Visit any sports hall and it is clear that many parents understand how martial arts can benefit their children’s development, both physically and mentally. However, these benefits are not exclusively for children, ask any adult who practises martial arts and they will tell you how their sport has added value to many areas of their life.
I discovered martial arts about 5 years ago and have never looked back, my art of preference is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) (which has exploded in popularity recently due to the success of mixed martial arts events such as the UFC), but I have experienced a breadth of arts including Kick Boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, Olympic and Freestyle Wrestling, Judo and Boxing. Although I only consider myself an enthusiast, I have learnt a huge amount from the arts themselves, as well as the knowledgeable and experienced individuals who teach them. Below I have highlighted 4 of the most important lessons I have learnt from my martial arts experiences.
1. Discipline and Respect
This is the most obvious benefit of training martial arts and one of the key lessons many parents hope their children will learn when they take them to class.
The idea of starting a martial art can be daunting for anyone; after all they are a sport where physically hurting your opponent is the aim. However, the discipline and respect installed in each martial arts student is what makes it a safe and enjoyable experience.
In schools I have attended adult students receive as much, if not more, flak from the teachers if they do not practise the required discipline. I have often seen teachers not flinch at banning students who show misconduct in their class – martial arts can be dangerous, discipline is what makes the environment safe for all.
Real discipline and respect are rare and valuable traits; training martial arts can instil these over time.
2. Leave it on the mats.
‘Leave it on the mats!’ is an expression I have heard a lot in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, it literally means turn up, train hard and leave all your aggression on the mats.
This lesson translates excellently into everyday life, and has probably helped me through some of the most difficult times I have faced. It has taught me that there is a time and a place to deal with a problem, but once you walk out of the door (or step off the mats) you need to drop it.
Holding a grudge against the lower belt who submitted you, or the guy who accidentally kicked you in the mouth when training (BJJ is a non-striking sport) is not going to improve your game in any way; just like dwelling on a problem or issue isn’t going to improve your life.
The lesson in short:
Turn up. Deal with it. Let it go.
3. Learn from everyone.
Life itself is your teacher, and you are in a state of constant learning. – Bruce Lee
Some martial art black belts wear a faded belt, fading from black to white in colour. This can occur due to years of wear and tear from the hard work that goes into refining their art.
My kickboxing instructor once told me that this is said to show that even though you have reached the highest rank, you still maintain a white belt mentality, continuously learning from all your experiences.
Although I have never found any substantial evidence to prove this theory correct, it shows well the approach that top level martial artists take to their training. No matter what level they get to, they are always practising, learning and refining their techniques to improve their game.
This translates well into life; if you want to get and stay ahead you always need to be learning from everyone and everything, sharpening your competitive edge, regardless of what level you are at.
4. If its worth it, it isn’t easy.
In my opinion Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most engaging, brilliant, yet potentially frustrating martial arts out there. Unlike many martial arts, progression for your average student is slow; getting your first (blue) belt can take anything from 2-4 years in some schools (obviously dependent on commitment). This fact means that many students drop the sport in the first six months, as they fail to see their progression. However, those who remain focus on their physical ability as a sign of progression, rather than what colour is wrapped around their waist.
This is a very important life lesson in my opinion. Society tells us that success is measured by its products – salary, reward, recognition; this leads people to focus on these as a measurement of their progress, a lack of these products can therefore crush motivation. By focusing on the task in hand, it teaches us to draw motivation from our physical progression, rather than others recognition of it.