What’s the point in learning a martial art?

I do ask myself sometimes. I mean why do I get hit, bruised and thrown about each week? I guess the standard answer is that, if the worst comes to the worst, you will be able to defend yourself. I mean it’s a nice idea, but if the worst does come to the worst, you are far better running. In fact, you are much more likely to attract aggression, if people think you can handle yourself to begin with. By learning a martial art you may invite the challenge. Plus, as well trained as you might be, dealing with weapons is not something you want to get into. The same is true with large groups or gangs of three or more. Dealing with these variables is easier on the training floor than in reality.

I might be unusual in that I’m not looking for real life applications from my martial art. It seems that using any techniques you may have learnt for self defence purposes may just go badly wrong. I always think a martial art like Aikido is much better suited for actual self-defence. I mean you just want to break a hold and depart, much more than that and you’re the problem, hardly a solution. Sure, proficiently in a martial art might give you a confident swagger, I know a number of people working in finance who like the alpha buzz of perfecting say your Krav Maga or Brazilian jujitsu in their spare time.

Getting my alpha on has never really been my motivation, nor has the self-defence angle. I like the rhythm of Kung Fu, I like its close connection to Buddhism, and I like its self-discipline. Robert Downey Jr. used Wing Chun as a means by which to escape addiction and turn his life around, though admittedly from a position of extreme privilege and wealth. Under his Sifu, Eric Oram, Downey Jr. found a discipline and a mindfulness, which allowed him to set his demons to rest.

Wing Chun is a particularly cerebrally engaging martial art, similar to a chess game played out in fast motion. It takes complete concentration and application. Yet, rolling hand techniques, specifically Chi Sau, require concentration for protracted periods. Focus must be maintained as the two quest at one another’s technique in search of an advantage. It is perhaps this high requirement of focus, which has made Wing Chun so ameliorative to Downey Jr.

A martial art can offer many benefits. In my case, Wing Chun needed to offer something less tangible, but something that could shape my life experience more generally. Joe Rogan often talks about how Brazilian jujitsu provides a constant reality check for him each time he hits the mat. There is a truth to this, martial arts don’t happen in your head, putting yourself alongside another person is about as real as it gets. It’s a sharp pinch of reality that takes you out of your daydream and into the here and the now. It’s being present, because you have to be present and you have to be engaged. It’s not a world in which you can build false realities, because, as soon you do, you will be found out. So I suppose, to answer the initial question, we learn a martial art because it feels honest and it makes you honest with yourself.

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