The Martial Arts
Estimated Lesson Time: 7 minutes
I will never forget that one summer night back in 1985 in Bridgeport, Connecticut, when I was 13 years old. I was with a group of friends in a mini-mall parking lot, waiting for our ride home. All of the stores had closed and just a few of the parking lot lights had remained on—it was not the best place for a bunch of kids from the “good side of town” to be after dark. In the distance, we saw a large group of older kids approaching. When they spotted us, they stopped, and only one of the group members came forward. By this kid’s appearance, we could tell he was a local, and by his words and actions we could clearly tell he was looking for trouble. In that moment, I felt completely helpless and vulnerable like never before. Just minutes later, our ride arrived, and we were free from danger. But it was in that moment of complete vulnerability that I made the decision to learn how to defend myself, so I never had to feel that way again.
The general term “martial arts” refers to the many styles that instruct in the art of hand and foot fighting that have been developed over a period of 2,000 years. Today, martial arts are practiced by millions of people in virtually every country, recently evolving into a modern international Olympic sport. But martial arts is much more than a sport; like success, it is a lifetime process of self-improvement and self-discovery. Martial arts helps us realize our true potential both physically and mentally. Here are just some of the benefits:
- Discipline. Through martial arts, we learn how discipline can help us in anything we do.
- Patience. The fluidity and gracefulness of style and technique takes years, even a lifetime, to master. By seeing frequent improvements in our own abilities, we learn patience.
- Balance and coordination. We build balance and coordination by consistently taking control of our bodies and concentrating on our form. We learn that our minds have complete control over our bodies; it just takes practice to exercise that control.
- Self-confidence. Once one feels confident in the ability to defend oneself, a feeling of confidence like none other is developed. I believe this level of confidence has helped me to avoid more conflicts in both my childhood and adult life than any diplomatic communication skill I possess.
- Self-control. Martial arts is not about learning how to fight; it is about learning how to defend. The entire philosophy of martial arts revolves around peace and self-control. Once trained in martial arts, you can use non-violent, defensive, and controlled moves when necessary instead of throwing fists, which is most people’s only defense.
- Defense. Someday within your lifetime, you may need to defend yourself or your loved ones. Being prepared for such an unfortunate event significantly reduces the fear associated with the possible event.
- Fitness. Training in martial arts is a great physical activity, from the relaxing workouts of Tai Chi to the more aggressive workouts of Tae Kwon Do.
- Concentration, focus, and visualization. Breaking boards is not just for show; it takes an extreme amount of mental energy. Through martial arts, we learn to develop these mental skills that are so valuable in life.
- Goals. Most martial arts are rank-based systems, that is, students are rewarded frequently by promotion in rank, usually signified by a color belt. This system of rewarding achievement gives students something to look forward to; it gives them goals.
- Influence. Joining a martial arts class is just another way to surround yourself with positive people and meet new friends. It is and should be, a social and enjoyable journey.
It is unfortunate that many people get turned off by martial arts because they do not ask themselves the right questions when looking for a school. So in the spirit of success, here is a quick guide to choosing the right martial arts school.
- Choose the right instructor. I believe that the most important factor is finding the right instructor. The instructor sets the example for the students to follow. You want an instructor who possesses the qualities and characteristics that you seek. You may need to try out a class or two before you can get a good sense of his or her character.
- Consider convenience. Look for schools that are within a reasonable commute from your place of work or home. Look for schools that have classes that fit your schedule. Do not let inconvenience be a roadblock.
- Choose a style. There are many styles in the martial arts; all of which have different focuses and techniques. Choose a style that fits your goals. Here is a brief introduction to the most popular styles:
- Aikido: A method of unarmed self-defense. It encourages discipline and a non-violent attitude. Its movements are made of joint twisting, grabbing, and bending.
- Hapkido: An art form that uses a variety of counter-attacks and a combination of kicking and grabbing techniques. The art is at least 80% kicking, 20% grabbing and twisting techniques.
- Jeet Kune Do: Founded by Bruce Lee, Jeet Kune Do is a combination of the best techniques of many styles into one concept.
- Judo: Judo is a method of turning an opponent’s strength against him. It uses a lot of throwing and flipping techniques.
- Karate: An offensive and defensive art form that contains both hand strikes and kicking techniques. It includes a variety of blocks and powerful blows.
- Kenpo/Kempo Karate: An American style of Karate. It is a combination of short hand and kicking techniques. It is also influenced by Chinese Kung Fu.
- Kung Fu: Kung Fu is a flowing art that requires balance and combination techniques. It also includes a huge arsenal of weapons.
- Kickboxing: Also called full-contact karate, kickboxing utilizes the techniques learned in karate or kung fu in the ring, as well as boxing techniques and training.
- Tae Kwon Do: Tae Kwon Do is a native Korean art that is comprised of 90% kicking. It is extremely popular among children in America.
- Tai Chi: Tai Chi is practiced in the west today and can perhaps best be thought of as a moving form of yoga and meditation combined.
Martial arts is not about fighting; it’s about building character. I believe that the skills that I have learned in my martial arts training has helped me get where I am today. Consider joining a martial arts class for its physical, mental, and social benefits, or if you are raising children over the age of four, consider introducing them to martial arts. The skills, abilities, and character built will, without question, help you (or your children) to achieve success.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)