Reading my previous post on the three types of enjoyment, where I had classified Martial Arts practice as sattvic, my brother asked me if it was indeed the case. He said that, for some reason, he related martial arts to rajas. I insisted it was not so. Since there are many who associate martial arts with violence, and thus rajas, it will be worthwhile to reflect in some detail on what is sattvic about martial arts.
Before we get into the specifics of whether martial arts can be sattvic, as well as how and when it can be, we need to understand that his question can be applied to any activity. This includes teaching, singing, dancing, anything. The answer, in most cases, depends more on how the activity is performed and the motivation behind it than on the activity itself.
To appreciate this, let’s look at something that is generally considered good, such as charity. In Bhagavad Gita (XVII:20,21,22), Sri Krishna explains that that which is given with the thought that it is to be given, to one who is worthy and not one we seek to benefit from, at the right time and in a suitable place, is deemed sattvic. That which is given with the view of getting something in return is to be considered rajasic. That which is given at a bad time, to a bad person, at the wrong place, without respect, is tamasic. (Think of gifting alcohol to a child).
A similar classification holds for something that is considered evil as well – killing, for example. In a war, when done with the attitude that one is only performing their duty (as Krishna instructs Arjuna) and without being bothered about defeat or victory, it is sattvic. When one fights to win, to display valor and gain glory, it is rajasic. Killing with the intention of hurting others, to fulfill greed, or due to intoxication is tamasic.
Now let’s come to martial arts and arrive at a classification by applying similar rules. When you practice with the aim of doing better each day than the day before, seeking to defeat not external enemies but your internal foes (such as lust, sloth and fear), it is sattvic. When practiced with the aim of defeating someone, of making a name for yourself, it is rajasic. When practiced as a tool for bullying or hurting others, it is clearly tamasic.