Do you have to be a good fighter to be a good martial artist?

My friend Lawrence Tan of Tandao Kung Fu posed the following question on Facebook:

Question: Do you have to be a good fighter to be a good martial artist?

I think that this is a good question to ask.  I’ve thought about this question a bit today since he asked it and I think that it is worth it for me to answer.  In trying to answer this, two other questions came up.  “Why do I train?” And “what is the definition of a good fighter?”

So, Why do I train?  I train to explore movement in a martial context.  I use the mat as my laboratory of learning how to address conflict in my life, how to be able to perform a technique, take a fall, work hard, build community, enjoy interaction, sharpen my awareness, teach and learn both junior and senior members of my dojo, relate my martial experience of timing, rhythm, performance, awareness, to my other passion: my guitar.  I train to be better at life.  I train to live fully, in the moment, with joy and happiness for me and those around me.

Our founder,  Morehei Ueshiba O Sensei proclaimed “Matsugatsu agatsu katsuhayabi”, True victory is victory over one’s self, right here right now.  this is an ideal I try to live with everyday.  The more I train, the closer I get to this ideal.  I realize that I am human.  I can be an ass, I will get mad, and be irrational.  But I can also view my path and see that the longer I’ve trained, the less prone I am to letting my anger get the best of me.   I ultimately train for progress along this path, not perfection.

On the subject of what makes a good fighter, Well, there are the obvious things.  For the physical and obvious mano e mano, “two men enter, one man leaves”, it would be speed, strength, agility, passion, and the ability to draw from a huge arsenal of techniques.  But there are many ways to define a fight, and those not so obvious definitions of how we use the word “fight” that I factor in in answering this question.  We fight for causes, for actions, for rights, for acceptance, love and tolerance.

Many of us that train in martial arts will not get into a physical altercation, but we have much fight in our lives to win everyday.  Sometimes the fight is against our own initial reaction to flip someone the bird.  Sometimes the fight is to sit with our emotions and be present over the loss of a loved one, where we may want to give in to alcohol, drugs or other destructive habits that would consume us in our grief.

So, after a bit of thought, I would say, in answer to the question, “Do you need to be a good fighter to be a good martial artist?” I would say yes, absolutely.  But I think that we should think about the elements of the fight, and maybe expand our definition to include ALL of the things we fight for and fight against.



One Comment Add yours

  1. Sheila Ribeiro says:


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