How Philosophy Can Help You In Martial Arts

As Martial Arts has risen in Western culture we have almost seen a decline in what it means to ‘be’ a Martial Artist rather than just train in Martial Arts. The traditional philosophies in Martial Arts have been watered down, and have become difficult to practice due to societal changes. We don’t have time, community or patience like we used to. But it doesn’t mean we cannot still learn philosophy and Martial Arts as one. It is an opportunity for us to look for alternative methods to learn Martial Arts and Philosophy as one.  

Bruce Lee’s Philosophy 

Bruce Lee is not only famous for his action packed scenes, but also his wisdom and spirit. His philosophies have inspired millions people all over the world. Having studied Philosophy at University, Bruce discovered the spirit of life. He believed that philosophies are meant to be applied not just thought about.  

He understood how Martial Arts and Philosophy interlinked and complimented each other. Bruce believed that any knowledge let to self-development and said that his method of self expression was Martial Arts. 

“When I look around, I always learn something and that is to be always yourself, and to express yourself, to have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it. Start from the very root of your being, which is “how can I be me?” 

Bruce Lee

The Mind, The Body, And Spirit 

Martial Arts are organised systems and codes of combat primarily practiced for physical, mental, spiritual development, and self-defence. When combining all elements, Martial Arts and spirituality become one.  

Bruce Lee was not the only one who shared philosophy through Martial Arts. Many others exercise the importance of utilising the mind to ensure we reach our potential physically, mentally and spiritually.  

“A man with outward courage dares to die; a man with inner courage dares to live.”  Lao Tzu 


“To get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything exists within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”    Miyamoto Musashi 


“Engage people with what they expect; it is what they are able to discern and confirms their projections. It settles them into predictable patterns of response, occupying their minds while you wait for the extraordinary moment. That which they cannot anticipate.”               Sun Tzu 

It’s important to be able to link the dots when we train and merge our inner and outer selves as one.  

The Mind 

Mental health awareness and teachings have come to the forefront of modern Western culture. This is great news for all of us and Martial Arts as a practice. The more people learn to build their mental strength the stronger they become as individuals and as a society.   

Martial Arts, just like many other ancient practices such as dance and music have mental benefits. They become a form of expression and creativity.  

Mental Benefits of Martial Arts

  • Focus
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Confidence
  • Discipline
  • Higher Self-Esteem
  • Self-Awareness


The Body

As many know, Martial Arts is a great way to build strength and fitness. It is also a great way to train functionally to ensure you take steps to reaching your physical potential.

Read our blog What is Functional Training? to find out more.

By learning how to train in combat you will not only learn how to give your best shot but also receive some too. This body conditioning which comes when we engage in sparring or fighting in a safe environment. A big part of self defence is not just knowing how to throw the best punch but to withstand or redirect the force when you receive one too so it doesn’t overwhelm you.

Physical Benefits of Martial Arts

  • Strength 
  • Self Defence 
  • Balance
  • Coordination
  • Fitness 
  • Great Physical Outlet 

The Spirit 

Probably the most misunderstood and neglected part of self development in modern Western culture. We have made leaps and bounds in our knowledge of physical and mental development, however spiritual development needs some care too.  

“We are all spiritual beings living a human existence. Although our 3D dimension has basic rules, the spirit will get in the way of those rules.” Kiran Sashi (A New Vibration) 

Click here to read A New Vibration 16 Simple Steps to Stay Lifted 

What is Spiritual development? 

Finding your purpose or path is not easy. You can be told what to do but deciding what it is right for you is a solo journey. 
Spiritual development comes from self-awareness and getting to know who you are without distractions or attachments to the world around you. Mainly your fears and ego. This is inherently tied to many Eastern Martial Arts philosophies. Keep reading to find out about Mushin (empty mind). 
The path to spiritual development is not an easy one, though it can be simple when we learn to let go. 

Read about the 7 Stages of Spiritual Development here

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Japanese Martial Arts Philosophy 

Japanese Martial Arts are understood to derive from the spiritual developments based on Zen Buddhism. Even though many forms of Japanese Martial Arts were developed for self defence, it was never only about the punching and kicking. For centuries Martial Arts have been seen as a way for self-expression and a method to achieve the highest self physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

Mushin (Empty Mind)

The goal being to attain a state of Mushin (empty mind). It is a very much philosophical practice which is deep rooted in the Japanese culture.  

Mushin is a state which occurs when a person’s mind is free of thoughts during combat or daily lives. They have no feelings of anger, fear, or ego. In this state there is no hesitation and reaction occurs naturally without disturbance from the ‘mental noise,’ that can distract us.  

This taps into our natural instincts and intuition. It is not comparable to relaxing your mind, more freeing your mind. The mind should work more efficiently in this state with no intentions or pressumptions.  

Some masters believe that mushin is the state where a person finally understands the uselessness of techniques and becomes truly free to move. In fact, those people will no longer even consider themselves as “fighters” but merely living beings moving through space.  


Budo is a Martial Arts term referring to the way of life encompassing physical, spiritual and moral dimensions with a focus on self-improvement, fulfillment or personal growth.  

The term bujutsu is used to distinguish the practical application of Martial Arts techniques and tactics in combat.  

Bugei refers to the adaptation of learnt tactics and techniques in order to be able to use them successfully in reality.  

Aiki (Joining Energy)  

A principle that is most widely used in Aikido. At its most basic is a principle it is used to redirect an opponent’s power. When used, aiki will allow a student to control their opponents actions with less effort and an absence of muscular tension or physical effort. 

Aiki is a complex concept, and three aspects have been used to describe it in relation to a combat situation: 

Blending not clashing 

As the heading suggests, Aiki describes the idea of oneness or blending of energy in the midst of combat. Many definitions for “aiki” seem to be based around “awase” though due to the complexity of the word, the exact English interpretation is hard to describe. Emphasis is upon joining with the rhythm and intent of the opponent in order to find the optimal position and timing with which to apply force. To blend with an attack, many believe it is necessary to yield to incoming forces. Aiki is closely related to the principle of ju though the latter places more emphasis on the active physical manipulation on a mechanical structural level. 

Leading the assailant 

The aiki practitioner leads the attack, and thus the attacker. The influence over an attacker increases as their balance decreases. Body movements used for this may be large and obvious or small and subtle, internally generated movements. Subtle weight shifting, and the application of physical pressure to the attacker will allow you to manipulate their movements, keeping them still or unbalanced, so you can execte your techniques. There is a strong degree of intent, will or psychology[ to this aspect of domination. Mind and body are coordinated. 

Use of internal strength – Ki energy 

Kiai and aiki use the same Japanese symbols and can be thought of as the inner and the outer aspect of the same principle. Kiai communicates the projection of our external strength, while Aiki relates to one’s own internal strength. This use of ki will involve the use of kokyu power, i.e. breathing is coordinated with movement. Kokyu Ryoku is the natural power that can be produced when body and consciousness (mind) are unified. The term “kokyu” (呼吸) can also be used to describe a situation in which two opponent’s are moving with appropriate timing. 

Eastern Martial Artists and Their Philosophies  

Samurais and The Bushido Code 

Bushido, means ‘The way of the warrior.’ 

Both Bushido and other Martial Ats have very different intentions in the modern world. Modern Bushido is more about fighting, self defence, sport, and physical training. While these are very important aspects in life and Martial Arts there is an integral part missing. This is personal and spiritual development.  

Bushido taught soldiers the way of life. How to treat others, how to portray yourself, how to manage finances and family life. All of which were thought to be important when becoming a respected soldier.  

Although modern Bushido is guided by the eight virtues this will not teach students to master all stages of life. The warrior described by Bushido is not a profession but a way of life. The term “warrior” refers to a person who is fighting for something, not necessarily physically. We are all warriors  because of what we hold in our hearts, minds and souls.  


Bushido is about living every moment honorably, and honestly. 


Ninjitsu came about through the experience of combat methods, human psychology, cultural patterns, and the laws of nature. The art of Ninjitsu to shape as an opposition to the conventional concepts of warfare, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War was the basis of Ninjutsu philosophy in many ways. 

Sun Tzu’s The Art of War was the basis of Ninjutsu philosophy in many ways. One important purpose in the study of Ninjutsu is to cultivate an awareness of ki-ai, or allowing yourself to come into harmony with the “scheme of totality.” The student of Ninjutsu should become a totally natural being. 


Shaolin Philosophy and Kung Fu is not about defending yourself or attacking others. It has its roots embedded through the advancement to enlightenment through meditation. Shaolin Martial Arts places great emphasis on discipline, respect, patience and being humble.  

Shaolin Kung Fu is deep rooted in the philosophy of Taoism. The philosophy helps students learn to cope with modern day stress, anxiety and pressure by living in harmony with nature, other people and within yourself.  

The concept of Yin and Yang portrays that everything has two aspects which create balance. Both are needed, and harmony is achieved when balance is reached. Yin and Yang may be hot and cold, hard and soft, male and female. This is an important concept in Shaolin Kung Fu as it relates to the application of physical power in techniques. 

“Nothing in the world is softer and weaker than water; 
But, for attacking the hard and strong, 
there is nothing like it! 
For nothing can take its place. 
That the weak overcomes the strong, and the soft overcomes the hard, 
This is something known by all, but 
Practiced by none. “

(Tao Te Ching, chapter 78). 


Western Philosophers and Martial Arts 

There is no doubt that Eastern philosophies have many lessons that we can benefit from. As Martial Arts is so ingrained within Eastern culture there is less separation between the mental, physical and spiritual teachings. However, to do so in the West would be harder as we live and grow up in very different circumstances with a different set of principles.  

By learning Philosophy alongside Martial Arts you will learn to become psychologically independent and will be able to discover your own solutions to problems once you have the right tools.  

A New Way Of Building Power In Martial Arts 

In the mid 90s a researchers in science of learning movements or motor learning, have been discovering new information about physical education. Since then theories have been developed and expanded upon in the area of physical development.   

Let’s look at some well known Western philosophers who have contribute to Western philosophy, lifestyle and culture.  


Socrates a Greek Philosopher, was often accused of corrupting the youth with controversial ideas of the Gods.  

“We have also established that the gods are inconsistent with one another, Euthyphro,” said Socrates, “and that they dislike each other. Isn’t that true?” 

Euthyphro stroked his chin. “That’s true.” 

“So some values are hated by one god and loved by others?” Socrates said.  

“Yes, very likely.” 

Socrates sat up straight, a spark in his eyes. “Then according to your argument, some things are both pious and impious at the same time?” 

Euthyphro tried to redefine pious several times but never gave Socrates a satisfying answer. What the philosopher’s carefully designed questions did was draw out the inconsistency of Euthyphro’s definition of “piety.” 

More importantly, Socrates seemed to have blown a hole in the validity of the charges leveled against him by the government of Athens. How could he be accused of impiousness — of not valuing something the gods valued — if the gods did not each share the same values? 

Well, that’s an interesting discussion best left to philosophers and theologians… 

Today, you might know this tactic as the Socratic method. It’s used in different ways by prosecutors, defense attorneys, philosophers, and teachers.  

To lawyers, it’s a way to persuade; but for philosophers and teachers, it’s a way to provoke self-examination and critical thought. 

The FitRoots Comic – A Mental Expansion

Applying the Socratic Method in Martial Arts 

In Martial Arts, it’s important to not just learn the techniques but apply them too if ever needed.  

The Socratic method is useful as it helps you find the solutions to problems when your instructor is not there. Best known as discovery learning.  

Discovery Learning is much more impactful the pure memorisation or traditional academic learning. The main benefit here is that you will be able to recreate these techniques in a far more natural way. 

Ask the right questions, and fail fast, and success will come in good time. It is important however, to ask the right questions that are specific enough, yet not too prescribed.  


Did you know that Plato was a fighter? He recommended wrestling for the youth and was known for his physique (or for having muscles of a gifted grappler). 

In his dialogue Laws, he celebrated the benefits of stand-up grappling. This had a straightforward military use, developing “strength and health” for the battlefield.


But it also cultivated character if “practiced with a gallant spirit.” The overall impression is that physical virtues encourage psychological excellence: perseverance, courage, and perhaps a greater sense of autonomy. 

Plato believed that Martial Arts exercised healthy competition and put physical activity before sex. “Such was his passion for victory, his pride in his calling, the combined fortitude and self-command of his character, that,” wrote Plato, “he never once came near a woman, or a boy either, all the time he was in training.” 

With this in mind, at the beginning of Western Philosophy lies Martial Arts, not as an activity but a way of life. He stated that Martial Arts can make us more dangerous and more virtuous.  

The point here is that Martial Arts provides a safe place for self expression and a positive way of channeling energy. You may think that either way a punch is a punch, but it is the intention of the punch that makes the difference.  

Exercise at its most virtuous is an enterprise of honesty: accepting the more destructive urges, and socialising them for the greater good. 

Learning to fight (and not to fight) can be excellent for Plato’s “strength and health”.

The Parallels between Martial Arts & Philosophy 

From the eastern traditions to the western teachings we can see that Philosophy and Martial Arts can benefit each other.  

By learning to master your mind and body you can develop the virtues of both eastern and western philosophy. Martial Arts has developed over time and have deep, rich philosophical traditions which blur the lines between cultures over the years. Over time Martial Arts have challenged the mindset of philosophers as they ponder over ethics, aesthetics and the mind. 

The idea is not that every fighter is necessarily going to become a world-renowned philosopher. And it is not going to be true that every black belt will follow the righteous path. However, self-development in both Martial Arts and Philosophy will bring a student onto a path of questioning one’s own existence and taking them towards their full potential.  

Physical violence and intellectual ambition seem radically at odds. Yet they cannot only coexist but also complement one another. 

Learn the physical, mental and spiritual teachings of Martial Arts. Click the button below. 


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