Lessons in Mindfulness 2.1

There are great

  martial artists

    of all styles;

     it is not the

 style that made

 them great, but

    rather their

      own effort

  combined with

      decades of



Style vs. Style

Martial arts has always had a very broad meaning. Martial

arts may refer to karate, aikido, judo, ju jitsu, kung fu,

tai chi, tae kwon do, hapkido, kendo — in fact, there are

hundreds, perhaps thousands of styles of martial arts. Some

are well-developed, well known styles taught in schools

internationally, while many styles are indigeneous to a

specific rural village, taught and practiced only there for

centuries and unknown to the rest of the world. Some

arts specialize in kicking, while other focus on hand strikes

and trapping. Some are throwing arts and others grapple

— concentrating primarily on ground fighting. Although

these styles and systems vary in origin — coming from China,

Okinawa, Japan, Korea, as well as from other countries

throughout Asia and elsewhere — they all teach martial

technique, either empty handed or with a weapon.

Only a small number of these styles have successfully

migrated to America, and only a fraction of those have

come to the general public’s awareness. A particular style

gains popularity almost exclusively through the media —

specifically movies and TV — quickly gains a small following

and grows in popularity only when it is successfully marketed

or championed by a Hollywood star or professional athlete.

Modern History

The popularity of martial arts in the West over the past 50

years has its roots in the experiences of military servicemen

returning to the U.S. at the end of the Korean War in the

early 1950’s. Exposed for the first time to traditional Asian

forms of empty-handed fighting and self defense, these

combat-trained soldiers were as facinated by its efficiency

and effectiveneess as they were by its grace. Returning

servicemen were among the first westerners in the U.S. to

open martial arts schools.

The relative popularity of various martial arts styles has risen

and fallen with the times. Throughout the 1950s and 60s, the

Judo craze mesmerized audiences with throws and locks. By

the late 1960s and 70s, we saw the rise of Karate, a powerful

striking art, and Kung Fu, popularized by Bruce Lee and,

later, by the American TV series of the same name. Hundreds

of thousands of students throughout the U.S. flocked to

dojos to learn these mysterious new fighting arts. Words like

ninja and sensei entered the general English vocabulary.

In the 1980s, a Korean art – Tae Kwon Do — burst upon

the scene. One master was asked, “How did Tae Kwon Do

become so popular?” His reply? “If I break a brick with my

hand, it looks good, but if I throw a brick in the air and break

it with a kick – that looks more impressive. Americans want

to be able to defend themselves, but they also want to look

good doing it.” Martial arts-inspired fight scenes became

more and more prevalent in mainstream Hollywood movies.

A whole generation of kids grew up watching the animated

TV show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Martial arts is

a way of human



by people all

over the world.

 If you can beat

 up everyone in

   the world but

 cannot control


    you will have

missed the point

      of practice


No-Holds-Bared Competition

In the 1990s, the popularity of Brazilian Ju Jitsu coincided

with the introduction of Ultimate Fighting, a contest that

claimed to settle the age-old question, “Which martial art is

the best?” Ultimate Fighting promised to end speculation,

conjecture and arguments; it would all be settled in a cage.

And, after winning match after match, Brazilian Ju Jitsu, as

practiced by the Gracie family, consistantly came out on top,

appearing to be the style to beat. Ten years later, Ultimate

Fighting has become an international sport, watched by

millions around the world. Top competitors train hard, and

Brazilian Ju Jitsu is just one successful style among many.

Today, there are as many knock-outs as tap-outs. Grapplers

are punching and strikers are grappling. It can be said that

the lasting legacy of the Gracie family was to make the

martial arts world address the issue of what to do when you

are taken to the ground. Ultimate Fighting has become much

less a contest of style vs. style, and much more a test of one

particular fighter’s ability vs. another’s.

Given this history, it is easy to understand that people who

have never studied martial arts see the entire practice as

fighting. It’s only natural. Martial arts were introduced to

the West in general and to the U.S. in particular by former

soldiers who viewed the art as an effective mean of self-

defense. And, if you view these as fighting arts, then it’s no

surprise that the question arises, “If one style fought another,

which would win?”

If you think about it, you’ll see that the question itself is

beside the point. All authentic styles and systems teach

self defense skills necessary to take a confrontational

situation under control or allow you to defend yourself if

attacked. But people are rarely attacked in everyday life by

professional fighters, or by trained martial artists. Most attacks

are perpetrated by a punk or thug with a quick temper, often

under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. So, which style is

the most effective? From a self-defense perspective, virtually all

authentic styles will work.

Sport, Science or Art

Of course, the longer you study martial arts — any style of

martial arts — the longer you practice, the more apparent

it becomes that it is so much more than fighting. In fact, the

ability to fight effectively is a mere consequence. Let’s analyze

it. If the objective of martial arts was just to successfully

compete in contests of skill, then wouldn’t it be called martial

sport? If the objective was to hone an efficient means of

fighting technique, then shouldn’t it be called martial science?

Wouldn’t we be martial technicians? But no, this has always

been designated and refered to as an art. What does it mean

to be an artist? While mastery of technique is necessary; and

desire, will and execution are expected, ultimately, artists act

to express themselves, to produce or arrange sound, color,

form, movement, or other elements in a creative manner. It

may not make for an exciting action movie, but martial arts is

about creating something of unique aesthetic value, not about

destroying your enemy.

Look at the names of several traditional styles. Judo is

translated as the gentle way. Kung Fu means achievement

through effort or wisdom through skill. Karate translates as

empty hand, although some masters say that the original

characters meant using the hand or body to empty the self.

Aikido means the way of harmony. All of the great masters,

from Tamo Bodidharma (founder of Kung Fu) in the 6th

century on, have stressed that martial arts is a path of personal

transformation that ultimately leads to self-realization.

At the deepest

level all disciplines

strive to help

the practitioners



The ego is what

  causes you to

   feel superior.

To study martial

    arts is to do

      battle with

         the ego.

Ego Enhancement is the Antithesis of Martial Arts

From this perspective, the question, which style is the most

effective? is meaningless. What reason would two martial

artists — serious martial artists who practice their art

diligently and passionately — have for fighting with one

another? Through practice, they develop the discipline and

self-control to be able to deal with most situations without

resorting to blows. The thrill of competition? If the essence of

martial arts is personal transformation that ultimately leads

to self-realization, then practice is designed to minimize and

ultimately destroy the ego. Entertaining concepts of victory

and defeat is counter-productive.

Unfortunately, today there are far too many people claiming

to be martial artists who are perpetually training for the

enhancement of their egos, for the pride of victory, boasting

that they are the toughest or that their style is the best,

ready to fight anyone that challenges them.Although these

people may be great fighters, they have not yet realized that,

in martial arts as in life itself, the real battle is within.

Never compare yourself with others.

If you must compare yourself with someone,

compare yourself with yourself yesterday.

Craig was in his 30s and had practiced martial

arts for many years. He had practiced 2 or 3

different styles and was quickly becoming bored with his

present practice. Believing that he had gotten all the he

could from his present style, he started to search again for

the ultimate system. His search led him to a small school

on the outskirts of town. Craig thought that he had visited

almost every school in the city at least once, but somehow he

had missed this one.

Craig walked into the school with the intention of

interviewing the master. He had prepared a lengthy list of

questions. This was the same list he used to confront all of his

previous instructors, as well as many others that did not pass

his test.

A friendly and professional staff member, who asked, “How

can I help you?,” immediately greeted him. Craig in an

assured, slightly arrogant tone asked to meet the master. The

staff member smiled and said, “Normally, you would need an

appointment but we just had a cancellation. Please, take a

seat and I’ll see if the master will meet with you.”

Sitting down, Craig couldn’t help but notice how quiet and

peaceful this place was. It wasn’t at all what he expected.

Everything was so neat and clean; it seemed as if everything

had its place.

It was simple and beautiful, yet Craig could tell that this

wasn’t about just being beautiful. Students practiced very

hard here. Glancing up, he noticed a wall lined with framed

photos. Some he recognized and some he didn’t, but they

Everything that

you encounter

is an aspect

of martial

arts; find the

marvelous truth


were obviously martial arts masters. The odd thing was that,

    A true artist


style and moves

     with spirit.

as far as he could tell, they came from all different styles.

Looking up at the pictures, Craig didn’t notice that the

master was now standing in front of him. He was a small and

unassuming man, yet he exuded a presence of confidence

and wisdom.

The master spoke first. “You asked to see me?”

Craig immediately stood and said, “Yes sir. I’ve practiced for

many years and I know a lot of styles and now I am thinking

about joining your school.”

Now the master, seeming a little confused, asked, “You know

a lot of styles?”

“Well,” said Craig , “I’ve practiced a lot of styles and I have

some questions for you. My first question is why should I

practice your style?”

To this the master responded, “I don’t know that you


Craig said, “Well, what I mean is , what is so great about your


The master smiled and said quietly, “Nothing.”

Craig was becoming a little frustrated now. “No, I mean what

makes your style better than other styles?”

In response, the master pointed to the wall with the

photographs and said, “These are great masters from many

different disciplines. It doesn’t matter what style you practice.

Much more important are the reasons you practice. What

these great ones have in common is that they all saw their art

as more than fighting, understood that martial arts is a path

to help people strengthen their mind, body and spirit, so

they can defeat their internal demons.”

Craig realized that, for years, he had been looking for the

greatest style, feeling that, if he found it, it would turn

him into a great martial artist. But he needed to examine

his motivation for practice as well as what he got out of

his practice. Now it seemed that the first step in being a

great martial artist was to see the practice as more than just

fighting, to understand that it is a discipline that can lead to


The only way to

develop your mind,

body and spirit is

to always practice

with your mind,

body and spirit.

In the beginning of practice, people desire

confidence and self defense skills

Once acquired, they start to see

how the art effects their life.

Even the most

  capable one

  was once a



Great Martial Artist

This month’s activity is to write about a great martial artist.

They can come from any style or discipline, an ancient master

or a contemporary master. Research his life and art or arts

that he has practiced. Include any facts that you feel are

interesting or important. Include all you can discover about

their personal philosophy — the ways in which they viewed

their art and practice beyond physical technique.

In picking someone to write about, try to avoid movie stars or

celebrities. Make your decision based on someone that you

are interested in learning about or are drawn to. Initially, you

may want to have 3 or 4 people in mind and then narrow the

field as you discover more about them. This activity can be

very exciting, and should motivate you in your own practice.

If it starts to seems like too much like a chore, you may have

picked the wrong person, so choose wisely and have fun with


Enlightenment must come little by little;

otherwise it would overwhelm.

– Idries Shah


Style vs. Style

You have practiced now for a year or more. In this time

you’ve been exposed to many new concepts, principles and

techniques. If you are practicing regularly and hard, you

should be in much better shape than when you began. You

have learned many things. You are acquiring technical skills

that once you only dreamed about. A basic technique that

seemed so difficult at the beginning, you now perform

with ease. Of course you still have a long way to go, so it is

important to remember that, at the heart of your practice,

lies the student/teacher relationship.

This is a very unique and special relationship and should be

unlike any other. Of the seven ways of becoming a great

martial artist, the first is to find a great teacher. 200 years

ago, if you wanted to study martial arts, you would have to

live in Asia and be willing to enter a temple, hermitage or

secret society, vowing to dedicate your life to the study.

In modern society, the problem is almost reversed. There

are many strip-mall masters flooding the phone books, all

claiming to be the greatest, the best, the highest-ranking

martial artist in town. Don’t fall into the trap of believing

that the grass is always greener. Focus on developing a deep,

meaningful relationship with your instructor. If you have

Students of any art

including karate-do

must never forget

the cultivation of

the mind and the


the tendency to be reserved and quiet, use this relationship


    May the


   days of your

    past be the

common days of

   your future.

as an opportunity to break through your limitation and

really let somebody know you. If you have a more outgoing

personality, remember, your instructor should never become

your buddy, pal or friend. If they do, it will only hurt your

ability to learn from them.You can find friends anywhere but

a great martial arts teacher is very special and rare.

“Karate ni sente nashi”

(There is no first attack in karate)

Recommended Reading

Strike Like Lightening – C.V. Rhoades

Martial Arts after 40 – Sang H. Kim

Herding the Ox: Martial Arts

as a Moral Metaphor – John Donohue, Ph.D