I remember walking into a dojo when I was quite young. The teacher asked me why I wanted to take the art (I can't remember what art is was). I answered that I wanted to learn how to defend myself, I wanted to know how to fight.
The teacher barked at me telling me that's not why you take the martial arts and told me I wasn't welcome there until I figured our what the right answer was.
Looking back, I think I know what he meant. He was a jerk about it and lost potential business, yes, but there was still something to what he said. Martial arts are about far more than fighting. They are about self control, discipline, perfection of character, building friendships, increasing fitness and so on. This is all very true.
You know what? They're also about fighting.
It's silly for anyone to say this isn't at least one of the top reasons for taking up a martial art. People want to learn how to defend themselves and their loved ones.
It's o.k. to want to learn how to fight. It's not o.k. to want to learn how to beat someone up. There is a big difference. This is where a Sensei or teacher must learn about their student's motivations.
After a period of study, you realize you are actually learning how not to fight. The better you get, the less likely you are to get into an altercation in the first place.
If you know that you can win in a fight, you're far less likely to be goaded into one. When you have confidence in yourself and your technique, you can laugh and walk away from someone who wants to fight you. You have nothing to prove. When you are confident you also carry yourself differently. Confidence and awareness are like bear spray to troublemakers who want to pick fights.
This confidence and being able to walk away as you have nothing to prove shows improvement of character. It shows self control, self discipline and all that other good stuff that comes along with martial arts study. But it all started with learning how to fight.
Martial arts are about violence, fighting and self defense. That's why we all got into it in the first place. It is our motivation for learning and out intended use of this knowledge that matters.