Why do we call it “martial arts” when it doesn’t look like “art”?
The term “martial arts” is used so generally and frequently that most people do not take the time to try to understand what each part of that term really means!
The first part “martial” is easy! Martial is defined as “an adjective pertaining to war or the military”. It is based on Latin and comes from the name of the Roman god of war, Mars. It is why soldiers accused of crime are taken to a “court martial” (military court) and why “martial law” is declared when the National Guard comes in to restore order.
It is normally the second part that gives people pause. Why “arts”? When we think of “arts”, we think of music, sculpting, dance, painting, or even gluing macaroni to construction paper in kindergarten. “Art” is defined by a Google search as “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.” So how does this definition make sense in the context of “martial arts”?
In the beginning of your training in a classical art, a teacher shows you the basics of how to use your tools, whether that is a piano, a paintbrush or your voice. At first. you produce rudimentary (or downright BAD) results as you struggle to learn this new skillset. Eventually, you begin to perform closer and closer to your teachers “standard”.
With enough time though, something quite peculiar can happen. You begin to do things differently than your teacher. You begin to do your art more in line with how your body, mind and spirit work. Your works begin to grow from being poor facsimiles of what you have seen to something truly your own.
As a student in “martial arts”, you are taught by your teacher certain fundamentals regarding your tools. In the case of martial arts, your tools are your various body parts or weapons. And at first, it might not be pretty. Eventually, you start to understand how the teacher wants you to do things. And finally, you begin to do things your own way.
And it is in this expression of the movements of your body, the focus of your mind and the projection of your spirit that you express yourself through martial arts. Sometimes there is beauty such as watching the graceful but aggressive moves in a form. Sometimes not so much. But when done with the right intent, there can always be found emotional power.