Arts of Combat
When I think of Martial Arts, an image, or rather a memory lasting a few seconds comes to mind. My entire body is drawn taunt as a cable, my right leg is extended in front of me, foot twisted to one side to bare the ‘blade’ of the outer side, my left leg tucked into my body, my hands closed into tight little fists and held close to my chest. And I’m flying.
I have to remind myself that’s it not a dream or a product of my imagination. It’s the couple of seconds I experience as I jump into the air to prepare the launch of a ‘Flying Kick’.
I know the name sounds rather heavy, I’m sorry if I spooked you, I promise you’ll understand, whether you’re a newbie or a thorough-bred martial artist!
Now, let’s go back to the start. When you break down the phrase, ‘Martial’ is derived from the Latin word ‘Martialis’, which translates to ‘Of Mars’. This, of course, does not imply that martial artists are of Martian origin, (Or at least I most certainly am not, as plausible as that might seem), no we are not from planet Mars.
‘Of Mars’ in this context actually refers to belonging to the Roman God after whom the planet Mars was named. He was the God of war and his realm or area of expertise was all things military.
Above is a picture of Mars, God of War according to Roman myth. The sculpture is at the ‘Musee du Louvre’, Paris.
Stick with me here, we are finally coming to the point.
Military practically implies fighting. It implies combat, offence and defense. Of course, back in the day they had neither Automated Missiles nor Rocket Launchers. Most combat took place hand to hand or with primitive weapons like Bows and Spears, Daggers and Swords. But of course, when one has no weapon, one has no choice but to go old-fashioned.
Above, you see a portrayal of Pankratiasts (practitioners of an ancient Greek Martial Art that combined Wrestling and boxing while kicking was allowed as well) fighting under the eyes of a judge on an amphora (Large ceramic vase), 500 BC. Proof that Martial Arts is not simply a fleeting fad.
This is where the modern term ‘Martial Arts’ comes in. It is the art of combat, practiced and polished since time immemorial. Ever since the start humans always have had a tendency towards violence, either driven by a need for power, greed, authority, territory or respect.
Anyway, over the years, things have changed quite remarkably for the better. The term ‘Martial Artist’ no longer used to refer to someone that goes to war, instead it is used to refer to those individuals that fall in love with the way of life that is a martial Art.
At least, that’s what my instructor always says. I have seen people walk into the Dojo (A place where Martial Art is practiced), hesitant and uncertain, and end up staying, practicing for years. I have seen people join up looking for a hobby or a fun way to stay in shape, but end up loving every little aspect of it and spending more time on practicing it than they ever intended. A Martial art is not just something you do, it’s a whole way of life.
And just like every other art, just like any other institution, true Martial artists have rules, or guidelines if you will. Unfortunately, true Martial Arts aren’t the commercialized fights you often see broadcast on media. Fights like those don’t always abide by the rules, one of which is Mutual Respect. Way too often we see fighters disrespect and scorn at each other, a blatant display of power or Ego. But then again, maybe that’s what the media craves.
In Taekwondo, before a fight, the fighters bow deeply to one another, to show respect, not only to the opponent, but to themselves, their instructors who bought them this far, to the Art and to life in general.
Art of two martial artist bowing to each other as a sign of respect before a match.
Every Martial Art has different rules, written or said in different words, but the essence is the same. Since I’m most familiar with the guiding tenants of a Korean Martial Art called ‘Taekwondo’, let me just put them down for you.
The 5 tenants of Taekwondo are:
· An Indomitable Spirit.
These values were grilled into me as soon as I started practicing taekwondo back in 4th grade. I see myself as I was then, a child no higher than waist level, a bright yellow belt drooping from my waist, confusion and awe etched into the lines of my face. My instructor took the time and effort to make sure I understood the meaning and importance of each of them and I haven’t forgotten them since.
This is why a Martial Art is a way of life, we are asked to imbibe these values on and off the ring. But unfortunately, not everyone has had the opportunity to learn under people that put values above glory, which is why I’m delighted to be here, showing you the side of martial arts that you have probably never seen.
Almost every country has developed one kind of martial art or another, with some countries developing more than one style of fighting in different regions? How unbelievably awesome is that? In my next newsletter, I will be going into detail about some of the most practiced forms of Martial Arts from around the world. I do hope to see you again soon!