The Mental Discipline of Martial Arts

Many take to the martial arts mats to learn self-defense, others to take up a new sport to stay active and fit, still others introduce their children to the arts as part of being a good parent. One common outcome of all these reasons for choosing martial arts is one that may not even be considered beforehand: mental discipline.

The martial arts studio or your home martial arts “studio” with a few martial arts mats on the floor become more than a workout space when you consider the psychological effects of practicing a martial art. Like anything you learn and eventually try to master, the martial arts require a level of focus that pushes all other thoughts to the perimeter. When you’re reviewing case notes for a trial, you likely don’t have an old episode of Star Trek playing next to your desk because, well, you need to focus. You don’t take a turn on a cell phone game while your tennis instructor is teaching you to volley for the same reason. True commitment to a task requires undivided attention. Martial arts teach this almost peripherally in group classes; you discover you’re honed in on doing exactly as you’re instructed, tuned in to the physical sensations of the forms, and pointed toward mastery. Pretty soon, your mind chooses to stay in the moment without you even trying.

Imagine carrying that mental discipline off the martial arts mats and into work, life, and pretty much anything you are called to do. That’s the beauty of martial arts. Once you begin to feel your body obeying your mind, you’ve discovered that martial arts mental discipline. It goes without saying that a little time in meditation before or after martial arts practice will improve your game as well. Many gifted martial artists began meditation as an integral part of their training from the very beginning. Athletes involved in other sports know how beneficial mental discipline and meditation are where their own sports are involved. And many studies have shown that the integration of meditation improves mental clarity and ability to focus no matter what sport or activity you’re involved in.

The next time you approach your martial arts mats, rather than diving into the physical practice, choose a few minutes to sit quietly and prepare yourself for the practice. Then as you begin the movements, notice how your mind is informing your body, rather than reacting to its actions. And then thank all the masters of martial arts who’ve taught us this valuable lesson through the benefit of their own experiences.