Life Lessons of the Martial Arts: Revisited

This week has been a little on the rough side. I’m not going to divulge the details, other than to say it’s not a week that will be remembered fondly. I’m actually still in the process of recovering from the emotional fall-out, and that generally includes a remedy of three things: chocolate, uplifting music that will bolster my shattered confidence, and remembering the lessons I learned while training in the martial arts. To that end, I’m going to do something unprecedented and re-visit a post I did about this time last year.

There’s a stigma in the martial arts that once you stop physically training, you’re no longer a black belt. While there is some merit to that argument — since, without practice, your self-defense skills rapidly become rusty — I humbly disagree. Those that learn the real lessons of the martial arts never lose them. They might not be able to do the most impressive jump spinning kick anymore, and they might not remember all their forms, but they still practice the things that make them better people, that make them black belts. Instead of an outward display, it’s internalized, crossing over into every aspect of their lives. So even though I’m currently on hiatus from my physical training, I don’t consider myself a former black belt. The intangible gifts I was given through Tang Soo Do are ones I’m grateful for every day, and they will continue to shape my life, my relationships, and how I conduct myself, whether or not I ever return to my training.

Which is why I felt this post needed to surface from the archives again. It’s not just an argument for why everyone should train in the martial arts, it’s a reminder to myself. These are things I strive to embody, and I know with absolute certainty that the situations referenced above would have played out quite differently if it weren’t for a few of these qualities. So thanks, Tang Soo Do. Without you, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.

And since I couldn’t say it any better than I did in that original post, I give you:
 

Life Lessons of the Martial Arts

 

by Kisa Whipkey

(Originally posted on 3/1/13)

 
Last week I mentioned how I apply a tenet I learned in the martial arts to my everyday life, and since it’s about time I branched away from writing/publishing to show my other categories some love, I think that’s a topic deserving of elaboration. What I’m about to say won’t be news to any of you that have trained, but to those of you unfamiliar with the martial arts, it may be enlightening.

There are three reasons that automatically come to mind when someone says they want to start training:

  • Discipline
  • Fighting/Self-Defense
  • Exercise

And for the most part, that sums up 90% of anyone’s motivation for enrolling. But there’s a lot more to the martial arts than that. Yes, it will help your unruly child learn to respect their elders and shut their mouth without the aid of duct tape. Yes, you will learn self-defense and how to fight. And yes, you will lose weight and tone muscle from all the exercise. But you’ll also miss the much richer elements of personal growth that society never glorifies if you only focus on those three things.

I learned a long time ago that you can easily spot someone who’s made it to black belt. Partly because all martial artists have a certain way of moving; a certain poise and grounded familiarity with their body that screams “black belt” a mile away. And partly because of the way they conduct themselves. There’s a reason they say martial arts is a way of life. It’s because, by the time you reach black belt, your training has gone beyond the physical techniques and has become an ingrained part of your outlook on the world.

Every style has their own philosophies and tenets, but I think there are several that are universal. Not because they’re part of an unwritten code of martial arts brethren, but because they’re the principles that make someone a better person. Things that should be common sense but that have been lost over the years to the majority of society. What are they? Let’s take a look and find out.

Integrity:

In a world where selfishness reigns, it’s refreshing to find someone that actually understands this word. And I would bet that 9 times out of 10, that person is/was a martial artist. Why? Because this is one of the core principles instilled by training. It’s also one of the first that spills over into everyday life. Integrity can be anything from keeping your word, to doing what’s right even when it’s not easy or for your own benefit, to taking responsibility for your actions. This is an attitude that translates to success in everything from school, to personal relationships, to career. A person with integrity is someone that can be counted on, and that’s a sure-fire way to the top of any pack.

Humility:

The second tell-tale sign of someone who’s spent time in the martial arts is humility. People who have learned this have an easier time connecting with others. Nobody likes a braggart, and arrogance is a one-way ticket to alienating all your potential allies. Martial artists learn the fine line of being confident in their abilities without the need to brag. (Well, most do anyway.) And that translates into things like leadership roles, community involvement, and personal satisfaction. Just like integrity, humility is a trait that instantly earns you respect and appreciation, without having to demand it.

Perseverance:

News-flash: life’s hard. It’s all too easy to throw in the towel and just give up, becoming complacent with whatever hand you’ve been dealt. Getting a black belt isn’t easy, either. It involves dedicating yourself to intense workouts, potential injuries and having to hit the floor hard. A lot. You will get knocked down, and you will get hurt. But you also learn how to get back up, how to roll with the punches, and how to achieve any goal you put your mind to, one step at a time. I think the parallel should be obvious. You can apply that same philosophy to anything in life, be that earning a college degree, starting a successful business, or just being present for your family. With a little perseverance, anything is possible.

Situational Awareness:

Self-defense is becoming more and more important, especially for women and young people. So many horrible acts of violence could have been averted if the victim had been more aware of their surroundings, or had avoided putting themselves in danger in the first place. Yes, the martial arts are about fighting, but more importantly, they’re about learning how not to fight. They teach you the self-control to walk away from situations that are turning ugly, and they teach you not to do so many of the stupid things that get people in trouble, like going places alone in the middle of the night, taking drinks from strangers that you didn’t see mixed, or getting in random cars with people you don’t know. The first act of self-defense is knowing how to assess the risks around you; a lesson I wish we taught in schools.

Altruism:

This one may come as a little bit of a surprise to those outside of the martial arts family, but it’s actually a pretty big element in our training, especially the higher ranks. Most styles promote giving back to the community, whether that be the studio itself or the community at large. Some even use it as a criteria for advancement. Which is why you’ll find a lot of black belts volunteering in their communities. The idea of paying forward the time and effort that was given to you, of showing pride and commitment to the people and places around you, is one that translates well into other aspects of life. You don’t have to join the Red Cross, or Habitats for Humanity, or some other grand organization of do-gooders to make a difference. Simply volunteering in your child’s classroom, helping a coworker with a hefty project, or donating your time at a library/care facility will make the world a better place. Wouldn’t it be nice if we all learned that a few moments of selflessness can make all the difference to someone in need? Maybe we wouldn’t see so much violence then.

Those are just a few of the positive affects I’ve seen the martial arts have. Every student will choose the lessons that resonate most sincerely with their own lives, and may not need every one, but you can guarantee they’ll be given the tools just the same. Whether you’re thinking of enrolling your child in the local studio, or whether you’re considering it for yourself, take a moment to think about what I’ve said here. Remember that it’s not just about learning to punch, kick, yell and break things. It’s about learning to be the best version of yourself. If that doesn’t convince you the martial arts are worthwhile, then I’m not sure what will.

And to my fellow martial artists out there, what lessons have you learned in your training? Share the ones I missed in the comments below. 😉

7 thoughts on “Life Lessons of the Martial Arts: Revisited

  1. Thanks for digging this out of your archives. I couldn’t agree more.
    And frankly, I’ve never heard of being a former black belt, precisely because of all the life lessons that can’t be unlearned from the experience of earning the belt. Additionally, so many items of self defense become automatic, a factor of muscle memory. Even if kicks aren’t as high, fast or strong as when regularly training, I’d put my money on an out-of-training black belt in any fight at any time against someone who hasn’t trained at all. Thanks again, and best to you.

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment! I always appreciate hearing feedback.

      You’re right, muscle memory doesn’t ever tend to go away. So as long as someone can get out of their own way and let instinct take over, I think you’d be 100% right about the outcome of a “former black belt” in a fight. Personally, I’ve always viewed the people that make the distinction between a training black belt and a non-training one as those who missed the real point of training at all. 😉

      I checked out your blog as well. Best of luck recovering from your injury! Shoulder ones are always difficult. It always makes me happy to see a mother/daughter combo excelling in the martial arts. My mom trains as well — in fact, she surpassed me a long time ago. So I know just how special that bond can be. 🙂

  2. I’ve never studied martial arts (other than half a year of judo) so I can’t say I know exactly what you’re talking about, but I think I get the general idea.

    Wishing you a much better week ahead and plenty of wonderful weeks to follow. 🙂

  3. Martial arts can teach you so many life lessons and skills that can be applied to your personal life and career. It is definitely something that is beneficial for kids.

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