It may seem like an overly simple topic for discussion, with the answers being obvious, but how and why are Martial Arts "Manly"?
I am sure that those here who train/practice/pursue the various Martial disciplines, do not do the same things the same way in our efforts, so what is the common thread that makes the practice of the Martial Arts "manly"?
It's basically circular to say that something is Manly because it is what men do. Similarly I don't think that being male and being Manly are necessarily the same thing either.
Fighting in and of itself isn't automatically Manly either if you ask me. Fighting for what is "right", or for a cause seems to me to be Manly, while simply fighting because one is a sociopath or sadist, for example, is not.
Without offering some "final word" on the Manliness of Martial Arts myself (which I don't claim to have yet), Wrestling and Boxing are both very different activities, yet both can be Manly pursuits. At this point if I can go a little a field and ask why you did not include Fencing in your list of Manly sports? If it was a deliberate omission what was the reason? What about the other activities that are commonly label "Martial Arts" these days?
Please realize I asked the question not so much because I thought I had a great answer, but because I thought perhaps it might get some dialog going.
I could not possibly list all of the things that would qualify as martial arts to me. if you are a fencer, I apologize if I have offended you. My son fences. I must clarify my view of martial arts. I define Martial Arts as War Arts. This could include shooting, explosives, hand to hand, swordsmanship, etc.
I'm not advocating going out and picking a fight. In fact, if you were to ask my students, They would tell you that part of what I teach is to avoid fighting if at all possible with the exception of class. That being said, I teach only adults. I'm a firm believer that men are hardwired to fight or jockey for position as the alpha male as kids. Part of the problem with the world today, in my opinion is that kids are no longer allowed to have school yard fights due to liability. When I was in elementary school and even jr. high, boys would get in fights. They would get it out then they were friends. Today's youth has to bottle it up and you end up with tragedies like Columbine. If you look in nature, bucks fight for the right to mate. This is just one example of males being wired to fight. We are the same way. Even as adults, I think that men are drawn to war arts to protect, themselves and their family. They are drawn to protect their place in the world. We don't want that taken away from us...it's in out nature as men.
They are many other reasons that I'm drawn to martial arts. I'm sure that there are many reasons for many different people, including the females involved in the arts.
Oh whoops, nope not a fencer, just like to make sure they get their due amongst the 'Western Arts' of Wrestling and Boxing. These days I consider myself a Western Martial Artist and/or Bartitsu-Ka (we have an article here on AoM on Bartitsu), and like to make sure everyone gets their recognition. The Walking stick methods I study all owe their origins to fencing.
I enjoyed this second post of yours. I hear you regarding school-yard fights, and rough and tumble behavior in general. Healthy outlets are few and far between for Manly pursuits. I think that the rise of MMA in many ways represents a "response" the loss of other outlets. I am just afraid that MMA is going to go the way of every other "big business" sport, which these days are short on Manly character.
To me the value of Martial Arts as Manly pursuits is that they provide a healthy/sane method for pro-actively cultivating "Manliness", as opposed to destructive outlets (say gangs for example), or anti-social behavior. Now while I agree with the biological nature of combative behavior in males, to me the expression of that nature is not automatically Manly, but is just as likely to be savage. Martial Arts are a way whereby that "natural instinct" is accepted, cultivated, and directed in a way that does more good than harm to the individual and his "civilization".
Traditional face to face arts are male dominant simply because of the nature of biology. Males typically are more aggressive, have more muscle mass, and were more emotionally equipped for violence against another human being. Add to that the mammalian male territorial instinct and you get...combat. Contrary to many philosophers in martial arts size and aggression does matter. Biologically males trend toward bigger, stronger, and more aggressive. The "martial" in traditional martial arts stems from military origins. Hence all the courtesies, discipline, and fighting. The pursuit of painting, poetry, religion, meditation, etc for the purpose of perfecting one's self is the "art" of martial arts. This personal development occurred during times of peace. Developing into systems of personal improvement and enlightenment to keep troops from killing each other. And there lies the reasons martial arts are "manly". Because they were developed not to make war but to perfect men.
The majority of people that come to my classes initially have media fed expectations. Traditional karate takes time and dedication. They expect to be doing back-flips and spinning jump kicks like the teenage mutant ninja turtles in two weeks. Those few that remain are usually realistic in their expectations. I think my biggest annoyance when it comes to martial arts perception is what I call the "ancient Chinese secret" BS that unfortunately, is propagated by many McDojos and movies. I guess that's a whole topic in and of itself. If I just insulted your kung fu because you can break the bottom brick then I do apologize.
As for the question of the practice of Martial Arts seen as Manly or respectable...I think that's too broad a category. Hollywood movies and the UFC rarely portray traditional martial arts correctly. I've found that most people "know someone" that practices (Insert art here). Over the years different arts have gained public reputations because of movies, demos at their schools, or popular action heroes. Few people can tell you what style "Chuck Norris Karate" is. Or what style did Bruce Lee have a black belt in? The public at large doesn't really care about credentials or actual real experience. Even the naive martial artists out there buy into the multilevel marketing style demonstrations and claims of "ancient Chinese secrets" that only their style can teach you. So, I would say the public perceptions of martial arts are as varied as the number of arts and charlatans out there.
To answer the original question, martial arts are manly because they transcend the mere act of brawling. They involve control, training and conscious application. Anyone can brawl, it doesn't take any skill whatsoever to start scrapping about with your fists. Martial arts, however, require a degree of finesse that make them worthy of manliness. When you study martial arts, you accept responsibility for your ability to defend yourself (and others, if the need be), and you accept the burden of being able to control and even de-escalate a violent confrontation. Manhood is about being the master of yourself, and nothing could be manlier than exhibiting the ability to precisely control violence.
As to the question of how the public perceives martial arts - well, the only word I can think of to describe it is "unfortunate". In the 70s and 80s martial arts became very popular, and a lot of shady schools opened that really hurt the credibility of the community as a whole. I'm always reminded of an episode of Seinfeld where Kramer decides to take karate, and the theme of the episode involved him, as an adult, beating up a bunch of little kids. Sadly, I think that's the way people perceive us these days - as a kids' activity on part with little league and rec soccer. The kids I teach at my school are great kids, but I find that many adults are hesitant to join the sport because of this fact. I've seen curious adults come into the dojo and leave after watching the kids work out.
I agree with Edmund. Learning martial arts gives someone the confidence and humility to not act like a belligerent jackass (because we know we can take care of ourselves so don't need to scare people and we also know that getting punched in the face sucks so we should try to find peaceful resolutions where possible).
The UFC is just one company selling Mixed Martial Art fights. Does it attract a lot of idiot "fans"? Sure, but it also attracts a lot of intelligent people who enjoy seeing how Traditional Martial Arts fare in a more realistic setting. It's not just a circus contest boxing vs Muay Thai vs Brazilian Ju Jistsu, it's a sport that takes elements from all of these and combines them in to its own martial art.
Ultimately any martial art is going to have a set of rules - true no holds barred fighting would be too injurious to ever gain much popularity.
An example you might appreciate, Lyoto Machida is fascinating to serious fans because he takes a style that hasn't had much respect in MMA (Shotokan, sorry Machida, Karate) and makes it work.
And on that note, I'm going to go and watch last night's UFC. :)
its war ... and not long ago a man was appreciated in war and going to war was scene as noble. fighting or killing in a war was not scene as "baby killing" or shameful so these arts were passed down because it was expected that other generations would follow suit.
now we call them "arts" and subject our practices to ideological pacifist notions of Buddha hood because war and all that is not touted as acceptable!
i honestly think this flux in social perception is partly responsible for PTSD
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