Page 1

  Everybody  was  Kung  Fu  fighting:  from  dojo  to  arena      

Prima facie,   martial   arts   seem   to   bear   more   references   to   film   than   to   philosophical  

themes. And   yet   by   calling   into   question   issues   such   as   life   and   death,   identity,   people’s   relationships,   the   ability   to   control   one’s   emotions   or   instincts,   martial   arts   infuse   the   thoughts   and   reflections   of   their   enthusiasts  with  a   spiritual  dimension.  Initially   linked   to  warfare,   martial   arts  eventually  came  to  transcend  its  utilitarian  origins  in  the  course  of  its  development,.     The  principles  of  warfare  as  the  origin  of  martial  arts      

Military victories  were  won  thanks  to  the  use  of  different  techniques  of  combat.  The  oldest  

civilizations were   pioneers   in   the   field.   The   warlike   nature   of   this   vocation   is   reflected   in   the   etymology  of  the  term  "martial  arts",  Mars  being  the  Roman  god  of  war.  The  martial  arts  of  South   India,   known   as   Kalaripayattu   (a   compound   of   “field”,   perhaps   “battle   field”   and   “study”   or   ‘”learn”),  were  taught  to  every  soldier  in  preparation  for  the  battlefield.  However,  Kalaripayattu   was  not  limited  to  warfare  techniques.  It  incorporated  a  significant  body  of  medical  and  religious   knowledge,   which   is   perhaps   reflected   in   the   fact   that   gyms   were   constructed   around   an   altar   dedicated  to  a  warrior  deity1.  This  connection  between  martial  arts  and  the  techniques  of  warfare   is  also  palpable  in  the  writings  of  Sun  Tzu,  particularly  in  The  Art  of  War  (translated  literally  as  "Sun   Tzu’s   Military   Principles"),   which   brings   together   Taoist   principles   essential   to   warriors2.   Even   if   such   texts   interested   themselves   principally   in   war,   they   have   had   a   great   influence   on   the   operating  principles  of  martial  arts.  Sun  Tzu  affirms  that  the  objective  of  war  is  to  take  over  and   conserve  the  opponent’s  possessions,  in  other  words,  to  make  the  enemy  conform  to  one’s  own   intentions  rather  than  destroying  him  outright3.  This  tactic  is  to  be  understood  in  the  context  of                                                                                                               1

Master  E.  Edwards,  ”Indian  Martial  Arts”,  2004.    Sun  Tzu,  The  Art  of  War,  Pax  Librorum,  Publishing  House,  2009.   3  Ibid,  III,  1  :  “In  the  practical  art  of  war,  the  best  thing  of  all  is  to  take  the  enemy’s  country  whole  and  intact  ;  to  shatter   and   destroy   it   is   not   so   good.   So,   too,   it   is   better   to   capture   an   army   entire   than   to   destroy   it,   to   capture   a   regiment,   a   detachment  or  a  company  entire  than  to  destroy  them.”   2

medieval China,   which   was   a   closed-­‐off   world   constantly   battling   off   strong   enemies.   Sun   Tzu   also   wrote  that  the  warrior  should  not  overpower  his  opponent  but  use  the  strengths  of  the  latter  to   its   own   advantage:   "this   is   called,   using   the   conquered   foe   to   augment   one's   own   Strength"4.   Chinese   ”boxing”   (“wushu”   in   Mandarin   Chinese,   popularly   known   to   the   West   as   “kung   fu”),   highly   practiced   at   the   time   of   the   arrival   of   Europeans   in   the   nineteenth-­‐century,   incorporates   many   of   Sun   Tzu’s   principles.   It   attended   the   development   of   the   self-­‐defence   capabilities   of   peasant  communities,  evident  in  the  Boxer  Rebellion  of  1900-­‐1901.  Its  style,  based  in  large  part  on   animal   mimicry,   draws   heavily   from   Taoism.   Chinese   martial   arts   even   make   direct   reference   to   Taoism  in  a  style  known  as  the  "Eight  Immortals",  which  uses  fighting  techniques  associated  with   the  characteristics  of  each  immortal  in  the  Taoist  canon.  Chinese  marital  arts  apply  the  precepts  of   Sun  Tzu  in  combat,  stating  for  instance  that  all  things  are  immersed  in  an  "unstoppable  flow"  and  it   being  ineffective  to  oppose  this  flow,  the  martial  artist  must  necessarily  move  in  its  direction.  In   practice,  this  principle  enables  the  warrior  to  accomplish  perfectly  fluid  movements  without  being   disturbed  by  his  environment5.      

The seniority   of   the   link   between   samurais   and   the   practice   of   martial   arts   emphasizes   the  

essentially warring   role   played   by   Japanese   martial   arts   warriors.   This   does   not   preclude   the   incorporation   of   Zen,   which   was   fully   integrated   into   the   art   of   combat,   the   philosophy’s   practicality   and   simplicity   being   perfectly   compatible   with   the   art   of   war.   On   the   one   hand,   Zen   penetrated   the   world   of   the   samurai   by   bushidô   (literally   “the   way   of   the   warrior”),   a   code   of   honour   to   which   all   members   of   the   military   class   (buke)   conformed.   Paradoxically,   Buddhism   brought  about  the  formation  of  a  spirit  of  chivalry  and  nationalism.  Further,  the  practice  of  zazen   (literally  “seated  meditation”)  proved  very  useful  for  combat:  through  meditation,  detached  from   all  futile  passion,  the  warrior  does  not  fear  death,  and  so  is  invincible6.  In  this  way,  Zen  enables  a   better  understanding  of  confrontation,  through  perfection  and  mastery  of  one’s  mind  so  as  to  find   inner   peace   and   courage.   Furthermore,   if   Zen   is   associated   with   emptiness,   it   is   also   associated   with  the  "path  of  the  warrior":  the  warrior  tends  to  find  both  inner  peace  and  martial  perfection   simultaneously.   The   Japanese   martial   arts   experience,   however,   underwent   a   transformation   with   the   advent   of   the   Meiji   era   (1868-­‐1912).   From   its   utility   roots,   the   practice   of   martial   arts   developed   into   an   essentially   spiritual   pursuit,   from   simple   jutsu   (military   techniques)   to   dô   (paths),  martial  discipline  took  on  a  mental  aim,  all  this  under  the  influence  of  Zen.                                                                                                               4

Ibid,  II,  18.    Daisetz  Suzuki,  Zen  and  Japanese  Culture,  Pantheon  Books,  New-­‐York,  1959.   6  Notably  Takuan  (1573-­‐1645),  Hakuin  (1685-­‐1768)  and  Musashi  (1584-­‐1645).   5

The influence  of  Zen  and  other  spiritual  movements  on  the  development  of  martial  arts      

Zen has   been   a   major   influence   on   the   development   of   martial   arts,   as   will   be   further  

illustrated below,   but   it   is   not   the   only   influence.   Taoism   has   also   been   a   major   inspiration.   The   Dao  De  Jing  (or  Tao  Te  Ching,  "Book  of  the  Way  and  its  Virtue")  is  a  short  collection  of  obscure  and   poetic   aphorisms   awarded   to   the   father   and   deified   founder   of   Taoism:   Laozi   (or   Lao   Tzu).   It   includes   the   libertarian   ethic,   a   "quietist"   mystique,   which   is   also   present   in   Chán   Buddhism   (ancestor  of  the  Japanese  Zen)  and  a  sense  of  balance  between  yin  and  yang.  Taoism’s  influence  is   visible   in   many   aspects   of   martial   arts.   It   is   a   kind   of   spiritual   alchemy,   which   aims   at   the   transformation   of   the   practitioner   through   spiritual   and   physical   exercise,   attended   by   the   alignment   of   cosmic   forces.   The   quest   for   immortality,   breath   control   (Qi   gong)   and   energy   mastery  are  all  essential  to  Chinese  martial  arts,  although  these  things  find  less  importance  in  their   Japanese  counterpart.  The  links  with  Confucianism  are  also  equally  tangible.  We  can  find  common   values   such   as   integrity   and   uprightness   (also   found   in   Taoism,   with   the   notion   of   “de"   or   “te”),   or   the  respect  due  to  elders.  In  addition,  the  methods  of  teaching  Confucianism  are  similar  to  those   used   to   impart   martial   arts   knowledge   to   samurais:   the   importance   of   ritual,   the   absence   of   explicit   instructions   or   observations.   Ultimately   then,   from   their   origins,   martial   arts   have   taken   inspiration   from   a   sort   of   mysticism.   The   masters   had   access   to   relatively   obscure   formulas   by   which  they  encoded  techniques,  in  order  to  not  be  understood  by  the  uninitiated.  The  scrolls  thus   employ   metaphors   such   as   "the   reflection   of   the   moon   on   the   lake"   (to   express   the   distance   between  two  fighters)  or  "two  peaks"  (in  reference  to  the  elbows).      

Beyond its   "mystical"   or   “spiritual”   aspect,   martial   arts   must   be   understood   from   a  

philosophical perspective.  For  a  Japanese  master  of  aikido7,  the  meaning  of  martial  arts  is  to  be   found   in   the   sort   of   dual   relation   that   they   inspire.   The   art   of   fighting   creates   an   alternative   between  the  self  and  the  other,  which  comes  down  to  this:  kill  or  be  killed.  By  exceeding  this  initial   extremely   martial   conception,   the   master   of   aikido   invites   us   to   see   this   self-­‐others   duality   as   a   relationship  between  subject  and  object,  and  an  alternative  method  of  affirmation-­‐negation.  We   can   "define   martial   arts,   stripped   down   to   its   essential   meaning,   as   a   way   to   manage   one’s   subjectivity   in   relation   to   others"8.   On   the   other   hand,   the   art   of   fighting   invites   us   to   see   Zen,                                                                                                               7 8

Luc  Boussard,  translation  by  Chiba  Sensei.    Ibid.  

through the  practice  of  zazen,  as  an  exercise  in  discovery  and  mastery  of  one’s  subjectivity,  as  a   subject.   In   fine,   Zen   is   a   prerequisite   for   the   study   and   the   exercise   of   one’s   subjectivity   when   faced  with  the  other,  which  is  enabled  by  martial  arts.      

Zen lies  at  the  origin  of  the  transformation  of  Japanese  martial  arts.  By  the  second  half  of  

the nineteenth-­‐century,   martial   arts   schools   began   to   form,   inspired   by   the   current   of   budo   bushi.   It  includes  kendo,  issued  from  kenjutsu9;  kyudo10,  issued  from  kyujutsu;  Jigoro  Kano’s  judo11  and   Morihei   Ushiba’s   aikido,   both   of   which   are   derived   from   jujutsu12   and   Gichin   Funakoshi’s   karate   do13.  The  budo14  consists  of  all  Japanese  martial  arts.  More  than  serving  as  a  simple  grouping  of   martial   arts,   budo   binds   them   to   the   philosophical   and   ethical   questions.   The   term   do   meaning   "way",  the  budo  makes  us  reflect  on  what  constitutes  this  path  and  how  best  to  follow  it.  It  is  one   way   of   finding   and   acquiring   the   understanding   needed   to   control   oneself.   This   is   the   path   of   Buddha,   the   Butsudo,   which   allows   the   ego   to   reach   enlightenment15.   The   connection   between   Zen   and   budo   is   particularly   obvious   in   the   importance   they   attach   both   to   meditation,   zazen,   which  allows  to  achieve  a  state  of  spiritual  awakening.      

The rediscovery  of  the  meaning  of  dô  in  Japan  in  the  early  twentieth  century  is  linked  to  

the Chinese  tradition  of  Qi  (“Ki”  in  Japanese).  Ki  is  the  energy,  interior  and  exterior,  which  a  man   can  learn  to  control.  It  is  concentrated  at  a  single  point,  just  below  the  navel  (the  Hara).  Aikido,   under  the  influence  of  Ueshiba,  was  deeply  marked  by  the  concept  of  Ki.  Ueshiba  saw  the  sport  as   both  a  defence  and  as  a  mystical  practice.  It  was  for  him  a  divine  path  (dô),  giving  the  man  who   practices   the   opportunity   to   be   in   harmony   with   nature   in   its   entirety.   In   the   progressive   realization   of   the   technique,   Aikido   draws   parallels   between   Zen   and   martial   arts16.   Initially,   the   subject  denies  the  subject,  that  is  to  say  that  the  tori  (the  practitioner  who  performs  the  technique   of  aikido,  who  throws  his  opponent)  denies  the  uke  (the  attacker,  who  is  thrown).  During  practice,   the  roles  are  reversed  with  katas  (forms,  or  codified  movements).  Then,  object  and  subject  deny   each  other:  the  opponents  floor  each  other;  "not  to  kill  if  you  will  be  killed"  and  "be  prepared  to   kill  if  one  is  about  to  be  killed."  Finally,  subject  and  object  accept  each  other:  this  is  the  "mutual                                                                                                               9

Fencing.    Path  of  the  rule.   11  Path  of  the  moving  Zen.   12  Former  suppleness  techniques  practiced  by  samurais.   13  Path  of  bare-­‐handed  combat.   14  Path  of  the  warrior.   15  Taisen  Deshimaru,  Zen  &  Arts  martiaux,  Paris,  1983.   16  Luc  Boussard,  op.  cit.   10

crossing"; the  result  is  coexistence  and  mutual  recognition.  It  is  no  longer  about  killing  the  other   but  about  killing  the  ego  in  itself,  to  transcend  one’s  ego17.      

If aikido   understands   Ki   in   a   manner   that   is   highly   spiritualized,   Judo,   founded   by   Jigoro  

Kano, takes   into   account   the   ancient   practices   of   warriors   of   the   do,   which   made   use   of   Ki   in   a   rational  manner,  making  use  of  the  opponent’s  Ki.  Efficiency  is  paramount  and  occurs  through  an   absolute   mastery   of   oneself,   of   the   body   as   well   as   of   the   mind.   Judo   has   a   moral   code,   represented  three  values:  Shin  (moral  valour,  mind,  and  character),  Ghi  (technical  merit)  and  Tai   (bodily   strength)18.   These   values   can   exist   for   each   practitioner,   in   proportions   which   vary   according   to   age,   sex   and   health.   Judo   is   based   less   on   a   spiritual   quest   sometimes   mystical,   relatively   opaque   to   the   uninitiated,   than   it   is   on   a   set   of   moral   and   ethical   precepts.   Bushido19   includes   many   judo   values   expressed   in   the   form   of   aphorisms.   These   aphorisms   make   literal   reference   to   a   philosophical   approach,   based   as   they   are   on   a   quest   for   sofya,   or   wisdom.   Righteousness   is   thus   defined   by   a   bushi   as   "the   power   to   make,   without   flinching,   a   decision   dictated   by   reason.   Die   when   it   is   good   to   die,   hit   when   it   is   good   to   hit"20.   Similarly,   the   codification  of  gestures  and  the  ritual  of  politeness  frame  the  life  of  every  soldier  and  practitioner.   It   aims   at   the   mastery   of   passions   and   instincts.   The   strong   ritualization   of   judo   can   thus   be   understood  as  a  process  of  "civilising"  social  relationships,  adorning  them  with  certain  nobility.  In   the  same  vein,  dojos  are  considered  as  schools  of  life,  where  the  relationship  between  master  and   disciple   offers   a   physical,   technical   and   psychological   training.   It   is   therefore   not   surprising   that   loyalty   is   considered   a   major   value   in   judo,   especially   the   link   between   master   and   student,   without  obsequiousness,  respect  and  loyalty  are  unwavering.  This  constant  loyalty  comes  from  the   samurais,   for   whom   attachment   to   Lord   and   to   the   Emperor   Yato,   the   soul   of   the   country,   took   precedence  over  everything  else,  including  filial  piety.      

Zen has   also   inspired   karate,   though   this   happened   later.   Karate   was   born   when   the  

practice of  martial  arts  from  China  reached  the  peninsula  of  Okinawa  and  inspired  new  practices,   always  tinged  by  the  martial  arts  practiced  by  the  samurais.  Conceptualized  by  Gichin  Funakoshi,   karate   takes   its   inspiration   from   traditional   Japanese   culture   as   much   as   it   does   from   Chinese                                                                                                               17

Christian  Courtonne,  “Entretien  avec  Philippe  Coupey,  moine  zen  et  dirigeant  de  la  mission  de  Maître  Deshimaru”,   October  1999.   18  Jigoro  Kano,  Kôdôkan  Judo,  Kodansha  International,  1994.   19  Naze  Nitobé,  Le  Bushido  -­‐  L'âme  du  Japon,  Payot,  Paris,  1927.   20  André  Cognard  “Ma  rencontre  avec  Kobayashi  Sensei”,  in  André  Cognard,  Le  petit  manuel  d’aikido,   Centon  Editions,   2007.  

culture and   Japanese   budo   thought.   The   evolution   of   karate   towards   the   field   of   dô   occupies   is   reflected  in  the  evolution  of  its  name.  Originally  called  karate-­‐jutsu  (jutsu  the  term  designating  a   combat   technique,   the   practical   value),   it   then   became   karate-­‐dô.   The   word   kara,   meaning   "empty",   assumes   a   particular   importance21.   It   illustrates   the   refusal   to   use   weapons   other   than   hands   or   feet   and   underlines   that   the   aim   of   karate   is   not   to   perfect   a   technique   but   to   purify   one’s   heart   and   mind   of   all   desire   and   vainglory.   The   idea   of   vacuum   must   be   understood   as   seeking   a   state   of   mind   common   to   Zen   and   budô,   allowing   the   action   perfectly   free   from   outside   influence,   in   harmony   with   itself   and   its   environment.   The   use   of   different   characters   to   write   the   word   "karate"   reveals   the   emancipation   of   Chinese   influence.   Until   the   nineteenth-­‐century,   the   ideogram  "kara"  was  the  same  as  "to",  both  characters  designating  China.  It  was  at  the  beginning   of  the  early  twentieth-­‐century  that  a  new  character  was  used  for  the  word  "kara"  which  read  "ku",   meaning   "empty."   This   change   marks   a   break   with   the   Chinese   influence   while   linking   art   to   Buddhist  philosophy  ("empty"  referring  to  the  emptiness  of  mind)22.  The  addition  of  the  word  "dô"   allows  for  integration  of  the  idea  that,  like  all  other  Japanese  arts  (ikebana,  calligraphy),  karate  is  a   form   spiritual   soul-­‐searching.   From   this   perspective,   the   practitioner   must   follow   a   number   of   precepts  that  constitute  the  moral  code  of  each  discipline.  Improvement  in  everything  goes  hand   in  hand  with  self-­‐fulfilling,  in  a  harmony  of  a  being  with  its  environment23.  The  founder  of  karate   wanted  to  assimilate  this  martial  art  to  Budô,  reconciling  practical  combat  and  spiritual  fulfilment.     Self-­‐control  and  unity  (wholeness)      

Martial arts   reconcile   the   quest   for   spiritual   enlightenment   with   that   of   self-­‐control,   as  

called for   by   one   of   the   twenty   principles   of   Funakoshi:   "Let   your   spirit   free,   do   not   let   it   be   fixed"24.   The   mind   must   remain   agile   and   free,   and   not   to   be   encumbered   in   order   to   be   as   responsive   as   possible.   Mastery   of   the   martial   art   requires   monitoring   of   a   stern   morality.   If   all   martial   arts   obey   a   code   of   honour,   Japanese   bushidô   is   one   of   the   most   codified.   Its   classical   version   consists   of   nine   virtues25,   that   we   can   find   in   the   moral   code   of   judo.   Research   of   self-­‐                                                                                                             21

Vincent  Leduc,  Vers  l’intersection  du  karaté-­‐do  et  du  bouddhisme  zen,  Louvain  Catholic  University,  1999.    R.  Habersetzer,  Combat  à  main  nue,  Histoire  et  traditions  en  Extrême-­‐Orient,  Arts  martiaux  phora,  Paris,  1998.   23  K.  Tokitsu,  La  voie  du  karaté.  Pour  une  théorie  des  arts  martiaux  japonais,  Paris,  Seuil,  1979.   24  Gichin  Funakoshi,  The  Twenty  Guiding  Principles  of  Karate:  The  Spiritual  Legacy  of  the  Master,  Kodansha,  2003.   25   Honour:   meiyo;   faithfulness:   chujitsu;   sincerity:   seijitsu;   courage:   yuukan;   benevolence:   shinsetsu;   humility:   ken;   honesty:   tadashi;   respect:   sonchoo;   self-­‐control:   seigyo.   Honour   is   the   most   important   virtue,   from   which   the   eight   virtues   result.   It   goes   with   the   quest   for   an   ideal.   Faithfulness   is   understood   as   honouring   one’s   commitments.   Sincerity   is   tantamount   to   authenticity   and   courage   is   a   synonymous   for   will.   Benevolence   encourages   mutual   aid,   while   humility   prevents   from   self-­‐conceit.   Honesty   means   undertaking   its   commitments   and   respecting   the   others.   22

control, one  of  the  cardinal  virtues  of  bushidô,  is  equally  prevalent  in  Thai  boxing.  It  is  not,  as  can   be   seen   in   combat   sports,   about   winning   the   competition   by   putting   one’s   opponent   out   of   action   by   all   means,   but   rather   about   mastering   the   "art"   (sinla'pa   ')   of   boxing,   by   become   master   of   one’s   emotions   and   pain26.   Concentration   and   attention   are   the   way   to   cut   out   sensations.   Thai   boxing   does   not   follow   so   much   a   spiritual   process,   even   if   performance   is   understood   as   "the   will   in  action".  Achieving  this  level  of  excellence  enables  one  to  apprehend,  thanks  to  the  opponent,   one’s   own   self-­‐control.   The   idea   of   self-­‐control   is   rooted   in   Japanese   Zen,   which   is   associated   with   "emptiness"   but   also   "the   path   of   the   warrior."   The   fighter   should   not   allow   himself   to   be   dominated  by  a  hostile  feeling  or  judgment  but  be  "empty",  free  and  available  to  respond  to  any   external  event.  Experiencing  Zen  for  a  fighter  means  that  he  can  be  absolutely  focused,  by  being   completely  detached  from  what  is  happening  around  him.  This  control  of  all  by  emptiness  enables   one   to   achieve   unity   by   making   complements   of   completely   opposites.   Such   an   approach   is   at   the   heart  of  the  teaching  of  Bodhidharma,  founder  of  Chinese  martial  arts,  which  designated  martial   arts  as  essential  to  the  spiritual  quest  in  that  they  allow  a  harmonious  development  of  body  and   mind,  whose  Unity  is  essential.  In  his  view  "doctrine  is  preached  to  mind,  but  mind  and  body  are   originally  one  and  we  can  not  separate  them"27.     Beyond  spirituality:  the  listing  of  martial  arts  in  society      

It follows  that  martial  arts,  with  the  spiritual  and  philosophical  reflection  involved  in  their  

practice, apply   almost   naturally   to   the   daily   activities   of   their   practitioners.   Thai   boxing   has   enjoyed   a   sort   of   renaissance   by   a   movement   of   "sportivisation"28   and   nationalization   in   the   twentieth-­‐century,   aiming   at   the   promotion   of   recreational   practice   as   much   as   at   claiming   a   national   identity29.   Two   centuries   ago   on   the   American   continent,   the   development   of   capoeira   experienced  a  similar  development,  where  this  "martial  dance"  became  a  tool  of  emancipation  of   black   slaves   against   white   domination.   In   this   regard,   capoeira   invents   a   dance   language   that   emphasizes   a   return   to   origins   and   the   animal   side   of   man   and   game.   It   enjoins   "resistance,   to                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        

Respect encourages  and  results  from  honesty,  but  means  also  due  respect  to  sacred.  Self-­‐control  is  one  of  the  main   goals  of  martial  arts  and  determines  their  efficiency.     26  Stéphane  Rennesson  ”La  boxe  thaïlandaise  :  assurer  le  spectacle  et  ne  pas  perdre  la  face”,  Ethnologie  française   4/2006  (Vol.  36).   27  Vincent  Leduc,  op.  cit.   28   Jean-­‐François   Loudcher,   ”Le   processus   de   sportivisation   de   la   boxe   anglaise   :   le   cas   de   l’étude   temporelle   des   combats  à  poings  nus  (1743-­‐1867)  ”,  Movement  &  sport  sciences,  2008/3  n°65.   29  Stéphane  Rennesson  in  Jean  Marc  de  Grave  et  Benoit  Gaudin,  ”Les  Arts  martiaux  Extrême-­‐Orientaux”,  colloquial  in   Versailles  St  Quentin  en  Yvelines  University,  28  March  2008.  

enter into  acting,  playing  and  thwarting  the  functionality  of  the  white  world  where  the  Black  has   nothing   to   win,   refusing   to   debase   the   power   of   movement   in   the   value   of   the   act"30.   A   social   tool,   martial   arts   sometimes   form   a   central   element   of   learning   citizenship   and   of   communal   life.   Training   constitutes   an   act   of   socialization   in   its   own   right,   the   camp   being   an   educational   intermediary   as   the   family   home   and   school.   In   the   case   of   Thai   boxing,   it   is   considered   that   being   "a  good  boxer,  is  being  a  good  citizen,  that  is  to  say  a  good  Buddhist"31.      

The relevance  of  the  different  cultures’  influence  behind  each  brand  of  martial  art  makes  it  

imperative to   remain   wary   of   taking   too   westernized   an   approach   to   them.   There   are   several   pitfalls   that   must   be   avoided:   the   ahistorical   vision   of   martial   arts   mythicized   by   Bruce   Lee   movies   and   images   which   aggravate   this,   encouraging   the   incorrect   notion   of   martial   arts   as   homogeneous.   They   belong   to   different   geographical   areas,   have   undergone   various   cultural   influences  and  have  distinct  histories  and  ages.  Furthermore,  if  the  speech  emphasizing  the  need   to   go   through   the   Zen   to   truly   understand   and   practice   martial   arts   is   generally   accepted,   it   ought   to  note  that  there  exists  a  disagreement  between  Japanese  historians.  While  all  recognize  the  Zen   some  influence  in  the  development  of  martial  arts,  some  consider  it  is  today  overrated.      

At this   point   it   is   important   to   remind   the   reader   of   the   recent   influence   of   the   Western  

gaze on   the   martial   arts.   Chinese   boxing   and   was   classified   into   two   categories   (internal   and   external32)   in   the   late   nineteenth-­‐century.   This   distinction   was   drawn   essentially   by   Westerners,   who   could   thus   "juxtapose   a   Western   model   of   the   human   body   (morphology,   biomechanics,   medical)   to   an   energy   model   and   physiological   functioning   of   the   body,   according   to   traditional   Chinese   culture"33.   Masters   also   encouraged   this   Westernization,   with   a   view   to   exporting   the   martial   arts.   Kawaishi   Mikinosuke   adjusted   the   grading   system   for   colored   belts   in   the   late   nineteenth-­‐century   for   the   development   of   judo.   It   was   taken   over   by   the   vast   majority   of   martial   arts  disciplines,  even  non-­‐Japanese  ones,  using  the  reward  as  a  motivating  factor  in  the  context  of   teaching  methods  geared  to  western  practitioners34.     The   exacerbation   of   the   division   between   internal   and   external   martial   arts   has   encouraged   the                                                                                                               30

Camille  Dumoulié,  ”La  capoeira,  une  philosophie  du  corps”,  2006.     Stéphane   Rennesson   ”La   boxe   thaïlandaise   :   assurer   le   spectacle   et   ne   pas   perdre   la   face”,   Ethnologie   française   4/2006  (Vol.  36).   31


Nei  Jia  Quan  内家拳  and  Wai  Jia  Quan  外家拳.  


David  Florentin,  ”Histoire  des  arts  martiaux  chinois”,  2007.    Domy  Stefanini,  Richesse  des  arts  martiaux,  curiosité  occidentale  et  mystère  asiatique,  2009.  


development of   categorized   disciplines,   ranging   from   recreation   to   Ultimate   Fighting.   Qi   Gong   (internal)   since   1980   has   enjoyed   booming   popularity   in   France,   its   followers   finding   in   this   "traditional  energetic  art"  an  activity  that  is  both  beneficial  to  their  well-­‐being  and  culturally  rich35.   In  contrast,  some  traditional  martial  arts  have  their  original  violent  features  accentuated  (e.g.  the   full   contact   version   of   karate   where   the   shots   are   recorded)   or   revised   with   in   the   view   of   self-­‐ defence   (including   the   Indonesian   Pencak   Silat,   taught   for   use   of   the   tonfa   by   the   police,   or   the   Russian   systema   which   incorporates   many   features   of   aikido).   Self-­‐defence   techniques   aim   primarily  at  freeing  the  natural  reflexes,  stripping  the  fighting  down  to  a  purely  physical  violence   ignoring  the  element  of  spiritual  clash.  If  martial  arts  teach  a  technique,  which  is  used  in  combat   only  as  a  second  step,  this  process  is  reversed  and  the  case  of  close  combat,  where  the  first  battles   take  place  without  prior  technical  preparation.  Resistance  to  fears  and  self-­‐control  transpire  less   from   meditation   and   the   application   of   techniques   than   they   do   from   the   actual   experience   of   combat36.      

Violence and  instinct  seem  to  prevail  without  much  reference  to  Sun  Tzu,  who  advised  to  

adopt the   crude   state   of   acting   without   prior   judgement,   the   strategist   should   instead   open   his   perceptive  potential  and  learn  only  by  experience,  that  is  to  say  from  factual  senses  and  situations.   Interest   in   Mixed   Martial   Arts   (MMA)   in   particular   seems   to   reveal   a   quasi-­‐utility   approach   to   combat  sports:  there  is  the  victory  obtained  by  knockout  or  submission,  and  assaults  are  the  most   effective  early  in  the  exchange37.  The  success  of  this  type  of  sports  even  among  practitioners  of   traditional  martial  arts,  the  emphasis  of  natural  reflexes,  of  instinct,  the  refusal  of  any  codification   may   suggest   that   we   are   seeing   an   eclipse   of   the   philosophical   or   spiritual   element   in   martial   arts.   Let  us  not  forget  as  long  as  boxing,  a  fighting  sport  par  excellence,  originated  in  Greece  where  it   was   introduced   by   Eryx,   the   champion   of   Olympus38:   Western   culture   is   at   the   origin   of   the   codification   of   combat   sports,   that   which   today   seems   to   praise   the   absence   of   rule.   From   Bodhidharma  to  Richard  Douieb,  fighting  and  its  socio-­‐philosophical  dimension  remain,  ultimately,   an   affair   of   otherness.   In   a   permanent,   dynamic   flux,   the   meeting   of   opposites   leads   either   to   paradox  or  union.                                                                                                               35

Marceau  Chenault,  ”La  pratique  du  qi  gong  en  France”,  in  Jean  Marc  de  Grave  et  Benoit  Gaudin  ”Les  Arts  martiaux   Extrême-­‐Orientaux”,  op.  cit.   36  Domy  Stefanini,  op.  cit.   37  ”The  variables  with  the  largest  marginal  effects  in  the  sub-­‐sample  of  fights  that  go  to  a  decision  were  damage  and   knockdowns,  which  is  not  surprising  given  their  limited  frequency  in  a  fight.”  Trevor  Collier,  Andrew  L.  Johnson,  John   Ruggiero,  "Aggression  In  Mixed  Martial  Arts,  An  Analysis  of  the  Likelihood  of  Winning  a  Decision",  Springer  Publishing.   2011.   38  Devost,  Manual  Of  Savate  And  English  Boxing,  Method  Leboucher,  1885.  

Club du  Millénaire:  Pauline  Deschryver,  Louis-­‐Marie  Bureau,  Pierre  Jérémie     Editorial  board:  Louis-­‐Marie  Bureau,  Sarah  Laffon     Translation:  Rosalind  Tan  

Everybody was Kung Fu fighting: from dojo to arena  

Prima facie, martial arts seem to bear more references to film than to philosophical themes. And yet by calling into question issues such as...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you