“There is a difference between a fighter and a martial artist. A fighter is training for a purpose: He has a fight. I'm a martial artist. I don't train for a fight. I train for myself. I'm training all the time. My goal is perfection. But I will never reach perfection.” Georges St-Pierre
Now adays there is this swirling rhetoric about MMA vs traditional arts and the validity of training in either. There is no doubt that there are a lot of traditional martial artists out there who can’t fight because they never trained in actual fighting. However, this does not invalidate their entire training. Fighting is fighting and martial arts is also fighting, done properly, and an art. I’ve spent almost 50 years in the arts and I definitely see the weaknesses in traditional training but I also see a huge problem with the aging fighters. If you just train to fight what happens as you age? We all get weaker and there’s nothing we can do about it. It takes so much longer to heal when we are older that it becomes debilitating. So you’ve trained and fought through your twenties and thirties and now your body is breaking down; what did fighting do to prepare you for the remaining decades of your life? Did it teach you patience, understanding, compassion or empathy? Did it increase your overall awareness of the world around you? What do you have now that you are aging? Did you just train to fight or did you also do extensive work on your balance, hearing and sight which are common elements in martial training. Did you develop your ability to be totally aware of your surroundings as Myamoto Musashi states, ‘seeing the world around as a cat peruses a field, seeing it all at once. “….aware of everything and no particular thing. Here’s a man who developed not only unparalleled fighting experience but was also an accomplished painter. He developed both sides of his nature.
Have you become more aware of nature and how the world around you affects you? These are things that many traditional martial artists spend a lot of time working on.
So many ex-fighters are damaged physically and mentally. Their bodies are broken and their minds have never matured past the gym or the ring. Due to the damage their bodies have endured over the years they are constantly in pain. They find relief in drinking and medications. This is true for many athletes; living with the pain of a worn body. I live it too. There are definitely those that have remained sharp and aware but it’s not the norm. If you are training as a martial artist in the sense that you are training all of your being to become more in tune and alive then this does not diminish as you age. You find new ways to express your energy and focus. You may not be able to do the feats of your youth but there is a new expression of your physicality. In the east they often use the metaphor of a lotus unfolding to express this ever-opening awareness; the flower ever spreading its pedals. This is an essential part of development in a martial art. As my Sifu once said, “what is the worth of a man if at the end of his life he can only claim that he can kill or maim but not cure or inspire”? If you’ve only trained to fight then you have nothing else as you age. If you’ve honed your mind and body to harmonize with life then you are ever opening up doors to learning and expanding. You can learn to crush rocks your entire life or you can learn to build temples with them. You need to ask yourself what your goal is and where you want to be.
Does being a fighter help you to be a better parent or spouse? What is it that you actually have at the end of it all? Where is the balance in your life? You can tear down but can you also build up?
I must say that I have met a few fighters that had great epiphanies as they aged and became remarkable human beings full of compassion and wisdom. Somehow a light awakened in their consciousness and their years of fighting taught them compassion and kindness. This perhaps was never emphasized in their training but somehow this spark ignited. I would hope that if one is training in martial arts that this would be an overt expression of the art and not a rare occurrence. So George St- Pierre makes a great statement there which attests to the quality of his character as a martial artist who can fight.
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