Tuesday, August 12, 2014

TROY-KWON-DO: When a Fighter Is No Longer a Martial Artist

In the martial arts world, we have many ongoing debates.  What is a Black Belt and what does it mean?  Traditional or Modern Martial Arts?  Today, I'd like to address another one of those debates - "martial arts" versus "fighting".  For the purposes of this post, I'll focus on the MMA being the modern representative of "fighting", although of course I could have chosen boxing, or pure Muay Thai, or a number of other examples of fighting.

To better define what exactly Martial Arts are I did a comparison of two pieces of literature. I used Musashi’s Book of Five Rings as my representative of Martial Arts and Sam Sheridan’s A Fighter’s Heart as my “MMA” representative.

The reason for these 2 books in particular is that I believe both are good representatives to two sides of the coin. Musashi’s book follows a philosophy similar to my own Martial Arts and many other styles that follow an “honor code” of some form or another. Sheridan is a renowned journalist who immersed himself into different fighting circles and wrote about his experience. It boils down to this... when is fighting considered martial arts? Or when are martial arts just fighting?

Martial Arts are nothing without purpose and restraint. If being in Martial Arts for as long as I have has taught me anything – it is when NOT to fight. So how can “fighting” teach you not to fight? It comes down to this order and restraint. Knowing when it is okay to fight and having the strength to make the right decision.

I love MMA and hate it at the same time. It is fun to watch, the fighters are phenomenal, but the “fan-base” it has generated makes me sick. I figured having a natural distaste for something was like an open door to learn… so here ya have it:

Analysis of “The Book of Five Rings” in contrast to “A Fighter’s Heart”

NOTE: First off I would like to state that I am not comparing the literary skills or laurels of either writer. Musashi was a legendary warrior (and what I read is one of several different translations), Sam Sheridan is a modern day Journalist/MMA enthusiast. There is no comparison between the achievements of the two. I am simply comparing the mindset of a “martial artist” and the mindset of a “fighter”, using these two acclaimed pieces of literature as my vantage point.

I began this literary journey with two large biases.

Bias 1: I believe strongly in our student creed and what it represents. “To build true confidence through knowledge in the mind, honesty in the heart and strength in the body. To keep friendships with one another and to build a strong and happy community. Never fight to achieve selfish ends, but to develop might for right”. I try my best to follow it in and out of the dojo. I imagine every reader has their own form of this creed, even if it was never officially written down. Musashi’s “Book of Five Rings” spoke to me on a very personal level. It was like reading gold. His message, his methods, his teachings, all spoken perfectly. Too easy to accept. Cover to cover, each lesson between- memorized. His writings on honor, how to live, how to think, how to not think; I was hypnotized almost by the book simply because of how much it related to my views, enhancing them.

Bias 2: Over the years I have enjoyed watching MMA fights with my family. As it grew into a mainstream sport with graphical shirts, beer advertisements, and star athletes, I began to realize a divide in “mixed martial arts” and “martial arts”. When people think martial arts they think of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid. When people think of MMA, they think of the same fighting you do outside the bar. I can’t stand a lot of what has happened to the honor of the sport. There is a limited number of people who truly understand what it is to be a martial artist, I try daily to be worthy of that title. My bias was disgust in mainstream cage fighting and its poisoning of the sport. Not MMA itself, but its following. The guys that think their graphic tee-shirts make them a fighter. Yes the actual athletes are talented, yes the actual athletes can fight, yes they have heart, but many of them are not martial artists.

You know who you are.

Might For Right > Might For Money

Off the bat, both books had me hooked. They agree that martial arts, no matter what style, has the same brutal yet passionate allure to it. Something inside the human mind is drawn to struggle. Cages, sports fields, boxing rings, the Circus Maximus (an arena in Rome), all display the same thing- human struggle.

The struggle is the human desire to become the predator from prey. Humans are not equipped with claws, or fangs, or other natural weapons. We survived by sticking together, and using our greater intelligence as a weapon. People identify with this. When fans of a sports team talk about the season, they say “WE should have done this”, or “WE won the big game”, even though they are not actually physically part of the team. This identity, this struggle, is what brings us together and is our reason for fighting. It all boils down to one detail, being the predator.

This is where fighting and martial arts split. Musashi states that to fight well, you must achieve an emptiness of mind, a sort of spiritual and mental superiority over your physical being. There is a lifetime of practice in order to let go, and it is done through inner peace. The martial arts is as much as a mental exercise, as is a physical one.

At least three of the people here are mentally visualizing kicking your butt.

Sheridan talks about the brutality of his training. He felt fear and fatigue and many other negative emotions. It was not a peaceful place, even out of training. His apartments were poor, and the people he was around were not the best of sorts.

Interestingly enough it seems that they both met a similar “ending”. (The journey is never really over, I am using this figuratively.) Their “ending” is that they both learned an inner calm about themselves.

Musashi did so through patience and mental training, Sheridan did so by ignoring those feelings and grinding it out. Though the methods of both martial arts and fighting were very different, they ultimately come to the same revelation.

In essence, Martial Arts and fighting can be the same thing. It is how and when we use it that separates us. Martial Artists offer restraint, something Beer-Chugging-Baddass-Billy doesn’t have time for and it certainly wouldn’t make him look Alpha at the bar. So he sides with the performance fighters, the gladiators, the ones that look tough on the outside. The scariest dude on the planet is the calm quiet martial artist who doesn’t buy into that crap. But it’s hard to know who that is – so let’s put those TapOut shirts on!

Then why is it that the onlookers of both are so different? It is simple: they are on-lookers. This is put best in a poem by Domingo Ortega.

Bullfight critics ranked in rows
Crowd the enormous Plaza full
But only one is there who knows
And he's the man who fights the bull.

Both of these books are amazing reads. Sheridan’s book really helped me put some strong negative feelings about MMA to rest. He has helped me see it for what it is. There will always be on-lookers, but few who “know”.

Not pictured here: fighters.

The only time I was ever part of an amateur MMA bout really showed the dirty truth of cage fighting. Going up in the ranks is brutal and fighters are often miss-matched for various reasons. It was a very tense place with a lot of negative emotions. Then you mix in some “Martial Arts” and some rowdy drunk folks needing to flex their egos. It’s definitely a dangerous place. Lots of people with lots to prove, in and out of the cage. Like I said, the concept of MMA is beautiful – it’s the people who dirty it up. And it’s not the fighters…

No matter what you practice Martial Arts for, always remember to carry yourself with respect and be humble. Forget those things and you become the TapOut shirt wearing, beer chugging badass at the bar looking to prove he’s tougher than everyone else (the funny thing is, he usually isn't).

 Martial Arts are a terrible thing to waste.

Troy Seeling is a 1st degree black belt and instructor in Tae Kwon Do, with 5 years experience in Boxing and a two-year white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Troy also instructs a strength and fitness class, and helps to manage his families' dojo, North Texas Karate Academy  In his spare time, he enjoys trying different forms of physical fitness, including Olympic weight lifting and distance running. He also enjoys film photography with antique cameras.  You can contact Troy at troyseeling@aol.com.

Ed note: Opinions in "Troy-Kwon-Do" posts are those of Troy Seeling, and I don't always agree. I'm off to burn all of my TapOut gear now...  -The Stick Chick