is nothing choreographed about the sound and feel of flesh hitting flesh or pad, neither is their anything choreographed about seeing someone hit the mat, dazed.
The Chungdokwan Nationals was one BIG hubbub, with people everywhere, eager to show their skills and win some medals in the process. People from every part of the world, from all walks of life, of all ages. Yes, I saw men my Grandfather’s age, and I am not ashamed to say that anyone of them could probably beat the hell out of me, with hands and legs as hard as wood; these are people who have lived, slept, breathed, eaten and taught Taekwondo for most of their lives. And they’ve still got a spring in their step, at an age when most people are either permanently slouching, or bed-ridden.
I met a little kid that day. Jonathan. He didn’t look a day above ten years old. I saw the innocence and openness in his eyes; the desire to win, and to have fun while doing it, shone through him like a torch that would not be extinguished. And he was a Black-Belt. Now that grade doesn’t mean he will go out to beat someone bigger than him…at least not yet (hehehe). No. That belt spoke of something more than prowess or ability or strength. The Black Belt he wore spoke of Dedication, Hard Work, Discipline. It showed me a boy who loved what he did, and was good at it. It showed me a boy who was committed to his path…But one thing hit me. His Dad was with him, helping him train. What more could a kid want but for his/her parents to support him/her in something he/she loved? From holding the kicking pad to making sure Jonathan was weighed in to making sure he didn’t miss his fight…I was amazed beyond words by the support he got from his father. And he wasn’t the only one. In fact, the large hall was filled to capacity, mostly with families that had come to cheer and support their sons, daughters, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends…
It was a wonderful feeling, to be part of such an experience.
I am not going to bore you with a blow-by-blow account of how the day went, but I just want to pass across the things I noticed and learnt on this day, and hopefully to change the view of so many people who are a bit short-sighted when it comes to the Martial Arts.
If I had a pound (c’mon, a penny is just too small eh?) for every time I was asked about the usefulness and my reason for studying Martial Arts, I think I would have started living comfortably a long time ago. Personally, at first I got into Martial Arts as a kid because, well, I wanted to do the stuff I saw on TV; which kid didn’t want to be like Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Yuen Biao, Sho Kosugi, Sammo Hung and the rest? Damn, I trained myself those days, practicing stuff I’d seen on TV, all by myself, and it really helped me on one occasion…but that’s a story for another day.
Whenever anybody asks me why I learn Martial Arts nowadays, I tell them that I learn it, so that I don’t have to use it. But I basically learn it for one simple fact: I LOVE IT! Yes, I do. It is amazing, the things you learn within any art you decide to pick up.
So what then, is the Martial Arts?
Martial Arts are more than throwing kicks and punches, or dodging fists, or using joint-locks, or knife-defence; it is more than beating 10 assailants all at once. Yes, if you train hard, and stay sharp, you might be able to do these things, but the Martial Arts is more than that.
All Martial Arts, with the exception of MMA (which is nothing but a means for people with anger-management issues to get paid to display their anger and beat the crap out of each other, with the exception of a few MMA fighters), have been built upon a common set of principles. Respect, Discipline, Self-control. Imagine wielding the power to take somebody down; the power to break, to maim, temporarily or permanently…Imagine wielding the power to take a life. Sometimes, this power can be like a raging tsunami within, struggling to break forth. Now, think of the amount of self-control needed to keep that power on a short leash and walk around with everyone else, to exist with them , have healthy relationships, raise children.
Some people argue that some martial artists are violent. Well, I can only say, look to their Masters. Look at the environment in which they studied. The student is almost always a reflection of the environment, and of the Master as well, though I don’t really know of any Masters who encourage violence…
When I started my training in Karate, about 7 years ago or so, I remember wanting to fight somebody, anybody. What was the use of learning something if U were not going to use it, right? Well, if there is one thing the Martial Arts teaches you, it is Strategy, and the ability to visualize the consequences of your actions. I had to really live by that code of Self-Control. Whenever I had a disagreement, with anybody, friend or not, I would immediately start to think of things to do to bring the person down, should it get to that level. Then, I would realize where the situation was headed, smile inwardly, and drop it. Trust me, if you are in any situation like that and you have the ability to protect yourself, you most likely will be able to take care of business, but you will be left feeling miserable with yourself before long. And if you cause permanent damage, well that will become worse than a scar on your face…
The Martial Arts is a great way to develop your self-awareness. It helps you become attuned to your immediate surroundings. I remember way back, when any sudden movement close to me would be stopped by my hand. As I became better, I learnt how to distinguish harmless movements from the harmful ones, but I still am a very self-conscious person. I ‘case’ a place upon walking in, taking note of escape routes in case of trouble, and if I am in a strange place, I take note of people around me, identifying potential threats, and establishing a ‘perimeter’ around myself. It is not easy, but it helps.
The Martial Arts helps you develop healthy relationships with people. While training, you learn to pull back in order not to hurt your training partner. You learn to treat him/her with respect, and you also learn how to teach people, to show them how to do things correctly. You learn how to take care of people. Translated into your everyday life, this makes you a better person. Throughout my stay in the UK, some of the nicest people I have met have been the people I have come across while studying Ju-Jitsu and Taekwondo, most especially my Instructors and seniors in the Arts. My training partners in both arts are great people, and they have made me a part of a diverse but wonderful family. This has enabled me to relate better with people outside the club. The Martial Arts helps you become sensitive to other people’s problems, and it helps you try to think of solutions to such problems.
Most people say, what is the use of Martial Arts when there is the ‘Modern Art’? By ‘Modern Art’, they are referring to the gun. I always laugh at this question. Why? Well, basically, it’s a silly question which is being put forward by people who can’t tread the path of the Warrior, but try to make you feel bad for doing so. Guaranteed, the gun is efficient and fast-acting, and only a foolish person will go up against a person with a gun. Even a sensible Martial Artist knows when to act and when not to act. However, I always ask the people who ask me this silly question; do you carry a gun? Are you carrying one at the moment? The answer is always no. Most of the people who ask this question have never handled a gun in their lives, and probably never will. Besides, guns make you over-confident…if you manage to get one, that is. And if you take a gun within a few feet of a man like Steven Seagal, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Scott Adkins, or even a decent Martial Artist with the required level of ability to take care of himself/herself in that sort of situation, then you can kiss your hand, your knee, or maybe even your life goodbye. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Hehehe…
Martial Arts is fun, and it is emotional. Let me take you back to the Chungdokwan Nationals. Everywhere I looked, I saw eager faces. From the Pee-Wees (little kids) to the Veterans, I saw people who were having the time of their lives. It didn’t really matter if they won or lost; as long as they gave a good account of themselves. And when they got injured, they still carried on. Anyone who couldn’t carry on again left the mat. I saw a girl lose her tooth, but instead of flinching away in pain, she got back on the mat to continue the fight. I saw people get knocked down, only to get back up and win the match. I saw people who got knocked down again and again, only to get back up each time. It didn’t matter if they were knocked down; they got back up every time, no matter how much effort it took. I saw people knock people out and feel remorse for it. I saw people accept their defeat graciously, making friends with the people who beat them. I saw people carry on when there was no other way out; I went into my fight with no energy, having not eaten anything all day. How I managed to stay up on my feet is still a miracle to me.
One thing that stood out for me was the sense of community in the place. I saw all these different people, and they were just as happy as me to be there. I remember going back to the dressing room, and on my way I saw this little girl. She saw my Gold medal, and got excited because of my achievement. She congratulated me on it, and when I did the same to her on her own Gold, she was all smiles. The community feeling was great. Photos were shared, old friends met, new friendships were made….
The Martial Arts are to be respected, not ridiculed. It is the culture of some people, and it is a very wonderful and expressive culture that doesn’t discriminate. It is a calm culture that has the ability to develop people and societal relationships, if used in the right way. Not everyone can be a Martial Artist; not everyone has the discipline required. But people can learn from the basic principles of Martial Arts, and either use them as stepping stones towards a better personality, or they can add them to the numerous principles they have picked along the way. My own journey in the Martial way has been a breathtaking journey. From Karate to Kung-Fu, from Tai-Chi to Aikido, from Ju-Jitsu to Taekwondo, it has been wonderful. I am by no means a Master in any art; far from that actually. It’s just that life has thrown me from one art to the other, so I have learnt to hold onto them all in my head, trying not to forget what I have been taught. And I have come to learn that there is no ‘Best Martial Art’; it all depends on the individual practicing any particular art. I have also learnt that at the heart of all Martial Arts, they are all one and the same, teaching Respect, Self-Discipline, Caution, Dedication and above all, Honour.
This is the way of the Martial Arts, and I salute all who tread on this path…