Martial arts has been present in World culture since the beginning of exploration and contact with the East. It has been ubiquitous in the Hollywood scene since Bruce Lee made his debut as trusty sidekick Kato on the 1968 television series, The Green Hornet. Kung Fu movies have since gone though many transformations and hybrids, making martial arts an important and familiar aspect of our popular culture in North America.
The term “martial arts” covers many different forms and techniques, including (but not limited to) karate, tae kwon do, judo, kung fu, and even tai chi. Within those styles of martial arts, there are also various techniques developed by many different Masters.
Traditionally, martial arts are known by two terms, “mu-do” and “mu-sul.” While the martial technique (sul) refers to the mechanics of the martial art (kicking, punching or blocking, for example), the martial way (do) refers to the simultaneous mental and physical pursuit of purposes that go beyond just the physical.
Many people get involved with martial arts as young children and are more apt to carry it on through their adulthood. Fortunately, the same skills that it cultivates in your younger years can be useful in your adult life as well. The practice of many martial arts focuses on the harmony of the body and the mind in moving through a set of distinct goals. So, like most types of exercise, practicing martial arts is going to have a positive impact on your life both physically and emotionally, at any age.
Benefits of Martial Arts
The benefits of martial arts extend beyond the physical and into improving a person’s cognitive abilities such as mental focus and self-discipline; emotional factors such as self-confidence and success; and some even find spiritual factors in the meditational aspects of the mind and body working together.
Your mental focus and self-discipline are sharpened in your focus on your teacher and his or her commands and they become increasingly complex with higher skill levels. You must also be able to focus on and become aware of your body, its limits and its capabilities.
The emotional benefits of martial arts are varied. While much of the material written on the benefits of martial arts has been about children, the same results can also benefit adults. Studies have shown that study of a martial art has calmed high-strung or hyperactive children in other areas of his life. It also raises confidence and self-esteem by giving you structured goals to work toward and providing you with a feeling of accomplishment and strength, both mental and physical.
Since most martial arts have a level system (usually comprising different coloured belts), you have tangible goals that you can work with your teacher toward achieving. What is more, advancement to each new level is about personal achievement, not about competing with others. In martial arts, unless you are in competitive sport, the only person you are competing against is yourself. Your goals are your own, set out by you and your teacher to be challenging and achievable.
Finally, there is a strong fitness component to martial arts. As you may know if you have spied on any current aerobics classes, martial arts moves have made their way into cardio routines across the country. The Tae-Bo movement exploded in the mid-1990s when Billy Blanks released his Tae-Bo aerobic workout, and since then, martial arts moves (although rarely taught along with proper form) are a common element of many classes. Punching, kicking, and especially sparring are all good ways to build cardio endurance, but cardio certainly is not a primary goal. Many teachers encourage a parallel cardio training program to run alongside a martial arts program in order to maintain heart health.
Kicking and striking movements are also great for developing joint flexibility in the hips, ankles, knees, shoulders, elbows and wrists. With the explosive movement of your extremities in forms, with the trunk as a constant pivot point, you are also building core strength and balance.
Finally, forms of martial arts help develop muscular strength and endurance, speed, agility and reaction time. In all, the practice of a martial art will provide you with all of the major components of a well-rounded workout, and if you stick to it, it will bring you good health for life.
Types of Martial Arts
If you are generally interested in martial arts, but just don’t know where to start to find out what is best for you, take the time to answer some questions for your self. First, what is available in your area? For those people who don’t live in larger centres, which martial art you choose to learn may be heavily dependent on what is available in your city. If you have the means to travel outside of the city and you can find classes in smaller areas, you may find that, even with travel costs, smaller cities can be more affordable and sometimes more rewarding.
Next, ask yourself: what are your goals? People come to martial arts for many different reasons, depending on what they think they’ll get out of it. Some are drawn to martial arts for purposes of self-defence or feeling more confident in their ability to defend themselves. For others, it is an interesting and structured way to keep in shape. Still others are drawn in by the glamour of the Hollywood martial arts and wish to compete, learn some fancy round-houses, or take it to the streets.
Finally, what part of the mental aspect of martial arts would you like to focus on? Do you want to have a meditational experience? Do you want to build your physical confidence? Do you want to develop self-discipline and focus?
These questions are important not only in choosing the style of martial art that you wish to train in, but in choosing the teacher you would like to follow. Each teacher will have a different teaching method and focus, depending on how they were trained as well as their own personal values. If the teacher values competition and winning over technique and the parallel development of his students’ mental faculties with his or her physical abilities, then you can imagine what you can expect in his or her program.
Your goals are the most important factor in picking a style or a teacher of martial arts. But whatever your goals may be, there most certainly seems to be a style of martial arts that will fit you. From the slow cadence of Tai chi or Capoeira to the fast pace and weaponry of Jujutsu, from meditational to confrontational, find out what the world of martial arts can offer you.