Ever since I recently graded to Third Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate, it made me think of my journey and how I got here. It was through discipline, perseverance, and commitment. These are the things I learned from Karate since I was 4 years old, and now that I am in my 30’s, I lived it. These are the things I learned from martial arts.
1. You learn to deal with confrontation
This one is obvious. When someone tries to attack you, you will know what to do and respond accordingly. Even when there is no physical contact, you learn to deal with conflict. Naturally you feel the automatic urge to flee as soon as you see a threat. When you learn martial arts, you have the ability to deal with difficult people like bullies who shout at you, or people who hurl verbal abuse at you. This ability can be applied to your daily life whether it be at work or at home.
This is an essential component to becoming a mature adult: Putting yourself forward without hesitation, setting boundaries, standing up for yourself, and establishing diplomatic connection. You overcome fear and build self confidence. When all hell breaks loose around you, you keep a cool head.
2. You watch what you eat
In order to be physically fit you must be aware of your shape and fitness. That includes what you eat. It makes you aware of your health. If you habitually eat junk food that’s bad for you, you will end up fat, obese, and unfit. This will prevent you from living a healthy life. When you cut out all the bad stuff you become physically fit and energetic. This will make you more productive. It keeps up your testosterone. Focus on the good stuff. Replace sugar-filled sweets with fruits. Eat your greens. Do not eat late at night either. Meat is essential, from fish to beef. Be sure to vary out your meals to prevent you from eating the same thing all the time. If you’re not sure what foods are good for you, there is always a nutritionist you can get advice from. With a clean body, you will have a clean mind.
3. You learn discipline
Learning martial arts requires commitment. It takes determination to work on yourself and get better. No matter where you go in life there is always a goal you want to achieve. When you have a goal, martial arts help keep you focused. Those who train regularly get better. But those who prefer to skip training choose to fail.
You learn about hierarchies, the relationship between yourself and your superiors or vice versa. You learn to know your place and stay in it. It is your responsibility as a student to listen and obey your tutors. It is your tutor’s responsibility to teach you and make sure you learn what is being taught so they pass down their knowledge on to you. You learn to take criticism. Every role has a responsibility attached to it.
You develop a strong work ethic. You learn good attitude. You learn basic manners. There is etiquette involved. Before you enter the dojo, you take off your shoes, and then bow. It is a sign of respect to the school and to your teacher. You must bathe regularly and keep yourself clean. You wash your uniform and your clothes to make yourself look presentable. It’s about raising standards. It’s a sign of respect to others as well as yourself. You can apply this discipline everywhere you go. And people will respect you for it.
4. The Dojo always welcomes you
There may be times when “life gets in the way” which prevent you from attending the dojo for periods of time that are not within your control. For example; studying for exams, college, university, the demanding job, marriage, raising children etc. Due to a period of absence you may feel embarrassed and ashamed about having to face your teacher and explain your absence. A good teacher will be understanding.
The dojo is always open to those who want to learn. You can always come back to it and pick up from where you left off. You can always train and regain all the knowledge you lost and build yourself up from there. It is never too late to keep learning. The dojo gives you a chance to forget everything else outside the dojo and focus on your journey of mastery. In a way, the dojo is a temple.
5. You learn about different cultures
Whatever martial art you learn the chances are it came from a country different to yours. When you train you most likely hear the teacher counting in a foreign language. When you take the initiative to speak the language of your martial art’s origin, it will open doors to many opportunities.
For example if you learn Shaolin Kung Fu, you can familiarise yourself with Chinese culture. With Taekwondo you can learn about Korean culture. You can learn about Japanese culture if you are learning a Japanese martial art like Karate. You can watch their movies, listen to their music, eat some of their delicious foods, look at their artwork, reading a bit about their history, religions and philosophies, and so much more. You begin to understand their philosophy and ways of thinking better. This is the beauty of living in a diverse multicultural world. We can learn a lot from each other. Better yet, you can meet people from those cultures and talk to them. Especially those with perspectives different to yours. You may perhaps want to travel to the homeland of the martial art you learn. This will enable you network with different people around the world and expand your social circle. Who knows, maybe you can find your knew job in a Chinese company, or marry a Japanese woman, or maybe even produce or direct your movie in Korea. There are endless possibilities.
6. You take part in a collective ritual
One thing all rituals have in common is repetition. When you train regularly you get stronger. When you take a hit for the first time it hurts, but when you take a hit the second time, it won’t hurt as much. This is the process of building strength. By doing this, you will become a lot stronger than someone who doesn’t do any martial arts. It is similar to going to the gym, you lift weights to break muscle tissue in order to rebuild it into something stronger, so then you lift heavier weights.
The stress of work can put a strain on our minds. Whatever you do for a living, it could be sitting for hours on end, or standing. There may be little to no activity in your job. The mundanity of it all can feel overwhelming. The dojo is a place to escape from all that. In fact the martial art is a ritual to rebalance your mind, body, and spirit. Best of all, you are not alone. You have people to train with, with the guidance of your master, you learn together with fellow students. Once you add meditation to your routine, you will have a clear mind. Your body will feel relaxed. Your soul will feel refreshed. The key is to be in the moment when you train, to forget the past and the future and to focus on your training and your technique in the present. When you come out of the dojo you feel refreshed and restored after each training. It is a joyous feeling.
7. There is no end to it
Like everything else in life, there is no end to learning. Every new knowledge and experience you gain can be applied elsewhere which will potentially enable you to achieve new things in life. Growth is part of life. Just because yu gain a higher rank it doesn’t mean you mastered it, that’s only one step that is part of your life’s journey. So keep going. Never give up.
I will conclude this with the 5 rules of Dojo Code.
1 - Seek perfection of character
2 - Be faithful
3 - Endeavour
4 - Respect others
5 - Refrain from violent behaviour
Gichin Funakoshi founder of Shotokan Karate