Lessons on Terminology and History

with Dan Bernardo, Sabom

文武 - Munmu

I know there are a lot of opinions about practicing martial arts.  I have my own opinions, others have their own.  And that's what makes the world a beautiful place, you know... diversity.

But when we create an opinion about something do we research as much as we can?  Or rather, do we base it off of a fleeting emotional response?  Or perhaps do we find reasons and/or evidence that support our already held-fast biases?  Does cognitive dissonance drive our decision making or are we open to the possibility of being wrong?

Martial arts is a physical activity, sure... but not solely.  If we only practice physicality (punch faster! kick higher! grip the floor!) than we are only practicing ONE part, not the whole.  Likewise, if we only study and practice the mental aspects (terminology, history, philosophy) than we are only practicing ONE part, not the whole.

Traditionally, in Asia, there is a concept so pervasive that even Kings and Emperors bore it's namesake. (See Emperor Monmu of Japan [697-707 AD] and King Munmu of Korea [661–681 AD])  That concept is Munmu 文武.  The first Chinese symbol 文, "Mun" literally means letter or writing.  This refers to practices such as Calligraphy, Painting, Flower Arranging, the Tea Ceremony, etc...  The second Chinese symbol 武, literally means stopping weapons/violence.  This refers to martial arts, or military (see Study with Sabom Blog Post about "武 - Moo")

To understand my opinion on the practice of martial arts, you have to understand this term.  You see, in Asian culture, these two facets of life are often seen as two sides of the same coin.  A martial artist should also practice calligraphy and philosophy, and a calligrapher and philosopher should also practice martial arts.  They were seen as complimentary and should be practiced together.

In feudal Japan, there was a term... "文武両道 - Bunbu Ryodo".  The third Chinese character 両, "Ryo" means "both" and the last character 道, "Do" means "way or path".  This term was used to describe someone who excelled at both aspects.  This was incredibly important, as Samurai wouldn't even be recognized for promotion if they weren't.

And I agree with this.  I believe a good martial artist should have both aspects of his practice consistent.  Sometimes I will hear that someone is a black belt in Taekwondo and when I inquire about their rank I ask, "Chodan, Edan, Samdan?"  Many times they look at me like I'm speaking gibberish.

But honestly, if you practice a Korean martial art, and you don't know how to say your rank in Korean, you may be missing the other side of the coin.

What's also incredibly important about this concept is that if one studies theories, philosophies, art, etc... one may learn more about one's own martial art from another's theories, philosophies, art, etc...  If one foregoes the study of history, one may continue to spread incorrect data.  On the flip-side, if one does write books, theories, philosophies, etc... or paint, make music, films, etc... about martial arts but does not train... one's work will suffer.

We live in a wonderful time.  The amount of information about history, terminology, pronunciation, applications, etc... readily available to us at our fingertips is STAGGERING!  There should not be any reason for anyone, no matter what age or experience to be confused or befuddled about anything martial arts.  And of course, if you are incredibly inquisitive... ask your Sabom Nim.

You're also more than welcome to ask me. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Add comment

Security code