When people hear the phrase "Martial Arts", what springs to mind is usually something violent: kicking, punching, gouging, chopping, etc. The first thought is probably not of meditation, concentration, book-study, or Philosophy. That is to say, most people focus on the "Martial" instead of the "Arts".
To be an exceptional Martial Artist, we can not have one without the other. The Martial Arts are inclined to both war ("martial") and beauty ("arts"). The inclination to war obviously lies in the fighting–martial arts were created to help people protect themselves and their families from attackers. The inclination toward beauty is in understanding martial arts does not only teach someone how to fight.
A student of nearly any fighting style will surely learn to use his or her body to its best potential. That is only part of the beauty, though. A great master ensures his students learn the Philosophy of the art, as well. It is as much a part of the training as kicking, punching, and blocking.
Martial arts teach us not only how to fight properly, but also how to live properly.
I am lucky to learn under a great Master and from my fellow students. Thanks to that and a lot of studying on my own, I see as I learn to discipline my body, I also learn to discipline my mind. This principle has a cumulative effect. When I learn to discipline my mind, I also learn to discipline my body.
Think of a basic punch. Learning to throw a proper punch disciplines the muscles required to do so. Remembering the principles of a proper punch disciplines the mind, which, in turn, makes a stronger punch and further disciplines the body, which makes it easier to concentrate on the punch, thus disciplining the mind, etc.
Through martial arts, I gain focus, patience, control, confidence, self-discipline, strength, and personal power by learning to use my body to its best potential. I retain youth, endurance, flexibility, and stamina, which I am able to apply in other areas of life. For example, I need less sleep than I did before starting Karate, and that leaves more time for studying, training, or just relaxing. I feel healthier and more alert which improves how well I do my job. I am able to be more physically active with my family and friends whereas before I avoided strenuous activities.
In Ancient times, this was called, "Sit Mens Sana in Corpore Sano"—the famous Latin phrase for "A sound mind in a sound body". It means total health is about more than physical exercise. That is why martial arts is the perfect path to fitness–physical, mental, and even spiritual fitness are available to anyone willing to learn and train. Through complete and proper studying of the martial arts (which means learning the physical elements as well as the philosophical), you benefit by getting regular exercise, learning new skills, finding new approaches to life, gaining personal power, and no doubt making deep, personal friendships along the way .
Through study and physical training, I become a Martial Philosopher as well as a Martial Artist. To me, that is a thing of beauty.