Bruce Lee has a famous quote that reads “To be a martial artist, means to be an artist of life.” But what does this mean? Should Martial Artists be Considered Artists?
There are strong arguments on both sides of this statement. On the offence, you can easily claim that sports are just sports. One might say that art is beautiful, emotional and pleasing to see. Whereas people fighting each other is entertaining, but not in the same category as music or movies. Oscar Wilde famously said that “Art is quite useless,” and that “Art never expresses anything but itself.” As an artist himself, Wilde likely meant not that art doesn’t have a purpose, but that it has no purpose other than itself. This isn’t true of martial arts. There are many practical reasons why one would practice a martial art: fitness, self-defence, discipline, etc. Does this mean that martial arts as art don’t square with this definition? Probably. But then again, this is only one definition of art that we might use to frame the question.
On the other side of this argument, you have to look a little deeper past the bloody noses, competition and fighting. It is no secret that any form of martial art – or sport for that matter – requires technique. No matter how strong you are, it always comes down to patterns, flows and combinations of moves, to win the fight. I mean, nobody wins at Mortal Kombat by pushing random buttons. You may get lucky a few times, but you have to learn the technique if you want to succeed. This being said, aren’t all of those patterns, flows, and combinations in a sense artistic?
Looking even deeper, you can make a connection to how we self-express. When someone picks up a paintbrush or enrols in jiu-jitsu, it’s all about expressing yourself in a healthy way. You find what matters to you, and then you practice at it, you fail, and you learn. Along the way, you start to connect with what you have chosen. You find your own style, start to get a little stronger with your craft, and continue working at it. There is no doubt a connection between putting a part of yourself into something you love doing and art.
To throw another quote into the ring, Pablo Picasso said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” This perfectly encapsulates the problem; there are a million different ways to define what art is and what it is for, and it’s hard to refute any of them because there seems to be a truth in every statement. There is something deeper about perfecting a craft, that goes beyond strength or winning. Bruce Lee probably realized these connections first-hand.
Should Martial Artists be Considered Artists? There is no right or wrong answer.
This article is inspired by Eric C. Stevens ‘Artist of Life: Can An Athlete Be An Artist?’