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Why Practice Martial Arts in the 21st Century
Why Practice Martial Arts?
There are times when one may wonder, in a world where most countries have law enforcement agencies ensuring security, where wars are increasingly technological and fought by professional soldiers, where conflict and duels are outlawed, and yet there is easier access to firearms, if it really makes sense to practice a martial art and, if so, what that sense might be.
However, in the 21st century, despite their original purpose being rarely utilized, martial arts are practiced by a wide group of people who find deep meaning in their practice. This meaning, as we will see, goes beyond simply learning how to fight and certainly makes them more than ever a means of development not only for the warrior but also for the human being.
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Let's ask ourselves: are we really practicing a martial art?
The first question to ask oneself in order to find the meaning of practicing a martial art is whether what we are practicing is truly a martial art. Today, we live in a time of martial-cultural ignorance, a legacy that has been passed down and consolidated for over a century, often leading once valid martial arts to be practiced and transmitted devoid of their original spirit and effectiveness.
It is not uncommon to see martial arts practitioners carrying out techniques and applications that would not work in a real situation and certainly would not allow their school to survive if confronted with the harsh reality of real combat. The only reason these schools survive today, and unfortunately thrive in some cases, is precisely because hand-to-hand or white weapons combat has become increasingly rare, at least in more industrialized countries.
Unfortunately, this is the reality that is particularly affecting those martial arts that claim to be traditional styles but actually shield themselves behind this definition, using an ideal of “tradition” to justify their approach, which is based on purely theoretical truths, ineffective techniques, and a lack of physical preparation for practitioners.
This is a true regression that has affected various fields, from education to philosophy and religion, as well as social life itself, from East to West, from the past to the present, and it certainly has not spared our beloved martial arts.
It all began several centuries ago when martial arts began to alienate themselves from military techniques, when skill gave way to aesthetics, real practice to the idealization of movement, and competence to mediocrity, where the most relevant martial concepts and theories were lost in a sea of impeccably false beliefs.
The first step, therefore, to find the meaning of practicing a martial art in the 21st century is to ensure that we are indeed practicing a martial art in every sense of the term.
How to distinguish a true martial art: Day One
However, true traditional martial arts are not as rare as one might think. They still exist and are passed down according to tradition, while also evolving and adapting to modern times.
But what sets them apart from their “non-martial” version?
The clearest answer to this question came to me on my first day of Pukulan Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara.
When I started practicing this martial art, I was shown a movement extracted from a small form, a Jurus, and I was told that “one principle forms 100 techniques, but 100 techniques don’t even form one principle!”
Principles, that’s the answer. A traditional martial art doesn’t just teach techniques, basic movements, attacks, and so on, without first delving into the principles that underlie those techniques. Without the guiding principles, the techniques will be empty and, above all, inapplicable. But by knowing the principles, we will be able to apply every technique!
After years of study, training, and teaching, I have no doubts today that the logic of Principles, connected to the practical application of these principles, brings the greatest practical benefits.
Martial Arts for the Warrior and the Human Being
Returning to the main theme of this article, assuming that we have ensured that we are truly practicing a martial art, why should we do it?
Why should we learn principles and techniques if we rarely find ourselves having to apply them in combat?
Why spend hours in grueling training to forge a warrior’s body if it is not necessary today?
Practicing a martial art means much more than just learning how to fight.
This fundamental truth is often overlooked by newcomers or beginners, but when embarking on a serious martial arts journey, one realizes that the martial aspect is a means to a greater end. The purpose of a warrior is not solely to fight, but to be prepared to do so if necessary. The principles learned are not only applicable in combat but can also be effectively applied in countless other fields or arts, such as everyday life. The rigorous training not only forges our bodies but also our spirits, making us not only better warriors but better human beings.
The evolutionary path that each of us faces in our lives inevitably requires time, but we can accelerate it by directing our attention to certain priorities, with the foremost being the dismantling of our own ego.
In ancient times, in places where martial disciplines were regarded as an Art, the battle against the ego and its dissolution were focal points of the martial arts. The image of a warrior facing destiny without ego has always been an almost mythical icon, serving as inspiration even for practitioners today.
The Art in the Modern Era
I vividly remember the emotions of my first day of practicing martial arts. I was 11 years old and filled with joy. The adrenaline of becoming part of an elite group, dressed in an oriental uniform that had a warrior-like quality, and feeling like a member of a tribe.
To feel special, in this way.
For many years, the apparent ancestral nourishment I received from martial arts was precisely this: falling to the ground defeated by a fellow practitioner or defeating them, feeling like I was gradually ascending to Olympus, no matter the cost, because the martial myth cannot die.
Today, however, as we grow older and reach adulthood, there is the pleasure of engaging in dialogue, study, and exchange with others, guided by principles of mutual respect and learning.
But there is something more, perhaps the sense of security that comes from knowing your physical and mental capabilities, knowing that you must face everything even when you are afraid, being a fighter who acknowledges defeat but does not surrender, and evaluates “victory” with the modesty of a milestone leading to a higher goal.
Practicing a traditional martial art like Pukulan Pentjak Silat Bukti Negara is part of a life journey that helps you live better because it helps you know yourself, first by defending yourself from your own fears and the limitations of your mental barriers, and then by effectively defending yourself from others. The opportunity to practice such a martial art today is something special, as it has transcended myth and time to reach the present day.
As the great Chinese war general Sun Tzu said, “He who knows himself and knows his enemy will never be endangered in a hundred battles.”
So: Why Practice Martial Arts?
Because today, in the 21st century, perhaps more than ever, we should learn to know ourselves even more than we know our enemy. Martial arts offer us this opportunity, and it would be truly absurd not to seize it.
Do you want to know 10 reason why to train Pencak Silat now? Read it here!
NKI Technical Board Member