A Reflective Essay on the Study of Martial Arts


By Sensei Doreen Montesclaros

      Miyamoto Musashi once wrote that, “the true science of the martial arts means practicing them in such a way that they will be useful at any time, and to teach them in such a way that they will be useful in all things.” Throughout my experiences working in education, youth social work, and the military, I have come to certain unavoidable trains of thought and realizations to do with the art of combat and its necessity – particularly in the training, the understanding, and the application of its principles – in our day-to-day lives. I am recognizing the importance of cultivating a warrior mentality – that: “to win” attitude and objective – within each individual.  
       What is it that is most detrimental to our existence in this day and age? With the advancements of science and technology, and the organization of our first world and second world societies, we can pretty much say that the physical dangers we may face or are subject to are really no longer all that threatening, since there are systems in place to manage their physical impact and effects. A lot of us will go through life without ever having to raise a fist at anyone – be it offensively or defensively – due to the general lack of need for it. What then is the virtue of the martial arts? What is the purpose of all our training? Where is our greatest threat? Who is our most formidable opponent?  
      There is a saying that “the greatest battles in life are fought within the silent chambers of our own souls.” And it’s true isn’t it? How often do we really end up in a brawl or a fist fight everyday of our lives, as compared to the number of times we wrestle with ourselves above our emotions that cloud our judgment over crucial matters to do with work, relationships etc on a day-to-day basis? Too many to count, yes? And in all these battles within or that surrounds our very lives – psychologically, emotionally, mentally, socially, or spiritually – I ask, how many are recurrent issues? Have we in fact triumphed over them at every instance as they arose, or have we repeatedly let them get the better of us? Or even perhaps, have we really just chased them away for the time being only to have them return bigger, stronger, and complicated as ever? Really, just how effective is our defense against all of these? How well have we faired at each confrontation? We may not immediately realize the exact number of blows and cuts we’ve sustained after each encounter – since there is no blood or bruises to be seen on our bodies to make apparent their detrimental nature – yet, we can all relate to the lethargy brought about by the sapping of our strength of heart and mental fortitude over the years. This foe in fact, is masked by so many faces and forms, making it all the more illusive and deadly since we are often oblivious to it until such a time that it has consumed us completely i.e. depression, low self-esteem, and other anxieties etc. Is it not a formidable opponent indeed? Does it not make us fear for our safety and our lives – the quality of it and our happiness – in the recognition that it IS real, and that we may not be immune to it? As such, what are we to do? 
      We train. We continue to train in our martial art. We train: physically, mentally, and spiritually…to prevail, not just in physical confrontations, but also more importantly, in our very lives. We train to attain perception – to perceive the upcoming and potential confrontations, in whatever form they may choose to manifest themselves as, so that we could diffuse it before it escalates into something unmanageable and destructive.  
      Ultimately, it can be said, that it is actually the mind and the heart that we are fortifying in all our training. Why? Because when the mind is beaten, and the soul is crushed, there is no hope and defeat is as absolute as it comes – albeit, the suffering to be endured can span a lifetime as opposed to the swiftness of death in the battlefield. We can be as strong and capable as we like, but it cannot guarantee our success or victory in any given circumstance especially when the pressure is on. We understand this quite well in the military in fact. We oft see and hear of soldiers who are oh so capable – being kinesthetically gifted as well as physically endowed. Yet how many of these super soldiers get rejected or falter or breakdown completely when they attempt SAS selection? Quite a lot. How many lose their heads and become more of a liability when the pressure is up? A significant amount. How many actually live respectable and honourable lives? Only a few. For it is not the mimicking of the movements and the acquisition of skills and techniques in training that enhances our chances of success in any confrontational situation, but rather, the understanding of the principles behind them and its correct application. As we know, “perceiving the gap is very different from being able to place yourself in it; and it’s different again to be able to do something effective once in it”. All the while, the principles of self-discipline and self-mastery resonate quite heavily here. 
      So it is, that when we do decide to train in the martial arts, we must be mindful not to limit ourselves in our perspectives of its application; nor should we blind ourselves to the principles of victory so apparent in the strategies behind the techniques. We must continually reflect on our selves as we train – remembering the philosophy governing our particular practice (I our case, refer back to the Maai Hyoshi Dojos Philosophy) – so that we may see through to these governing principles and dynamics. We must then also, train continuously so that we can better understand these principles to such an extent that we can more or less instinctively generate its most appropriate and effective henkas at any given situation. In our training, we must always strive for balance of the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of it. It is a mistake to disregard the importance of training in physical combat – carried away as we are by all our intellectualizing and our inclination for the spiritual. For in fact, a mind that is weak is even easier to destroy when the body it possesses is weaker still. In addition to that, strategic principles are very abstract in nature and can therefore be easily missed or misconstrued if not put into a tangible context and examined in actuality. It all adds up. To recall what Sensei Cockell always tells our MMA fighters: “If you can breathe, you can think; if you can think, you can fight; if you can fight, you can win.” The mind cannot operate without the body, and the body is limited without the mind. So we must always remember to strengthen both aspects in training. As we know, an intelligent opponent will always seek out and attack our weaknesses, so let us always strive to fortify in all aspects so we aren’t caught off guard. As we fortify our mind and bodies and put it to the test by applying all that we know and living as we know…the more immovable our hearts become. In a nutshell, this is the secret principle and power of the martial arts. 
      In all that we do, we must not become tunnel-visioned in our training. We can so easily devote our lives to a single aspect of it, and thus derive only so little from it. We do have a tendency of seeing it as being separate to everything else in our lives. I was once counseled by a sensei to “not let ninjutsu become my life; but rather, to have ninjutsu become a part of it”.  Indeed, it’s so easy to devote our selves to specialized hobbies such as the martial arts to make up for our lack of success in the other areas of our lives; or even yet, to seek out the company of friends in the dojo to replace our crumbling relationships with partners and immediate family. Such should not be the case. “Rather than being confined to a separate dimension, martial arts should be an extension of our way of living, of our philosophies, of the way we educate our children, of the job we devote so much of our time to, of the relationships we cultivate, and of the choices we make every day” (DANIELE BOLELLI, On the Warrior's Path). We can, by virtue of our martial arts, succeed in all areas our lives if we applied the same principles we derive from it in our daily encounters – thus becoming better, healthier, and happier people. For what is the virtue of the martial arts? What is indeed the purpose of all our training? Where is our greatest threat? Who at this time is our most formidable foe? We need only look at the mirror and find all the answers in the eyes and soul of the person staring right back at us. And it then eventually becomes, exactly as the warriors of old had proclaimed it, that if you can overcome one man…you can overcome ten thousand. So let us start with ourselves. Know our enemy. Let us see into this principle, apply it a thousand ways, and improve upon the art of our lives in the simple act of doing. 
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