I love everything about Tae Kwon-Do. I love martial arts. I love the patterns, the sparring, the buzz of teaching, the atmosphere in the clubs... everything. Well, almost everything. Although martial arts is a great thing, and teaches you a great many things, sometimes there is a drawback to being a martial artist.
The one drawback for me is probably the stigma that can come with the term "martial artist". First of all, let us clarify, what is a martial artist? A martial artist is someone who practices the philosophy and art of combat and learns to master their body through technique. I know that is a bit wordy, but in a nutshell a martial artist practices the art of fighting for self-defence.
That is a great thing to learn, and a great thing for people to participate in, but the stigma and label of martial arts for some people tells them one thing and one thing only; fighting. There are some out there who believe that martial arts is just about fighting and beating people up, and unfortunately that attracts unwanted attention from certain people.
As instructors, we could all tell you stories of when somebody has discovered that we do martial arts, and the unavoidable question ends up arising. "Could you take me on?" (usually, the challenger is squaring up to us to try be intimidating). I myself have been asked this question in bars, on the street, and sometimes in school lessons. Because people know you are a martial artist, for whatever reason this causes people to think they have to challenge you to "test" your skills.
But, as is always my answer to the questions, "could you take me on?" and "do you want to fight?", the majority of martial artists would say, "probably", and "no, why would I want to fight you?".
As martial artists, we develop the confidence and skills to know that we can protect ourselves if the need arises. We spend our lessons, spare time, and many of us our lifetimes practicing combat moves whether they are offensive, defensive, in linework, on pads or sparring one another. We spend our time fighting and learning how to fight, and almost every martial artist loves the sparring side of their art/sport.
So why would we spend our lives practicing fighting, and not ever want to get into a fight? Surely that is like a footballer spending every day training and then not wanting to play the match on saturday?
For martial arts, it just isn't quite the same. Whilst learning how to fight, we learn the consequences of fighting, how to avoid fighting, and why to fight. For us, it is a tool and a skill that we learn how to apply in the right fashion. Sparring is similar to sport, but to us it is just a sport. Whoever we spar, once the headguard and gloves come off, we are back to friends with our opponent once more.
Sparring may be a form of fighting, but it is controlled, and it is competitive. It isn't brawling or life-threatening. We do it because we enjoy it. For example, somebody who throws the javelin in athletics enjoys throwing the javelin, but it doesn't mean they want to throw it at other people. It might be a slightly daft example, but the comparison is slightly similar.
People often do martial arts and dedicate themselves to it in order to learn how to fight so that they may never have to fight. It is a strange one to explain, and it feels slightly daft to write about it, but it is a message that is valid and needs saying. Just because we learn how to fight, doesn't mean we want to fight you.
So, if you are someone who ever wants to challenge someone to a scrap because you found out that they are a martial artist, please don't. Our answer would always be no. Although we know how to defend ourselves, it doesn't mean we want to have to be in that situation.
And whilst you are at it, can you please stop jumping out at me with your best preying mantis or The Rock impression whilst I'm trying to buy my lunch in the local supermarket? It was mildly amusing ten years ago, but it is getting a little tiring.