Interloper wrote:... Go to a bar on a Saturday night in a tough part of town, or a roadhouse, and you may see this drama unfold on a small scale.
...We practice martial arts as a symbolic depiction of ritual combat. We may perform it in a civil way, in the spirit of benevolence and cooperation, but its roots are very much the expression of ritual combat.
I really don't agree. We call it ART for a reason. The natural combat instinct is to imitate the other person's movements and trying to over power the other by strength. Copying, mirroring and over powering with the same kind of movements. If someone pushes, the other one push, if someone punch, the other person will punch similarly. Look at the movie Bridget Jones' Diary. You'll have a hard time to find a more realistic fight scene in any movie. I am totally serious about this. The scene in the end of movie shows almost exactly how a common, unrehearsed fight usually goes where the fighters are people without practice and no combat experience.
But in martial ARTS, we try to go beyond the natural instincts, do something else than reacting with pure aggression and instinct. We train to react in another way, so the opponent can not anticipate what we will do and can not copy it, because we use our body in a way that must be trained. So martial arts might have been developed from ritualistic combat, but it's also a development beyond ritual and in some ways striving to be exactly the opposite to what you are writing about.