Why do I practice martial arts? Why do you practice it? What is it that draws us to a practice where we punch, kick and, grapple for hours in a sweaty training room? I don’t think it is simply that we like it, although that is part of the reason. I think martial arts explore something about our humanity, something that none of us can learn in a classroom.

Martial Arts and Humanity

martial arts humanity aikido

Let’s face it, martial arts have always been about violence and conflict to some degree. If you look back far enough at most styles, they often start as combat systems for soldiers. Take for example the training of the roman legions. Each soldier was shown how to wrestle, use a shield, sword and javelin. The whole point of training was to make him better at killing on the battlefield while not getting killed in turn.

This training was all about preparing warriors without any real combat experience, how to fight. As human beings, we have always been in conflict with one another, as a result combat systems reflect a large aspect of our nature as a species.

However, that is not all that martial arts are about, styles also developed into combat sports. These sports reflect something different about why we train them. Western boxing has been around since the times of ancient Greece. It was never invented to be used on a battlefield (tried punching bronze with your bare knuckles?), yet it was still included in the original Olympic games.

It was also popular entertainment for spectators while also being linked to the culture of the ancient Greeks. So, combat sports are not just designed to teach violence, but are also a method of exercise and, through competition can be a fun activity. We are social animals and so combat sports are a way for humans to accept martial arts as a part of their cultural identity.

Why Do We Practice Martial Arts?

martial arts humanity krav maga self defense

A large amount of us today practice martial arts for self-defense. Why do we do this though? Most of us live in secure countries with efficient security organisations? I still feel the need to train in this way though. To me it is about understanding that in the moment, I still need to know how to respond to personal violence.

Take Krav Maga, it was originally developed to help teach Jewish communities how to defend themselves during the rise of anti-Semitism in pre-war Europe. So, to me self-defense reflects our need as humans to understand personal violence and how to act in a nightmare scenario.

Still martial arts do not end there for us! Religion and philosophy are strongly linked to many people’s concept of humanity. Whatever your outlook on life, religion has been central in the development of all societies. Therefore, training was often used as a type of extension for philosophical reflection.

One example of this link can be found in the system of Aikido. A martial system where the goal is not to injure/kill is controversial but, it links to Aikido’s basis in the philosophy of Omoto-Kyo and Buddhism. Although criticised by many for being unpractical, the system has been promoted by its ability to give students a better understanding of the self and conflict. Many traditional martial arts have therefore been preserved through their links to established philosophical traditions.

Martial Arts Are a Crystallisation of Our Sense of Humanity

martial arts humanity BJJ brazilian jiu jitsu Sparring Martial Arts

So why do we practice martial arts? Why do humans bother with it? Originally, we used them as codified systems of killing on the battlefield. For some of us many styles like boxing were adopted as international sports. Recreational activities with which to entertain and stay active. Still more systems like Krav Maga reflected our need to protect ourselves from domestic threats.

Meanwhile others link our exploration of philosophy, working as a tool to achieve a higher understanding of ourselves. Martial arts in many ways are a crystallisation of our sense of humanity, rooted in the contexts of the past, yet constantly evolving and changing as our species grows.

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