Down a rabbit hole searching for the HIDDEN benefits of martial arts training

How could I have known that single decision, that very first step would lead me to here?

And, I’m wondering, where exactly is here? Plus I’m pretty sure you are too, or at least, where on earth I’m going with this.

The truth is, I don’t actually think I’m there yet. So I’m not sure where here is, what it looks like or how to point you in the right direction.

What I can tell you, is how the journey began…

One minute I was compelled (for a bunch of reasons) to step off the sidelines of my son’s Taekwondo class where I’d sat warming the bench for five years.

“Every adventure begins with a first step” – The Cheshire Cat

And the next, I disappeared like Alice down the rabbit hole in her wonderland adventures.

“Down, down, down”

“Well”, thought Alice to herself. “After such a fall as this I shall think nothing of tumbling down stairs! How brave they’ll all think me at home.”

Literally of course, I was focused on trying to get my body to move in ways I had never demanded of it before.

It took concentration, focus and (omg!) perseveeeeeeeeeeerance!

It was the most difficult thing I had tried to do in years and yet somehow compelling too.

Weeks and months ticked by in the blink of an eye, as tends to occur when you reach (*cough) middle age.

New skills were acquired, more bits of tape added to my belt until eventually there were even new belts!

In December I achieved Red Belt one stripe rank.

I was in fact, so focused on getting the tension in my blocks and strikes correct, improving my balance and controlling my kicks better that it literally and silently crept up from behind, enveloping me before I even realised it was there.

“It” in case you’re wondering, is a little bit like “here”. Hard to describe until you’ve seen “it” or experienced “here” for yourself.

But I am going to try since I passionately believe everyone needs some “it” and “here” in their lives.

The hidden benefits of martial arts

“It” is this abstract and even slightly mystical process that occurs where the pursuit of mastering a series of physical skills through training in martial arts, results in an internal, intellectual and spiritual shift.

The short version? It just changes you ok!

“I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then,” Alice in Wonderland

I’m obviously not standing here alone like Nigel No Mates in making this observation either.

There’s a raft of literature around about martial arts training as a path to enlightenment and deepening spirituality.

Wait! Pragmatists! Hoooooold your horses.

Before you roll your eyes and hit ‘go back’ because anything hippy dippy, airy fairy makes you want to gag…

I’m not talking here about anything religious, outer worldy or even that 17th Century philosophical movement.

Only enlightenment in its simplest sense meaning greater understanding.  And spirituality as being concerned with the human spirit or soul.

If we’re going to call a spade a spade, what we’re really talking about here is how the process of learning marital arts triggers growth on the inside which naturally leads to improvements in other aspects of your life too.

Pretty cool huh?  Personal growth and development that doesn’t require meditation (I’m terrible at it), an online guru or green smoothies. Instead you get to kick and punch things which I consider to be about a million times better than trying to hide kale in a milkshake.

Zen in the martial arts

Here I would like to introduce Joe Hyams. He was a newspaper journalist (like me!)  in the 70s (ok, not like me!) who took up martial arts training later in life (again like me!) and describes how only after several  years did he realise: zen in the martial arts

“the deepest purpose of the martial arts is to serve as a vehicle for personal spiritual development”.

He wrote probably one of the most widely recognised books on the topic, Zen in the Martial Arts containing stories about the various masters he trained under (including the most famous martial artist of all time Bruce Lee) and the life lessons he acquired as a result.

“A dojo is a miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves  –  our fears, anxieties, reactions and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully.”

As widely quoted in this genre of literature is The Book of 5 Rings by legendary  Japanese swordsman Myamoto Musashi. His wisdom about the process of struggle and mastery over conflict is studied now not just in martial arts circles but in business circles the world over too.

Musashi found the more he strove for improvements in his training, the more he began to look for the same in all aspects of his life.

How I have changed

For me personally, I have absolutely seen changes in myself and what I consider to be improvements in my approach to my relationships, parenting, work and views about life generally since starting Taekwondo 18 months ago.

I have more direction, more passion and more clarity about who I want to be. I’ve just got more spark. And from what I’ve now read, I think that spark is what eventually ignites the eternal flames of Zen.

Does it happen that way for absolutely everyone? Maybe not. But if you have lost a bit of your spark or entered 2019 wondering if your life could be better, how you could pursue a more Zen state of being, perhaps Taekwondo is the path to lead you there.

You never know, at the end of that path might be those sneaky characters “it” and “here”. 😉

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