The Martial Artist of the 21st century

Martial arts were developed to help people fighting, being it for attacking people in battle or for defensive purposes.  If we consider China and Japan, two countries that gave birth to some of the most famous martial arts in the world, they have profound differences in the way martial arts developed over time.  In China martial arts initially developed from the Shaolin temple and from Taoists masters that were teaching martial arts among other things, being also experts of medicine, science, calligraphy and philosophy.  In Japan the martial arts tradition was more based around the training of Samurais and the more military orientation of Japanese martial arts is still very visible when practicing traditional martial arts from this country.

Practicing martial arts in those ancient times was very much a way of life and it often started in very young age, during childhood, continuing for the whole life of the individual that would eventually start his/her own school and move on, maintaining the so called lineage. Fast forward to the 21st century (and good part of the late 20th) and things have taken a completely different perspective, particularly when the same martial arts are now taught in countries where the culture and tradition on which they were originally based is simply not there.  Many styles have somehow evolved while new others have been defined to adapt to the culture or habits of the people where these are practiced.

Being a martial artist today in the western world is challenging because of all interferences caused by our modern and stressful lives.  Most of us need jobs to live and maintain an expected standard of living and although there are a number of “professional”, full time, martial artist I would assume that the majority of martial artist have a full time job and practice martial arts for self defence, fitness, health, fun, self improvement or any other suitable reason in their spare time.

I would like to define here my concept of an ideal profile for a person intending to practice martial arts and what he/she should aim to become in the long term.  A martial artist is a person that should be:

  • training regularly: often this requires to organize your own life around training rather than the other way round.  Regular training helps absorbing even the smallest subtleties of the style and master them appropriately;
  • performing all techniques pertinent to his/her style in a variety of different ways. E.g. demonstrating a strike or a throw at a very slow speed to help a beginner to understand all its subtleties or at maximum speed to show its full, devastating, potential;
  • understanding why each technique in his/her style are performed in a certain way and the bio-mechanical and physiological implications for it;
  • comparing and sharing his/her knowledge with people of the same style or from different styles in order to always enriching his/her personal knowledge of martial arts;
  • having a knowledge of what other martial arts do and what are their weapons and having an objective view of their pros and cons;
  • knowing at least the basic steps of development and history of his/her martial art;

In short a martial artist should be actively collecting and learning techniques and combinations of a given style and applying his/her own interpretation of them.  The knowledge of the background of other styles may well influence the final result.