“Why do you train in martial arts?” This is a question I have been asked many times and a question I have asked my own students. Many people who have never trained in martial arts often have a pre-conception of two individuals stood toe to toe smashing the living daylights out of each other and cannot understand why anyone would want to do this day after day. But this is a concept borne out of inexperience and misguidance often because they’ve seen the latest cage fight on TV or martial arts film at the cinema. Yet the answers (yes there’s several) are varied from individual to individual and can often change over time.
The conversation, especially with beginners goes something like:
Me: “Why do you want to learn martial arts”
Student: “I want to learn how to defend myself”
Me: “Against whom?”
Student “Um, I don’t know. Anybody I guess.”
Me: “Ok that’s great. What do you do that involves you needing to defend yourself?”
Student: “Nothing really. It’s just in case.”
The desire to defend yourself is a noble enough ideal and I am not in any way saying it shouldn’t be a reason to train in martial arts. After all, that’s what the majority were originally developed for. But it should, in my opinion, form only a part of why someone trains. Most people live in a far more peaceful society than when these arts were originally developed and unless someone works in the military, police or security sectors then the likelihood of them facing violence on a day to day basis is slim.
So why train if your motive is not to be able to injure someone intentionally? Perhaps my own story will help to explain this a little better. When I started training in Karate in 2003, I was not a particularly nice person. I had gone off the rails on more than one occasion and was a shell of who I should have been. Coupled with this was a history of depression, low self-esteem and no self-confidence. In short, I did not like the person I was. And I too was one of those people that started martial arts for self defence purposes. It was me against the world and I’d better be prepared. However, my eyes were soon opened up to the wonderful benefits that martial arts had to offer. After suffering a back injury via a car crash in 2005 which left me unable to train for months, I was determined that if I ever got mobile enough again, I wanted to continue training. Martial arts had given me resolve and determination that I didn’t have previously and I hadn’t even realised it.
As my training continued, the amount of time I was training increased from once or twice a week to five or six days. My instructor would look at me and say “you’ve got the bug” meaning I was hungry for it and he was right. I would leave the dojo sweating, battered and bruised and felt like a million dollars. Like many forms of exercise martial arts releases serotonin, the “happy hormone” and I was going from feeling worthless to feeling really good about myself. As I progressed through the ranks, I gained discipline, determination and perseverance. By looking toward my next grade I was setting realistic targets and learning to deal with failure when I didn’t reach them and work harder next time which made passing a grade all the more rewarding. The cold winter nights, where it was easier to sit in a comfy chair with a cup of tea or the summer nights where everyone was out enjoying a beer in the local pub garden were put to one side as I gained focus. And all the while, with each grade obtained I grew in ability, confidence and self- worth; as well as increased levels of fitness and mobility. I began to realise that my path in the martial arts wasn’t about the destruction of other people but rather the improvement of myself. I wasn’t as stressed and irritable as I used to be and I was widening my social circle with like-minded people.
Once I had reached the level of black belt my “why” began to change. Far from being the pinnacle, I realised it was just the beginning and that the learning never ended. Rather than being a bad thing and looking at it as “never completing” I looked at it in a positive light. Like a favourite book or film that you may be have loved but are actually disappointed when it finishes because that’s the end, there was no end. There was always another chapter, another scene. So, I trained for the sheer enjoyment of training and learning and expanding my knowledge and skill set.
When I began teaching, my “why” changed once again. I trained to maintain standards so that I could pass on the knowledge and experience I had gained to the best of my ability so that others may also benefit from training. I still enjoy my training obviously (why else would I do it?) but having the responsibility of students and ensuring that their training is just as beneficial spurs me on to keep training and learning.
Whatever you’re initial “why” may be for being interested or training in the martial arts, it doesn’t matter as long as it’s important to you. Whether it is the self-defence aspects, competing in tournaments, health and fitness goals or simply to learn a new hobby; martial arts contains something for absolutely everyone regardless of age or ability. And as you grow you may just find extra benefits that you weren’t even aware of that will sustain your interest and training.