Being a Martial Artist isn’t completely akin to being just an athlete – while both designations require a high physical demand in combination with mental focus, there is – in my own mind – a level of spiritual attunement that takes Martial Arts a step further.
I’ve been an athlete my whole life – for better or worse I have always identified myself with my athletic endeavors. Extracurricular activities were equally as committed to as my studies growing up – I didn’t train here or there, I was “on” five to seven days a week, multiple hours a day, interspersing my training with homework and school time. To many, I didn’t “have a life.” I still managed to get to sleepovers and do “kid” things, but I was up well before the group and off to the ice rink while they still caught their Zs.
I guess there were a few days I minded – in the dead of winter, 5 am looks a lot like midnight…and it feels that way too! But MOST of the time, I loved it. I had my own routine, and my own sense of uniqueness. I felt empowered, strong, and enjoyed having the physical outlet for my ridiculous Geminian energy, and my sometimes awkward way with expression (that is to say, movement was as much a language to me as English! Ask a dancer, and he or she will understand what I mean.) Other kids maybe slept later, or hung out until the wee hours when I had to be back in bed…but at the end of the day, being an “athlete” meant more to me than being like everyone else.
My circle of friends was relatively small, no question – there were days when I wondered what it was like being the most popular kid in class but. . . It was short-lived. The prospect of worrying more about what I wore to school every day didn’t really have room on my list of things to do, nor did who asked who out – I simply wasn’t on that wavelength. My best friends very much included my coach, a skating buddy or two, my parents, and a gymnast. Oh! And I had a horse riding friend also. Shocking, I know – another athlete! Life wasn’t exactly the same for us as it was our peers – the time commitment, for one, was massive. The friends I had were those who suffered the same constraints I did so we had an understanding by default (no, I really DID have to miss that birthday party because of a competition!)
Being an athlete also required an enormous physical demand – maintaining that level of training and impact at 38? Not going to happen. Eight Marital Arts classes a week, two days of HIIT cardio, and three to five lifting is MORE than enough. It was something to behold, for sure, and I am extremely proud of my body for getting me through it.
Add to those two hefty components (the commitment of body and time) the ability to focus the mind – not only for competition, but for training in general. There were plenty of days of pushing through feeling under the weather, bleeding feet, strains, sprains…even a collapsed lung. It was absolutely vital that we spent time visualizing, and keeping our mind sharp – on ice in particular, being “out of it” could be incredibly dangerous.
There was something else, though… An entirely other layer that seduced me from the get go – one that I dare say was evident when I performed. When I watched top athletes I could always see the difference in “spiritual” commitment. ALWAYS. It wasn’t that the skater did, or didn’t, love the sport – most all of us were infected with intense ardor from an early age. It was more so that some were devoted on another level... Not just mind, not just body…but soul. It wasn’t “spiritual” in an ecclesiastical way, but rather the presence of a transcendent passion. They weren’t skating to music, they were the music. That, for me, was what made all the difference. I didn’t want to just hit my elements…I wanted to string together each movement into a story that those with loss of their senses could still feel and understand.
In Martial Arts, such a level of dedication is – I’d argue – required. Being a Martial Artist isn’t just about attendance, accomplishing the moves, passing tests, or breaking boards. It isn’t just about being able to focus the mind on a task at hand, pushing through, and staying on point. And it isn’t about getting a rank and calling it quits.
You can DO Martial Arts, absolutely. To be a true “Martial Artist,” though, I (again, personally) feel as though the soul connection has to be there. So yes, in my mind, I am eliminating the guys who get in a ring a kick ass but don’t do it for any reason beyond beating someone else (at their game, or literally.)
There are plenty of sports where you can sneak by without that soul connection – even in the most aesthetically-based, such as dancing and figure skating. You can still complete the technical components, and maybe do okay with the artistic portion. The average spectator very likely won’t notice the difference. I guess in Martial Arts that can happen too…but then it isn’t really Martial Arts, it’s strictly striking, grappling, whatever…
Being an athlete is something to be proud of – it takes WORK. It’s blood, sweat, and tears…peppered with (hopefully) some laughs. Depending on the level (and the nature of the specific Art), Martial Arts requires that practitioners are athletes – the conditioning dictates it by default.
But. . .to BE a Martial Artist really means devotion beyond the physical and mental – it’s a layer (or several) beyond just saying “this is my sport.”
Being a Martial Artist is something that will permeate your Life, and remain “true” for all your years – it is a lifestyle. It is a way of being, thinking, acting, existing. The lessons we learn, and strive to perfect, belong to a pursuit that extends well beyond our age and body – one of the reasons I say to people that Martial Arts is “timeless.”
My sports and activities – figure skating, dance, weight lifting etc – those things take a toll eventually. We get to a point where we can’t continue nearly at the same level. But in Martial Arts, we somehow get better with age, regardless of having to potentially tone it down – there are so many layers beyond the “seen” that movement, ability, learning, philosophy etc…continues undeterred. We become wiser and more balanced, not just stronger, more agile, more fluid with our movement. I feel like those who have become impossibly proficient are not just skilled, they are IN it – they are tied to the activity with heart and soul, not just the desire to get better. They become the Art.
That undercurrent is very much the one that finally got me to start – I wanted to do Martial Arts forEVER but was so inundated with demands from extracurricular sports, school, and then work that it was put on the burner. For a long time.
In my early 30’s I revisited the “if I get injured and can’t dance, what ‘sport’ will I be able to continue with..?” It was a very real issue when deciding between figure skating and college – I took the later path knowing that one derailment could cause a massive ripple effect later, leaving me in the dust of my peers. After sitting with the thought a while, I manned up and marched into a Dojang – a decision that changed my Life forever.
I incidentally did get injured – through Martial Arts. It incidentally DID take me out of ballroom competition for good. But somehow I have been able to continue – no matter the modifications, I am still growing, learning, AND contributing (the most amazing part.) I will for as long as I take it and I hope – though the capacity might change – that I will forever.
The injuries I sustained would have (very likely) completely ended my career in figure skating, possibly ballet…definitely ballroom (because it did!) But Martial Arts – with its countless facets – offers me the promise of maintaining my athleticism along with mental growth, emotional intelligence, and spiritual attainment. It takes being an athlete to a whole other level and I LOVE that. I know that even when I have to do a little bit less physically, I can still reap the rewards of the sport – as a sport – without having to throw in the towel before I am ready (which will be NEVER!) 🙂
My Martial Arts and Dance album…