“Master Gin Foon Mark, The Master of the Southern Praying Mantis “Jook Lum”, answered my question about the purpose of our practices simply: “...not to break bones and kill people...”

Igor Messing

Why do we study the Martial Arts?

An answer to a student, or “why do we do the Martial Arts?”

June 3, 2016

To ignore such questions is impossible, especially since they were demanded right after the intensive seminar, during which many of the problems seemed to have been erased. But these: “why’s” were giving no peace. It doesn’t matter, if you are a novice or a martial arts veteran, whatever pleasure you get from the practice of the Martial Arts (M. A.), occasionally there appear doubts, and to hide for them is impossible. Why do we fight? What hidden meaning are we searching in the M. A.? What for do we spend thousands of hours of the only life on these practices?

To say that the cause is individual and everyone finds their own niche means to explain nothing and leave the followers of the ancient art calling into doubts. To cast the blame on the barbaric call to clubs and rocks is impossible, too. Our Western mental model is too rational, contrary to the worship of the shamanistic sorceries and “the fog of mysticism”. Someone said once: “...one should learn Kung Fu at least not to fight anymore...” This possibility helps a person to become more confident. There appears the variation of their behavior at the time of aggressive confrontation. Practicing of the M. A. has dozens of positive results, each of which is enough to find the work incentive. There are obvious, rational, and easily explained motivations for people to put on kimono, to take the pole in arms or to begin imitating animal behavior. However, there is also a hidden meaning of the martial practice. And one cannot always give a direct, logical answer to the same question can give a straight, logical answer, as often, the analytic thinking gives way to internal emotions and feelings. Let's begin at the beginning.

For many people the purpose of the M. A. is transparent: to master skills of self-defense, or in simple terms, to learn to fight. At the same time, to gain some self-confidence, to conquer inherent fears. For others — the M. A. is a sort of exquisite entertainment and fun, which is not available in the everyday life. Still others are bored; they can't find themselves, that’s why they are looking for a hobby outside of their everyday routine.

Another group of egotists make their bodies the temple of strength and health. For them the M. A. are no more than a means to achieve physical perfectness. There are aesthetes spellbound by the beauty of the movements in the M. A. The practice for them is poetry of the body and mind, following the old traditions and the preservation of the canons. Most impressive ones are those who find in the M. A. the way of inner self-development aimed at learning how to live in harmony, without conflict with oneself and the world.

Summing up the abovementioned, we can combine all of the obvious purposes which for we practice the M. A. in the three incentive groups:

1. The mastery of the martial skills.

2. The sustentation of health and physical perfection.

3. The character development.

A doubting student is able to answer the question on the purpose of his practice on his own; it is enough to sincerely ask yourself: “What do you want now, next month, or next year?” By the way, having clear awareness of the intentions and goals of the practice, one can achieve the desired results in a more rational way and at lower cost. In addition, setting goals one withdraws from agenda the “why’s”. For this reason, it is important to have within the field of view not only deep targets and general plans, but also to state specific and attainable goals. They should be clearly and simply formulated, the achievement of them should be noticeable, accessible to analysis and comparison.

The basis of the M. A. is the ability to protect yourself and your loved ones. It would be ridiculous to practice and not to be sure that you are able to reflect at least a simple aggression in real life using the acquired skills. Try to identify the fundamental principle of your school. Consider what ensures the implementation of this principle. For example, for the effective conduct of the battle, one must master free movement. Give yourself six months time for improvement the movement. If following of the end of that time you avoid the attacks of the more experienced partners easier, you may suppose that the goal is achieved.

Fortunately, in most cases, we don’t face physical confrontation in everyday life and the ability to fight, like a good sword, is hidden away only for extreme cases. But human's health feels the attacks always and everywhere, throughout life. The practice of the M. A. is full of conditioning methods and exercises. There is always health-improving effect of the M. A. practice, if there is no divide between the mental and the physical. Compare your health this winter relative to the last winter. If you don't have a fever after the first trip in the bus full of sneezing people or your immune system easily coped with infection from a knife cut got in the process of peeling potatoes, you have reached the goal. The Kung Fu practice, undoubtedly, helped you. Fixing joints, strengthening muscles and ligaments, developing stamina in sparring undoubtedly have to be done simultaneously with the invisible inner work. There is no other way. Transforming the body, we change our mind. The application of the acquired skills of the internal behavioral self-regulation in everyday life is what you develop in the training process. So try to trace your everyday behavior and compare it with the last year. Spend some time answering some simple questions. How do you respond to suddenly emerging problems? Have you become more tolerant to people around you? Can you take control of an explosive situation at work? How do you answer difficult questions? That’s great! You took a deep breath, slightly held breath, and slowly lowered your diaphragm... before giving meaningful and adequate responses to these questions. It resembles the fragments of “full abdominal breathing” mastered during the practice of Kung Fu, doesn’t it? Then, obviously you have achieved not only the short-term desired goal (to learn a new breathing technique), regained the ability to use your lungs fully and stabilize your consciousness, but also made your life and the lives of others more plentiful and fulfilling.

I have always had a deep respect for people taking the Path of the M. A. in order to achieve the already mentioned objectives. The greatest level of self-improvement is to mould one’s character through the practice of the M. A. It is much more than most people are able to achieve in their lives. However, they say: “I would die ere I would leave it at that, because the M. A. in my view is only a tool, and the game begins where the array of the clear ends.

No one should keep off balance with the practice, if the M. A. is only psychophysical work aimed at developing the skills of self-defense, the maintenance of good health and character development. And what after follows when the body got the desired form and the culture of its movement allow absorbing the external force and putting in energy at any point on the path of this graceful dance? Are the acquired skills needed only to squander the gained inner confidence, will-power and internal balance for small victories in everyday life? Isn’t it a trap like the one which makes a poor animal go to unattainable goals? The inner voice tells me that for the Warrior, developing himself, the practice must generate internal mental revolution. Beyond the perfection of his body and spirit there rises a new goal: to redraw the worldview — no less!

From the birth we live under rules, laws, standards and conventions. I’m not going to discredit all the rules by which the humanity exists, but a superficial glance is enough to notice that the majority of people are unhappy. Look around yourself, look at the permanent wars, genocide, the “choking” environment, political prostitution, the decline of morality and you will see that there is clearly something wrong in this game. Maybe we should kick more than half of these ugly habits to live “by the rules”? I believe that it is the point when the M. A. can step forward to produce a new archetype of the human – the Warrior. This is the road of the Warrior: to take the courage to gain the destiny into one’s hands, casting aside the ugly stereotypes, and to become a leader in your own life! Then there recede into the background the three obvious goals of the M. A.: self-defense, health support and character building. From the range of combat systems, health-improving therapy and esoteric exercises, the M. A. will turn into a the way to wake up, to walk, to eat and drink, to work, to love, to think and to act. The battlefield will be the daily life, at the moment, always and everywhere. The acquisition of virtues through the M. A. is not part-time work at a school of Kung Fu, where you practice three times a week from 7 to 9, as well as the true faith does not end at the threshold of the temple. The way of the Warrior is the inner state, 24 hours a day, all year round, till the end...

In the grand scheme of things, the M. A. is only a beautiful, sophisticated tool. The man is important, rather than the tool. The man is the one original substance, which the M. A. works with. The essential things are the ideals, the dreams, what kind of person the man wants to be. The way of the Warrior is usually the path of a lone person, for his path is not beaten yet, and he is unlikely to follow the signs: “...you go to the right and something you will find…” His heart follows his dreams and natural impulses. In the midst of the stench of geopolitical collapse the man suddenly takes a deep breath and he is able to reconnect with himself, to return to the time of youthful romantic idealism, where they live for the dream, where they believe in tomorrow and act in accordance with the inner voice. The system, built on rules written by others, no longer holds the Warrior hostage. Slow daily death in exchange for empty promises and financial security is kicked aside. It becomes obvious that the race for false material wealth, which we devote the largest part of our lives to, is only anesthesia from the depth and brightness of the everyday feelings and ecstasy of the being itself. The rich and the poor, the idols of the public and the little-known performers live day by day with a spiritual impotence, by force of habit, as slaves. The slaves of their own delusions. The Warrior's way brings the man back to the source — the experience of everyday life, getting happiness from living the moment.

I guess that not many Masters of the M.A. will agree with me. They will probably argue that I went too far and the M. A. have small in common with the idealistic pathos of the presented. Well, it means that what you dedicated your life to, my dear friends, is imprisoned in the cage of your school and does not go beyond the threshold of your Dodge. My Teacher, Gin Foon Mark, the Master of the Southern Praying Mantis “Jook Lum” answered my question about the purpose of our classes this way: “... not in order to break bones and kill people...” Once seeing the light and feeling the inner mental potential, the Warrior finds himself face to face with a sick society. However, to see clearly this farce of life is only the first step. Much more important is to keep balance and not to go back into the swamp of doing nothing. Whoever has enough will-power and courage to hold on to his dreams, at that moment, when everybody says that one must play by the rules, makes the next step, much more important than a simple analysis of the disease. He will start looking for medication to build him anew, thereby transforming the World around himself. To change the fate of the World is not an easy task. To learn objectively at least its magnitude is the same as to count the stars in the sky. In front of this abyss of problems without any obvious solutions, an average person feels a little kamikaze. But the same cannot be said of the Warrior! His spirit lives with a different vision. For him Heroism is not boyish utopia and not the rhetoric of pulp fiction. What is a self-sacrificing action for the layman is only the next step in the selected direction for him. Heroism for the Warrior is usual. His code is different. According to it, there is nothing heroic, when the concept of common sense and normality is the guiding star for him. The Warrior generates happiness in him and does everything possible to spread the harmony of existence among others. Global problems are solved now and here, every day and in every breath of his existence.

A subtle sense of self-realization in the practice of the M. A. is not just froth. How can one win not being keen to do it, not becoming a leader of for oneself? Only the Warrior is able to stand up after he is knocked down again and again. Tools of character building are hidden behind combat techniques. Sparring is only the reduced reflection of the Great Game, and the training ground is only a base for battles in real life where millions of people need the support and strength that the Warrior possesses. To do what others can't is the Warrior’s destination. To share the talent is the responsibility for him. The Martial Art is not our private property. One cannot steal and hide the passion, creativity and talent, without which the school becomes a fake decorated with colorful symbols of the bloated sense of self importance. The sparks of spirituality have to light a big fire in the hearts of followers and to put them on the Path of the Warrior. The battle, which we’re speaking of, has already begun, it is happening right in front of us. Drained with the daily psychodrama, we often don't see it. The battle goes against dullness, resentment and self-pity, intellectual limitations, greed and wastefulness, dishonesty and permissiveness; against all the forces that separate us from happiness. After the body is indurated and the spirit is trained, the Warrior proceeds to search a new way of life (it is his internal revolution) and this is his way to lead the battle. Stopping the fight, destruction and suppression are no longer his problem. The task consists of creating, not destructing! The task is to be the Master of foresight and resolution of conflicts. Vision and finding the ways to solve problems is the Warrior’s skill! Establishing harmony inside and outside ourselves is the Warrior’s path and essence. That is, to be the Warrior means to be in this state of mind and to hand on it to others.

We started with the answer to the question of “why do we do the M. A.?”, and came to the problem of the World’s fate which we hold in our arms. It's not a coincidence, because my deep conviction is that the true pupil following the spirit of the combat practice will be at this point. The M. A. is a time-tested method of creating a new person with the qualities necessary for serious action. Of course, this is not the only way. A person can become the Warrior, choosing hundreds of different ways. I hope, my thoughts were helpful, and I answered the question of my pupil and many others, at least partially.


Igor Messing

Translated by Praying Mantis sister:
Ekaterina Pryamova

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