Martial arts is a technical skill. Being a technical skill, you have to be aware of what you’re doing when you train and learn your art. But martial arts seems to have a specific requirement: That of coordinating mind and body.
The fighting arts are often touted as a way to self-awareness. This characterization of the arts, I believe, is a true one. You have to be particularly aware of your body and environment and how your mind responds to what you are doing. It is challenging, and you must stay focused on the actual learning process and work your own logic, while feeling what the body does in relation to another body along the way.
Let’s look at the various ways in which martial arts aids in the student’s own self-examination and how this translates into other areas of daily life.
You Have to Do it Correctly
Martial arts, to a great extent, is about perfection. Somebody who is smart will let you know perfection is not possible; but you are going to be working on it every step of the way if you are serious about your art.
You have to accept what does and does not work. And you must see what does and does not work logically and actually. Take, for instance, the Jiu Jitsu arm bar often executed in MMA competitions. That technique, in that arena, must be executed correctly and, for a one on one match, it can be very effective and is a technique that can actually be pulled off on a live, resistant opponent when done correctly. There are a mass of techniques in the martial arts world that are just theoretical and sometimes just plain fantasy. On the mat, on a live body, you have to test the technique. You test it by practicing techniques with a partner and by sparring. It is either going to work or not and you are going to be able to do it correctly or not; of course, you’re going to want to do it correctly or you wouldn’t be training at all. You learn the correct positions, angles and movement to pull off a technique. The proof is in the pudding, you have to put in work and be put to the test. You can’t rationalize a failure, you accept that you have to figure out how to do it (technique) right: No excuses.
So, it goes without saying that you must have humility to learn all of this. You can’t assume you already know everything and get out there on the mat and expect to be able to learn anything. You are eager to learn. This doesn’t mean your brain shuts off and you become an automaton; to the contrary: Your brain is alive, you are taking in the information and figuring it out. You are willing to learn and have to set aside ego to get it done.
You want to excel at your art and to do that you must be willing to forgo your ego and put in work and learn.
Discipline really has nothing to do with obedience. It has to do with learning. That’s the root of the word–disciple. A student. So, it goes hand in hand with humility and learning. You don’t know but you want to know. Your mind is intense with this intention to truly learn the lesson. You put your heart and mind and body into every lesson to truly excel and learn in your art.
You become self-critical when you practice a martial art. Not in a neurotic way but in a sane healthy way. You have to see your own errors to improve. You have to feel the error actually. Nothing like a sparring match that doesn’t go your way to teach you this lesson. You also must be aware of when you do things right. As you go along, you learn to really examine what you are doing, when you are not doing it right (because you feel it) and when you get it right. This, of course, is self-awareness and self examination.
And, of course, all of this transfers to your daily life. You take a much keener interest in what you’re doing and whether it is right or wrong, effective or superfluous, efficient or shabby. You also have a disdain for the mediocre, the just scraping by, the minimal effort. Martial arts is all about passion and maximum effort.
And so is life.