Lifting, the Arts (Martial Arts), and the Culture

If you haven't noticed, the blog has a new look.  You may have also noticed a new Header, with a subheading that explains the fact that this blog will now focus on essays - as opposed to traditional articles - on a wide range of subjects.

I thought it fitting, then, that the first essay with this new focus would actually concentrate, in some way, on all of the topics that I will be writing about.


"Damon of Athens said, 'when modes of music change, the fundamental laws of the State always change with them.'  Artists cultivate our culture.  Politicians can write as many laws as they wish, but they will never change the heart of the culture.  This belongs to the artists - we do battle for the soul of society."   -Jonathan Jackson in The Mystery of Art: Becoming an Artist in the Image of God

The above quote by the Nashville actor Jonathan Jackson covers fundamentally what I'm going to cover in this essay, only with more detail.  But if you understand the above quote, then there probably wouldn't be much need in reading this, and, in fact, you would probably understand already how this even applies to lifting (whatever form this might be) or the martial arts.  For the martial arts are arts, even if our society has lost the true understanding of the word.  Unfortunately for most, even for those who call themselves martial artists, when I write that the martial arts are arts, most think that the words mean that the martial arts can be artistic, "artistic" in this sense meaning that they can look "pretty" or even "flowery."

I mean no thing of the sort.  In fact, that line of thought is so flawed that if you think that, you may not even be capable of understanding what is written here.  But I'm betting that's not the case for everyone, especially for anyone who read the title of this essay, and thought, "hey, that could be an interesting read".

The impetus for this essay came after I had read the above quote to a co-worker after we had a brief discussion on how well politics and laws help our society.  I pointed out that those things are, of course, important for our society, but that they do not change society.  She thought it an odd assessment, at which point I quoted the above.  After further discussion, she agreed that the quote was correct.

What I had to say was essentially this:

Politics and laws are fine, even necessary in our society.  Now, don't get me wrong.  Laws are for those who cannot govern themselves.  For instance, when I'm driving, I rarely observe the speed limit.  I don't need to observe the speed limit because I simply drive at a speed that I know to be reasonable.  Sometimes this means that I'm going well under the speed limit, especially in places where there might be pedestrians or kids playing.  But in a society filled with those who can govern themselves, laws - speed laws, or any laws - are just not necessary.

Now, however much laws are needed in our society, they are not what changes society.  That is left for the artist.  Don't believe me, then think about this: music has much more of an effect on our society than laws.  Movies and television quickly follow suit.  If you're a teenager, for instance, then I can guarantee that you are not altered by laws, but I can also guarantee that you are altered by the music you listen to.

What we watch, listen to, and read on a regular basis fundamentally changes us.

Martial arts are no different than any of the other arts.  Cultures such as Japan and China, where more traditional martial arts are still practiced, have a much deeper martial arts culture than in a country like the United States, where the primary martial art that influences society is MMA.  This is not to say, necessarily, that there is anything wrong with MMA.  What takes place in the ring or in the octagon during the fight would be perfectly capable of producing a good martial arts culture, but it's the crap that takes place before, after, and in between the MMA fights that are the real problems.

And, of course, there is nothing wrong with a society that enjoys watching MMA fights, but the problem is when you think that MMA represents the highest of what the martial arts has to offer.  I sometimes enjoy mindless action films, particularly martial arts films, but I never think that these movies are great movies.  There is a big difference between Road House and The Seven Samurai.  I actually enjoy both of them, but I realize that the latter film is a truly great film, perhaps the best cinema has ever produced, whereas the former is essentially a piece of junk.

Unfortunately, many martial artists get into martial arts, and then stay in the martial arts, for the wrong reasons.  (Now, it's one thing to get into a martial art because you want to be a bad-ass, but it's another thing entirely if that's the reason you actually stay in the martial arts.  If you do this, then you become "tough", and you may be capable of winning almost any fight that you find yourself in, but you will never be a true martial artist.)  In order to be a truly great martial artist, then you stay dedicated to the path of the martial artist for no other reason than to practice the art and to perfect yourself.  If you are dedicated to the path in order to win trophies or titles, or to be the toughest man walking, then you will never understand the martial arts.  You will also fundamentally change yourself and the culture around you in all the wrong ways.

You don't have to look too deeply to see how lifting is very similar.  For the true lifter, it's not ultimately about how much you can lift or how aesthetically pleasing you make your physique, it's about honing the craft of lifting for the sole reason of honing your craft.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  This is not to say that you won't develop a lot of muscle or a lot of strength - you most certainly will - but if you stick with it solely for these reasons, then you will end up transforming yourself into the wrong sort of person, the sort of person our society simply doesn't need.


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