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Many people engage in martial arts training to learn a "trick". They think they are going to learn a cool wrist lock, or some other kind of almost magical unknown technique, that will flip everyone for real. After a few years most of us learn that this really magical unknown technique, doesn't exist. We realize that the body is a machine and it's limitations can be readily understood by all.
So we give up on that idea, and we move on to the next bit of magic tricks. We start looking for either, a mental trick, a spiritual trick or an energy trick. We want to find a way that our minds, spirits or ki/chi can do the magic. While many spend forever looking for these tricks, most of us, again, settle down and realize that these are not all we fantasize them to be.
Slowly most of us learn that these things all come with dedication, perseverance, honest sweat and hard work. It only looks like a trick to the uninformed, who don't understand that it took time to learn these things, and that if it could be given over night, it truly would be just a "trick".
However most of us continue to fool our selves. We think that training in the martial arts is going to some how make us an amazing fighter. We might shrug it off, and say that we train in the peaceful way, and fighting is something we actually want to avoid. However it's impossible to deny your interest in physical conflict. Because the study of physical conflict IS the study of the martial arts. If it's not physical conflict you're interested in why not study zen, or dance. There is something about physical conflict that draws you to the martial arts, otherwise you wouldn't be a martial artist.
Martial arts don't teach you how to fight. I don't mean that in a psycho babble, pseudo philosophical, superior egotistical way. I mean it very directly. You will never become a fighter by studying the martial arts. If you think you will be, you are again deluding yourself with a trick fantasy.
If you believe you will learn to fight by studying the martial arts, you are again looking for a magic pill, a "trick". The reason is simple, martial arts systems are not fights. Only fighting can make you better at fighting. If you want to have a direct experience with fighting, you cannot cheat by listening to people talk, and you cannot cheat by thinking about it a lot. Those things would be tricks. You can only learn to fight, by fighting.
Sure you can study a sport martial art. Sport martial arts will teach you lots of good things. How to deal with resistance, how to dig deep into your spirit to drive on, how to face your fears, take punishment, etc. etc. But sport is also not a "fights". I mean to say, they are fights in the since that it's you pitting yourself against another person. So they are fights in the same since that debate, or track and field events are fights. But they are not life or death, someone is going to leave today, and the other is not, fights. Nor are they, "give me your money, or I'll stick this piece of metal in your belly" fights. They are not even "Your girlfriend is pretty, I think my boys and I are going to take her for the night" fights. They are sport. Even the seemingly vicious sports, are just sport.
Martial arts are martial arts, sports are sports and fights are fights. Sounds pretty simple, yet we trick ourselves with these things everyday. We think because we train in some battle battlefield techniques, we know how to fight. Or because we kick and wrestle on a mat we know how to fight. We don't.
This is not to say that we can't learn things from this kind of training. The things we train do relate to fights, and may help us in a fight. But no amount of training will give you fight experience.
So what are martial arts: the study of conflict. That's it, simply the study of conflict. Studying history doesn't make you a cowboy, or a knight, or a pirate. You might know lots about them. You might make cloths like theirs, own historical weapons of theirs, have horses or ships. You might even practice shooting, or get together with your buddies and actually joust, or practice swashbuckling. But you are still just one who studies. You've never been on the run in old Mexico. You've never fought a religious war. You've never raped and pillaged. You just study. Only getting in fights makes you a fighter. Training in martial arts makes you a martial artist.