What’s So Hard About Martial Arts?




What’s so hard about Martial Arts?  It’s just blocking, kicking and punching.  Shucks, a three year old can do that and bite at the same time.  Why did it take me so long to start the study?  I always wanted to be able to do it.  I just never got started for a variety of reasons.  School and socializing sucked up both my time and money as a poor young college student.  I had no time later as a young adult; I was too busy struggling to become recognized and respected in my chosen field of work, and besides, it seemed that no one I knew was interested in the martial arts.  I had no desire later when I had a young family whom I felt should have what little free time I had to give.  Later in my forties, thoughts of martial arts training came to me again but I procrastinated.  Over the years I had become soft and heavy, too much of “the good life.”  I didn’t think I could do it, so I didn’t.  At fifty years of age, I began running and cycling to lose weight.  My daughters were involved in competitive swimming and cross-country racing.  On occasion, I would attempt to train with them.  The truth about my physical health hit home when I realized that I could not out-run a 9 year old or out-swim a twelve year old.  In spite of all my running and cycling, I was declining.  I realized that all my past reasons for not studying a martial art were more accurately, excuses.  I had excused myself from pursuing an interest in the martial arts far into late adulthood.  I knew it was now or never.

I had all these past excuses of no time, no money, young family, no desire, and no fitness for putting off getting started.  But these were just excuses from me.  What was “the reason?”  Well, “the reason” is hard to admit.  It’s less important now that it’s been faced.  Now that it’s ugly, petty, wastefulness has been engaged.  I say engaged because it has not been conquered, eliminated or banished from my being.  It’s with me constantly at the dojo.  I wrestle with and against “the reason” daily.

What is “the reason,” you ask.  I’ll tell you.  It’s an insignificance, a pettiness, a ridiculousness that paralyzed me for far too long, and I suspect that it’s fairly common.  I suspect that it looms large in a great many of us.  It’s easily spotted among some of the beginners at the dojo.  I’m not even close to being an instructor, but I’ll bet “the reason” just jumps out at the seasoned Ajarn (Thai for instructor) or Sensei.

This infection of the spirit, and this is what it is, can be eased.  If not cured, “the reason” can be overcome by the decision to get started.  It is a little thing that paralyzes the doing, and “the reason” can ultimately only be overcome by the possessor of this infected spirit.  Although the beginner is the ultimate owner and will be the ultimate benefactor when “the reason” is overcome, he needs the help of the instructor and the leaders of the dojo in his struggle with this infection.  The cure, if it can be called a cure, is slow and requires a commitment of time and perseverance in training on the part of the beginner.  When the commitment to train is made by the beginner, he must be encouraged in his perseverance.  He must be challenged within his abilities and then gradually encouraged to exceed his abilities.

What is this “reason?”  For me, it is ego: “I must never look awkward or clumsy.  It must never be found out that I can’t leap ten feet in the air.  What if people laugh at me?”  This “reason”, my ego, affects confidence.  It is not the lack of confidence.  It affects performance yet is not really performance anxiety.  It hinders action thus protecting against the judgment of others.  It obscures the truth of personal limits with self-deception. It is a paralyzing infection of the spirit.

Look around your dojo; notice the ages of the students.  The greatest preponderance of students is probably less than 20 years young.  It’s doubtful that there can be found enough students to make up an older adults class.  Why?

I think it’s uncomfortable for adults to give up the illusion of power.  The illusion of power quickly begins to evaporate when older types are expected to keep up physically with younger types.  Mostly we can’t.  We start out too heavy and stiff.  We lack the physical resilience of the teen or young adult.  Oh we can improve though.  We can improve greatly, but it takes more time.  My encouragement to you is to find an adults-only class.  Either find a class that will start slowly, or take it upon yourself to develop your basic fitness with aerobic exercise, stretching, and weight bearing exercises before starting martial arts.  This will help ease the feeling of judgment by the younger set, if that is your reason for not starting.  Developing a basic fitness before committing to classes will soften the pain of using muscles that have been dormant for far too long.  Be kind to yourself; find confidence in some aspect of who you are.  Do you have good balance?  Are you rather quick?  Do you learn the physical movements readily?  Are you able to genuinely encourage others?  Do you inspire with your workout ethics?  Really find something exceptional about yourself and you will be more likely to stay with it.

I am bucked up by the many generous personalities that have and do encourage and challenge me in my internal struggle with the infection.  Though they may not know it, they have accompanied me in my struggle against the infection.  They and I face off against each other, yet stand together against “the reason.”  With each passing week the reason for my late start fades a little more into the fog of the past.  It is becoming easier to perform the techniques.  I know that should I stay away from training for too long, I’ll have to fight both body and spirit to get started again.  So with a personal commitment to training my body and spirit are becoming inoculated against this infection of the ego, this inertia of the will.

So to ask again, what’s so hard about Martial Arts?  For me, it was getting started.  It was making the commitment to spend a little time in physical struggle.  Making the decision to risk being judged and discovering how unimportant that is.  I am started now and I am already stronger in many areas of my life.  I am calmer in stressful situations.  I have more patience with myself.  I am stronger in the dojo.  I can put a good blade on the sidekick.  The Judo throws are especially enjoyable to me.  Even rolling, something so simple yet something so important, has come to me now.  Lotus Self-Defense has given this to me because I have given a commitment to Lotus.

Thank you Martial Arts.  Thank you Martial Artists.

Bill Landry began his study of martial arts at the age of 53 with LOTUS Self Defense under Mack Petry.  Three years later he has added the study of Jui Jitsu to his training.  If you meet him along the path, wish him well.  If you wish to comment on this article, please feel free through the website's email address.