When we tie our belts in Taekwondo class, the right and left sides of our belt must be the same length. This isn’t just so it will look good; we tie our belts in this way to represent the balance between the mental and physical aspects of ourselves and our involvement in martial arts. The right side of the belt represents our mental side, and the left represents the physical. It takes both mental and physical development to produce a good martial artist, and it is the production of a martial artist who is an individual of high quality that is the true art of the martial arts.
What makes a good martial artist? It is not just good technique; there are plenty of individuals out there with admirable fighting ability or beautiful performance in forms but who are brutes or lowlifes otherwise. A martial artist must be an individual of high moral character. However, it takes more than just moral character to be a martial artist; no matter how saintly one may be, if that one cannot defend one’s self in combat or if one is not continuously pursuing the development of physical technique, then one is equally not a good martial artist. Furthermore, there are plenty of “armchair martial artists” out there who have a deep understanding of the philosophies of the martial arts, but who have little physical knowledge or capability. These are the MARTIAL arts after all. Both the mental and physical components of the martial arts must be present in a martial artist.
Now I know what some may already be saying in objection: what about elder martial artists who physically aren’t what they used to be – are they not martial artists just because they have become aged? For starters, those of you who have met real life old maters know that even when they reach ripe old ages like 70 or 80, they are still quite formidable opponents (and this is because in their younger years they devoted so much time to the proper development and evolution of their physical technique). As for the older students of martial arts who are still working their way up the ranks, yes, their physical state may prevent them from some of the more demanding techniques, but as long as they are sincerely pursuing the expansion of their personal knowledges of the physical techniques and searching for ways that they too may get by in a combative situation, then they are satisfying the physical requirement of a martial artist.
Both types of development are necessary and each builds on the other. One who understands and practices mental aspects of the martial arts like meditation, chi, yin-yang, and empty-self will see dramatic improvements in one’s physical techniques and one’s focus and performance in physical combative situations. Similarly, one who is sincerely devoted to and practices the development of physical technique and combative ability will be able to understand concepts of courage, perseverance, and belief in ways that can only come from personally training for true life and death situations. The mental and physical aspects of martial arts complement each other and reinforce each other to produce a better martial artist.
The real art of the martial arts is the production of the martial artist. It is an individual journey of the self to cultivate one’s mind and body into a finished product – one who possesses the power to dominate combative situations but seeks peace and harmony in life. The beauty is in the willing forgoing of the powerful domination over other and instead pursuing and cultivating love and compassion. The martial artist transcends the fear and trappings of physical struggle and reaches for something better. To me and with my understanding of the martial arts, that is the true art and beauty of the martial arts, and that is why I strive to develop in myself an understanding of and ability in both the physical and mental aspects of the martial arts so that I can be one such person.