Martial Arts are cool. There’s a sense of power and accomplishment when you practice on a regular basis. The have so many benefits. As stated on Wikipedia, they are “codified systems and traditions of combat practices, which are practiced for a variety of reasons: self-defense, competition, physical health and fitness, entertainments well as mental, physical and spiritual development.” It is the later things that drew me to the internal martial art of Tai Chi. The Taoist Tai Chi Society offered a more health and spiritual orientation I later found out I was seeking. I stuck around because I was offered cookies. I was twenty years old and didn’t know much about spirituality or health for that matter.
That was more than twenty years ago. My daughter and son are now involved in the external martial art of Tae Kwon Do. Although the intention is different between internal and external forms, there are many benefits which result from either including mental, physical and spiritual development. There are two primary benefits I’ve found in martial arts. Learning, developing and practicing self-control and self-awareness can fundamentally change a person’s life.
Self-control is a key to our success in life. It allows us to focus on what we are doing. It enables us to pick the battles we fight and the wars we wage. It allows us to develop our bodies and minds. Self-control helps us to act appropriately in our personal and professional lives thereby accomplishing what we set out to do. Self-awareness is a key to our experience of life. It allows us to understand what is our experience verse what is the experience of others. It allows us to monitor our behaviors and reflect on our progress agains the goals we set.
Willpower emerges out of the entwining of self-control and self-awareness. Without self-awareness, willpower is as good as a cannon fired by a blind person. Both are needed to aim our decisions and control our actions to achieve what we set out to do. Self-control and self-awareness are assets in our lives we can use to manage our daily affairs and create the lives we intend to. When continually improved and developed throughout our lives these assets allows us to develop more situational awareness which may be used in our sparing, interactions with our family or coworkers. Coupling these things with acceptance of what happens creates self-reliance.
How does martial arts build these assets? It’s simple really. Martial arts focuses our attention, teaches us how to use action and alloys our attitude. These three things are available to us in every moment. If we use our attention, attitude and action appropriately, we can create the lives we intend to. This doesn’t mean all martial arts or instructors can help us get there. Finding a good teacher can be hard to do. Often the power people obtain can go to their head and inflate their egos. This in turn can affect one’s attention and attitude in negative manners or crazy ways. When looking for a martial arts path, it is imperative to find one that that has heart as Carlos Castaneda would say. By this I mean that it’s important to find a path that aligns with your own intention and is ideally grounded in the principles of compassion and helping others instead of hurting others.
To gain the most out of a particular martial arts path one must give themselves to it and immerse themselves in the ways and culture of the art form. This takes time. It takes a willingness to follow direction, learn and continual improvement. Even if learning the lethal ways of a particular form, without a good grounding in helping others, the learning can only go so far. Mastery requires the desire to continuously learn but also restraint from inflating the fragile balloon of our ego.
As Master Li Mu Bai said in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000), “No growth without assistance. No action without reaction. No desire without restraint. Now give yourself up and find yourself again.”