Martial Arts: A way of life

The martial arts are more than just a sport or a way to stay physically active. They are more than a gi and a belt rank. They are more than a dojo or a gym. They are more than a style or a title.

Martial arts is about becoming one with yourself, with nature, with the universe. It is about living mindfully and incorporating its virtues in day-to-day activities and interactions. And in applying philosophy to martial arts, practitioners can create and maintain balance in their training.

Philosophy and martial arts

Philosophy plays a major role in the martial arts. Practitioners who study martial arts without understanding the philosophy only partake in half of the journey.

Joseph Cardillo, author of Be Like Water and Bow to Life, puts it this way:

“A martial artist without philosophy is nothing more than a street fighter.”

In his introduction in Bow to Life, Cardillo explains that, from the very beginning, martial arts was more about living than about fighting.

It is important to practice virtues inside and outside of the dojo. Showing discipline, respect and patience is key to having a balanced life.

Bow to Life: 365 Secrets from the Martial Arts for Daily Life by Joseph Cardillo via Amazon

A virtuous life

Virtues are important in the martial arts. Showing humility and resilience, building self-confidence and having integrity are virtues that a practitioner should possess and apply to their practice and their life.

I will write a separate blog that breaks down the different virtues of martial arts and how they can be applied to practice and everyday life.

Qi: life force, energy

Qi is not a mystical superpower, as many fake martial arts practitioners like to make their students believe.

Qi (气 simplified Chinese – literally translates to “breath” or “air”) exists in everyone and everything that lives. Jesse Enkamp, aka the Karate Nerd, describes the term qi (also spelled “chi”) as energy.

Side Note:

Qi/chi is called “ki” in Korean and Japanese.

Qi (traditional Chinese) via RedBubble

In his video titled “The TRUTH About “CHI” Force 気,” Enkamp breaks down the Chinese character for qi, explaining that it represents ‘steaming rice,’ which in turn is thermal energy.

Qi, therefore, is a ‘life force’ that everyone possesses but not everyone has a chance to master.

At an advanced rank, I started to learn how to control my breathing, my qi. With each movement, I had to know when to inhale, exhale, tense my muscles, relax. I also had to learn to breathe with my abdomen rather than my chest.

Fun Fact:

One of the first katas we learn as students is Miyagi Sanchin kata. The breathing and tension techniques are learned and applied in the advanced ranks.

It is quite a difficult technique to master, and it is all about timing and focus. But it is not something that can be practiced daily because it can impact one’s blood pressure.

Practicing this technique during meditation is helpful: breathing deeply and slowly (without tension), inhaling through the nose and exhaling out of the mouth.

Adding this technique to my routine has slowly helped me improve my breathing when I apply it to my practices.

“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless like water. When you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle. You put water into a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Bruce Lee

Meditation and mindfulness

Meditation is a practice that can improve one’s physical and mental health. Not all martial artists practice meditation, but I find it helpful in clearing the mind.

Focusing on the breath is a way to find balance in meditation. Feeling the breath softly and slowly enter the nose and exhale through the mouth is quite calming.

I like to have my white noise machine on in the background too to drown out the sounds that can be distracting.

Fun Fact:

I like the sound of a rainstorm or the sound of waves at the beach.

Maintaining balance

Through the combination of philosophy, martial arts, virtues and meditation, practitioners can work their way to creating spiritual, mental and physical balance. But it takes discipline and devotion to maintain this balance in one’s life and martial arts practices.

I have only just begun my journey. And I know there is a long road ahead, but with focus and determination, I am well on my way to creating and maintaining balance in my life.

Published by Georgia Iris Salvaryn

Writing Arts graduate student

6 thoughts on “Martial Arts: A way of life

    1. Mandarin Chinese is definitely a challenging language to learn. I have a minor in Chinese with my BA. If you ever have the chance, once the pandemic is over, I would recommend visiting China (depending on the political climate, of course.)


  1. I really loved this article; it inspired me to write more about Martial Arts 🙂 and despite being a professional bookseller until now, I didn’t know about “Bow to live.” It will be added to the list of books I want to read in the future. Next year, I hope to visit China and learn more about martial arts and the Chinese language.


    1. Hi there! I am overjoyed that you found this article inspiring! Please let me know how your visit to China goes! I wrote a travel writing piece on my trip to Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai in July 2017, so if you haven’t already, maybe give it a read! It’s called “Breaths Captured” published in Rhodora Magazine. There are so many things to learn in China about martial arts and the Chinese culture. I minored in Mandarin Chinese in college, so if you need a study partner, hit me up on Twitter (@g_szawaryn)! I haven’t studied in a while, so it will be rusty, but I hope it would be a little helpful 🙂


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