Eleven Benefits of the Martial Arts

Gichin Funakoshi
           Father of Karate

The martial arts have been around for 2500 years. The Chinese were the first to discover that health and wellness could be gained through exercise and a proper attitude, and that is why the martial arts and health are intertwined. A strong body makes for a strong mind. The Chinese also discovered the points used in healing, if applied in a different way, are also the points that destroy, maim and kill.

This is why you will not find a combative martial artist. Rather than the way of war, a true martial artist will seek the way of peace. A traditional bow says “I hide my weapon. I come in peace.” (Right open palm over a closed left fist.)

THE TWO MOST IMPORTANT RULES IN THE MARTIAL ARTS

#1. The first rule is: There is no first attack in karate.

A martial artist must do whatever they can to resolve a confrontation peacefully. That is why they call it self defense. Use your wits, not your fist.

The kicking and punching you see in a dojo is child’s play. Just as children become strong by running, jumping and climbing, the martial artist becomes strong by a good solid workout. Although learning to protect oneself is serious business, the students have fun, because it IS fun.

#2. The second rule is: Never injure your training partner.

If you do, you have no one to train with. You learn to use focus and no one gets hurt. A well-taught class will never need an ambulance.

Americans have to have everything scientifically proven, and even with 2500 years of success behind them, the martial arts still came under scrutiny by scientists. What they find is not surprising. Martial artists have lower heart rates and blood pressure, and many masters live to healthy ripe old ages of 90 to 100, or more.

It is not necessary to study for years to reap benefits. Students serious about learning the art see an improvement in their bodies and their attitudes – some see immediate changes, others take a little time.

TEN BENEFITS OF THE MARTIAL ARTS

1. A strong, flexible body.

You will notice a smaller size in clothes even though your scale won’t show a reduction in your weight. You may even gain a few pounds at first. Muscle weighs more than fat, and the first thing to go with a work-out is fat. You may even gain weight, if you are inclined to step on the scale, but do not be alarmed. Measure your progress by how your clothes fit and the growing strength of your body.

2. Respect for self and others.

The first thing a student learns is how to bow. An outsider watching may think this practice is a little crazy, but respect is taught first and foremost. The last thing an instructor wants, and the biggest fear, is to train a monster – someone who takes his training the wrong way.

To prevent that, respect is grounded into the student’s minds. Bow to the dojo when entering and leaving to show gratitude for the knowledge and the workup. The class starts and ends with a bow to the sensei and each other. This reinforcement of respect soon begins to spill into everyday life, and little boys and girls that were brats turn into fine, respectful young people.

3. Growing self-esteem and confidence.

As your body becomes stronger and more fit, the sense of empowerment comes about naturally. Learning to defend yourself gives you a feeling of power and self-control. This is growth is on an unconscious level and is not one has to think about. The feeling comes naturally. When you work out, you hold your head high and shoulders back, and soon this demeanor shows in how you carry yourself through the day. People will notice this change.

4. Improved attitude.

You may think this is the same as #3, and in some ways it is, but you will discover dark thoughts of depression and attitudeself-doubt easier to manage. Philosophy of living is incorporated into the classes, and as you begin to see the world from a fresh perspective, your excitement and motivation will surprise you.

5. Enhanced awareness.

You will develop a sixth sense, better known as proximity sense. You will feel when someone is close to you even though you do not see them. Your eyesight will improve, as well as your peripheral vision, by increasing your field of vision to the sides and behind you. You will begin to read people and sense their moods and next intention. Most important of all, you become more aware of your surroundings. You become careful about getting into dangerous situations and learn to avoid toxic people.

6. Heightened concentration.

It is well known that exercise is good for you, but the exercise you get in a martial art’s class works both sides of the body. Bilateral movement realigns the brain and returns it to balance. When the brain is functioning as it should, it is calmer, and better able to concentrate and think clearly.

7. Sharp focus.

Not only are you able to think more clearly, you learn to focus on the finer details of a situation but yet are able to see the big picture. As you work with your classmates with different techniques, you will learn to control your body better. By practicing not to drill a punch deep into your opponent’s body, but stopping when you touch his gi (uniform), you are honing your reflexes to react at a bat of an eyelash. You will notice this one day when something falls out of the cupboard and you quickly reach to grab it. Fast hands.

        Yin’s Dojo*

8. Control of emotions.

“When the hand flies forth, control the temper. When the temper flies forth, control the hand.”

Beginning students are taught to be good sports and not let their temper flare. As a student moves up the ranks, they learn more advanced techniques. These are not taught to just anyone, because once again, a good instructor will not train someone to be a monster. If a student does not have the right mindset to learn more involved techniques, then he will fall by the wayside. You cannot win a fight if your mind is mad and jumbled. If you are seeing red. You must be cool, calm and collected in the scariest of situations and in order to do that, you learn to control your emotions.

9. Self-discipline.

I have listed these benefits in the order in which they occur and that is why self-discipline is #9. To control your emotions, to stay in focus and concentrate, and to live have a lifestyle that is free of conflict, one must have self-discipline. This comes by the repeated practice, and it takes time to develop. Willpower is a component of self-discipline, but not the whole pie. One is not expected to be stoic like a samurai, where every minute of their day was steeped in routine and discipline. One is not expected to be like a Buddhist monk who seeks purity of soul and thought. And a student of the martial arts certainly is not expected to meditate in a cave for many years (unless you chose to!) But as you progress up the ranks, you will find that old ways no longer haunt you, you are positive and confident. I believe self-discipline is a perk that cannot be sought out, it just happens.

10. Better grades.

Many parents bring their kids to a martial arts class because they are out of control. As a last resort, the parent tries karate to see if that will help. And it does. Parents bring their children in on a lark, “We’ve tried everything and nothing is working.” They are desperate to regain some control over little Johnny’s attitude and his failing grades. Within six months, his parents cannot believe the difference. The out-of-control child is now polite and respectful, his grades are A’s and B’s, he’s happy, and can’t shut up about his “awesome” sensei. Promote this. The little guy has found his passion. How can a parent argue? Their child is no longer misbehaving.

I have wondered for a long time about #10, and why we see such consistent results. This was before the idea of rearranging the brain to solve mental health issues such as depression and post-traumatic stress. But now, a child’s success in the dojo is not the work of some great teacher, although that helps. What causes these changes to occur?
Working both sides of the body, paying attention to instructions, making an effort to keep up with the class, putting effort into something they enjoy. Plus, the atmosphere in most dojos is one of acceptance and can-do. Student’s quickly learn can’t is NOT an acceptable word in a dojo.

11. The biggest benefit of all, in my opinion, is the philosophy.

People study the martial arts to better themselves and to belong to something greater than they are. Learning defense is a sideline. People walk into a dojo for the first time thinking they are going to learn to kick butt, when in fact the ultimate goal is to learn how to avoid kicking butt.

karate
Kara Te – Empty Hand

Practicing the martial arts carries with it responsibility – to self and others. You are responsible for controlling your hands and your temper, to show respect, and to live an honorable life. Honor seems like an old-fashioned word, but there is nothing old-fashioned about striving for exemplary character and to strive to do right in all situations.

Most of these benefits are realized within a very short time – less than a year, but once achieved, the challenge is to continue. Some people make the martial arts a lifetime way of living; but even the ones who train for only a year or two will be thankful that they learned what they did. The training you receive will always stay with you, and you will find it coming to your stead in ways you never imagined.

 

*Wiltens, J., Fuchs, J., Yin’s Dojo. Black Belt Magazine.  1991, May: 48