A lot of people perceive martial arts as violent and hurtful. They won’t think of practicing them. Some hate them because they see them as a means of encouraging violence. Some fear them because they believe they are something meant only for those who are strong in physique. This is most often not the case. If anything, martial arts train you to be of a peaceful disposition, to avoid confrontation and respect others. Also, there are a lot of different types of martial arts and one can always find something suited to his/her interest and physical disposition. Contrary to what most people believe and what is shown in movies, most schools have a very friendly and understanding approach towards individual needs and limitations. Practicing the right martial art under a good instructor is fun and comes with a lot of hidden benefits.
One hidden aspect of martial arts is the development of personality. In fact, there are quite a few personal development coaches and enthusiasts who train or have trained in Martial Arts, David Allen and Steve Pavlina being two. Bruce Lee strongly believed in using martial arts for personal development.
I have practiced martial arts for the last three years. I also used to participate in my school’s boxing tournament when I was a kid. While the initial purpose was learning self defense and to find a fun way to exercise(I did not enjoy working in the gym, have always preferred sports), I was pleasantly surprised to find their other benefits. There are some unique things that a martial art practice provides that you won’t get in a gym. Here are a few direct benefits of practicing martial arts :
1. Discipline. The practice of martial arts, enthuses a strong sense of discipline that carries over to the rest of your life. In a supportive environment, you are pushed to excel yourself every time. You are encouraged to face and work upon the challenges you would otherwise comfortably avoid. Do you have difficulty getting into a routine, forming good eating habits, exercising regularly? Join martial arts and learn to discipline yourself in the company of other, like-minded people in a fun way!
2. Focus. Martial arts are all about focus, executing proper techniques at the precise right moment, judging your opponent’s movements and counter acting at the right time, improvising your strategy on the go. Martial arts improve focus like nothing else.
3. Confidence. Martial arts inculcate a strong sense of confidence. This is very different from ego. Ego is born out of fear. A lot of people who start out in martial arts, use a lot of strength and resistance initially. There ego’s are at work. In time, they understand that it doesn’t help them enjoy, learn and improve. The school where I learned Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, had a big poster on its walls – ‘Leave your ego at the door’.
All seasoned martial artists have a strong sense of respect towards self and respect towards others. Unlike what most people would believe, most martial artists are very humble in nature. In fact, most martial arts teach you to avoid threatening situations and ego fights. A good martial artist is not he/she who beats every other person down, but one who does not get into a fight at all. Martial arts teach a lot beside just the physical aspects of a fight. The physical aspect, in fact, is the means of last resort. In the long run, they build your character. They make you into a cool headed individual who is neither afraid nor eager to face any dangerous situation, be it in any form. You get into a flow where you know how to find the path of least effort out of a dangerous situation. A regular training gives you a confidence, calm and common sense that you enjoy in all aspects of your life. This, I think, is the real benefit of martial arts.
4. Fitness and well being. There are different types of martial arts suitable for various age groups and body types. The practice builds your stamina, strength and fitness. You may find that the feeling of fitness that you get with martial arts is different from what you get when you attend a gym. You have an overall feeling of well being, you will feel fit and your senses will be alert. You heart and mind will be in a relaxed state of happiness and lightness.
5. Moral integrity. Martial arts are a way of life. A lot of them have some philosophy related to them too. Most probably, your teacher will share it in some proportions. These philosophies focus on the development of a good moral character, a warrior spirit. There was an oath that I was made to recite daily in my Karate class, I think it says all that I want to say here :
- We will train our hearts and bodies for a firm and unshaking spirit.
- We will pursue the true meaning of the martial way so that in time, our senses will be alert.
- With true vigor, we will seek to cultivate a spirit of self denial.
- We will observe the rules of courtesy, respect our superiors and refrain from violence.
- We will seek our Gods and never forget the true virtue of Humility.
- We will look upwards to wisdom and strength, not seeking other desires.
- All our lives, through the discipline of Karate, we will seek to fulfill the true meaning of the ‘way’.
6. Calmness. Martial arts will calm down your mind. To a certain degree, martial arts have the same effect as mediation. Even though I get tired a lot after my practice, there is an alertness in my mind and a feeling of being present in the current moment.
7. Connecting with others. Martial arts develop a strong sense of connection, camaraderie and respect for fellow students. When you step out of your training school, you find that this feeling starts extending to other beings too.
Broad Categories in Martial Arts
Martial arts can be categorized by different criteria.
According to one distinction, martial arts of two types – striking arts and grappling arts. Striking arts focus on punches, kicks and other strikes. Examples are Boxing, Kick boxing. Grappling styles focus on body control, executing chokes and joint locks. Examples are wrestling, Brazilian jiu jitsu, judo, sambo. Of course there is some overlap in a lot of arts, example muay thai and san shou, which are primarily striking arts but involve some grappling aspect in the form of clinch game and take downs. There are also some arts that focus on just weapons, example kendo.
Another distinction is between sports oriented martial arts(like Judo) and ‘for self defense only’ martial arts(like Krav Maga, Systema).
There are the hard martial arts(like boxing) which, arguably, focus on meeting strength with strength vs soft martial arts(like Tai Chi) which focus on using the opponents strength to his own disadvantage. Don’t conclude that hard styles are all about strength and physically weaker people don’t practice them. In fact, successful execution always relies more on proper technique.
There is also a general distinction between traditional and contemporary martial arts. Most traditional arts(Kung fu, Karate) follow an established and tested way. The contemporary arts(Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Jeet Kune Do, Krav maga) tend to be more experimental and keep evolving by picking up useful concepts and ideas from other martial arts and individuals.
Which martial art to choose
Choosing the right art is more a matter of personal preference and comfort. There is no best martial arts. You might not have the benefit of choice, in which case, you can take whatever is available to you and make the best of it until you find better opportunity. If you have a choice, you have to find out which forms appeal most to you and is more comfortable. Here is what you can try
1. Take some trail classes with different schools.
2. See how you like the art itself.
3. How do you find the instructor, is he friendly and supportive?
4. How are the other trainees there? How is the general environment?
5. Find out from other sources about your instructor’s credentials.
I started martial arts training 3 years ago, in India and had very little idea and very little choice where I stayed. I took up the only thing available there, Kyokushin Karate. I practiced for 3 months before my job took me to the US. In New York, I started off with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and a bit of Mixed Martial Arts(MMA). To experience and understand different forms, I have also practiced Jeet Kune Do, Tai Chi and Shan Shou for small periods.