Not a lot of people understand the subject line of this article, so I intend to explain it once and for all. Please note this statement does not apply to just ANYONE who goes to a martial arts class. Some people take it as a hobby just so they aren’t sitting home bored at night, or because they view it as exercise, or maybe even because they want to compete in tournaments.
However, there are an elite few who take it to a higher level. There are people who seek to develop this skill like an art form. Bruce Lee was one such person. He called it “the art of expressing the human body.”
Higher level martial artists are the ones who truly strive to make the style their own. They don’t believe in the cookie cutter assembly line kind of martial arts school where they teach you that, no matter what your height/weight/strength/physical attributes may be, the techniques will ALWAYS work for you ALL the time. There are some of us who know better, and we strive to personalize what we are learning so it WILL work for us. We are all using the same tools as those who came before us: the same punches, blocks, kicks, stances, and principles. However, I do not have the same height, weight, body type or personality as my Sifu. Therefore, what works for him won’t necessarily work for me. If I want it to function, then I have to adjust it…make it my own.
Having said all that, the comparison between martial arts and other forms of artistic expression should be easier to understand. Writers have to use the same words (new forms of slang aside). Guitarists use the same chords and scales. Painters use the same paints. Yet somehow, despite the fact that they are using the same tools, these people manage to express themselves through their chosen art form.
(NOTE: While not relevant to the main point, I should add here that, just like in martial arts, there are some people who don’t write, paint or play music to express themselves. Some do it just as a hobby, and that is fine. I’m not saying anything bad about them; I’m just recognizing the fact that not everyone puts pen to paper in the hopes of pouring their heart out.)
Hopefully it is now easier to understand why I feel my fellow students and I deserve to be called “artists” just as much as any writer, musician, or painter.