Hello everybody. As documented by this totally modest blog, I am an advocate for martial arts. I believe it to be a viable path towards self-improvement, not to mention learning different ways to beat people up is just a ton of fun. But how does learning to beat people up translate to self-improvement? Well, martial arts is more than just learning to fight. Here I will list four excellent reasons to train martial arts, and how it can improve your life for the better. Let’s begin!
1. Self Defense
So we’ll go ahead and address the obvious one first. I realize there are people who think “well, we live in a society with laws, and if I were ever assaulted that’s what we have the police for etc.” I’ll just be blunt, this line of thinking is naive and foolish. Yes, we do have the benefit of living in a more civilized time than, say, the Wild West or the Dark Ages or, I guess, caveman times. But the fact is, humans are animals; no matter how civilized we become there are always predators among us. There are always criminals and other maladjusted humans with harmful intentions. And the cops? The fact of the matter is the cops will arrive after the crime has occurred. The first point of contact, if you are assaulted, is you. Your first line of defense is yourself. No one is more responsible for the defense and protection of you and your loved ones than you. If you are reliant solely on a government entity to protect you, prepare for disappointment. I fervently believe everyone should know how to fight, and know how to use weapons. I’ve heard people sanctimoniously proclaim “I shouldn’t HAVE to learn to fight” or “I shouldn’t HAVE to own a gun (or some other weapon)” and other similar things. To my ears, it sounds pretty privileged to believe something like that! What upper crust gated community are you living in to believe this? Life is not meant to be super easy and peaceful. I do agree that peace and civility are worthy ideals to strive for; in fact, we should always work for peaceful resolutions first, for both ethical and practical reasons. But there may come a time when you do not have that option. It may not be pleasant or civil, but the onus of defense is on you. Now, I don’t like the idea of hurting others, I have a lot of love in my giant man-heart, but I like the idea of being a victim even less. And I definitely don’t want you to ever be a victim either. It may sound trite, but, better to have and not need, then to need and not have.
Another seemingly obvious point, but I’d like to clarify that when I say health, I mean both physical and mental health. A good martial arts discipline will help you both physically and mentally. The styles I’ve trained in – and in fact, continue to train in – have improved my stamina, my cardio, my strength, plus they are based on intense workouts that release endorphins, which is both a mental and physical benefit. Mentally, it engages the parts of your brain that likes to solve problems. It helps you develop self-discipline and mental toughness. It also develops both confidence and humility simultaneously; for instance, on one hand I am confident because I’ve trained long enough to know what I can do with my body and mind. I know I can defend myself. But it also creates humility, because there is always someone better than you, and martial arts are so multifaceted that there is always something new to learn, or some area that you can improve upon. You also come to appreciate that you are not actually invincible; too many idiots who have never been in a scrap think they are bad asses until you put them in a real fight, or in the gym, training with real martial artists. Indeed, you learn just how strong yet frail humans can be at the same time. Facing an opponent in sparring, or rolling, or randori, or whatever your discipline calls it, is like physical chess. You are trying to out-think your opponent as much as you are trying to out-match them physically. Speed, strength, endurance, strategy, technique, creativity and willpower…. They all get tested, and you get the opportunity to improve these facets of your game. I would also contend that this results in discipline, self-control and the forming of better habits in general. Side note, my wife, my mom and others who know me well have observed that, in terms of mood and mental clarity, I am at my best when I am training consistently, and generally at my worst when I am not. Martial arts help you improve and maintain both mental and physical health.
Maybe this one’s less obvious than the first two, but it’s pretty important. So, as a young man barely in his 20s, I was pretty socially awkward. Far from suave, far from confident, but plenty close to foolhardy. I also lived in a shitty neighborhood. San Bernardino CA. It’s not where I grew up, I’m not from there, but it’s where I ended up at that specific time in my life. My relationship with my family was pretty strained, I had few friends, and, to put it simply, I was lost. It was a dark time in my life. The one thing that kept me on the straight and narrow was a little hole in the wall Judo club. That club shut down some time ago, but now, over 2 decades later, I am still friends with the sensei who ran it. That man, Jaime Vasquez, kept me on a good path. His influence and that of the other judoka at the club were, at that time in my life, the only reliable positive guiding influence I had. This is what a community does; the community lifts its members and holds them to better standards. The community encourages, enables and empowers you to do better and to become better. It scares me to think what I might have become or where I may have ended up in life if it weren’t for that community. Fast forward to today. I no longer live in San Bernardino, thank-fucking-Christ, or Buddha or whoever you’re into. I currently live in AZ and train at a phenomenal gym with great human beings. We help each other on and off the mats. We support each other. We celebrate each other and lift each other up. And the cool thing is I am friends with martial artists at neighboring gyms, and I love them, too. While it’s important to take care of yourself, and do for yourself, it’s also important to do for others. And we do. We make each other better. We help each other out. This is a community, and it’s fucking beautiful. Humans are inherently social creatures, and we all benefit from being a part of a community.
4. Life Lessons
So we’ve discussed the benefits of self-defense, physical and mental health, and community. I feel these are pretty straight forward concepts. Another benefit though is, if we are open minded and receptive, martial arts can teach us all kinds of lessons that are applicable to other parts of our lives. Problem-solving. Humility. Sportsmanship. Determination. Teaching. Helping others. Self control. Learning from our mistakes and turning weaknesses into strengths. A while back I was conversing with some esoteric minded friends of mine, who told me about a book called “Zen of Motorcycle Repair.” They were explaining that the book showed how motorcycle repair was analogous to life itself. They then posed the question: How is your passion an analogy for life? In this case, we will use Jiu Jitsu, since that is my primary martial art and what I spend most of my time doing when I am at the gym. Jiu Jitsu teaches that for every move there is a counter-move, and for every counter-move, a counter-counter-move. In other words, it teaches us there is a solution to all problems. We may not always have the experience, patience or clarity to see these solutions. We might be too panicky in the moment to remember the solutions. But we can get better at this. Jiu Jitsu also teaches that the way to get better is hard work and consistency. Dedication and sacrifice. Show up and train as consistently as you can. You can have all the natural talent in the world but if you are not regularly honing it, then it’s wasted. So, hard work, sacrifice and consistency. These are the keys to success in anything; art, music, business, craftsmanship, fancy-pants gourmet cooking, computer programming, animal husbandry, whatever your thing is. It also teaches us how to prioritize. For example: Jiu Jitsu is based on forcing your opponent to submit. But, gaining a good position is more important than getting the submission, because you cannot get the submission without first having the position to do so. So you prioritize position first, then submission. It also teaches self-control. The difference between white belts and colored belts is white belts will panic in bad situations. Their breathing and heart rate accelerate, and their inner monologue becomes an outer monologue as they swear and panic under their breath. “Shit shit shit, oh fuck, why did I do that, shit fuck goddamn it!” But the colored belts have enough experience and earned wisdom to stay calm, control their breathing, and work through the bad position as intelligently as they can. Not possible if you are panicking. As I am fond of saying to white belts, “if you can’t control yourself, how can you expect to control your opponent?” So it is in life. We get thrust into scary, unfamiliar situations and it’s easy to panic. But you need to breathe, and control yourself first, and then try to intelligently work through whatever stressful thing you’re going through. In Jiu Jitsu, you can be calm as fuck and work intelligently to get out of the bad situation but still get submitted. That’s okay. You learn from it and go on. Same in life. You do your best, take a loss, but you learn from it and go on. Accept the losses, learn from them, and focus on the wins. I could go on. There are so many parallels you could draw between your martial art and real life.
Anyway, if you made it to the end of this article, congratulations, you have an attention span! I hope you got some insight or benefit from this article, and I hope you’re inspired to try martial arts! If you are already a practicing martial artist, then I hope this article gave you a sweet sense of validation. All the same, remember to breathe, and happy training!