The Martial Arts Phenomenon

A Yahoo search revealed that there are more than three million web pages devoted to schools of martial arts, television and movie viewers witness actors performing high kicks and swinging swords on a daily basis, and all across America people can get fit in a local cardio-kickboxing class while simultaneously learning to punch out would-be assailants. "There are few people who have not seen a demonstration of brick or wood breaking or a single bare-handed man defeat a host of armed opponents," (Oyama). The martial arts have certainly "arrived." Practice of the martial ways can benefit people in many respects, as examples from the past and present attest.

Martial Arts:
Ancient, Modern and Universal

The fact that the martial ways are used so commonly should not, however, surprise us. The practice of martial defense has existed in every culture since its beginning and at every social level ("Martial Arts" "One thing is certain: unarmed self defense began when the first caveman lifted his arm to ward off a club or a rock wielded by an unfriendly neighbor. This natural reaction was modified an infinite number of times through countless centuries," (Roth). To more fully explore the martial arts and martial practices, it is necessary to examine the earliest formalized training systems.

Origins of Tai Chi:
Martial Arts for Health and Meditation

According to Taoist tradition, Chi Kung originated in approximately the year 300 B.C. ("Chi Kung"). The style focuses on enhancing the practitioner's energy level through stretching, breathing, and meditating ("Chi Kung"). This form was altered somewhat and received more martial influence and eventually from Chi Kung was born Tai Chi ("Chi Kung"). These styles of martial arts are considered essential in Chinese medicine ("Chi Kung"). Thus we see that even in ancient days the martial practice was one that led to health as well as the ability to defend oneself.

The Shaolin Temple:
Physical and Spiritual Strength

In China, around the year 500 AD, a monk named Bodhidharma (also known as Daruma) introduced a practice of martial exercises to the out-of-shape monks in Songshan, Henan province at the Shaolin Temple ("Shaolin" and Roth). These movements and practices came to be known as Kung Fu ("Shaolin" and Roth). The monks at Shaolin used the practice of Kung Fu to achieve greater physical, mental and spiritual strength ("shaolin"). The tradition of perpetuating this fighting system also played a key role in the history of China as Kung Fu was successfully used by the military to fight for and secure power and control over the provinces ("shaolin").

A Brazilian Martial Art out of Africa

In Brazil, approximately the year 1500, slaves from Africa developed the fighting style known as Capoeira ( This complex form resembled a dance and possibly had origins in an ancient coming of age ceremony ( In the period between 1624 and 1654 during Dutch invasions of Brazil, many slaves chose to flee servitude and formed an encampment where they defended their freedom and lives for sixty-seven years against expeditions meant to end their peaceful way of life (

International Martial Arts

Today, a cornucopia of tradition, innovation and philosophy surrounding the way of the warrior is available to the world ("List of Martial Arts" The most popular fit into one of the following: Chinese (Kung Fu), Japanese/Okinawan (Kendo, Judo, Goju Ryu, Karate, et cetera), Brazil (Brazilian Jujitsu, Capoeira), Korea (Tae Kwon Do), Europe (boxing, fencing, wrestling), and the amalgamations of the various styles ("List of Martial Arts").

Close Combat Training:
Martial Arts for Modern Warfare

An interview with William Almond of the Nation Guard revealed that today martial arts are an important and integral part of the combat training for urban warfare. Almond mentioned that in boot camp he was instructed in the practice of Brazilian Jujitsu and that he practiced regularly with his group. Almond indicated that it was important, especially with the situation in Iraq that soldiers be taught close combat techniques and that traditional martial arts, or parts of them, were required learning.

"The Way" Moves Body and Mind

Martial Ways tend to center on three basic elements of defense, first being physical health. Kung Fu was introduced to the Shaolin Monks to invigorate their bodies and abolish their sedimentary lifestyle ("Shaolin"). So too do many nine-to-fivers resort to practice of the martial ways to strengthen their bodies.

Tai Chi and Health Today

Tai Chi is particularly helpful in the cardiovascular conditioning of individuals with high stress levels ("Tai Chi Chuan"). Further, Tai Chi has been shown by two studies performed by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to significantly reduce the number of falls experienced by geriatrics (Jasmine). From one study the added physical balance prompted a noteworthy response from Dr. Wolf, Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia who stated, "they had an increased sense of being able to do all that they would like to do," (Jasmine).

Mental Discipline and Meditation

The second basic element of martial arts is mental discipline. The "father" of Kung Fu, Bodhidharma was famous for meditation ("Shaolin"). Bodhidharma left India to teach Buddhism in China (Roth). Unfortunately, the monks in the Shaolin Temple refused him entry for nine years ("Shaolin"). Bodhidharma only spent his time meditating during those years, facing a nearby wall and as a result also became the founder of the Zen Buddhism system which emphasizes meditation ("Shaolin"). This kind of strict dedication and focus on one's goals, as well as the mental fortitude to carry out said goals are key components to the way of the warrior.

Character and Will Power

Tsutomu Oshima, Sandan Shotokan Karate said "Hard training has direct results: the student improves and progresses, and it becomes easier for him to polish his character and strengthen his will power," (Roth). By its very nature, karate demands that a student put away frivolous thoughts and focus on the moment or the subject at hand. Dave Lowry explains the concept of Ichi-go, Ichi-e ("one encounter, one chance") that when the time comes to employ skills gained through practice that a person has no use for thoughts of the past or future efforts, but must instead put all of their self in the moment (Lowry).

Martial Arts Practice: Spirituality

The third basic element of martial arts is spirituality. While in most sports or physical activities the goal is to be able to make a basket or lift a certain percentage of your body weight, as Tsutomu Oshima said "The ideal in Karate is to one day say, 'I ask my mind and find no shame,'" (Roth). True practice of karate conditions the body and increases one's alertness and self-awareness (Oyama). Further, karate cultivates the confidence to deal with the world (Oyama). "With that confidence comes calmness and a sense of inner peace," (Oyama).

Martial Arts Build Character

Perhaps the truest embodiment of the spirit of martial arts is contained in the following quote from Gichin Funakoshi "The ultimate aim of the art of karate lies not in victory or defeat, but in the perfection of the characters of its participants," (Roth). Yamamoto Tsunetomo encouraged the same spirit of discipline by saying that the most excellent level of study was a transcendental one where a person is "aware of the endlessness of entering deeply into a certain Way and never thinks of himself as having finished," (Tsunetomo). This level of commitment is essential in the mediocre world of today.

Martial Arts Build Respect

Another often misunderstood aspect of the spirituality in the martial arts is the concept of bowing which helps the follower of the Martial Way to show respect and hold in reverence those around him or her and to center themselves mentally on the world around them (Lowry). In the simple act of bowing, the student can take even that brief moment to reflect on his or her situation, reflection often lacking in the fast-paced MTV world we live in.

Martial Arts Build Self-Awareness

While the basics of any martial pursuit teach students to defend themselves, the true way is to try to avoid conflicts wherever possible (Oyama, Roth, Lowry). Master Yagyu once remarked "I do not know the way to defeat others, but the way to defeat myself," (Tsunetomo). Said thusly, the martial way is put into perspective: recognize weakness in oneself and attacking it. The purpose of martial arts should never be to attack another, except in defense. This being understood, use of the martial arts for purposes other than defense or personal refinement can only be detrimental to one's health, mind or spirit.

Martial Arts Philosophy in Business

Clearly, concepts of improvement and use of minimal resources to achieve maximum result have application in other areas. Since the 1980's businessmen and women have scoured the works of masters of the martial arts and philosophers to help them achieve maximum profits. Perhaps the most popular books to be studied in business have been Sun Tsu's The Art of War and Miyamoto Musashi’s Book of Five Rings (

The Core of the Way

If the attitudes and practices embodied in the Martial Way were applied to everyone, then the world would be a more peaceful place. With each human being harboring a deep respect for life and a desire to avoid conflict, peaceful solutions to disagreements would be much more common and juvenile delinquency would be significantly reduced (Roth). That is the core of the Way.

Martial Arts For Peace, Health and Honor

In a world where everyone studied the martial arts and practiced its philosophies, children would not have to steal something or have some new commodity to make themselves look "cool," they would be content to practice and refine themselves to achieve greater health and prosperity. With each bow to a partner, in the mind of each practitioner would be the value of life and the need to preserve it. This attitude would not be limited to single exchanges, but would branch out like a wave that would touch every shore. War would be rare and when an apparent "need" arose for a war, it would be conducted in humility and honor because each combatant would call their foes "brother." Leaders of nations would be honor-bound not to attack without a just cause.

Hands-On Idealism

An ideal so grand as world peace through martial practice and conviction would only be possible if every person dedicated his life completely to that end. This cannot, however, be achieved in a world of "masters" of the arts trying to establish riches or fame. The Way must be paved by the calloused hands of the man who questions himself, as Master Oshima implied, and is not ashamed of what he has done.

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