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Why is Martial Arts Good For You? | Benefits of Martial Arts
Respect, Learning, and Awareness
I recall the first time I set foot in a school of martial arts back in the early 1980s. I grew up in a rough neighborhood and was having serious issues with the local bullies. After one particularly traumatic incident, my mother enrolled me in Karate classes at the local community center. What I remember of those first days of martial arts training was entering an environment with an air of respect which was incredibly conducive to learning, camaraderie, and physical fitness.
Over the years, there was a fine tuning of my understanding of what a person gets from his or her martial arts training. In this article, I would like to explore what are the benefits of martial arts training for the individual. The intent is not to explore whether martial arts leads to some ultimate reality or a spiritual truth, nor to declare which style or school is better than another, but the intent here is to explore what are the common and down to earth benefits of training in the martial arts.
As stated earlier, upon entering the martial arts school, typically, a person finds an environment of respect and good will. Students and instructors have a deep regard for each other and understand that they are learning together, in an environment which is safe and among people considerate of the well being of everyone involved. The teacher, typically highly skilled in his or her art, takes care that the student is cared for, given the attention needed to learn and continue learning at the school; conversely, the students have great regard for the teacher, listening and watching and keeping their attention on the intricacies of the lesson. In this way, a person understands, in relationship, with regard for all those involved, how to give good attention to learning and to the people and environment involved in his or her education. In addition, the student becomes acutely aware of his or her own reactions to the training. Awareness overall is heightened. This, of course, is a skill that can venture past the walls of the training hall.
Martial arts training always involves some kind of conditioning for the body: The body is toughened, the muscles strengthened and made flexible; the practitioner must endure and push past his or her limits. In the end, this results in a body at ease, with good circulation and gives the person a feeling of physical well-being and a sense of being able to overcome tough conditions.
Self Defense Skills
Self defense might be regarded as the most obvious benefit of martial arts training. Self defense is a technical skill, like carpentry or auto mechanics; it is a skill that could be handy to have, one that might be necessary. To some degree, self defense is a natural and instinctual response of all living things; like animals will defend their young with their natural tools (claws and teeth) and how even a rose has thorns; so, too, a human being will naturally respond to danger with any kind of self preservation skills he or she possesses. In martial arts training, a person fine tunes those skills. It begins with basics, everything in martial arts are rooted in basics; it is the foundation of a martial artist's education. A person learns what are their natural weapons, what are the targets on a person that can be struck to stop an aggressor, how to move your body to defend yourself and from what positions, what ways the opponent's body can be manipulated in order to defend yourself from him or her, and in what ways you can keep yourself out of harms way using body parts and body movement. More about how this training takes place will be discussed in the sections on problem solving and spontaneity.
As previously mentioned, the environment of the training hall is one of respect which is conducive to learning. Partners at the school come into close contact with each other, must be conscious of others' safety, and learn together in a friendly and even lighthearted manner. The learning is fun, and, to put it in simple terms, students and instructors all become friends.
During martial arts training, the student learns how to move his or her body correctly and in relation to different positions. Self defense, in actuality, is spontaneous. But the student learns the various positions and predicaments that could occur and how to move effectively in those positions; the student becomes aware of his or her own position and the position of the opponent and how it relates and what can be done in those positions for self defense purposes. This involves working one's own mind, seeing what is possible or not possible, using common sense and logic, connecting things soundly. In other words, a person learns to look directly at situations to understand what can be done effectively.
After building the foundation of basics, and learning some problem solving skills, a student can begin to apply these skills spontaneously. After all, that is the only way it would ever be effective, to be able to put it into action realistically. Spontaneity can be trained in different ways. The obvious way it is trained is by sparring, which is, generally, a relatively well controlled fight between two (sometimes more) students; both students engaged in sparring must spontaneously respond to each others' actions, using the skills they have learned. There are also various drills to develop spontaneity: Some involve practicing specific techniques but changing the scenarios enough to make the student have to change from his or her practiced response. Another drill that is practiced is to put the student on a spot and other students take turns attacking him or her one at a time, while the student on the spot doesn't know when the attack is coming, or from what direction, and, in some drills, the student doesn't know what kind of attack is coming. This forces the student to come up with actions on the spot, spontaneously, coming closer (but, of course, not quite) to a real self defense situation.
In conclusion, from martial arts training comes a love of learning and an understanding of the deeper meaning of learning. A person is able to tackle problems in very direct and logical ways; while also understanding the spontaneous nature of all things in life; simply put, life is continuous learning, can be lived truly and understood directly, and though most of life is a huge, sometimes difficult, surprise, it can be lived fully, completely, totally, and spontaneously.