The Gift of Martial Arts

Giving Thanks

As we’re wrapping up the season of giving, and 2011, I’m feeling a bit reflective.  First off, thanks for helping to make the site bigger and better than it was last year!  We’ve about doubled readership, and our martial arts community is growing strong.  If you’re new to our site, welcome!

As a visitor of Moaimartialarts.com, you’ve likely trained in martial arts–at least a little bit.  And if you’ve trained in martial arts for any amount of time, you’ve undoubtedly experienced at least some of their benefits.  Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading about this stuff online, right?

Why Study the Martial Arts?

I’ve been thinking about the benefits–or gifts–I’ve received from the two styles I study: karate and jiu-jitsu.  Of course there’s personal commitment and an element of sacrifice involved when pursuing any discipline, but most of the time–especially with martial arts–the ends justify the means.  Mark Dellagrotte shouted at us during a Muay Thai seminar I attended a few years ago, “You are all kind of crazy.  Most people are drinking beer and watching football on a Sunday, but you’re here to train.”  I’m paraphrasing, but it’s still pretty uplifting stuff.

Like everyone else, I’ve had my ups and downs while pursuing “the way”, but looking back I see it’s been worth it. So many good things have come of it: improved health, greater peace of mind, friends that feel like family.  But I’d like to highlight two specific gifts given by each style to its practitioners, two that I feel define karate and jiu-jitsu and differentiate them from other styles.  I’d like to highlight focus and grace.

Focus

Kime is often overused when discussing karate, it’s meaning not entirely clear due to the repetition.  I won’t add to the confusion.  What I will say is that sitting on the dojo floor in meditation, drilling kumite techniques, and practicing kata over the years is bound to make you a more focused individual.  A laser is a beam of light in which a huge number of electrons are aimed at a single point.  Isn’t that what karate is all about?

It may be hard, but try to remember when you first started.  Your body was tight where it shouldn’t be tight, loose where it shouldn’t be loose, and generally you have no economy of motion.  You couldn’t strike the way your sensei tried to show you, and you probably forgot about blocking effectively altogether.

Karate forces you to harmonize the conflicting forces in your body.  A main tenet of Uechi-ryu is to stay half hard/half soft.  To achieve this takes tremendous concentration.  A mind conditioned through karate will inevitably gain focus.  If you stick with it, you learn to be mindful of what is happening around you, to set goals accordingly, and to pour all your energies into a task until complete.

This video’s not perfect, but it shows some excellent focus!

These are some of the things karate has helped me get better at doing.  I’d like to think that as a kid, I was able to discipline myself  in school and to avoid peer pressure better than most.  I know I’m better able to pursue my passions as an adult because I’m not as easily discouraged as some.  It might take me a long time to get where I want to go, but I know that I will do so eventually.

Grace

It’s easier for me to remember starting jiu-jitsu because I did so recently.  For most people it’s a pretty memorable experience; someone teaches you a few positions, shows a submission or two, and then an entire class of people clad in sweaty gis take turns tapping you out.

Needless to say, your first time rolling can be a little traumatic.  At least it was for me.  I used my karate gifts against my opponents, and, consequently, I lost.  Every time.

This isn’t to say that determination and focus aren’t valuable.  It’s also not another Gracie Challenge.  However, what jiu-jitsu teaches you more than any other martial art is how to maintain grace under pressure.  No amount of simple force will submit someone who knows how to flow around your power.  No amount of straining can free you when a good grappler is holding a dominant position.

What I’m learning from jiu-jitsu–perhaps slower than most–is that you need to be graceful when rolling.  You shouldn’t try to kill one submission; you shouldn’t grind a position.  Instead, it’s best to “flow with the go” and handle situations as your opponent presents them to you.  If you are too focused on one attack, your opponent will defend it every time.  If you are too determined to push someone from mount, you will be exhausted.

Here’s a great video of Marcelo Garcia and Ryan Hall flow rolling to show what I mean:

All grappling isn’t done lightly though.  Learning to deal with pressure and pain are important, too.  If jiu-jitsu is like human chess, then how do you think clearly about your next move when someone is choking you?  Staying calm and relaxed in the face of adversity, being graceful despite what can feel like dire odds, is the only way.  Grace is the best gift I’ve received from jiu-jitsu, and I’ve put it to good use during some tough times over the past few years.

Wrapping Up

It’s impossible to list and analyze all the wonderful things martial arts can do for you.  Whether you’re interested in self-defense, fighting, fitness, improved attitude, or even making new friends, there are ways to enjoy these benefits and more.

I am most thankful for the gifts described above, and I feel lucky to share them with you.  If you train, what are some of the best things martial arts have done for you?  If you’re a new practitioner, what are you looking for?  Remember to be humble and appreciative as your pursue your goals, and you will likely receive much more than you can imagine.

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About moaimartialarts

Lucky enough to grow up with the martial arts, I have felt their positive influence throughout my life and am especially interested in sharing these experiences with others. I enjoy working with youth and adults to give back some of what I've received. If you would like to learn more about Uechi-Ryu/Shohei-Ryu Karate, or if you want to find people to train with, please contact me. I am the head karate instructor for the Meriden Martial Arts Club.
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