I read an article today. The long and short of the story is that there is a martial arts instructor who, after years of teaching and service, he’s beginning to show signs of dementia pugilistica. We could talk about whether one should or shouldn’t participate in the martial arts. We could talk about whether competitive sparring and matching is a good or bad thing, but none of those matters. There is, of course, an inherent danger to doing the martial arts. A trite but true counter-argument is that there is a danger to everything, including the simple act of walking down the street. As a sport and as an activity, martial arts have a significant and documented value.
What would be a more productive discussion is one on safety. We forget that for years, really centuries, martial artists have been looking for better and safer methods of training. The martial artists of old always looked for these methods because their lives depended on it, and not in some abstract way that many who do it for self-defense. We forget that there used to be an annual season for war. We forget that traveling from one town to the next used to be a take-your-life-into-your-own-hands kind of thing. Today, it’s done regularly and without thought. They needed methods of training that would allow them to hone serious skills in the safest way possible, not just to get better, but to be ready at all times. The shinai in kendo is an example. It allowed swordsmen to practice at full speed and with full contact. To practice with a live blade would always incur serious harm and death (since you wouldn’t pull the stroke in this scenario). Doing the same stroke with a bokken, which is a solid piece of wood, would break bones and crush skulls. Getting from real swords to shinai didn’t happen overnight. We forget that centuries passed before the modern shinai came on the scene.
Many of us, civilian developed world and middle-classed martial artists, do live in times and places much safer than our ancestors and a lot of other people in our countries and around the world. Our martial ancestors might have been tougher than we are, but they developed protocols and safety devices over the centuries that we employ today for our safety. The fact is also, today’s technology and science gives us great ability and knowledge to allow us to practice with less damage and less unnecessary danger than ever. We should be ever vigilant to seeing and using and combining new and old knowledge to create better training protocols. We shouldn’t be tempted to discard safety in the name of toughness. We can make this contribution with little cost. We owe dedicated teachers like Mr. Moore that.