Say you’ve always wanted to try martial arts. Or, possibly, you’ve just discovered an interest. You read a book, saw a movie, or your friend does Tae Kwon Do, Karate, or any of the many martial arts available. Maybe you are looking for something new, and just put martial arts on your list of possibles.
Now you have to think about why. It looks like fun. It is fun. But you’re an adult. Your money is mostly budgeted, your energy seems more limited, and your time is precious. Doing something new has to be justified. You want to know that the benefits exceed the costs. Some people have such a passion for martial arts that such an analysis seems unnecessary, possibly even crude. But let’s face it. You’re in college, or you work, or you’re raising kids. Maybe all three.
So go ahead, look behind the curtain. Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Kung Fu, Ju-Jitsu are all ancient arts. But all are still popular today. They must have something to offer, and it isn’t all that mysterious or mystical.
Tae Kwon Do, sometimes grouped with Karate, is our primary focus. But what’s true here is true for most martial arts. Of course, like most things, the benefits you receive depend mostly on your effort. Students who come several times a week, work hard, listen well, practice outside of class, and push themselves will obviously get more of almost every benefit than those who show up once in a while and go through the motions.
Note: many of the benefits that come from putting children into a traditional martial arts program (see article Benefits of Placing Your Child in a Traditional Martial Arts Program) also apply to adults. The adult world has many problems and dangers that can be controlled through good training in Tae Kwon Do or other martial arts (see article Challenges that Come With Age).
Some of us were awkward as children. Others were naturally athletic, flexible, and coordinated. The gawky ones get older and grow into their bodies, but they haven’t really learned the limits of those bodies. The graceful ones often find that they can’t do what they’ve always done so easily. In either case, training in martial arts is filled with balance drills, stretching exercises, and many of the activities serve to develop better coordination. If you want to spend your adulthood comfortable in your body, martial arts training is one of the best ways to get there.
A typical Tae Kwon Do workout includes deep stances, push-ups, sit-ups, slow-kicks, and many other exercises that work major muscle groups as well as the micro-muscles that machine exercises often miss. Because the workout emphasizes many different types of movement, the well-developed martial artist can apply his or her strength through full range and in many directions. The type of strength built in this practice lasts throughout a long life. One master, in his seventies, is known for dropping and doing 100 pushups almost anywhere.
Cardio-vascular conditioning has always been part of martial arts. The story of the early Shaolin is the story of an Indian monk, often called Damo (Daruma Taishi), Bodhidharma or Ta Mo, who brought Buddhism to China. He found the early Shaolin Monks unable to meditate for long periods. He introduced a set of exercises in order to build conditioning and stamina. Most Asian martial arts trace something back to the original Shaolin Temple, and the idea of exercises that contain martial techniques and build stamina is inherent in them.
In modern terms, few things are more aerobic than sparring. Put on sparring gear and face an opponent, your body will respond. The competition will keep you moving faster and harder than almost any other motivating factor.
The mind is part of the body, the body is part of the mind. This is not some abstract new-age philosophy, it’s a simple, physiological fact. The mind is an organ, if the body slows down, so does the mind. If the mind loses focus, so does the body. People who don’t exercise are more prone to depression. So it shouldn’t be surprising that developing physical confidence through a discipline such as martial arts will also produce mental confidence. Tae Kwon Do techniques are only mastered if the mind is truly focused. A mind that can accomplish a complex form knows it can accomplish many things.
Friendships can start in many ways, but mutual respect is probably one of the best. In a martial arts school, you will be growing and accomplishing in the company of others on the same path. They will appreciate your achievements, and you will appreciate theirs. Not everyone in the school will become your close friend, but even those who don’t will still understand and respect you because they have gone through the same struggles.
The Martial Arts are sometimes a victim of our urge to mystify things from foreign lands. Some teachers claim that the study is a path to enlightenment. Perhaps, but there are many unenlightened people who have achieved a lot in the martial arts world. Tae Kwon Do is certainly not a religion. However, the moving forms are a place where many have found the benefits of meditation. The body moves along certain paths, the mind lets go and follows. An evening practicing forms will leave almost anyone feeling more peaceful, more content, more open to the world. This is not a mystical claim, just simple experience.
Like many people, I have had a major injury. Like many martial artists, I remembered simple breathing techniques as I waited for treatment. Pain, which can rise up and produce panic, stayed in its place. I know of others who have used these simple techniques, they work. As I recovered, I quickly returned to my training. This is also a common practice of martial artists. Though the doctors assured me that most people whoâ€™ve experienced that injury never regain full use of their arm, I regained strength and flexibility at a rate that surprised my doctors and therapists. This was, I believe, entirely due to the ongoing training. Martial artists have, over the centuries, developed many ways to deal with injury and handle pain.
I leave this for near last because, to many, it seems the most obvious. But really, it isn’t. Some people think self defense is an aggressive response to any situation. They imagine Steven Segal or Jackie Chan beating off multiple attackers with no thought of fear. If they cannot imagine doing the same, they dismiss the idea of self-defense. In real life, the best trained martial artist may never get mugged. His or her self-confidence makes an unlikely target. Awareness keeps her out of most situations. Even if she is mugged, she may choose to do the safest thing, giving away her wallet. Her skills greatly increase her odds if she does try to disarm an attacker. But even a small chance of death is too much to risk over $50 dollars. But those abilities are still there, helping her stay calm, helping her cooperate, not threaten, but all the while allowing her to evaluate whether the situation will take a bad turn. It’s often the people who don’t really know what to do who try and do the wrong thing at the wrong time. So training in martial arts may never show itself on the surface, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t kept someone safe.
We already knew this, didn’t we? It’s hard work, sometimes painful. It calls on us for discipline, stamina, and control. Even so, or perhaps because of all this, Tae Kwon Do is fun. There is the pleasure of seeing your body do things you didn’t think it could, the pleasure of intense physical exercise, the friendly competition of sparring. And there is the pleasure that comes from learning something new. Just because you’re an adult doesn’t mean fun should be left out of the equation.
-Written by Yong Studios Black Belt, Daniel H. Jeffers