Martial arts

By Yossi Sheriff

Martial arts (אומנויות לחימה) are codified systems of fighting techniques that are passed down through generations. These systems encompass a wide range of physical practices, including strikes, kicks, grappling, weapons training, and defensive tactics. While the movements in martial arts are rooted in practical combat applications, they often transcend mere fighting and incorporate elements of self-cultivation, discipline, and personal growth.

Unlike combat sports, which focus primarily on competition, and martial systems, which emphasize military or law enforcement applications, martial arts place a strong emphasis on the holistic development of the practitioner. This includes not only physical prowess but also mental resilience, character building, and the cultivation of virtues such as respect, humility, and self-control.

Martial arts are deeply influenced by various religious and philosophical traditions. For example, many East Asian martial arts, such as Japanese karate and Chinese kung fu, have been shaped by Zen Buddhism and Taoism. These philosophies emphasize mindfulness, simplicity, and the cultivation of inner peace. Similarly, the chivalric traditions of medieval Europe, embodied in the Code of Chivalry, have influenced Western martial arts such as fencing and jousting. The warrior ascetics of Japan, known as yamabushi, blended martial arts with the esoteric practices of Shugendo, a syncretic religion that combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism, and Shintoism.

People engage in martial arts for a variety of reasons. For many beginners, the primary motivation is often the desire to learn self-defense skills or to overcome an opponent in competition. However, as practitioners deepen their engagement with martial arts, they often discover a wealth of additional benefits, such as improved physical fitness, increased self-confidence, stress relief, and a greater sense of inner peace and well-being.

The way martial arts are taught and practiced varies widely across different styles and traditions. Some emphasize flowing, dance-like movements that prioritize grace and fluidity, while others focus on powerful, explosive techniques designed for maximum impact. Many martial arts incorporate elements of sparring or competitive matches, allowing practitioners to test their skills against resisting opponents in a controlled setting. Regardless of the specific approach, all martial arts share a common goal of empowering individuals to cultivate their full potential, both physically and mentally, through dedicated training and practice.