The Martial Way: Fighting Art, Martial Art, or Way of Life?

Are you following a fighting art, martial art, or martial way?

Is it possible to follow more than one?


I must admit that I am guilty of blurring these lines myself when speaking of the martial arts. Many would think that the martial arts, the fighting arts, and the martial way are interchangeable. Not true. For many who pursue these arts, the study and practice of the arts (notice that I use “arts” in its plural form) can be simply a form of self defense. For others, they are a form of streetfighting or hand-to-hand combat (there is a difference). For others, a healthy way of living. Then there are those who do this to learn how to kill, after being the victim of a crime.


I could go on.


There is a section of the Asian (any Asian) community who pursues the arts as an expression of cultural pride–to recapture a piece of one’s heritage lost over generations or over the ocean.

Some men practice these arts because they are married to a Filipina, and they love her so much they appreciate everything… even her culture and its arts.

Some live with fear-fear of being a victim, fear of being beatable, fear of being seen as weak-and the study of the Filipino Martial Arts becomes a self-contained concealed handgun. (The opposite of fear is self-confidence and security, by the way. Many would think that cockiness and overconfidence are the opposite of fear, but I disagree: they are the traits of men with insecurities. The FMAs are the weapons of choice for insecure men who are too afraid to face them; so they mask it with a new attitude, tough talk and seek out those who are more afraid than they are.) This is a major reason people study the arts–weak men who want to hide their fears can “hide” behind the Filipino arts… we train to kill, we use blades, we use sticks–who would want to fight us?

Some follow the arts because they do not believe in a religion and lack a moral code. The martial arts, for them, is a replacement for a good spanking for both kids and adults.

Then there are those who see the opportunity for wealth, and choose teaching the martial arts over going to college or opening a franchise.

Others want to give local children a safe haven, an alternative to the streets. The martial arts, for them, is a way to serve the community.

There are some teachers whose arts are taught to arm citizens against criminals and invaders.

Finally, you have those who turn to the martial arts because their willpower is too weak to turn down a doughnut. So, the arts, for them, is the alternative to dieting and Tae-Bo, lol.

So where do the categories of the arts fit into the reasons for studying them? Let’s first define the categories of the arts, as not all martial arts are created equal:

  1. The fighting arts – a system of combat arts, designed to stop, injure, or kill an opponent. At its heart, the fighting arts are weapons of war. One may add a moral code or rules of conduct, but the purpose of the fighting art is to hurt people.
  2. The martial arts – an art intended to be used to combine the principles of the fighter and his teacher, in order to train others to become teachers and keep an art alive. The philosophy of the martial artist is often bound by cultural or religious customs at its foundation. The moral code of the martial artist is basic and mostly related to his role of martial arts student and teacher.
  3. The martial way – a strict way of life for the martial artist who transcends the “artist” and becomes a modern-day martial warrior. The art of a “way” becomes more than just a tool of combat or occupation. It is a complete change of lifestyle. While some martial artists have chosen to leave professions in order to teach full time, the life of the martial warrior attaches nothing to his pursuit of a martial lifestyle: money, fame, widespread exposure for him and his style, or ego. Most in this category live a simple lifestyle, and have rejected academic or other career goals. They often die penniless, yet leave behind a few people who hold their martial knowledge and skill in very high regard. The most valuable things the warrior wants for his art is to change lives and to leave behind a legacy that is greater than the teacher himself, and his art and teaching will outlive him. The martial warrior has done more than just learned to fight or make a living teaching; he has given his life over to being a living, breathing warrior. In this, he combines all the reasons and disciplines of the arts. He things about and reflects upon the art 24 hours a day. He rejects income, students and pursuits that are not aligned with the perfection of his art. In the same way  martial arts master has mastered his art by applying his art against any style or style of fighting, the martial warrior who has master the art, has learned to adapt his art to all facets of life–and all situations he and his students may encounter.

Many may disagree, but in order to become a true master of the art, you do not have to be a martial warrior. It is a romantic idea, but this way of life is not suitable for all men. A master can be one who perfects only the fighting in the art, one who has perfected teaching and fighting in the art,  or one who has perfected the life, teaching, and application (ahem, fighting) of the art.


And, yes, there is a hierarchy in this, and I’ve listed them in order.


As a martial arts teacher, you will have to choose a specialty and a target student market. But as a master, you should be able to teach any student, regardless of why he wants to study the art. I did not say you have to take the student, but you should be capable of teaching those students.  The path to full, complete mastery of the arts must follow this design. At the center of each level-if you notice-is fighting. You cannot avoid it. One can write an entire “Bible” of rules and moral codes, but without combat, you are a philosopher, not a complete martial artist or warrior. He can live in the mountains for 10 months out of the year, and without fighting skill, he is not a master. He can have taught 10,000 students, but if his skill in combat is weak, he is no master.

Do not allow yourself to be one who confuses “the way” with an alternative to a career in law, or being a philosopher, or simply one who knows how to kick someone’s behind.

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

One thought on “The Martial Way: Fighting Art, Martial Art, or Way of Life?”

  1. I am glad to finally see some modern day warriors speaking about this. I think there is much confusion in the way. Some think that being in the military or law enforcement automatically guarantees them the right to call themselves warriors. It does not in my opinion. As stated above the way is the way to life, not just a job and not just something that is done in the dojo.

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