One can enter into martial arts training and learn a series of movements only, or one can enter into training and understand what those movements mean beyond function and structure. If you are lucky enough to be in a martial art that has a traceable lineage and a story behind its creation, even better. The history of a martial art is often the clue as to whether the movements have a practical benefit. All martial arts are not created equal.
The people of hundreds of years ago, naturally enough, lived in various circumstances. They may have been peasants who were forbidden to own weapons. They may have been royal guards who were trained to protect a monarch and his family or they might have been soldiers. Because of their circumstances, they may have had to train in some type of fighting art. The point you might want to know is if the martial art you study survived intact from those ancient days or if it has changed into something quite different.
If you would like full value for your efforts, one should train in the basics hard. You should train until you cannot train anymore. Only then will you understand how a fighting art can function in a real situation. Hopefully that situation is one that can happen in today’s world and isn’t a carryover from the culture of hundreds of years ago.
If you study a martial art for the ‘cool factor,’ do not expect to get full value for your efforts. All you are likely to become good at are the superficial techniques of a commercial studio. You know the one’s. They are the techniques in the advertising for the school showing a great looking man or woman kicking well above their heads.
Some martial arts have a health benefit as well. It may have been the way the forebears stayed healthy since they did not have gyms and special machines to maintain fitness. Health and fitness are great extra benefits to physical activity!
-Sifu Keith Sonnenberg