Many people are attracted to martial arts because of the self-defense aspect, but many more learn that there are greater lessons to be learned from the arts than how to avoid or deflect a physical attack. Even if you go through training and a whole lifetime of never needing to use martial arts in self-defense, you will inevitably come out a better person.
Self-discipline is essential in a martial artist, and it takes years of diligent practice to come to a place where you have the discipline required to be an effective presence. Practicing self-discipline, whether through athletic training, repetition in the dojo, or through following instruction, produces a growing sense of self-control and knowledge of an opponent. That opponent could be on the mat or it could simply be a colleague, friend, or even family member. In any conflict, self-discipline is key to diffusing conflict and discovering a workable solution. The martial arts instill reverence for self-discipline in a way that bleeds into life, infusing day-to-day interactions with calm and order.
Understanding a conflict is the first step toward diffusing it, and the practice of a martial art like aikido teaches the practitioner how to read a potential conflict and redirect its negative energy into a positive outcome. Wouldn’t this be a valuable class to teach in every school? When we learn how to diffuse tension and conflict, we give ourselves and our opponent the opportunity to learn and hopefully grow. We don’t capitalize on weakness, rather understand the underlying cause of an opponent’s attack, whether physical or verbal, and develop a strategy for unpacking it with integrity and self-control.
Training requires failure. In our culture, failure is a weakness, something to be avoided. But the good martial arts instructor knows that failure produces perseverance, a life-lesson many adults never learn. To be thrown or taken down time and again teaches us that we need to do something differently. By learning how to change our own minds and behavior, we embrace the possibility of resolution. It can be difficult to hear failure condemned on a daily basis, but martial artists learn to see failure as a step toward success.
You may learn to throw, kick, a perform joint locks like a pro, but the most valuable lessons you take from martial arts will always be the ones that will remain in your power to execute even when your physical game is not at its peak. Martial arts life lessons are for life.