Categorized | Culture

The importance of learning martial arts

In today’s uncertain world, the necessity of physical self-defense cannot be denied.  Modern cities are by no means safe places, and crime is on the rise every day.  As anybody who’s lived in a dangerous urban environment can attest to, you can’t always wait for the police to come and defend you in an emergency.  Even when there are police around, they may be corrupt, incompetent or unwilling to do anything.  While some — especially the politically correct types — might say that violence is always wrong, this line of reasoning only works with rational, peaceful, law abiding people; you cannot count on street toughs, thieves, or would-be killers to be rational, law-abiding or peaceful.  Therefore, no matter how much you might dislike it, there may be a time when you have to fight.  In such tense situations, whether confronted by a common street thug or with other enemies, one needs to be ready to fight in self-defense as a necessary condition for his own survival; you need to be prepared to take on criminals, especially when your life depends on it.

A handgun can get you out of a difficult situation - but they are harder and harder to acquire

If you live in America, especially in a rural environment, or a locale where it is easy to purchase, store, or carry a firearm, this may be a good idea.  You should always become proficient with using your weapon, so that you won’t accidentally shoot any innocent bystanders.  When carrying a firearm, you should always do so within the confines of the law, so as to avoid any complications later.  However, firearms laws are becoming increasingly strict, and many states have made “concealed carry” impossible, especially in urban centers.  Despite this, one needs to be ready to fight in self defense as a necessary condition for his own survival.

Martial arts have been used for thousands of years all over the world for self defense, and learning one or more styles of self-defense can be quite useful when you’re on the street and have to face a potential attacker unarmed.  While this is not always a guarantee to protect you from any everyone, at least a quick jab to the nose or similar attack can can do so much slow him down, and at least buy you some time to run away.

If you do decide to learn a martial art for self defense, it is best to choose something practical.  Which style “works” for you is ultimately up to a number of factors such as your build, musculature, and personal preference, but various world armies have developed systems, such as Special Combat Aggressive Reactionary Systems (used by the American military) or Systema (used by Spetznaz), which can be learned via video, if you have no other means of learning them.  Boxing can also be learned in a short time and can be made useful in a fight.  While the various Eastern martial arts can also be effective, they suffer from a lack of decent experts in non-Asian countries, and as a result are mostly taught in the West as sports or as health regimens, and not for fighting.  While this kind of martial art is good for building self-discipline, it may take years before one is proficient enough in the techniques to fight effectively.

That said, self-defense and fighting ability are not the be all-and end-all of martial arts.  Herein lies a fundamental shortcoming of the purely exoteric system of fighting: while it can be said that there is a certain masculinity to fighting, people often take the wrong attitude towards fighting and can become too aggressive.  Self-defense is an indispensable skill,  it is also wise to be able to avoid danger in the first place, or learn how to negotiate with a would-be thief to diffuse a hostile situation.  To quote Sun Tzu’s Art of War: “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”

In this regard, some of the traditional Eastern systems hold sway over the Western ones. In this manner, the properly taught Eastern martial arts in some ways, are remnants of ancient initiatory rituals.  In ancient times, the study of the codified martial arts (as oppose to mere ‘street fighting’) made high demands, and to join a lineage of martial artists often invoked the mystical world.  In others, martial ability was part and parcel of being a perfected gentleman: in ancient China, archery was considered to be a gentlemanly pursuit alongside intellectual endeavors, with the arrow and the target being the very symbols of the path to achieve super-human states, which the warriors were actively occupying and then transcending.

While this is not applied today in its original form, the historical origins of Eastern martial arts belie a certain asceticism of action not found directly in many Western martial arts.  Properly done martial arts demands a willingness to confront interpersonal human aggression directly, developing the habit of taking the initiative when confronted, not being intimidated, and the habit of meeting the challenge presented by a committed aggressor with the determination to prevail.  At the same time, a martial artist needs to avoid becoming a bully who jumps into unnecessary conflict.

Thus, it can be said that it is necessary in the Eastern tradition to embrace both the inner world while defeating the outer world, whereas most Western arts merely pass on exoteric forms of punching and kicking.  It is true that the esoteric component of the Eastern martial arts are quite far removed today, but they are even further obscured among the Western fighters.  For example, there was certainly a method of unarmed physical combat practiced by Greeks (“pankration,” a combination of boxing and wrestling), but did Greeks practicing this believe that they attained a level of spiritual development through it? Certainly in the Olympics it was consecrated, but it is doubtful if such consecration encompassed the actual action itself or the search for intuitive knowledge and enlightenment (samadhi and satori) such as we practiced in the East.  An exception to this might be the presence of the Catholic military orders of the Middle Ages, which can be regarded as the pure distillation of the Ecclesia Militans into physical action.

In pursuit of this goal, the Eastern traditions have come to encompass a wide variety of training methods that improve the body and mind, and the best coaches and instructors train both the mind and the body.  They aim to develop focus, self-discipline, and balance.  To perform at a high level in martial arts you have to embrace, accept and ride the wave of anger. You become intimately acquainted with fear, frustration, anxiety, and loss of focus. Unlike in life, in martial arts you have a way to learn from those experiences and you have the opportunity to accept them as a natural part of discovery and learning. Most importantly, you are allowed to display these emotions as a man in a martial arts environment.  The experience should at once be cathartic and energizing.

Whether you choose to undertake a study in martial arts purely for reasons of self-defense, or for other reasons, you will be well-rewarded if you are willing to invest the time and energy.  This breadth of training requirements, and the level of intensity that can be achieved in martial arts, rarely coalesce in a single activity. The range of potential effects are so vast, leading one researcher to suggest the martial arts are a potentially-rich source of research for psychological fields including perception, attention, problem-solving, pattern recognition, and consciousness.

About Dawud al-Sini

Dawud al-Sini the webmaster of He is currently employed as a biomedical researcher and translator working in Taiwan. His technical interests include biomechanics, biomaterials, and nanofluidics. His other interests include both religious studies as well as the theory of history and politics.