Martial Arts

The Happiness and Fulfilment Behind the Image

Many martial artists are concerned deeply about the image their individual art and the arts as a whole receive. The arts themselves or aspects of them have beensubject, from time to time, to sensationalist stories in the press and an inaccurate and often damaging view has been put forward about who we are and what we do. As a result, the general public and those in authority have a misguided opinion; and the benefits which martial arts have, to the individual and in the wider sense, society as a whole, are not recognised, or if they are, then they are not taken seriously.

The image projected is generally one of violence. Stories have been reported of attacks involving, “Samurai swords” and “Ninja throwing Stars”, which whilst appalling to everyone, in all probability did not involve trained martial artists, yet it is exactly that section of our society which suffers as a result of these stories. Of course the stories should be reported, but the tenuous link to the martial arts adds nothing to the facts, yet it is seized upon and highlighted.

This perception must be reversed, but the only true way this can be achieved is by education of how martial arts can be of real benefit to a person’s whole being. As martial artists we should relish the opportunity to show the world the enlighten way of the martial arts and to ensure that we show our arts and ourselves in the best light, with integrity and dignity. Like any other art form, be it painting, dance or acting we should celebrate in what we do and what we have to offer society. Attitudes will not change if martial artists adopt a “laissez faire” approach.

Master Simon Lau is engaged heavily in changing the misconception surrounding the martial arts in the Western World. Master Lau was born in Mainland China and having been educated by Buddhist Monks began studying martial arts at the age of 7.

After studying at Alberta University Edmonton, Canada he moved to London, England. Not only is Master Lau a world renowned Master of Wing Chun Kuen, he is also a Master of Qigong, a Dr of Chinese Medicine and a qualified Acupuncturist.

The Simon Lau Centre opened in London in 1990 and Gothenburg, Sweden in 1995. Throughout his career Master Lau has selectively taken part in both television and magazine work in an effort to raise the profile of Martial Arts in the West. He was featured as the Wing Chun Kuen Master in the BBC TV Documentary film, ” The Way of the Warrior” and also in Goldcrest’s series, “The Living Body”. He has also appeared in “Combat”, the UK’s best selling martial arts magazine and Sweden’s best selling martial arts magazine, ” Fighter”.

Master Lau recently addressed the Cambridge University Union on the relationship between moral, social, cultural and spiritual human energy and the development and enhancement of the inner treasure, which is made up of: vision, gift, talent, and natural resource. This development is necessary in order to lead a way of life in which there is enough interaction with other people to enjoy a happy life. Master Lau is due shortly to present the same seminar to the Oxford University Union. He is the first martial artist to have been invited to talk at these famous seats of learning.

Master Lau and his instructors are also undertaking the huge task of speaking at schools and colleges in an attempt to provide tuition designed to eradicate bullying from the system. Some may argue that bullying will never be extinguished and without education that argument is probably correct; but with education the possibilities should never be underestimated.

Master Lau is also active abroad, having recently returned from a trip to Sweden and Norway where he has given interviews to the national press and television stations. He has also been invited to lecture at the University of Gothenburg.

Master Lau believes that attitudes and misconceptions will only change by actively taking steps to bring to the public’s attention the celebration of the martial arts. Only once the happiness and fulfilment has been revealed and there is an inner treasure will the arts and their beauty receive wider recognition.

Little thought is given to the links between the practise of martial arts and the skills of healing and medicine. Yet, traditionally, where there was one there was the other. Many Chinese Masters (and no doubt others), such as Master Lau are ably qualified in these fields also. The practise of Qigong assists in maintaining health and well being and the development of energy and in cases of injury or general ill health the Masters could assist in the healing process of their students. This is an important element of martial arts, but it is often sadly ignored.

The common misconception is that martial arts are concerned only with techniques and physical training leading to the ultimate goal of being a mysterious and deadly fighter. Inextricably linked to this is the belief that somehow martial artists are a dangerous and perhaps even violent breed. This image has been encouraged by the proliferation of martial arts films, which are by their very nature violent. It should not be forgotten that these films are for entertainment and whilst they are a platform for showing the world an incredible array of martial arts techniques they do not represent the truth. It is no surprise then that the general public is confused.

Any serious martial artist knows that the true expression of any martial art is not violence towards another. Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, wrote in his work, “Tao Te Ching”:

“Weapons are the tools of violence;

all decent men detest them.

Weapons are the tools of fear;

a decent man will avoid them

except in the direst necessity

and, if compelled, will use them

only with the utmost restraint.

Peace is the highest value.

If the peace has been shattered,

how can he be content?

His enemies are not demons,

but human beings like himself.

He does not wish then personal harm.

Nor does he rejoice in victory.

How could he rejoice in victory,

and delight in the slaughter of men?

He enters a battle gravely,

with sorrow and with great compassion,

as if he were attending a funeral.”

This viewpoint is one, which ought to apply to any martial arts regardless of style or whether the art is weapon based or empty handed. The skills acquired through diligent training go further than the mere application of fighting techniques. Of course, martial artists should not forget their heritage and it must be remembered that the word, “martial” relates to warfare and to the practise and development of fighting skills. But this does not mean that the goal ought to be to acquire these skills with the intention of using them when any possible opportunity presents itself. A trained martial artist will, naturally, be equipped to make use of them, if the circumstances dictate that it is absolutely essential; subject to a number of factors, which fall outside the ambit of this article. But the martial arts have much more to offer both to the individual and to society as a whole.

It is fundamentally incorrect to link martial arts to violence. Master Lau advocates tough training for his students and anyone fortunate enough to watch his class would be witness to that fact. His students are required to perform with total dedication and in certain circumstances with controlled aggression, but this is not the same as violence. Master Lau instils in his students, from the very beginning that violence is ugly and undignified and it most certainly would not be tolerated within the school.

Of course it is a fact of life that society does have its violent elements, but it begs the question would the sort of person who enjoys inflicting violence on another be willing to undergo the training regime required to become even moderately competent in a martial art? There can be no absolute answer and there are always exceptions but it is highly unlikely; afterall, why bother when the same result can be achieved by picking up a bottle or a glass and turning that on a would be victim. It takes absolutely no training whatsoever to be violent, but far from advocating this behaviour the martial arts, if practised in an enlightened way, will develop self-discipline and a feeling of respect for both the “self” and for others.

Martial arts training will, if practised with serious intent, ultimately lead to a thorough understanding of the “self”. Only through training will it be possible to realise our strengths and weaknesses and conquer the biggest fear in all of us and that fear is oneself: fear is bred through lack of knowledge and to overcome this we must be willing to learn our limitations. Once this is realised, the path to self-understanding will open before us and we will no longer be afraid of who we are or what we can or cannot achieve. In essence, continued training will allow us to conquer our own inner fears, we will feel at ease with ourselves and acquire a deeper understanding of who we are and true confidence, not arrogance, will project itself externally. Growth will continue peacefully and the desire to satisfy the ego and to prove ourselves to those around us will vanish. Without this self-realisation those with violent tendencies will continue to harbour inner misgivings and whenever they feel intimidated or threatened will use violence as an outlet; an enlightened martial artist will not.

One of the fundamental benefits of martial arts training is discipline. A practitioner of martial arts, will have to cultivate internal discipline i.e. will power, if he wishes to truly progress in his chosen art.

Internal discipline is mental energy, which must be cultivated before physical energy can flow unhindered. Of course the body requires fuel and rest, before the physical being can operate effectively, but that is only part of it; without mental energy i.e. the will, little will ever be achieved.

We are all human and therefore, have differing priorities in life, but it is all too easy to make excuses not to train, yet without internal discipline the martial artist will never progress along the path of a mere technician. The motivation for internal discipline is the desire not to let ourselves down. If internal discipline is present, external discipline i.e. the physical execution of the movements will follow and with time the technique will be performed without conscious effort and a true martial artist will emerge. We will no longer be training in our chosen art, but rather will become it.

The cultivation of internal discipline is essential not only in martial arts, but in all walks of life. Without this discipline, which sadly seems to have been lost in many, people will not grow and will never realise their full potential. The martial arts, if practised with vigour can act as a catalyst for restoring this discipline, which will then overflow into all aspects of life, be it interaction with others, work or pleasure.

Martial arts training also leads to the improvement of fitness and health. The two are often confused as being one but there is a clear difference, which must be appreciated. If you are unfit then martial arts training will help in the development of your fitness, but if you are unhealthy it will not necessarily lead to improved health. Fitness as a concept is concerned with measurable factors such as physical training and exercise leading to improved strength, flexibility and stamina. Health as a concept is made up of physical, emotional and spiritual health and is made up of immeasurable factors such as will power and determination and is affected by whatever is predominant in our lives at the time. If we are suffering from stress or other emotional problems our health will, of course suffer.

There are unfortunately barriers to the development of health and the journey to achieving it is often long and fraught with difficulties, but the voyage is not impossible and the ultimate destination can be reached. The Master or instructor of martial arts has a duty to educate his students on how it can be achieved.

In essence, internal and external discipline, as outlined above, must be cultivated by re-balancing the body and reclaiming natural energy such as self-control, self-confidence and the understanding of our will, strength and position. Negative emotions must be conquered, for example by not setting unrealistic ideals and standards in our training, which will lead to discouragement, complacency or loss of hope. Instead we should set our ideals and give ourselves realistic standards by which to judge our development: life is not a sprint race, pace yourself! This will lead to the emergence of positive thought and attitude, which will then colour everything we do in life. The martial arts are an excellent tool for enabling us to achieve this state in many aspects of our existence. In turn our physical, emotional and spiritual health will improve.

If the negative state prevails it will lead to a bullying attitude; in contrast, knowledge and application of internal and external discipline will result in us balancing our needs with the needs of others. If we can develop in this way we will not live in fear of constant attack from a hostile force and we will develop the courage and ability to defend and protect the boundary of the inner self so that life within it can flourish and grow.

This can be experienced through concentration, relaxation and simple breathing exercises, which will enable our minds to be still. Our self-awareness and feelings of self-worth will increase and we will have better feeling and manner.

It is important for us to understand that the real benefit and meaning of martial arts is the improvement in our moral, social, cultural and spiritual values. Physical training is only part of the discipline; we must consider the ancient philosophy, which goes to the root of all martial arts. Through education and learning we will ultimately develop a greater respect for ourselves and for others and will be ready to accept total responsibility for all of our actions.

We will learn that it is impossible to impose our will on others and that we should not seek to do so; the secret is to master ourselves. This can only be achieved if we have a deep understanding of the “self” which will then enable us to live our lives in harmony with those around us. If we do not know ourselves how can we possibly hope to understand others? To quote from the Tao Te Ching:

” Knowing others is intelligence;

knowing yourself is true wisdom.

Mastering others is strength;

mastering yourself is true power.”