One of the ultimate goals of the martial arts is to improve one’s self, whether it’s to get in shape, learn self-defense, or to simply hone a skill. But the martial arts can go much further than the physical realm, with mental benefits that affect every aspect of life. Below are 5 ways martial arts can help with mental development, if you open your mind to it:
1. Increasing Confidence: Some people fear personal confrontation with other people, walking away from potential arguments or giving in to other people’s desires simply because they’re afraid to stand up for what they think or want. Martial arts training can help with this. There is something about learning to handle physical confrontation that helps people become more confident in situations of mental confrontation. I’m not sure why it is. Perhaps it’s in our genetics; we think on some unconscious level that even if things get out of hand and it escalates into a physical situation, we have skills to fall back on.
2. Emotional Control: We all have times when we face emotional extremes, whether it’s anger, fear, or sadness. In the martial arts, you learn to face emotional extremes with the goal of keeping perspective. You learn to use anger/adrenaline to help overcome fear, but to also not let your anger/adrenaline overcome you and tunnel-vision your awareness. Rage is so prominent in society these days, whether it’s road rage or the rage you see at a customer service desk during the holiday season. If everyone could learn to calm down and keep things in perspective, they might find creative, more productive ways to deal with a problem. As martial artists, we should apply what we learn in our training to set a good example for people around us.
3. Increasing Cooperativeness: Competitiveness is a by-product of capitalist society. Many people operate under the assumption that there is only so much success to go around and if one person achieves something you haven’t achieved, they are somehow at a disadvantage or are less of a person. People may not think these things consciously; they often just express this as feelings of envy or passive-aggressiveness. In the right kind of dojo, people are encouraged to make the most of their training for their own individual development, independent of the people around them. It’s not about competing with other people; it’s about competing with yourself, to be continually become better than you were, regardless of what other people are doing. At the same time, people can help support each other in achieving their personal goals, whatever they may be, by helping each other learn or providing emotional support and friendship.
4. Reducing Arrogance/Pride: Another by-product of capitalism is arrogance and pride. Many people like to think highly of themselves (even when not justified), looking down on others around them. It artificially makes them feel more confident. Pride is similar in that one might think highly of themselves, even if the person doesn’t necessarily look down on other people. It can, however, close your mind to opportunities to learn and improve. What’s to learn if you’re already “the shit,” so to speak. In the martial arts, people often think that they’ve got a technique down and then they have an epiphany when an instructor with far greater experience shows them either how their technique is vulnerable or how it can be vastly improved with a simple change. Having these types of experiences can be very humbling, which can open a person’s mind to new ideas, both in the dojo and in normal life.
5. Developing Patience: You cannot become a martial arts master overnight. Heck, it can even take a long time to learn basic skills. When people first start a martial art, they often are preoccupied with making tangible progress. But over time, if they stick with it, they start to realize that there are also plateaus in their learning, especially at the higher levels. You learn to trust that if you keep training, you eventually reach higher level insights, and “aha!” moments that are worth waiting for. This kind of patience, of course, translates into other aspects of life, whether it’s saving money for a big purchase or waiting to be reunited with a loved one.
I am a martial arts instructor, but the physical techniques I teach have nowhere near as much impact on people’s lives as the mental self-improvement that comes with dedicated study. Every day I feel grateful to provide people with the opportunity to develop in this way, and in my own small way, give back to the world.
Happy New Year, Everyone! Let’s make 2011 the best year yet! 🙂