The beauty of martial arts
ADITI SAXENA holds a black belt in Taekwondo. She explains the beauty of this art form, and how it has given her the discipline, refinement of consciousness and moral fiber to live a life of purpose, with the balance of the spiritual and worldly aspects of existence.
Raised on Bruce Lee films, I became interested in martial arts as a kid. I grew up practicing Taekwondo, becoming a black belt 2 (there are seven levels of black belt, which we call “dan”), winning and losing many matches at the national level.
The biggest achievement I have attained with all this is understanding my spiritual side. My Taekwondo Master has played a very big role in shaping this bud into a flower, and I feel I am still blossoming as I continue to practice. I’ve tried to combine this with my spiritual life, and I realize that I was already seeded with a spiritual interest from the very first day I started practicing Taekwondo. It has not only boosted my self-confidence and made me an honest person, but has also helped in character formation by developing kindness, self-control and compassion.
The literal translation of Taekwondo is “The art (do) of kicking (tae) and punching (kwon).” It means “foot hand way.” Now, you must be wondering about the contradiction in terms; after all, the word “martial” in martial arts means “warlike” or “military.” So, how could it co-exist with the peaceful practice of spirituality? I was 7 when I insisted my parents put me in a Kungfu class in the garden opposite my society, and after two years I enrolled in Taekwondo. Since then, there has been no looking back! Even today, with work and family, I take time each day after morning meditation to practice Tai-kek and kicks, which keep me fit and fast with my reflexes.
Why learn a martial art?
There are many reasons why people turn to martial arts: Some want to defend themselves, and some join for spirituality. Everybody’s searching for meaning, as without an aim we are lost. When we fix a goal, the path appears, and to find the meaning of life we must walk the path and let life blossom from there.
When we fix a goal, the path appears,
and to find the meaning of life
we must walk the path
and let life blossom from there.
People often associate martial arts with combat, self-defense, and violence, but the combative craft is not just about flying kicks and flashy punches. The philosophy stresses peace and harmony. The real value of martial arts is helping individuals harness their natural strength.
Why is it called self-defense?
When we see someone being attacked, we don’t just think about our own safety and run away; we try to defend that person. But another aspect of martial arts is the inner dimension. You will notice that many martial arts end with the suffix “do”: Judo, Taekwondo, Aikido, Hapkido, Karate-do. Do is derived from the Chinese word Tao, which is the inner way. When someone studies martial arts, they are doing two things – learning a fighting technique and also learning mastery over the self. In the Korean art form of Taekwondo, do implies the philosophical approach to a way of life, a pathway to achieve enlightenment.
The spiritual angle
Have you ever wondered why martial arts masters always look calm and collected? The primary reason is that as they move from one level to the next, they don’t simply learn new skills to improve their movements and strength. They also begin to understand the energy flow of the body and the surroundings. They become one with the forces of life. They still face challenges, but they know how to overcome them. They know when to give due attention, patiently wait, and watch the situation, and to take action accordingly.
“Empty your mind; be formless, shapeless – like water.
Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup,
you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle,
you put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.
Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”
It is not an aggressive game; it’s a spiritual art form. Humans have brought a bad name to these arts through their behavior and wrong usage. Martial arts are connected to inner peace, movement, awareness, observation and calmness. Only when the mind is settled can we foresee what will be the opponent’s next move, and that is why we have matches and practice fight.
Over centuries, a variety of systems have been developed, practiced and spread by monks and nuns. Martial arts that are inspired by the philosophies of Hinduism and Buddhism incorporate meditation as part of the training. I grew up starting and ending each class bowing before our coach, then bowing before my seniors. It shows respect for the art, the coach, and fellow beings. It’s a sign of growing collectively together.
The key aspects taught in the first month of Taekwondo are stands, posture, how to move correctly, and learning to hold a position for more than 100 counts, including many rounds of exercises. These practices develop patience and inner core strength before getting into the real field. We were called “lions that roar” and taught to defend only when attacked. But before that, we were taught to try every possibility of handling a situation patiently. I was constantly reminded by my coach to channel energy in the right direction, and once the vision is clear the wisdom to perform will automatically come at the right time. That is exactly what happened in competitions and matches. Remember Kungfu Panda and The Karate Kid? You know what I mean.
Inner peace is a regular theme and we know very well that inner peace is achieved through training and meditation. Another reference I would give here is the movie, Doctor Strange. When you watch it from this angle, you will realize the hidden gems this art form carries.
The physical aspects that lead to enlightenment:
The true value in learning a martial art is in exploring and nurturing the inner qualities that develop, such as:
Footwork: It teaches the student about qualities and flow of energy, developing both creative and destructive potential. Hard work patterns and exercises teaches the student about balance, patience, dynamics and how to follow the intuition of the natural spirit.
Observing the opponent (looking into the eyes): This practice increases our ability to read the intention of the opponent, and helps understand body language and the next move. It increases willpower, and develops self-discipline and perseverance in the face of adversity.
The act of blocking, striking, and deflecting: It works on our energy flow, helps refine our senses and makes us alert. We develop 360-degree awareness as we start listening and communicating with everything around us, yet remain unaffected within. Energy manifests within each individual as spirit; spirit manifests in each individual as mind; and that’s how we attain stillness within.
When you see Bruce Lee’s fights, especially the blindfolded ones, so much stillness is infused in him, even when it’s a question of survival! He remains so focused without panic. His presence of mind clearly reflects in his behavior, expressions, actions, and being. It not only gives him a clear sight of who is attacking and from where, but also how to tackle the situation. Imagine if we all learned this art from an early age! Later on, when we start meditative practices, we would be prepared to continue our inner journey, as our consciousness has been refined over the years.
Taekwondo is not only an excellent method of self-defense but also a way of life to attain mastery of “Self.” Through experience, I would say it refines the ego so that we live in harmony with the living beings of this universe. Respect, humility and high morals are some of the beautiful concepts I have learned naturally as I gain more insights from this art form. Most importantly, it maintains a strong and healthy master-student relationship.
I remember receiving pearls of wisdom from my Master when he handed me the black belt certificate. It is a covenant that all serious students of Taekwondo are encouraged to live by:
Be willing to go where the going may be tough and do the things that are worth doing, even though they are difficult.
Be gentle to the weak and tough to the strong.
Be content with what you have in money and position, but never in skills.
Always finish what you begin, be it large or small.
Be a willing teacher to anyone, regardless of religion, race or ideology. Always be a giver.
Never yield to repression or threat in the pursuit of a noble cause.
Teach attitude and skill with action rather than words.
Always be yourself, even though your circumstances may change.
Radiate love and positivity through your words and actions. Know that body language and eyes speak more about the inner strength we carry.
Be the eternal teacher who teaches with the body when young, with words when old, and by moral precept even after death.
My heart is filled with gratitude towards my Masters, and I feel amongst the most fortunate ones to have lived up till now, in strengthening my mind and realizing the beauty of the spirit.
Article by ADITI SAXENA
November 30, 2020
November 30, 2020
November 30, 2020