The martial arts are about brutal fighting, right? Well, yes and no.
Certainly alongside sex, fighting is probably the second oldest form of interpersonal relationship and as such provides the dark side of the human mirror. However, being so old a good deal of thought has gone into improving techniques. In the west this has evolved into a search for mechanistic solutions leading to more powerful weapons and with this has come a distancing of the combatants from the deaths they cause. Martial arts in the west on a one to one level have been modified into sports such as boxing, wrestling, fencing, or side-tracked completely into games such as football. They have largely become outlets for competitive energy, safe challenges or ways to keep a body fit and make it live longer. They are many other things too, to participants and spectators alike (not the least of which is being part of our growing leisure (sic) industry, but they have generally been rendered “safe”. The element of life and death has been addressed and as far as possible removed.
In the east however (and elsewhere) it seems that for many cultural reasons a different path was followed. The adoption of technical solutions was relatively delayed and the idea of personal combat came to be seen in stark terms connected to and integral with all aspects of life. Not just a library of techniques or a physical solution to a problem but a way of being, of living and of becoming. In short, a path of personal development.
Once we look inward to ourselves in the martial arts we are on dangerous ground, for they are one of the few human activities which combine all our facets and require only our naked selves. We begin to use the intellect and the body in combination with the raw emotions of our spirituality.
It has been said that many roads lead to the top of the mountain of life. This is one road that often attracts with an outer show of external power, and for many this is enough, but once our needs for self defence have been met (and in modern society these are after all fairly minimal) then there is often a feeling of anticlimax, a gap. It is here that many stop.