We have started our classes up here on Staten Island. One of the frequent questions I get is, “Why Study Martial Arts?” Why should people take an hour or so out of the busy day to come spend it with you once or twice a week? People come to martial arts for a wide variety of reasons, I tell them. Why would you train?
I train for a variety of reasons, and those reasons have changed over the years. When I started karate, my oldest son was studying. He was having fun. It would be something we could do together. I had studied Shuai Jiao at Ohio State many years before to fulfill a phys ed requirement. But this was different.
Is it to learn how to fight? Yes martial arts teaches us self-defense. It builds up our awareness of the environments we find ourselves in. We learn how to evaluate people, situations, circumstances, and ourselves. I’ve learned some things to do and some things not to do if a real situation arose. I have gained the self-confidence to know that I can take a punch and not go down, or take a kick and it doesn’t paralyze me. I know I can survive.
It is for the people? I started to spend time with my son. And along the way I have met some fantastic people who have given me guidance, friendship, and assistance. And there are those who have not, as with any group. Martial arts does teach us about our connectedness, with those who have gone before us, with those who are with us, and those who will come after us.
Is it for the mental health? For me it has been. Martial arts have given me another tool to maintain my sanity. We learn techniques of relaxation and meditation. We work on letting things go. Forms and kata stimulates the synapses and gets them firing. There is research that martial arts assists with mental acuity. The work keeps our minds active. Studying can lead to seeing things differently, changing worldviews, and different outlooks. Mental work and visualization can fill those times of boredom. Teachers have relayed to me that the martial arts are as much mental as they are physical. My mind seems more alert.
Is it to get a Black Belt and open your own school? For me, the closer I came to making Shodan, the less is was about the belt. I had come to realize that the color of the belt articulates where one might be in the journey. Obtaining my black belt wasn’t the end… it was the symbolic acceptance into truly beginning the journey. I also didn’t run out and open a school. Having my own school has always been a dream. But it had to be under the right circumstances, and because of the right reasons, when I felt I was ready.
Is it for the exercise? It can be a workout! I am definitely more fit because of martial arts. It brought me to quit smoking many years ago. When I get serious about my training, I lose weight. My stamina is stronger. Endurance increases. My over all health is much better. There are many studies out there that show how training in the martial is physically beneficial. Don’t you get hurt a lot? Not a lot. There are times…. For me, it is mostly when I am over-extending myself, trying things I am not ready for, not being prepared for the situation, or just plain laziness. In fact, i trust working with the people I train with much more than I trust “professional trainers” in other places. It is all about learning to listen to your body.
And so as we started last week, there we people who needed to work out the creeks and cracks of the body, people who needed to get out of the house more, people who were always interested but never started, people whose doctors told them to come, people who need to clear their minds. I even had a 73 year old show up because he needed something to cross-train for his hi-hop dancing!
The why isn’t as necessary as one would believe. The whys change, the hows change. Life changes. And that is why I study: from shuai jiao, to karate, to kobudo, to tai chi, to now… hung gar, judo and jiu-jitsu. Why study martial arts?