Often when people hear that you do martial arts, the first question you get asked is “what style do you do?” It is human nature to seek understanding of a situation. It is human nature to then attach a thought, opinion or feeling to a situation. While it is a simple question, it is a not-so-simple answer.
When I ask beginner students “what is important about doing martial arts to you?”, the most popular answers are to learn self defence and to get fit. I still believe that learning simple, yet effective, self defence is a major part of martial arts. This is what you practice in class. I rarely get people saying that they want to learn taekwondo, karate, judo, jiu-jitsu, boxing, kickboxing, wrestling, muay thai, or any of the other popular martial arts. They just want to learn self defence. This is not a knock on those systems, as I love doing all of the traditional martial arts systems. I am simply saying that doing a specific martial art is not the reason that most people start.
For years, I did not know how to answer the “style question”, as I could not label it. In class, we do kicking, punching, throws, wrestling and submissions. When I was kicking, was I doing taekwondo, karate, kung fu, etc? I did not know, as I was just kicking correctly for the needs of the situation. Styles did not matter, as it was all simply self defence. Therefore, when people asked the question, I simply said that we teach the best parts of all of the traditional martial arts systems.
But, does my knowing great self defence moves really add value to my family, friends and society? Possibly, especially if we were attacked. However, after many, many years of doing martial arts, I now know that martial arts is more than just self defence and getting fit (albeit, I concede, this part is still heaps of fun). Martial arts is a way of life. It is not an easy way of life. It teaches us lots of life lessons, such as excellence, leadership, focus, self awareness, courage, stepping outside your comfort zone, discipline, surrendering to your ego, and being patient with others. These are not natural attributes for people and they must be worked on over time.
My Sensei has labelled our style Ju Jitsu. He has not named it this way to say that Ju Jitsu is superior to other traditional martial arts. Quite the contrary, as all traditional martial arts are good. Rather, he named it this way because Ju Jitsu is a giving art, a forgiving art, an art that teaches you to yield, an art that teaches you to go with the flow (and also flow with the go). Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean once said:
The problem is not the problem
Your attitude to the problem is the problem.
Therefore, if Ju Jitsu can teach you to have a better attitude, to forgive yourself and others, to let things go, to help, to provide service, and to always move forward in a positive way, would these not be good attributes to contribute to society? I would say yes. Are these things that we can all get better at? Absolutely. But that is the beauty of martial arts, as it is always challenging and teaching you to be better over time.
If somebody asked me today “what is important about martial arts to you?”, I would say “sense of community” and “fun”. This is important to me and why I love coming to class. Now, if somebody also asked me “what style do you do?”, I do not mind saying Ju Jitsu, as it is teaching me larger life skills and challenging me to be better.