Justifying fascination of martial arts

I am a fan of the Metatron in his discussion of various topics of martial arts.  I enjoy his videos because it is obvious that he loves the martial arts in its true form, the form employed in lethal combat.   This video is interesting because he defends his passion for the martial arts in the virtue of a greater good, for example, fighting for something good: self defense, defense of family and home, defense of freedom, and so on.  Modern society is a beneficiary of battles won by people on the good side, but won using superior or overwhelming martial arts.   Thus, for this reason, we are free to admire the actual practice of martial arts, and even learn and practice it for ourselves.

Personally, I am intrigued by martial arts but not so passionate about it that I seek out training or being a spectator in sports versions of martial arts.   Although I decline to be part of the martial arts community, I have an almost instinctual respect for the notion.   I will lose in any confrontation, and as an innocent or civilian my defeat would be unjust.  Yet, there will always be a kernel of respect for the one who practiced the art, especially for the one who practices it well.

I disagree with the premise that admiration of and respect for the martial arts needs to be justified by a greater virtue of the greater good that results.  Considering most people who appreciate the details martial arts in terms of what actually works, my guess is that they admire the martial arts because of the ones who demonstrated the highest level of the art.  They admire the martial arts because of the ones who who had long careers of winning.  Throughout history, it was people on the bad side who are most represented in the individuals who demonstrated long careers of winning many battles.   We admire and seek most to emulate the ones who practiced the art well, successfully, and repeatedly.   The examples available to us are primarily from people who used the art in ways that we do not find to be just or virtuous.

Consider the examples discussed in the videos.   The battles held to be highest in social good are by definition very rare and very limited.   Most men may go through their lives without the need to personally exercise his martial arts for a just cause.  For those that do, they most often do so only once or at most a couple times.   Presuming they win, they will go back to their lives and very likely will never have to exercise this art again.

It turns out at that at pivotal points in history, the people fighting for good causes such as for freedom won their battles.  These battles changed the trajectory of history, allowing us to live the life we live today.   These battles were won by superior exercise of martial arts including battleground tactics and strategies, but this also came about because the opposing side was at the time less skilled.

I think about the example at the beginning of the video of the solitary farmer with a family working hard each day to feed his family but one day finds himself confronted by well-armed and mounted raiders.   It is set in the late medieval period where it is presumed the farmer owns some arms of his own, and has some training with them.   Presumably, he arms up and confronts a larger group who are very likely better armed and somehow wins.  I suspect he would win not be direct battle but by the mere display of his armor to convince the thieves he is not the target they are seeking.  They intended to raid someone who is not as prepared or who is caught more by surprise.

If a battle were to be had, though, I can’t see how this could have turned out well for the farmer.   He would have been heroic for his attempt, but he would end up dead, and he would have failed to prevent all of the bad things he sought to prevent.   I base this on the fact that the guy was a farmer, he spent most of his time working on his farm or raising his family.   He did not have much time to spend practicing martial arts under the direction of a master or even with a competent sparring partner.   In contrast, the band of brigands can devote more of their time practicing and enjoy constant companionship of competent sparring partners or even access to an elder master in the skills.

If the battle were to have occurred and the just battle from the farmer’s perspective was lost, the modern admirers of the martial arts will study any account of the battle to study the practices of the brigands, not the farmer.   They may fancy themselves as being the farmer’s shoes, but they arm themselves as the brigands: with better weapons, better armor, better training, better planning, etc.

The admirers of the martial arts admire the winners, and often the winners are the ones that our modern sensibilities would prefer not to have won.

There is another reason to admire the brigands’ martial arts more than the farmers.   The band of bad guys have encountered multiple battles in the past and likely many more in the future and in each time at least managed to escape alive.  The fact that they are still a band suggests that they had enough successes to encourage their continued participation as a band.

While winning a battle is a sign of martial arts skills, winning multiple battles and confidence of winning future ones is a sign of a mastery of martial arts skills.   The appreciators of the martial arts value most those who master the martial arts to consistently win in confrontations.   These are more likely to be bad guys.

In contrast to a good guy such as a law enforcement officer, the bad guys can practice their craft as regularly as they like because they are not restrained to only just battles.   They can fight whenever they want, and for whatever reason they want.   Consequently they get more practice, but they also gain more credibility by surviving battles with diverse opponents under diverse circumstances.    These are the bad people we hope will someday meet the good cop who is their match in skill, but these are also the people we will pay close attention to because they have proven their skill.

This discussion is about justifying our admiration of the martial arts.  I disagree that it is sufficient to justify our admiration by point out that good things have resulted in a few cases of the good guys having the better martial arts skills over the bad guys, or that superior martial arts won just wars.   Inferior martial arts skills may have been sufficient to have won many of those battles that marked major turning point in a modernly acceptable direction.  It is great that those battles turned out the way they did, and it is admirable that the combatants showed up and performed.   But we are still going to seek out better examples of martial arts skills and will likely find many of those among the groups we despise today.

I have a competing theory for justifying admiration of martial arts even though it was predominantly used for evil purposes.

The martial arts represents to me the default philosophy for man.  In this context, philosophy is the answers to the questions of what is reality, how can we know reality, why are we here, and what is the best way to live ones life.   Most of philosophical thoughts are advanced concepts and reasoning that implicitly argues against a default condition of a brutish animal level philosophy of simple survival.   In my limited experience of philosophy, the default brutish philosophy was presented as a strawman that was obviously incorrect for human’s superior intellect.  It doesn’t take much of an argument to say that humans should strive to be something more than brutes.

The study and practice of the martial arts illustrates that the brutish life is not so easily dismissed as a philosophy.   A martial arts master is a master philosopher who is a peer to to alternative philosophers who propose other ways to view reality and the best way to live a life.

Consider the human animal.  It has a specific anatomy that allows it work upright, with strong legs for lifting and running, with long arms for reach, with dexterous hands for fine control of movement.  The anatomy has specific potentials and vulnerabilities many of which are not known through instinct.  Meanwhile the human animal has an advanced brain that can learn knowledge through experience or training.   The default philosophy of this animal is to take full advantage of the human body: its anatomy and its brain.

The martial arts masters we admire train very diligently to build up their muscles, strengthen their bones, build up their cardio vascular health, etc.   They also use their brain to understand the anatomy to the greatest detail possible: the locations of individual bones, muscles, etc.   The martial arts uses the brain to learn to target specific muscles for training.   Also, it uses the brain to understand how the various parts of the anatomy contribute to all the possible motions of the body.   The student uses this knowledge for more focused training and for optimizing movements.   The master uses this knowledge for recognizing what is possible even after suffering some injury: he knows what parts are essential to certain moves and what parts are not.   For example, the master can recognize what pains or injuries can be ignored or what remaining options are available with these new handicaps.

The expert martial artist is more advanced still by using the brain to comprehend physical mechanics of momentum, gravity, and forces on the complex human form in the extraordinary range of configurations that are possible.   His training allows him to plan several moves in advance knowing what options will remain available to him after multiple future moves.   This is advanced physics analysis but done through practice and experience instead of math and calculators.

Martial arts is still more advanced as a body of philosophy because it includes the knowledge of the nature of emotional or hormonal responses.   The master martial arts practitioner can control his emotions and thus control the hormonal responses, keeping the mind in full control of the body within the battle despite the fact that the opponent’s attacks.  The martial arts master maintains self control in the middle of battle despite the pains of fatigue or injury, despite screams of fellow humans in pain, and despite the visuals of death and gore.

Finally, martial arts as a philosophy must include a theory of the other human being who happens to be his opponent.  The martial arts master can recognize the opponent’s strengths and vulnerabilities during the each instant of battle with its unique configurations and momenta.   He can structure his attacks in strategic attempts to degrade the opponent’s emotional self-control.

More basically, the martial artist is expert at reading cues of the opponent’s intentions (such as telegraphed thrusts) to be able to prepare for a counter attack.   Similarly, the martial artist is able to recognize how his moves may present cues of his intentions so that he can train to suppress these cues before the fight or to recognize that the little time he has to complete his action before his opponent will by able to block it.

All of this is to describe a philosophy of life that embraces the entire human body, using the brain to master all of the skills needed for a successful martial artist who can survive a long career of multiple battles.   This philosophy answers the questions of reality in the context of the individual’s anatomy, physiology, psychology, etc.  It also encompasses physical sciences and the psychology of the opponent.

I think the martial arts philosophy can stand alone as a complete philosophy on its own in terms of answers how best a person can live his life.   Many such practitioners of this philosophy may not reach old age, and many of those that may be substantially hampered as a result of prior injuries, to be sure.  But during the prime of life, the best of them will be in full control of both their own and their opponent’s bodies during all the dynamics of a fight.

The best of the martial arts masters are admirable because of the depth of training and understanding that is needed to reach that level.   Historical examples most frequently used their skills for despicable purposes, but those same purposes allowed them to demonstrate the thoroughness of their training and skill.

The admiration of martial arts expertise in evil men may best be reconciled by appreciating their philosophy of a the martial art itself.   We can admire this because this is a default philosophy of the human animal, the philosophy that tells us how to optimize the animal we must live as.

Clearly there are better philosophies that introduce morals, charity, cooperation, restraint, human rights, etc.   Unfortunately, they don’t ever fully refute the default philosophy of the martial arts.   As implied in the video at the top, sometimes these elevated philosophies come into conflict in a way that must be resolved by the default philosophy of martial arts.

Our admiration of the martial arts is a result of our respect for the strength of its underlying philosophy.

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