As a precursor to reading this, keep in mind that these thoughts are by no means original. They are certainly inspired by Bruce Lee, Wong Fei Hung, and other great martial artists. I am only writing this now because I have a much more fluid understanding of understanding. Through martial arts, it is possible to experience ultimate freedom, but if we aren’t careful, we may confine our art form and become static. To become a fixed and changeless artist is to reject human nature and life in general.
Don’t try to fight like someone else. Don’t find a style to imitate or compare your own to. Don’t focus on any particular form or fashion of martial arts. If you do, self discovery and self understanding are impossible. Instead of free and open expression, your movements will be restricted by limitations of right and wrong, or sameness and difference. A martial artist shouldn’t “do” they should simply “be.” A martial artist shouldn’t “think” they should simply “feel.” This is not to say that martial arts are thoughtless, only that the thoughts should come from within. Once this is achieved, genuine freedom can be experienced and complete self expression becomes possible.
For these reasons, it may be difficult for a martial artist to transition into competitive fighting. A martial artist must be, to a certain extent, self-centered. On the other hand, a competitive fighter can’t exist in an individualistic state. They must rely on, and be reliable to, those around them. Every successful team is rooted in a symbiotic relationship between teammates, trainers, and coaches. Learning, teaching, and progress should be multidirectional. No fighter, trainer, or coach is greater than the team. No part is greater than the whole. They all must function in perfect unison to be efficient and effective. If the leg moves and the foot resists, the body will fall.
A martial artist can exist without competition. It is my personal experience, however, that this is a half filled glass. This arrangement wouldn’t be “without” or “lacking” in any way, it would simply miss out on fruitful and meaningful opportunities. It would be comparable to a musician who mastered their craft in complete isolation. Who every day went and played their instrument in an open field without an ear to listen to, appreciate, or criticize the tune. When we have others to react and respond to our art, we have a deeper understanding of our self. When our self expression occurs simultaneously with another’s, we have a chance to appreciate our art from a new perspective.
It is important, then, to allow the expression of each fighter’s self in the gym. When drilling, it is easy to become fixed on the right or wrong way of doing things. However, this places limitations on a fighter that will prevent them from reaching their full potential as a true martial artist. To tell a fighter that something will or won’t “work” is ignorance. To build a fighter around a series of concrete techniques sets them up for failure. It makes them predictable, it makes them hesitant, and most of all, it makes them closed-minded. A closed-minded fighter lacks awareness and spontaneity, and without these things, a competitive fighter will never excel.