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Do martial arts influence life or vice-versa?

Posted Apr 27 2010 12:00am 3 Comments
Do our life experiences influence our attitudes to martial arts? Or, does our martial arts training influence the way we react to life experiences? What comes first – chicken or egg? This question was raised in my mind recently by FredInChina’s comment to my last post in which he said he was looking forward to seeing how my recent experiences in Cyprus would influence my martial arts.

I have just written a post for my Student’s Eye blog in Martial News (this will appear in the May edition) in which I looked at how Funakoshi’s guiding principles could help people cope better in a crisis such as the one I experienced recently in Cyprus due to the volcanic ash cloud. I was certainly thinking in that post about how some of the Ways of martial arts can be applied to general life experiences.

When we read about martial arts, particularly books that focus on the Do aspects of martial arts we are encouraged to take the ‘self-improvement’ lessons out of the dojo and into our general lives. There is definitely a feeling that our martial arts studies should influence the way we cope with all that life throws at us and hopefully to some extent that is what happens.

However, I can’t help thinking that life experiences also influence our attitude to martial arts. For example, if you have been on the receiving end of some extreme violence and want to know how to deal with it if it happens again you may decide to learn a martial art. The martial art you choose may be heavily influenced by the need to learn self-defence quickly. This may motivate you to choose a reality based system and to have no real interest in the Do aspects of martial arts.

On the other hand, if you are like me and have never been in a fight or even witnessed one close up and don’t feel the risk of experiencing street violence is very high on the agenda then the Do aspects of martial arts may assume a greater level of importance. Life experiences do influence our choice of martial arts.

I have no doubt that martial arts can help us to develop positive character traits and challenge us to examine our motivations, desires and behaviours but it would be naïve to suggest that this is the only medium through which we can develop ourselves. The Japanese knew this only too well. They have developed many Ways to self-improvement, martial arts just being one path.

I came to martial arts at the age of 45. My character was already pretty well developed through other means – my upbringing, experiences of nursing and teaching, working at a marriage, having children etc. I think martial arts just taps into what was already there. I feel a strong affinity for the lessons being taught in martial arts. They reflect the person I already am and so provide me with a medium through which to express and explore my character further. I’m not sure it will change me in any drastic way just fine tune me a bit more.

But what about a young person? To what extent can martial arts influence the character of a maturing mind? Martial Arts clubs often offer ‘salvation’ for the undisciplined, shy or bullied child. Can a child’s character really be ‘rescued’ in one hour a week? There seems to be many a boxing club that claims to have taken a boy off the street and given his life structure, order and purpose. I’m sure this is true but I’m also sure that it has as much to do with an instructor becoming a substitute parent and role model as it has the boxing skills. I think for most young people though it is the characteristics that they bring to martial arts in the first place that determine whether they will be a good martial artist or not. Good character development in a child is something that needs to be addressed at home – day in, day out. I think martial arts training will have a minor influence for most children. Or am I being overly cynical?

Do you have any stories of children or young people being ‘turned around’ by their experiences in martial arts? Or any stories of how your life experiences have influenced your martial arts (or vice-versa)? I’d love to hear your comments, or better still, why not write your own post on this subject?

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Comments (3)
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I have to quote one of my Jedi instructors again....

 The all seeing Elder Jedi says: "what you're learning is a way of life."

The Son of the Elder Jedi says: "~there are people who practice martial arts, and there are MARTIAL ARTISTS" .


I don't want to be someone who just "dabbles" in MA, so I became a martial artsist. It's a funny way of introducing yourself to people, but I love the look on their faces when I do.


Hi Ciani, I agree, I don't want to just dabble either. Most people I talk to about it seem genuinely interested (if not surprised) that I do martial arts.
Keep it up and you'll get there. Our most mature student started at age 50 and stuck with us till he got his black belt he now teaches in Washington State. We've even had some students who had started at an early age only to quit in adolescence and then RETURNED after they've become adults to finish what they started all those years ago to get their black belt.  As for the young kids, my instructor made it a point to pick up the most disadvantage, troubled teens and taught them MA to keep them out of jail.  Out of all his students only one has ever been incarcerated.  So yes I think it can shape a youngsters life for the better.
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