Martial arts have been a part of human culture for thousands of years. From traditional to modern, self-defense to sport, meditation to combat, martial arts continue to evolve. Two martial artists, Sunny Prosser and Tess Malpas of Humans of Martial arts, aim to deeply discover not only martial arts but also the origins and practices of each. Through the stories they share we can gain an insight to questions we all ask ourselves: Why do humans train martial arts? Why do I train?
What martial arts do the two of you train, and why did you start training them?
Sunny: I’ve been training Iaido for around 19 years. I started when I was 23. At the time I was reading a lot of Buddhism and Zen texts, but figured I was much too young to be sitting there meditating, so I sought out someone who taught Japanese Swordsmanship. Luckily, I found a good Sensei who quickly smacked all sorts of silly ideas out of my head about martial arts. I have been lucky enough to also live and train in Japan for a year, too.
Tess: I’ve been training Capoeira for the last 19 years. Also, I’ve recently started Kali and Jeet Kune Do. I remembered seeing a Capoeira demonstration and was blown away by it, so I decided to try it. I was lucky to find the only group in our city at the time, and from my first lesson I was hooked! Capoeira really resonated with me, and my teacher has become a lifelong friend. Since then I’ve trained across Australia and Brazil.
You have interviewed a lot of martial artists about their individual journeys. What top three similarities have you seen between these martial artists who all come from different regions and practices?
One: How much of a positive impact it makes on their lives. We see that martial arts have inspired them to be more than they were before. The physical, mental, and emotional evolution that martial arts brings us is undeniable.
Two: The desire to help others. We hear people say: ‘I want to help other people discover this incredible artform that has helped me so much’. It seems that the strong self-reflection required to advance in martial arts gives them the opportunity to look beyond themselves.
Three: Peacefulness. We talk with bladed-weapon practitioners, BJJ bone breakers, Muay Thai machines… and they all seem to avoid a fight rather than be involved in one. The more you learn about violence, the less likely you are to be involved in it. They have a deeper understanding of martial arts.
Why do you think humans have been practicing martial arts for thousands of years?
There is a great quote by Guro Dan Inosanto that talks about the root of martial arts being love. He talks about people in ancient times training so hard, not to kill others, but to protect the ones they love. Humans are driven by a primal desire to survive and thrive, and we believe martial arts has always had its place within that.
Also, there are deep cultural roots interwoven within martial arts. There is history, storytelling, ancient applications of technique, music, religion… We believe martial arts has, and always will be, an important vehicle of cultural preservation.
What do you think are the top benefits of training a martial art?
Where do we start?!! Mental, physical, spiritual awareness and development, the list goes on and on…Another key benefit is the camaraderie with our training partners and instructors. They become our family. We feel that if your dojo is not offering an environment of support, encouragement, and friendship, then maybe it is time to look for another school.
What do you think are the most challenging things about training a martial art?
It is the demolition of your ego. There is always someone better and more knowledgeable. Training is very humbling. It breaks you down before it rebuilds you, and this can be very difficult. However, it is one of the things that makes training so incredibly rewarding. Of course, another challenging thing about training is possible injuries. If you train long enough, you can list your training injuries like a badge of honor. Life also throws other serious obstacles in the way of your journey: career changes, having children, moving cities, etc.
What do you believe to be the spirit of martial arts?
Striving for constant improvement. It is working hard and pushing yourself to be better than you were the day before. If we get slightly esoteric, we often talk about climbing a mountain, knowing we will never reach the peak, but pushing on regardless. We believe that is the spirit of martial arts.
How do you think every martial artist can make the most of their training and their journey?
Enjoy it! Despite all the hard work, make sure you have fun along the way. Celebrate the triumphs and the losses; it is all progression. Treasure the hard work and sweat as you would a gift. And never stop smiling. If training ever becomes a chore, then something needs to change.
There are many types of martial arts from traditional to modern. How do you see one of the largest martial arts organizations in the world, the UFC, affecting the public perception and understanding of martial arts?
This is a question that we may have answered differently before we started our page. To be honest, we used to see MMA within the UFC as a bit thuggish, but our opinion has changed as we have gained insight into MMA fighters. We have found camaraderie, integrity, dedication, and humility within them. For us, there is a clear distinction between the UFC as essentially an entertainment industry, and the fighters who train within it.
As to how the UFC specifically affects the public perception of martial arts, we have a mixed opinion. The reach of UFC is immense, and it has basically created the contemporary MMA that it promotes. If watching the UFC inspires people to seek out a gym and begin to understand martial arts, then that is a great thing.
On the flip-side, there seems to be more drama created around the fights than there used to be. The sensationalization of fights and fans who just want to see two people beat each other to a pulp, is not really what we consider martial arts.
Fleur Wayman is a Purple Belt at Kaizen MMA where she coaches beginner and women’s classes.
Fleur is also a manual therapist and is pursuing a Doctorate of Physical Therapy so she can be a rehabilitation and movement coach for combat athletes.