This was not the way of students in the past. Martial training was one facet of a persons education. Reading, writing, studying the classics of philosophy and history, and even medicine were all taught with the martial forms.
Those times were very different. Institutions like a modern day police force were rare, and sometimes worse than the criminals they organized to defend against. Hospitals were even rarer, and the notion of an ambulance coming to carry you to a doctor after an injury was still a dream.
Times have changed. In most countries we do not think about police, fire, and medical institutions being nearby to protect the peace, defend our property, or look after illnesses. We take advantage of these institutions when we focus on our jobs and family, go to our studies at University, or attend major social events without worry.
Despite these improvements to our societies structure, selling martial arts as a method for self defense is popular. Martial art schools market self-defense classes to attract new students, hoping to engage them in further training. But, the time and training needed to apply even the most aggressive martial art for self-defense is greater than the casual student is ready to undertake. Most of the students who attend such classes never return because they are either uncomfortable with the concepts, or view the entire idea of disarming an attacker as ridiculous.
Some who see violence and danger around every corner, continue with their training, and schools cater to those remaining students with classes focusing on applications or sparring. But the harder training, the training required to develop real skill in any form of boxing, is ignored for more esoteric exercises. The result is that those who choose to engage a thief, or an armed attacker is seriously injured or killed.
Many of these schools are successful at regional sparring tournaments, and, in most cases, have developed a positive reputation in their community. I do not begrudge those schools the path they have chosen, it is one way. I just don’t think it is the right way to promote martial arts in the modern world, and I think some simple evidence supports my conclusion.
There are more martial art studios in America than Dunk'n Donuts, yet most Americans have little understanding of the martial arts, and even fewer have engaged in martial art training. I suspect that most Americans and Chinese have eaten a donut. But with so many martial art studios spread across the country, why so little engagement in the arts themselves.
I feel that this disconnect is because martial training has lost its way in the modern world. The focus is on a single aspect of the art, violence. Search the Internet and you will find thousands of videos illustrating applications and few teaching or illustrating technique. Thousands and thousands of forum and blog posts arguing about which art could defeat which art, and which art is the real thing, but very few supporting someone's practice, or offering new insights into practice.
For the both the student and the school I say that it is time to restore the real meaning of practice. Students, engage your martial training in every aspect of your life, use it to evaluate yourself, and the world around you. Schools, stop with the endless application sessions, and follow the harder path of form and physical training.
Students, I know that you may be afraid. There is violence and danger in the modern world, but the human race has developed institutions and technologies to enhance individual safety. Take advantage of tools like security alarms, pepper spray and a taser for self defense. Practice martial arts for personal growth and as a healthy lifestyle, and I promise that your fear will subside.
Schools, I know it is tough. Overhead alone will drive you to bankruptcy. But catering to fear or violence will never sustain your membership. Doubt me? Than why is the Yoga studio across the street full on Tuesday night? And Wednesday morning for that matter? If your Tuesday night class is empty, volunteer somewhere in the community, and grow your membership that way, not with another weapon class for the one or two dreaming they are Bruce Lee. Better yet, take the movie star wannabes with you on your community service. With this simple change in focus, from violence to personal growth, I predict more students will come on Tuesday night, and come back on Thursday as well.
My first book, Earth Dragon Canon -- Walking, Martial Arts, and Self Evolution is an excellent introduction to the internal martial arts. This book is a pragmatic approach to the fundamentals of practice. If you are discouraged by martial art schools focusing on applications, than this book is a good place to start. Using martial art practice as a means of physical fitness began centuries ago, and often the forms you see today were designed for fitness and personal growth over combat application.
The art most criticized for loosing combat effectiveness, Taijiquan, is proof that transforming your art from violence to personal development is effective. It is the most practiced, studied, and taught art in the world. While many of those visiting this site may criticize those teachers that do not emphasize, or even teach the combat applications of their Taijiquan form. You should pay attention to that yoga studio (with all those students on Tuesday night), it is probably teaching a Taijiquan class on the weekends, or in the local park, and those classes are probably full as well.
Finally, I started this article the week before the Colorado movie theater shootings. While the press and political class are discussing the value and rights of gun ownership, I see a different problem. The same one that attracts a student to the martial art studio because they have a need to hurt someone, even if that someone is imagined. For such an individual, the imagined enemy is destined to become a real one without the intervention of someone that cares.
The good news, is that someone approaching the martial arts will soon realize that they are not facing their fear alone. The studio is a community that will transform the individual as surely as practice. My premise is not that the martial arts are not effective, rather that a few hours a week of applications and form practice does not engage the modern student on all the levels real combat training involves. I do not know the facts, and I could be wrong, but I doubt the lone gunman spent an extended time practicing the martial arts.
The modern student seldom understands the type of engagement required to learn martial arts for a real fight. They are comfortable with the institutions society has created for their protection. In the modern world, we need martial training to fight our sloth, our stress, our distractions, and our boredom. Our challenge, my challenge, is to present the arts in a way that will create that engagement.
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