Are martial myths necessary?

Northern Karate Schools Toronto

So consider this – Bodhidharma, the sixth century Indian priest who brought Buddhism, healing methods and unparalleled martial arts to China, spent nine years facing a cave wall in meditation. He stared at point so intently, that large whole was burnt into the rock. Yet furious with his inability to stay awake, he is said to have ripped off his eyelids. On falling to the ground, they became tea plants. So if you’re waiting for your chai latte with tapioca bubbles, take a bow of gratitude to Damo (or is it Tatmo?) aka Bodhidharma, aka blue eyed stranger.

We know that this story is an allegory not factual information. Yet. We kind of want to believe this. It’s nice to have an origin story, less of the brain, more of heart.

Some often repeated tales have some historical truth. Like the day that Karate triumphed over bovine prowess.

Often repeated legend of Karate master besting a bull. “A moment after locking gazes with Matsumura, the bull turned tail and ran to the furthest point of the arena and refused to attack him. Sokon Matsumura triumphed without a single strike and the king bestowed on him the title of bushi or warrior.” Was it the metaphysical power of karate, or matter of a bull giving up after an old man poked him in the testicles with sharp stick for days prior? Either way, Matsumura was a legend.

Myths, legends, and stories have played a significant role in the practice and promote martial arts systems throughout history. These narratives serve as a means to preserve, transmit the values, traditions, and philosophies associated with different martial arts styles. While some aspects of these stories may be embellished or exaggerated over time, they are essential in fostering a long-term commitment to martial arts practice.

Here’s why:

1. Inspiration and Motivation: Myths and legends often feature legendary martial artists who possess extraordinary skills and demonstrate the highest level of mastery. These stories inspire practitioners to strive for excellence and push their limits. They create a sense of awe and admiration, serving as role models for aspiring martial artists and providing a source of motivation to endure the challenges of training.

2. Cultural and Historical Connection: Martial arts have deep cultural and historical roots in various societies. Myths and legends associated with specific martial arts styles provide a connection to the past, preserving the heritage and traditions of a particular art form. They help practitioners understand the cultural significance and historical context of their practice, fostering a sense of identity and belonging within a broader martial arts community.

3. Moral and Ethical Values: Many martial arts myths and stories convey moral and ethical lessons. These narratives often emphasize virtues such as discipline, respect, humility, perseverance, and honor. By incorporating these values into the fabric of martial arts practice, myths and legends serve as a moral compass, guiding practitioners to develop not just physical skills but also character and integrity.

4. Transmission of Knowledge: Myths and legends are often used as teaching tools to convey complex martial arts concepts and principles. They offer a more engaging and memorable way to impart knowledge compared to dry technical explanations. Through storytelling, instructors can communicate important lessons, strategies, and philosophies that might be challenging to convey through direct instruction alone.

5. Sense of Community and Tradition: Myths and legends create a sense of community among martial artists. They are shared and passed down from generation to generation, fostering a collective identity and a sense of belonging. Martial arts practitioners often gather to discuss, analyze, and interpret these stories, deepening their connection to the art and to one another.

It is important to note that while myths and legends serve valuable purposes in martial arts practice, they should not be taken as literal historical accounts. Their primary function is to inspire, teach, and connect individuals to the essence of the martial arts. As with any storytelling tradition, it is natural for these narratives to evolve and adapt over time, reflecting the values and aspirations of the martial arts community and personal needs. At times they take on a personal narrative

in order to boost a system, style or individual. Less about preserving history, more about creating a brand.

Something to chew on; John F. Kennedy said, “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie; deliberate, contrived and dishonest; but the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.”

Myths, legends, and stories are necessary to foster a long-term martial arts adherence. They inspire, motivate, and transmit important values and knowledge. By embracing these narratives, martial artists can deepen their understanding of the art form, connect with its cultural and historical roots, and develop a strong sense of community and tradition.

Chibariyo ~ C.Borkowski