From most of the people I’ve spoken to it appears there’s more or less two man ways of looking at martial arts. Some take it simply at face value, namely martial arts: using one’s body as a weapon. Fortunately, the majority of people who practise martial arts aren’t necessarily violent (and most martial arts even stress the doctrine of self-defence and non-aggression) and use it has a perfect way to stay fit. There are others who use the sports as a way to get in touch with culture, philosophy and maybe even spiritualism. This is especially true of the more traditional and ancient martial arts such as karate. While neither method of viewing them is right or wrong, they each certainly each have their advantages.
Focusing on the physical aspects has clear health benefits. Although true of nearly any sport, martial arts have an influence on everyday life. It might be easy as making the body more tough so that little things like running not to miss the bus or shifting furniture upstairs are not as exhausting as they might otherwise be. It also aids to one to recover from accidents. Quite crucial to the health benefits of martial arts over other sports however, in regards helping tune the body, is the emphasis on balance and recovering balance, as well as the focus on flexibility.
Clearly, being flexible and balancing are paramount to all sports. A footballer who falls over frequently or a gymnast who can’t bend well are pretty useless. However, since martial arts started off and were originally developed for combat the emphasis given to mastering those very simple elements of the body are absolutely critical. They were developed to aid people in life-or-death situations and thusly the steaks were always higher, so to speak, when compared with scoring a goal.
Then there are the more cerebral elements to martial arts. Many of the more ancient martial arts developed in tandem with philosophies. Even in the west, east Asian martial arts are better known than their European counterparts, especially the philosophies associated with them. However, archery and fencing as well as swordsmanship, developed during early Christianity and in the days of chivalry, taught practitioners—ie knights—to live noble lives.
Many of the eastern martial arts like yoga—developed by ancient Indian armies according to most scholars— or karate in Japan had strong spiritual foci. They taught tolerance, obedience, and self-discipline as values. Karate especially, had and continues to have, a strong focus on social order and respect. These skills, while not directly related to the fighting are paramount to the philosophy and taught but they teach values related to kindness and living a good life.
Why one decides to get into martial arts doesn’t matter much in the long term. For me it was simply a desire to try something new while staying fit. But whatever the reason it’s undeniable true that martial arts make for an excellent hobby for both body and mind.