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The Golden Age of Martial Arts

By Jeff Brooks

Eruptions of violence appear in the news every day. Whether this is a result of more sensationalist coverage or an increase of incidents, the fact remains that preparedness isn’t just for paranoids anymore. In civil war era Japan or during inter-dynastic periods in China, social disorder was the norm. As martial artists we have encountered stories from these times. They are part of martial arts lore. They have been romanticized in modern retelling. They have entertained us but they have also inspired us and instructed us in the need for training in martial arts and in the nobility of the skillful use of force in the restraint of harm.

The days of civil unease are with us now. And the need for the personal cultivation of martial skill has not changed. The presence of firearms and other weapons and of a professional law enforcement contingent in society has not reduced the relevance of martial arts training. The ways in which social conditions have changed since the birth of Asian martial arts have not changed our need for training in ethics: the ethics of our obligation to the safety of ourselves and others, and of what constitutes right action in ordinary conduct and in the face of violent threat.

Modern people are well educated in violence. On the news, and through the menacing behavior of thugs in f--k ‘n fight music, in video games, movies and on television. Even in more elevated venues of social discourse, a pose of bullying and intimidation are not only accepted but admired. Mayhem as entertainment trains us in a set of values and behaviors. Under pressure or in ordinary life, people use what they are taught.

Six high school girls were trapped in a room with a violent criminal. He attacked one at a time. What if the other five were trained in martial arts? Twenty-nine college students found themselves within a few yards of a shooter. They bolted for the door while some of their fellow students were shot. What if they had some appreciation for their own strength? What if they had been taught to unite and fight back in the face of murderous threat instead of to run off individually? What if upon first seeing the rifle, the ones nearby stopped the threat before it became deadly? What if instead of watching videos and eating junk food to make themselves feel tough and happy, kids could train in martial skills and have the calm mind, good self-image, healthy strong body, and sense of purpose that it takes to resist wasting your life in self indulgence or cowardice?

Can martial arts have such a good effect? It can. Is this too much to ask of it? I don’t have the answer to that. At least not alone. But together, in a way, we do. We can all do something. We can work hard, be strong and humble, and do right. We can put an end to petty intramural martial arts squabbling simply by not participating in it.

We can further the strength and the decency of at least a few members of our society, a society in danger of losing its virtues to complacency and pleasure seeking. A society that is not teaching young people what they need to know and so is leaving its most vulnerable members exposed to harm.

Let’s not forget why we became martial artists. Let’s not forget what we admired or who we wanted to be. The mission of the true martial artist now is as critical as it was in Tokugawa era Japan or in the time of Bodhidharma and the Shaolin Temple in China.

We are writing history right now. Only if we cultivate our skills and dedicate our time on earth to bettering the people with whom we come in contact will we realize our true potential. Then our martial arts training will become a source of tremendous power.

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About The Author:

Jeffrey Brooks, Seventh Degree Black Belt, US Shorin Ryu Karate, has been the director of Northampton Karate Dojo in Northampton, Massachusetts since 1987 and director of Northampton Zendo since 1993. He is author of “Rhinoceros Zen – Zen Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom.” His column Zen Mirror and other articles appear on

New! is pleased to announce its first book: “Rhinoceros Zen –Zen Martial Arts and the Path to Freedom,” by Jeffrey Brooks, a work that portrays the dual paths and interplay between Zen and Karate-do. Fast paced and easy to read, it is full of insight and wisdom. It is a rewarding read for any martial artist.

(Softcover, 300 pages, illustrated)


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Zen and the martial arts, martial arts, benefits of martial arts, martial arts philopshy

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