IMPORTANT: As jargon (specific terminology) of the study of English as a language is used in this blog, you may or may not require a dictionary of some sort to assist you in understanding what I will be expressing. If you don't have a dictionary handy, just use google to define anything you don't immediately understand.
I have been thinking lately about what Martial Arts really are, as I normally do from day to day. I've noticed that even the most experienced of practitioners often struggle to accurately define the Martial Arts in spoken and written communication (myself included). Some who care enough to truly learn what Martial Arts are, often take a prescriptive approach. They might look up the lexical term 'Martial Art' in the dictionary, as I'm sure many good academically aware practitioners of the Martial Arts do at some stage in their journeys. The problem with this, however, is that although language is perhaps the most reliable way to communicate, it will never be 100% accurate due to constant semantic changes in lexicon. Not just that, but also how individuals interpret words and collective terms based on their individual experiences. On top of this, the Martial Arts also struggles to gain a widespread understanding due to its recognised genesis in the East, where language is different in many ways including lexically and grammatically.
First, let's look at the definition of Martial Arts from a socio-cultural perspective at an individual level.
True Martial Arts is evolution at an individual level. A Martial Artist is equipped with the knowledge of the science behind combat and has transformed his/her body into a weapon. This is the martial. At the same time, the Martial Artist is a peaceful person at heart. He is a sage - a profoundly wise individual. He/she is combat-ready, but chooses to use the acquired skills in day to day life to express rather than destroy. This is the art. To practice the combative techniques is an aesthetically pleasing experience for many. By doing so you attain a greater understanding of your body, how it functions, and perhaps even noticing universal patterns from you physical training to how you feel to how the Universe operates. Not to mention that physical movement is simply good for you, because our bodies are designed to move. Our bodies need movement.
Your greatest enemy in this world is yourself, your ego. It is impossible to annihilate your ego because your ego is part of you. Like an internal demon that can either serve or enslave you. Many people, (young people in particular) often have very high egos. This is when the demon has arisen and you have become its puppet. However, a moderated/controlled ego is also needed to protect you in a self defence situation. This is when it may serve you. When you have mastered your ego you have mastered yourself. That is when YOU are in control.
A Martial Artist is someone who values peace over violence, so obviously he/she is not a combat sport practitioner. Martial Artists do not value inflicting pain, wether it be physical or emotional on others. Just as Buddha said "The winner saws hatred because the loser must suffer. Give up winning and losing, then fine joy.", a Martial Artist gains no satisfaction from others misfortune no matter who the misfortune was inflicted on and wether the misfortune effects another's physical, mental or spiritual health to any degree.
A Martial Artist strives to better himself to be as wise and as peaceful as possible. He/she is highly trained in the science of combat as a way of self preservation. The Martial Artist dose not train for recognition, the ego trains for recognition. The Martial Artist may have developed himself/herself to a high level and thus receives recognition without asking for it from others. Of cause, this situation can be dangerous as the attention received from so many people can heavily influence the lengthening of the egos leash. It is easer said then done because it requires greater awareness and effort in the moment, but the ego can be controlled in such circumstances. This is where experience and wisdom come in, the moderation of ego.
A Martial Artist aims to cultivate his body, mind and spirit. Through physical exercise including combative training of which serves the greater purpose of self preservation. He/She works to expand his/her mind through academic study of the history and cultures of the genesis of martial art expressions to the science behind combat which includes biomechanics and psychology. Finally to develop an awareness and appreciation of the spirit. This can be done in many ways depending on the individual practitioner. Some of these methods may be intrapersonal reflection of one's character and interpersonal reflection of society, both are for some, often involuntary practices demanding little conscious effort.
There are lots of books to help you achieve spiritual awareness including the Tao Teh Ching by Lao Tzu, anything written by Morihei Uesheba including The Art of Peace, anything written by Bruce Lee including the Tao of Jeet Kune Do and The Art of Expressing the Human Body (I am yet to read both of these books. I hear there good, I'll read them in time), anything written by Freddie Lee including Reflections Volume 1, Living the Way and Spiritual Martial Arts, anything written by Wong Kiew Kit including The Complete Book of Zen, The Complete Book of Tai Chi Chuan and The Art of Shaolin Kung Fu. These are just a few people who's books can be of a great benefit to you.
The practice of Martial Arts is not like a university course with a beginning and an end that comes with a certificate. Martial Arts is the lifestyle of which you choose to live by. It is ultimately about finding peace and harmony with the universe, with the Tao. Competition is the opposite of harmony. Once you have achieve harmony with the Universe, you will realise that there is nothing to compete against. There is no 'against'. Everything is one. One whole. "Once you become one with the whole, that's meditation." - Sifu Freddie Lee
This is what I have come to believe Martial Art is through my 6 years of studying and practicing it. It's a never ending journey to absolute purification. It is not at all easy and as every Martial Arts practitioner is a human being, we must be kind to ourselves when we stray off the path and make mistakes. We must embrace the lessons we learn from our mistakes and grow.
Okay! Now that we've had a look at the nature/essence of Martial Arts, let's look at definitions of the term 'Martial Art' in the English language.
All words are funny. We create them out of our own minds. I first started to explore this concept when Freddie released a video saying that a hand is what it is. In Chinese they may call it a sao, in English we call it a hand. But it's not really a sao or a hand. It is what it is. The same principle applies to the Martial Arts. There is a difference between perceived reality and, well, the real reality. Common ways to help attain an understanding of reality are: philosophical research, which is more of a mental approach, providing one with more of an intellectual understanding, and the various methods of meditation which help to install more of an emotional understanding. This greatly complements the intellectual understanding. Once you understand reality, both emotionally and intellectually, your understanding will have truly deepened.
In most dictionaries, such as the sixth edition of the Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary, the term Martial Arts is, and I quote: "n. pl. oriental fighting sports such as judo and karate." This is clearly not true. If this were true then there would be no difference between art and sport!
Martial is defined as "warlike; brave; fond of fighting. [Latin martialis of Mars]". Google defines it as "relating to fighting or war." Art is defined as "Human creative skill or it's application." So from this we can conclude that Martial Art is definable as warlike behaviour applied creatively. While this is partially true, the arrow is a long, long way from the centre of the target.
I believe that much of the semantic meaning of Martial Arts was lost in translation when the governments of Eastern countries sent out Martial Art teachers to teach in the West. I saw a video saying that the meaning behind the term wushu translates to "the art of ending a fight quickly". The key words "ending" and "quickly" give direction to Martial Arts training and yet, they are never found in English translations. This would explain why the essence of the Martial Arts is very much unknown to the majority of its practitioners.
Historically the Martial Arts have been part of the Eastern cultures. The English language has so far proven itself incapable of compiling the meaning of the Martial Arts into 1 lexeme accurately. English simply wasn't built to cater for it. It has evolved to serve very different cultures. However, where there are tools, there is potential for constructive improvement. English is already an incredibly diverse language and it became so over centuries of its speakers being the invaded and the invaders. Through these processes native English speakers have socially mixed with people of other cultures, sharing and borrowing words, expanding the lexicon. Put more simply, English became the language it is today via inter-linguistic mingling. This debatably natural occurrence has been dramatically accelerated with the intervention of the Internet. My point being that the English language is constantly changing to meet the social needs and requirements of its speakers. In theory, it would be possible for a neologism (new word, in this case a new label) for the Martial Arts to be created. Just think of it. An entirely new denotation that accurately describes the Martial Arts semantically! New words are often created via the blending of 2 existing words coming together to creat a neologism. I am not sure how exactly a difinitively accurate new term for the martial arts will be created. I'm not a wordsmith. The only way I see this happening is if someone in a very high place codifies a new label to represent what we know as Martial Arts; or the masses of English speakers make a unofficial change. Wether the change be created by the masses consciously or subconsciously, the dictionaries will have to reflect the change. And thus the new label for the Martial Arts will become part of Standard English.
Although I feel that a neologism to accurately represent the semantic meaning of the True Martial Arts would greatly benefit those who exist only in the of world perceived reality (eg: those who seem to believe that codified definitions of words are the absolute truths of cosmic reality), I don't think it will occur any time soon. I don't want to sound like a defeatist, but if one expected a new English label for the Martial Arts to come about any time soon, one would be expecting a movement to occur in the realms of fantasy. Such an idea is by no means impossible, but that's all it is at the present time, an idea. Regardless of the odds, retaining an open mind is always beneficial.
Many practitioners or/and Internet users appear to spend lots of time and energy debating with one another about "what Martial Art[labeled system] is the best" and "Why this [labeled system] is better than that [labeled system]". Labels are mainly for the uninitiated. They are not as important for those who are initiated, because the initiated know within their hearts what Martial Arts really are. The cultivation of you're body, mind, and spirit to become the best and most holistic Human Being you can possibly be. I would like to finish this blog by reiterating Sifu Freddie Lee's definition of a Martial Artist. I think he did a fantastic job defining who a Martial Artist is in 10 sentences, while not sacrificing the depth of the meaning.
Many people do not understand or are even unaware of this. The best cause of action we can take is to express the way of the True Martial Arts. To represent True Martial Arts by evolving into True Martial Artists.