Martial arts have been a big part of my life since I was a child. I started first with Kung Fu then Arnis/Eskrima and then I began my longest-term exploration, Western Martial Arts.
I am often asked why people practice martial arts or why I practice swordplay specifically – considering it’s unlikely that I’ll be in a life-and-death sword fight anytime soon. To be honest, though feeling confident handling myself in a self-defence encounter has come from my time in martial arts, it's never been what has drawn me to long-term practice. The fulfillment I get from martial arts is both richer and deeper than a simple practical outcome. Here are a few of the things that myself and others get from this practice.
Martial arts help us test our capabilities, push our limits, build confidence in our physical and mental selves, and face the challenges of our lives in the microcosm we create on the school training floor. Though you can escape from some aspects of your life by putting a sword in your hand, the powerful part is not the escape, it is realizing those challenges are still there and that this new environment can give you the skills, support, and tools to face trials in a new way.
Martial arts give you a reason to get your body moving that is engaging to your mind and spirit. The strength you build through martial arts tends also to be much more functional than traditional methods. The training environment is complex and the achievement goals are much broader. This is a place where you not only build physical strength but broader health, grace, dexterity, and confidence in your physical self.
Whether it is pushing yourself or being pushed by others, martial arts are a great place to test your personal best and surpass it. Whether you find that through tournaments, academic achievement or simply through setting your own goals and getting support from your peers, this is a great place to test your best.
I find profound satisfaction in learning and expressing the art for its own sake. To both explore how it feels in my body but also to create beautiful art with someone else. Martial arts can blend the beauty, precision, and creativity of dance, with a type of challenge, spontaneity and a form of competitive co-creation that I've found nowhere else. Some of my most zen moments are simply moving across the floor with a sword in hand working on forms and patterns. Others have come in the middle of sparring with a peer who seeks the mutual challenge of seeing how far we can take the art together.
Community and Support
Sharing a passion and meeting challenges with others is a powerful way to build true and lasting connections. Wherever I go in the world I know I can find the company of other martial artists and that we’ll have something beautiful to share. Don’t think building a connection to others is not a worthy end for martial arts, it is perhaps the most essential part of human existence.
Let's not forget perhaps the most easily dismissed, yet probably the most important: joy. Exploring a passion, meeting new challenges, connecting with friends, swinging swords, grappling, shooting bows, getting on horses, these are all tremendously fun activities. And, beyond this surface level of glee, martial arts touch that long-lasting type of joy that comes from learning, growth, and the long-term joy of practicing a craft.
If you've never tried martial arts, I think it's worth taking a leap. Each school, each practitioner, and each art certainly has its own focus, so figure out the types of experiences you're seeking to have, and find the martial arts home that's most likely to give that to you. Then give it a shot. I hope you are pleasantly surprised.
[Updated on February 2nd, 2018] I removed a comment I made about self-defence training that felt dismissive to some readers, which was not my intent. Many of the core skills required for an urban self-defence encounter are technically straight-forward (ie dealing with single concerted strikes, bag grabs, being grabbed from behind). You're typically not dealing with the sophisticated situations we create and practice against when you're dealing with experienced martial artists (ie counters, counter-counters, etc). That being said, having the mental and physical presence to deal with those situations, and their potential nuances, requires dedicated and focused practice. I highly recommend self-defence training that focuses not just on the technical skills but also on situational awareness, psychological preparedness for violence, and legal education. Thanks to those who sent in comments.