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.

6 thoughts on “The Martial Artist of the 21st century

  1. I thought your blog post was quite well-written. You give a concise explanation of the origins of Asian martial arts tradition and food for thought about transitioning those traditions in to the 21st century. Regarding the samurai traditions, I would only add that to the samurai the martial arts were viewed in the context of how they best suited the purpose of the samurai — to serve — and from that arose the philosophical context.

    I believe the same should hold true today — that the purpose of your life should define the role martial arts play in it and your philosophical approach to training in and use of those arts. Is your purpose to conquer the world, run a business, save the planet, raise a family, serve your country, die with the most toys, … ? Whatever it is you are living for, your martial arts training should serve that purpose, and your philosophy toward the martial arts follow suit.

  2. Nice layout of the “do’s” for what a martial artist should be expected of. I definitely try to pursue those goals you listed.

  3. @Matt thanks for the comment, it’s great to have your contribution in your position of both experienced martial artist and fellow blogger.

  4. Todays Martial arts is in the hands of the Martial Artist of today. I guess I can see the art evolving in a better way because in the older days when people had to use their skill many time it resulted in death. I guess kind of the old gun fight at OK corral or a gangster shoot out in America. The bottom line was that people died. Today what is seen mostly is one man pounding the livin crap out of the other on the ground. I don’t know if people are getting the right message. But this is my personal opinion.
    As an instructor I have always instilled in my students that Life itself may be the biggest and most dangerous opponent they may run into. Being strong of mind, body and spirit is probably the best defense we can have.
    I’m going to keep it simple because I can go on with this forever, but I won’t. Yes you did a wonderful job explaining the basics that can take over a decade to truely understand. I thank you for this great blog and you will be seeing more of me if you allow. Oss..

  5. The origins given here for the well known Chinese martial arts styles are simplified. Many of the well known styles including the bodyguard style were developed during war time. A time when the Qing dynasty where invading eastern Turkestan. Which is now called Xin Jiang (New Territory), up until then China stopped at the Great Wall. So we find that a lot of Chinese Styles originated with the Hui Chinese in places like Hebei

  6. @anlusan thank you for your comment and contribution. My “history in a sentence” was obviously simplified and was meant to introduce the rest of the article so I appreciate you adding your comment.

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