What are the Martial Arts?

Part 3: What’s wrong with the martial arts? – Competition

I have many pet hates in the martial arts and sport is of them. When I hear people say martial arts is a great sport, I cringe, and want to scream ‘it’s not a sport!’ I’ve never been short of strong opinions as you may see in my blogs, but to me to see the world of martial arts relegated to a silly spectator sport drives me mad. Especially, when it comes from another so called teacher of martial arts.

The thing is that the martial arts are a life skill; possibly the oldest of all life skills because they are in the first instance about survival, which is the most basic life skill. After that they are concerned with thriving, which is to create a good life for oneself and an even better one for ones’ children. The martial arts teach us about personal development, how to live with others, the keys to successful living, how to succeed through strategy and how to achieve a sense of lasting spiritual joy.

Well can’t we achieve this through sport? I hear you ask. No. Sport is the antichrist of spirituality because it measures ourselves against others and to measure ourselves like this is not true enlightenment which is the source of spirituality. You might not be interested in spirituality, yet, but you will be eventually. However, I’m not going to harp on about it here because people often mistake religion for spirituality and many people are turned off by religion.

However, there are other reasons why sport martial arts miss the point. Sport, all too often encourages and promotes bad behaviour and the ‘bad boy’ ethic where some fool is too outspoken and disrespectful of his opponent in an attempt to be outrageous and sell tickets, only to look an even bigger fool when another fighter beats him. I’ve been on the mat supporting my fighters or in the corner acting as coach and borne witness to bad behaviour, the kind of snarling, angry contempt for another competitor; to win at any cost whether through cheat or fair is a horrible side to see of human nature.

To disrespect one’s opponent it to take him too lightly, be over confident when one should be cautious. As a strategy, this works in war, but sport is not war and shouldn’t be used like one. Sport is the matching or ones’ skills against another to see who wins. A pretty pointless endeavour at the best of times and certainly against every tenet of true martial arts. The martial arts are intended to teach us about ourselves and our lives which means we are our own opponent, because no one else can offer a consistent challenge. If you measure yourself against another person one has to match oneself against that person at a certain time on a certain day because at any other time he is different. For instance, if you are better than another person in a competition and then you lose your leg in a car accident so he can now beat you, are you still better or is he? You might say that’s unfair as a comparison but that is what sport is all about; comparison, and as the saying goes: ‘the source of all unhappiness is comparison’.

To denigrate the martial arts into a spectator sport diverts peoples’ minds from its true worth, as do all sports, divert us from what is really important in our lives. Sports are trivial and spectating is even more so. They create barriers and separations between teams, towns and nations. Now, you might think this is a bit harsh and that’s ok, but what does sport actually do to improve us? Many sporting enthusiasts say it gets kids off the street, teaches courage, gets people healthy and the like. But the downside of sport teaches bad behaviour, cheating, and winning at any cost. In short, I feel sport brings out the worst in us, not the best and the martial arts, properly studied and examined has no place for it.

My martial arts are for personal development, not to compare me against another person, but to compare me to who I once was. I am the only true measure to compare myself to. So, forget sport because it is appealing to your weak egotistical side and you will not develop anything useful through it. Sure, you might get fit but you don’t need sport to do that. Focus your martial arts on your own development and then on helping others to do the same. Avoid comparing yourself, except against yourself because that is the only way you can truly progress.

Have a great day

Chief Master Tony Higo