Here's an interesting answer from an instructor of philosophy and boxing, in an opinion piece he wrote in the NY Times. He says in part:
In much of Eastern philosophy, in contrast, the search for wisdom is more holistic [than in the West]. The body is considered inseparable from the mind, and is regarded as a vehicle, rather than an impediment, to enlightenment. The unmindful attitude towards the body so prevalent in the West blinkers us to profound truths that the skin, muscles and breath can deliver like a punch.
While different physical practices may open us to different truths, there is a lot of wisdom to be gained in the ring. Socrates, of course, maintained that the unexamined life was not worth living, that self-knowledge is of supreme importance. One thing is certain: boxing can compel a person to take a quick self-inventory and gut check about what he or she is willing to endure and risk. As Joyce Carol Oates observes in her minor classic, “On Boxing”:
In a different essay, this author, Gordon Marino, writes:Boxers are there to establish an absolute experience, a public accounting of the outermost limits of their beings; they will know, as few of us can know of ourselves, what physical and psychic power they possess — of how much, or how little, they are capable.
The capacity to tolerate fear is essential to leading a moral life, but it is hard to learn how to keep your moral compass under pressure when you are cosseted from every fear. Boxing gives people practice in being afraid.I think part of the appeal of a contact martial art is facing up to your fear; learning, as Oates says, something about your limits. I'll likely never know the kind of outermost limit that competitive boxers and martial artists know--but I sure felt a lot of fear before my one tournament; there I learned that I can take a really powerful kick to the gut and keep fighting. And in its own way, I felt fear testing for my black belt--that's where I got my ACL torn, after all.
Even sparring against a young, wicked-fast black belt in class can present fear that needs to be conquered, even if that person has good control and you know it.
I'm happy that a philosopher is backing an interest in contact martial arts.