"Why Study The Martial Arts?"
“Why is my child doing this anyway?”
An anxious mother demanded of the instructor (“sensei” in Japanese) that her child not be “subjected to the pressure” of learning the first ten steps of the basic Heian Shodan kata form. “My son should only have to learn four steps. Your expectations are too high. He can’t take this pressure. It’s damaging to him. He can’t achieve that much….” An on, and on. This despite the fact that innumerable young people… even those with serious ADD… have learned 15 or even 20 steps of that kata in their first classes. “Just what are you teaching him? And why is my child doing this anyway?” she asked.
So why is that child doing this?
Self Confidence and Self Defense
Obviously, the first answer is to be more confident that one can better defend one’s self. In today’s world, that skill is extremely important. And in karate, all that starts with the simplest first steps… in the basic kata forms, steps, blocks and strikes.
But beyond the obvious, there are a myriad of other excellent reasons for young people, as well as adults, to study the martial arts.
Independence and Pride in Accomplishment
The martial arts, if taught sensibly and sensitively, allow the student… and that student’s parents… to readily grasp just how much can be accomplished. A student can readily develop a healthy sense of capability and pride… and parents can readily learn to let their children achieve to their potentials in an independent environment.
Interdependence and Humility in Accomplishment
Seemingly the opposite to the attributes cited above, the fostering of healthy interdependence in students promotes the vital connectivity of the individual to his or her family, dojo, community, state and nation. We all need to belong, and the martial arts prepare us to belong in an optimally productive way.
Likewise, a healthy sense of pride is balanced and checked by a healthy humility. Modesty about one’s self and one’s accomplishments serves to help us avoid unwanted vanity, making us more welcome among those around us.
The martial arts prepare us to avoid fights if at all humanly possible. As such, we learn to value peace and a “gentler way” over the path of violence. This promotes calmness and gentility within us and in our behavior toward others. Martial artists know that good manners and courtesy are their best and most effective weapons… and assets.
Equality and Tolerance
In the dojo and on the tatame (mat), all students are welcome and equal. In this environment, students come to realize that race, religion, ethnic origin and sex are really non-differentiators in terms of the ultimate value we place on people. In short, the martial arts are ideal for teaching equality and tolerance… inside the dojo and outside too.
The martial arts are an enjoyable sport when we incorporate them into competitive efforts. Healthy competition helps students set goals, surmount obstacles and achieve objectives; most important, it teaches good sportsmanship and sports etiquette. We learn how to achieve through hard work - and how to understand why we sometimes do not achieve what we wish - and benefit from both.
Coordination and Physical Health
The martial arts are an ideal path to train one’s body as well as one’s mind. From the initial “basics” of strikes, blocks and fundamental kata forms, martial arts students are on the road to mastering new levels in physical coordination, space and depth perception and general physiological health. In fact, after several years in the martial arts, parents of these students can be heard to remark how surprised they are to be able to easily spot their own children among the hundreds happily dashing toward the school’s door at 3:00… “My kid just moves differently now, more erect, more aware and confident…”
The natural outcome of enhanced coordination and physical health, grace – the ability to move with fluidity – can be seen as the kinetic poetry of physical fitness. Children who avidly study the martial arts tend to become much more graceful than the average child, more comfortable with his or her body and much more adept at adjusting to the considerable physical and physiological changes of puberty and young adulthood.
Each martial arts student should learn early on that he or she is totally responsible for self-conduct and how that conduct reflects upon the dojo and the general community or “commonwealth” around it. As martial artists, we take literally and proudly as badges of our identity our responsibilities to our art, our families, our community and our country. Martial artists are contributors, readily giving of ourselves because we recognize our responsibilities.
Today, more than ever before, it is wise to teach students that trust is not a cheap commodity; it needs to be earned. The martial arts, properly taught, are an exceptional arena in which the young learn to trust those who earn trust by imparting lessons well, lessons that lead students to healthy achievement. And students also learn to earn trust themselves through solid effort toward realizable goals and objectives. The martial arts teach us, through our strenuous efforts together, how trust is earned and who is rightfully worthy of it.
At a certain point, true students of the martial arts stand out from their crowd not only because of “all their moves” but rather because their integrity too has made them masters of their craft.
An old master awarded a beautiful, hand-wrought sword to the “losing” student in a closely fought competition, a competition so close that the old master’s failing eyes could no longer discern who really won. “Why isn’t that sword mine, for I am the winner, Master?” asked the angry victor. The old master looked down and responded, “Yes, you have the victory, because your opponent admitted immediately that he felt he was outfought and that he had much to learn. But he has the integrity because of that. Your victory will last a few minutes and will be only yours; his integrity will last his lifetime and will benefit all around him
So when that parent questions why her child is “subjected to the pressure” of learning the first ten steps of the basic Heian Shodan kata form, these are the reasons.
This is exactly why that youngster should take up the martial arts – confidence in self defense, independence and pride, interdependence and humility, gentleness, tolerance, sportsmanship, coordination and physical health, grace, responsibility, trust and personal integrity.