I’ve practiced Goju Ryu Karate in the past, and while I don’t actively participate in it anymore, I’ve recently come to revisit the philosophy behind them. In the East, Buddhist and Taoist values were dramatised in fight sequences and passed down through generations. How our ancestors would have thought about martial arts was not MMA contests or Combat Sports, but something more similar to the worship we perform in Church. Many schools of Martial Arts therefore centered around Temples and disciples rigorously trained in the teachings that inspired the art form.
From what I can tell, I observe 3 trends in the various styles.
So the goal of short range styles is to bring the opponent to where you are. The shoulders and legs move stiffly while the core twists and turns to generate power in hooked hands that, push, trap and pull the opponent into a position where he cannot strike back. It ignores head on advances to focus on extending the opponents movements and drawing the person in and disabling him.
It examplifies the Taoist teaching of acceptance, not to force your way in any situation, but to let things be as they are, and to follow along. It is very tied to nature and the organic flow of life.
Mid range styles on the other hand seeks to directly take ground from the opponent and overwhelm him. The core and legs remain stiff and steady while arms flail systematically in a flurry of strikes and blocks. It remains focused along a straight line axis on the opponent that is either occupied or avoided.
To me, this is about the Taoist teaching of balance, to have that centre which holds dualities together and to remain in the centre of it. To readjust when your centre is taken and to press in when a new centre is visible; to answer force with gentleness and gentleness with force to remain steadfast in adversity.
Long range styles are dynamic and acrobatic, marking the opponent with precise techniques. The core and shoulders are direct and rigid, while the legs speedily propel decisive force towards the opponent. It looks for openings and angles to be exploited, and then paints them with direct force.
To me, this is distinctly Buddhist. The clarity and precision of a person’s intention can drive his body to adapt towards it. The fluidity of movement from one target to another is characteristic of mindful detachment and living in the moment. The graceful beauty of the movement like great poems and art that adorn the body like forms of devotion.
I think getting into the mindset for ritualised combat shows a person how he should train. Should he look for self acceptance and what feels right? Or steadfastness and adaptability? Maybe a disciplined and precise regiment? Martial Arts are a manifestation of religious belief, first and foremost, and at its core functions most wholesomely and sustainably from that axis. There are probably many more layers of philosophy to each approach, but this is just a brief summary of what I’ve learnt about it. Breathe.