I’ve been training in martial arts for almost 8 years. The style I practice is called Tang Soo Do. ‘Tang’ is in reference to the Chinese Tang dynasty. ‘Soo’ means hand or fist. ‘Do’ stands for ‘way of life.’ It’s a Korean-based martial arts system that is related to the much more popular, Tae Kwon Do. Like most people, I started training as a way to get into great shape and learn self-defense. I’ve always had an interest in martial arts but never took any steps to pursue it. The story around what made me decide to go for it is pretty interesting. Least I think so.
About 10 years ago I was a bit of an exercise junkie. You know those people doing the crazy P90X and Insanity workouts? Yeah, that was me. After 2 years and several rounds of both programs I began to get bored. It’s difficult to stay motivated when you’re exercising just for the sake of exercising. I needed a reason to keep pushing; to keep improving. With martial arts you never truly master a technique.
The Japanese concept of “Kaizen”, (striving for constant improvement), is woven deeply into all martial arts. It’s what appealed to me initially. It still does today.
I’d like to take a few minutes to go over what I feel are the major benefits of martial arts. If you don’t currently have a regular physical activity, this post might convince you to give martial arts a try.
An amazing way to get and stay in shape is regular martial arts training. Most classes are 45 – 60 minutes long and you spend most of that time moving. Every class begins with a rigorous calisthenics warmup that consists of jumping jacks, push-ups, crunches, and stretching. A serious martial artist does more activity in 1 week, than most Americans do in an entire year. Warmup is followed by punching drills, kicking drills, and forms practice.
Forms or (hyung in Korean) is what you’re watching when you see large groups of martial artists moving in unison through a predetermined routine of blocks, punches and kicks. The goal of performing them repeatedly is to improve power, focus and strength. If you’re really putting in the effort, you’ll begin to wonder if your sweat is sweating. I’ve done some pretty intense leg workouts but there’s nothing like forms practice. Your entire body and mind have to work in unison for extended periods of time. It’s great for developing the kind of focus that improves other aspects of your life.
Our studio also conducts a weekly fitness boot camp class to further improve fitness. It’s 45 minutes of circuit training. The breaks are 30 seconds long which is basically just enough time to move from one station to the next. If a new student commits to regular training and puts forth the effort, they can’t help getting in great shape.
Martial Arts Camaraderie
My closest relationships are with the people I train with. I’m regularly at the studio 4 days per week for a few hours each time. Multiply that against the 45 weeks or so out the year that the studio is open and it’s easy to see why my best friends are all martial artists. There’s something about being surrounded with people that are constantly trying to improve, that’s very attractive. Because we excel at different things, there’s always someone available to help improve an aspect of the training that a student may be struggling with.
As you move up in rank, it starts to become a very special club. Consider the following statistics. When surveyed, about 3% of the population will report they practiced martial arts within the last 12 months. Out of that 3%, only 1 – 2% continue training to the rank of 1st degree black belt. I don’t have the statistics on 2nd degree black belt and higher. It’s safe to say that it’s a very exclusive club. With that comes a certain amount of camaraderie that’s very enjoyable. You see people that you’ve tested or competed against at regional events over the years. It’s fun to witness how everyone’s martial arts improves in different ways.
A Global Family
The motto of our association is Professionalism, Traditionalism and Brotherhood. You join a global family. At our recent world championship event, there was representation from Europe, Africa, South America, as well as the US. Students made great sacrifices to travel in order to compete and see old friends at the 2-day event which only occurs every 2 years.
The family aspect of martial arts is especially helpful for kids and teenagers. For this age group, physical and cyber-bullying are a very real thing. Martial arts provide a community of people that genuinely care about the well-being of younger students. They’re taught to speak with confidence and look a person in the eye. They’re taught about the importance of their personal space and how to protect it. These lessons reinforce that they’re responsible for their actions and stresses the importance of protecting themselves and others.
Because martial arts extend to people of all age ranges, younger students are able to form close friendships with people they probably otherwise wouldn’t. The cliques in school that are often barriers to making new friends are far less prevalent in martial arts. All these lessons improve confidence and makes younger martial arts students a less desirable bullying target.
A core aspect of all martial arts is self-discipline. The act of forcing yourself to consistently do something uncomfortable has positive effects in other areas of your life. Having to hold positions for extended periods of time develops a degree of mental toughness that isn’t easily matched. Even after a challenging day at work, I never leave the studio in a worse mood than when I arrived.
For kids, the act of having to show respect and listen to the instructions of senior members has positive effects at school and home. You’re not just a martial artist when you’re at the studio. You’re expected to always behave in a manner that represents yourself, instructor, studio, and association positively. Students are expected to be positive members of the community. Charitable acts involving time or other resources is an important part of how we serve others. It’s a core aspect of martial arts that becomes even more important as a student moves up in rank.
An important aspect of martial arts is leadership development. In support of making this point, I’d like to introduce the Seven Tenets of Tang Soo Do. Because of their importance in helping students improve, they are typically recited at the end of each class.
The Seven Tenets
- Integrity – Conducting oneself with sincerity and honesty.
- Concentration – Focusing the mind on the task at hand to the exclusion of everything else.
- Perseverance – Repeated effort towards the achievement of a goal.
- Respect & Obedience – Appreciate and show respect for the differences in all of us. Recognizing that your personal feelings or ego are subordinate to association rules and traditions.
- Self-Control – Maintain control over self and the decisions you make.
- Humility – Curb arrogance. Recognition that regardless of rank or position in life, we should treat others with respect.
- Indomitable Spirit – Embracing the grind. Remembering that overcoming adversity is part of achievement.
The Tenets provide an excellent set of principles for any martial artist to live by. They are also the qualities that are present in every good leader. As a student progresses through the ranks, they’re given more opportunities to mentor others or lead the class warmup. The reason for this is two-fold.
First, it reinforces that they’re not at the studio simply to learn for themselves. They learn that part of growing as a martial artist is helping others overcome their challenges. Second, it puts them in a position where they’re required to speak confidently and with authority in front of a group. Both skills are important aspects of leadership.
Karate has personally helped my professional career by improving how I lead and work with others.
Tying it Together
I hope this encourages you to give martial arts a try. The best parts of martial arts have nothing to do with throwing punches and kicks. Don’t get me wrong. Breaking boards and sparring are lots of fun and are great for improving confidence. They’re just not the most important aspect. Martial arts are one of the few activities you can do your entire life and that also provide the opportunity to positively impact the lives of others.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave a comment below!