What is Martial Art

While reviewing the archives I found this original About This Book essay from Earth Dragon Canon: Walking, Martial Arts, and Self Evolution. I tweaked it a bit, and present it for you to enjoy. As with most material on The Walking Circle it is available under the Creative Commons License listed in the sidebar.

Martial art practice is more than the study of physical movement. It is an exploration of the mind through the body, and conversely the body through the mind. At its finest, martial art practice is an expression of humanities need to live in peace. At its base, it is an expression of humanities worst instincts.

The greatest martial artist of the 20th century promoted the arts to a world searching for reason in the torrents of blood spilled around the globe. These masters recognized that man, with his new weapons, could deliver an unlimited barbarity upon his fellow man.

In the 20th century alone, man distorted religions for personal or national gain, leveraged nationalistic fervor to plan genocide, and manipulated millions into the murder of millions more.

The martial arts were a part of this story, and like nationalism and religion they were an instrument of violence, teaching the most efficient way to dispatch an opponent.

I do not practice nor do I endorse, the use of martial arts for violence. I have a firm grasp of man’s capability to practice barbarity on his fellow man. There is no empty hand style, no sword, or staff form that will defend the individual from the real weapons of this world.

Those same empty hand styles, those same staff and sword forms, can also slice through a man’s desire, knock down his anger, and toss off centuries of blood. If you are willing to work for it, those forms hold a deeper truth.

If you have come here looking for a fight, you will not find one. My martial art practice has taken me past my anger, leveraged my desire, and given me visions of what can be.

If you are interested in a fitness program that encourages self development than martial art practice is for you. I know that you have tried fitness programs before and abandoned them as boring repetitions of strenuous activity. For this student the martial arts can present a complete program of self development that you can apply at your own pace, in your own time.

Your journey with the martial arts will become a lifelong program that will not grow stale or become trivial to you. Space and time will not be a factor because you can practice anywhere, anytime, and define your own growth.

There are others that are familiar with the martial arts and seek improvement or better understanding of their practice. For this individual the concepts are familiar, but their meaning is hidden in the violence that pervades our culture, and many other’s practice.

You are unsure of your growth and seek additional material, a fresh light on familiar ground. I know that you chose the martial arts as a method for violence or self-defense. It has been a popular myth for over a hundred years. But, the time and training needed to apply the martial arts in even the most basic fight is greater than the average individual is ready to undertake.

A casual scan of the day's headlines shows that violent crime involves deadly weapons that even the legendary figures of the past could not overcome. And today’s warriors are more likely to fight from behind a keyboard or a joystick than man-to-man.

If you are looking for a good fight you will find benefit from my material, but only if you are ready to explore beyond the physical aspects of the martial arts, and look closely at your own reasons in desiring that fight.

There are three levels to martial art training, Foundations, Forms, and Understanding. The sad truth is that most instructional material focuses on the latter two, Forms and Understanding, then misses the mark by focusing understanding on, often misguided, martial applications. The reality is that most of your training, and in the end most of your understanding, will come from the Foundations, not Forms, and never, ever, in a fighting application.


The Foundation of martial art practice is the foundation of good health. A good diet, clean living, and exercise. In my practice, I emphasize isometric exercises. I have collected these exercises from a variety of sources and used them to understand key points from the traditional teaching. The masters of one or two centuries ago did the same. While their exercises may have had a more practical aspect, carrying water up a hill, or clearing rocks from a field, the fundamentals are the same.

I have combined many of these isometric exercises into routines that I will share. (Many schools call these routines Qigong. The mythology surrounding Qigong is a subject for another essay).

The most popular of these is the Internal Power Set I formulated around the Taijiquan classics. This is not a traditional Qigong sequence, but an isometric set that will remind you how the muscles of the body work together. If you have not done this set before, I promise that one minute in the back kick posture will remind you of muscles in your torso you have long forgotten.


Forms are the training you’re are most likely seeking. The classical sets of the Chinese martial arts have been drawn and published in books for over five centuries. Our ability to share print and video around the globe through the Internet has knocked down the entry point to martial arts like never before.

But, it has also made it possible to ignore the harder work of Foundational training. In the old days, a master may not teach you a single posture from his style until you had cleared his field of rocks or filled his well with water. Today, you can go to YouTube and learn nearly any forms from nearly any style of martial art for free.

When someone says you can't learn from a video or a book, this is the practice they are lamenting. In fact, you can learn any martial form from a book or video. Without the Foundations behind that form, however, you will not gain Understanding, or it may take you a very long time to get there.

That is why I emphasize the Foundations as I teach the Forms. By drawing a line directly between the Posture and the Foundational practice you will have a reason for the Foundational practice. It is like that moment in the original Karate Kid when Mr. Miagi explained “wax on, wax off”.

Finally, if someone insists that you can't learn a martial art from a book or a video, remind them that their art was preserved through those very same mediums. If they buy into their art's origin story or not,
they will understand what you mean.


The practice, and therefore the understanding of martial art is tied directly to some of the most enduring and artistic literary works in history.

Buddhism and Daoism blended into Ch’an, or Zen, Buddhism between the first and sixth centuries CE. Both philosophical systems (with the careful guidance of the Confucians) played an important role in the development of Chinese thought, and martial foundations.

You must study the historical survey of the martial arts to understand how it evolved from combat to spiritual. Most likely this same evolution will happen within yourself, from combat or self-defense, to health, and well being, to spiritual growth and understanding. To study the martial arts, especially those birthed in China, without studying the Dharma principles that compose the moral character of the practice, is to miss the mark entirely.

It is another reason some may lament your learning from a book or a video. I ensure you that in my materials I will not let you miss that essential quality to training. Because with that philosophical background, and the hard work of Foundational exercises, you will attain enlightenment through the practice of the Forms. But it takes all three. Heaven, Earth, and Man, or Earth, Dragon, and Canon.

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