9 Famous Artists’ Quotations on Martial Arts

As shown in The 20 Best Martial Arts Quotes of all Time, many of the most intelligent and insightful observations on martial arts originate outside its community. Let us now select a few more choice quotations from the art world at large.

A man paints with his brains and not with his hands.
~ Michelangelo

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Art is long, life short; judgment difficult, opportunity transient.
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Many are willing to suffer for their art. Few are willing to learn to draw.
~ Simon Munnery

No artist is ahead of his time. He is his time. It is just that the others are behind the time.
~ Martha Graham

Art is what you can get away with.
~ Andy Warhol

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde

Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.
~ Leonardo da Vinci

It is only an auctioneer who can equally and impartially admire all schools of art.
~ Oscar Wilde

The victor will never be asked if he told the truth.
~ Adolf Hitler

The Contest

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it: choose any one of these quotes, and explain how you feel it applies to martial arts. You can write a 5-page essay, or a single paragraph, or anything in between. Post your response in the comments section below, or post it on your own blog and link back here.

All contest participants will receive a free copy of these e-books: Mind Training for Martial Artists and The Student’s Guide to Surviving a Traditional Dojo. In addition, I will randomly select one lucky winner to receive a paperback copy of Willpower: How to Achieve Self-Discipline by Jim Randel.

Update: Although the contest is now over, you are still welcome to share your views below.


  1. Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.

    Poor is the master whose pupils do not surpass him. One devoted student is worth ten thousand halfhearted students. A student no more accepts a teacher than a teacher accepts a pupil.

    In the Mahabharata there is much that relates to martial arts. In one particular instance a man sought a renown teacher of archery who was a vassal of the royal family. The would be pupil was essentially turned down by the teacher who having many wealthy pupils had no need or even time for other students.

    So the would be pupil built an image of the teacher, a mere effigy and trained by it with devotion. His skill surpassed that of even the best student of the teacher who had denied him instruction. Truly it was his dedication to practice, and not his allegiance to a teacher or an effigy that resulted in his great skill. His actual loyalty to the instructor whom he had made an effigy of was his undoing for when the foremost pupil Arjuna, of the great teacher Drona, who was under the impression he was the greatest archer in the land, learned of the skill of the would be pupil; he confronted the man and asked who his teacher was.

    The man replied that his teacher was Drona, the same as the teacher of Arjuna. Arjuna went and confronted Drona and Drona went to the would be pupil to ask for his payment for instruction as was his right as a teacher. For this payment Drona had the man, who had become the best through practice before the statue, to sever his tendons in his arm rendering him incapable of using a bow. So thus Arjuna became the best archer.

    This story illustrates the relationship of practice to skill, and of the nature of loyalty being both a benefit and a weakness.

    In these modern times we often hear people say that they know but a fraction of what their teacher knew. And yet knowledge is nothing compared to practice. It was said by early Yang family Taiji players that if the first four energies alone were mastered, then a persons skill would be tremendous. And yet how many teachers teach their students endless material? Far too many, because now martial arts is not about practice, it has become about information and instruction.

    It is said that the student gets the instructor they deserve, when it is said that Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master consider not only the instructor the student gets, but the student the instructor gets. To be blunt, students who lack devotion never become masters and the amount of people called master far exceeds the number of those who have mastered even the basic techniques of their myriad respective arts.

    A teacher is something you learn from. A dojo is a place you practice. The universe is both. Do we hope to surpass the very skill of nature? Let people suffer their loyalties. Let their scope narrow to depend upon information and not practice. Ultimately we are but our own instructors and our own pupils and cannot learn or be taught anything by another. Shall we hope to surpass ourselves? Indeed, to surpass ones self is to refine ones being, to improve in skill and method, something arrived at by practice over time and no other way. In this age, thanks to the internet, the amount of formerly inaccessible information is more than adequate to facilitate all a person needs to practice and develop the skills of their choosing. Perhaps all we really need for a teacher; is an effigy after all.

  2. It would probably be polite and prudent to disclose that both of those ebooks are free anyway. I certainly don’t mind you including it here, but I wouldn’t want readers to feel misled.

  3. They will also receive a free lifetime supply of oxygen.

    * Some conditions and restrictions may apply.

  4. Art is long, life short; judgment difficult, opportunity transient.
    ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

    Therefore strike as soon as the opening is forming!

  5. Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master.
    ~ Leonardo da Vinci

    I’m a latecomer to this thread. I think it was a great contest idea and I wish I could have taken part in it. But better late than never.

    I’m going to argue the other side of the coin. It is not the goal of the student to exceed the instructor per se; it’s the goal of dedicated instructors to turn out students that exceed themselves.

    There are three elements of success: Desire, Dedication and Discipline (the three Ds). The student must have the desire to learn, the dedication to absorb the teachings and the discipline to persevere and succeed. But the instructors not only have to continue those three Ds in their own personal training (we never stop being students), but also have to redefine them into a second set: the desire to pass their knowledge on to others, the dedication to commit to their students almost like a parent commits to a child and the discipline to learn to become a great instructor as well as a great student. And that last step is probably the most difficult. Someone may be a superb technician, but be unable to teach their technique to others.

    When the happy combination of two people who embody the three Ds occurs in a teacher/student relationship, wonderful things happen. And there is a tremendous joy in seeing a student take what you have taught them and build on it and achieve more with it than you did. I speak from experience.

  6. Many are willing to suffer for their art. Few are willing to learn to draw.
    ~ Simon Munnery

    “To break the rules, one must first know them.” To learn those rules, one must study and practice. Study and practice usually involves suffering. Ask any art student who has had to practice the 13 basic brush strokes 1,000 times, each.” – the late Bruce Darrow, commercial artist, photographer, cartoonist and my father.

    Learning the basics of any art, and learning them well, allows one to effectively move beyond them and into true creativity, whether is is in graphic, plastic or martial arts and one suffers to learn in any discipline.

    We must remember that the word “art” in the phrase “martial art” not only implies creativity, it practically requires it.

    Since the martial arts embrace literally all combative techniques and methods, learning the basics of those differing styles of art, whether Aikido, Muy Thai, western boxing or even rifle shooting, one should at least understand the basics of those styles. Just as an artist should have at least a grasp of realism, pointilism, impressionism, penmanship and basic brush techniques before one can move beyond the constrictions of those styles to develop their own expression through their own artistic uses of these techniques and possibly even developing new ones, so too must a martial artist have a firm grasp of the basics of combat.

    “I stand where I am because I stand on the shoulders of Giants” – Sir Isaac Newton. Just as Newton’s Theories developed from his knowledge of earlier science, so, too, should a martial artist “stand on the shoulders of Giants” and add to their great contributions in order to creatively further not only their own martial art, but the martial arts as a whole.

    Lee Darrow, C.H.

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