What is the goal of martial arts?

How can I, after studying martial arts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for nearly 9 years, continue to pursue my journey in martial arts with even more vigor and enthusiasm than I had on Day 1? After such an extensive amount of time, I am very confident in my skills and believe that I would survive and even be victorious in a self-defense situation against 99.5% of the population if pitted in a one-on-one physical street fight where no weapons or outside factors are involved. (If weapons and/or multiple attackers are involved, this will alter the odds considerably even for the trained martial artist, and I will write about this later.) This is the goal of martial arts, right: to be able to defend yourself against an attacker? Absolutely! That is the original and ultimate goal of martial arts whether it be Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Aikido, Hapkido, Wing Chung, Philipino Kali, Boxing, Muay Thai, Wrestling, Judo, and any other martial art you could think of! However, as you make the transformation from “average Joe learning how to defend himself” to “martialartist,” you realize that the goal of martial arts and the goal of a martial artist may be very different.

So what, then, is the ultimate goal of a martial artists?

Obviously each martial artist will have his or her own variation and combination of goals, and this issue is very subjective. But I believe that many martial artists would agree with me when I speculate that the ultimate goal of a martial artist in his or her own personal continuous pursuit of their martial art of choice could be stated as follows: To Achieve Perfection Technically, physically, mentally, and spiritually.

The Martial Artist’s goal of Technical Perfection

The martial artist, after years and years of training, will have executed several of the staple techniques of their chosen art literally thousands of times. Even though the martial artist has successfully executed these basic and even advanced techniques hundreds and hundreds of times against training partners who were not resisting, against training partners who were resisting, and perhaps even against opponents who were actively fighting tooth-and-nail to not only defend but also execute attacks of their own, they will never be satisfied with their performance. This is not because we are impossibly self-critical and hold ourselves to a standard that even world champions couldn’t hope to achieve, but it is because we know there is always room for improvement. Sure there are days when we don’t perform as well as we would like to, but even on the days where we are firing on all cylinders and feel on top of the world, we are still striving for better. We understand that each technique we performed that day, no matter how finely executed, could have been done a little sharper, a little smoother, a little more precise, and with a little more grace. It is this knowledge that keeps us coming back to the mats; however, we also know that as flawed human beings, we will never be able to achieve the level of perfection we strive for. One might think this would lead to frustration, despair, and eventually to quitting. However, the martial artist is aware of this disparity between our ideological goals and the impossibility of achieving them that reality forces upon us, and we still meet every training session head on with enthusiasm and the knowledge that by showing up to train that day, we are inching closer and closer to that perfection that we are constantly striving for but know we will never achieve.

The Martial Artist’s goal of Physical Perfection

Closely related to the martial artist’s goal of technical perfection, the martial artist also often aims for physical perfection. As a martial artist, you are probably aware that your body will improve in it’s execution of all techniques of body itself is improved in the same way that a car will be able to go faster, turn sharper, and get better gas mileage it the components that make it up are in pristine condition. He or she will often engage in exercises, behaviors, and habits which would be conducive to making the machine, the body, perfect. He or she may do explosive lifts to develop more explosiveness and fast twitch muscle efficiency. The artist may engage in activities which give the artist seemingly endless hours worth of conditioning. They will engage in exercises to increase strength, speed, balance, kinesthetic awareness, and overall all body efficiency. Along with exercises, the martial artists is even likely to completely alter their diet. The cleaner fuel you put in a vehicle, the better the combustion in the engine is going to be resulting in optimal performance. The body is not different. Martial artists may do whatever they can to feel their machine premium fuel for the greatest results. Once again, they will spend years tweaking and altering their diet, their exercises, and their entire workout regimen in the hopes of attaining a physical perfection with they can never hope to reach, but can continually approach one small improvement at a time.

The Martial Artist’s goal of Mental Perfection

Along with their challenges in trying to attain physical and outer perfection, the martial artist is often engaged with trying to improve themselves internally as well. He or she will aspire to reach a level of mental perfection. What is mental perfection? The artist will develop a certain discipline and control which will allow them to shape their frame of mind. They are careful in trying to keep the perfect balance of confidence and humility. Should the martial artist base too much of their focus on their confidence, they develop an arrogance and a sense of invincibility which can reach levels bordering on narcissistic and beyond. However, if the artist gives too much weight toward humility, they risk losing their confidence all-together and plunging into a pit of negative self-talk, self-esteem issues, and doubts about their abilities and what their capable of. This confidence and humility reaches past martial arts and ends up becoming part of you as a human being. The balance you find, whether a near-perfect balance or weighted too much to one side, will begin to manifest itself in other aspects of your life such as your work performance, your relationships with family and friends, and your self-esteem about you as a person in general. Always striving to find this perfect balance is important.

In working toward mental perfection, the artist also finds him- or herself striving for the ideal or highest levels of self-discipline, work-ethic, situational awareness, and a balance between having a healthy social life as well as an appreciation for alone time and allotting time for the self. This attitude of always trying to achieve perfection in a physical sense spills over into the martial artists introspective life and they realize that there is just as much that they can improve about themselves inwardly as there is physically.

The Martial Artist’s goal of Spiritual Perfection

Closely related to mental perfection, the artist also strives for spiritual perfection. In the way that technical perfection is closely related to physical perfection, so the quest for mental perfection and spiritual perfection are also intertwined. After looking at the non-material inwardly, they will also turn their attention to the non-material that is external. When the martial artist realizes that they are part of something bigger than themselves, their habits of trying to reach that ever-elusive state of perfection will persevere and they will find themselves attempting to align themselves perfectly in a spiritual sense with this external, non-material ecosystem that believe they are apart of. For some artists, they see themselves as a member of God’s family, and they try their best to live by God’s law and expectations. Once again, they know that they can never live up to the expectations of God and live the perfect life, but they do their best to be as obedient as possible in service to their creator and savior. For some martial artists, they realize that they are part of a larger community and they turn their attention to trying to be the perfect member of their village to create a society that is as close to perfect as possible. They will try their best to help those in need whenever possible, they will do their civic duty of voting on who they believe will be the best government representatives. Some see that they are a single part of our entire earth ecosystem and they try to recycle anything that may be re-used and produce the least amount of waste that they can. And still some focus on their membership in the human race and do their best to step up every chance they get to preach and take steps toward human equality and to help raise the youth to become as close to a perfect species as we can one generation at a time. Regardless of what grander thing the martial artist sees themselves a part of, they likely be vocal in their beliefs and attempt to spread awareness about their cause hoping to create a bigger, positive wave to help get as close to “perfection” as they can in their particular spiritual views.

If you haven’t picked up on it by now (although I’m certain that you have) the martial artists concern and goals of reaching perfection never come to fruition. Nothing in this world is perfect. It never will be: Not our ability to execute even a single technique, not our physical bodies, not our mental condition, and not our spiritual world. It’s just the nature of things. However, the goal that martial arts instills in us is to always strive for perfection. Always work to be a better fighter, a better training partner, a better opponent, a better friend, a better spouse, a better parent, a better member of your community, and a better member of whatever you view to be your higher power. As a martial artist, we constantly strive for and pursue this better-ment of ourselves and all that is around us and it is this strive for perfection that is the ultimate goal of a martial artist. And remember, even though we will never, ever reach perfection in any facet of life, you can ALWAYS improve.