11 Lessons From 11 Years as a Martial Artist

1. If you don’t maintain it, you’ll lose it.

After the warm-up and conditioning portion of our class, we always stretched out. Upper body, lower body, hips, shoulders, arms, calves: you name it, we had a stretching session for it that we would go through. Sometimes stretching sessions were easy: 30 seconds each side, a few exercises, and bam, we’re on our way. Sometimes it was brutal: I vividly remember the pain of holding near full splits for 15 minutes. It didn’t matter whether it was a quick routine or a full-blown class: we always stretched.

2. When you do something, do it with your full attention and effort.

Some classes were extremely repetitive. We’d spend upwards of an hour doing the same kata’s, same strikes, or same movements. Each repetition was scrutinized and studied by the instructor, looking for potential weaknesses and strengths. Whether you moved onto the next movement or not was dependent on if you & the instructor both felt satisfied with your performance.

3. Pursue unity and harmony in your mind, body, and soul.

Much of our study was about the relationship between the three parts of the individual human existence: the mind (how we think, our emotions, the way we process information) the body (our physical nature: strength, mobility, striking, etc.) and the spirit (our willpower, the fighting “spirit”, our effort, our sense of self). All training was in some way related to these three aspects of our existence. Anything else was removed.

4. Live a simple life.

Part of a series of lessons written in our budo pass, this lesson stood out as the most confusing. Why would I want to live a simple life? Isn’t life supposed to be exciting and enjoyable? Why does it need to be plain? That’s booooooring.

5. If you can’t explain it to a 4-year-old, you don’t understand it.

When you reached a higher rank, you were invited to help out with the beginner classes if you had the time. You could lead warm-ups, be an extra set of eyes during practice, or teach the class yourself. This inevitably puts you in the entertaining situation of explaining something to someone who may just be starting out and not know what a kata is or how to punch properly. But you still have to explain it. And you were shown very quickly how much you didn’t know that you thought you did, especially when you’ve got a 4-year-old staring up at you repeating “I don’t get it” to everything you say.

6. Understand each part and its relation to the whole.

During our Tai Chi classes, we practiced the forms from start to finish (some taking up to 15 minutes, some taking 40). If you didn’t know it, you stayed closer to the centre and followed those on the outside who knew it. After finishing the form, you’d break off into sub-groups where you practiced a small portion bit by bit until it came naturally. The next class, you’d integrate that into the full form, looking to the others once you reached a point you weren’t familiar with. Each break-out session you learned each movement individually and its purpose, spiralling upwards: the small portion, larger portion, and eventually the whole form.

7. Expect the unexpected.

This is one of the lessons that was told to us time and time again. “Expect the unexpected” was a comedic line that came out of the chaos of the kids classes, when we were running between exercise stations and a new chaotic rule was brought into the game (like having to block dodgeballs tossed at you while exercising, and if you got hit anywhere other than your arms you had to do 10 burpees).

8. Your mind breaks first.

Our Sensei & Senpai were known for their mind games. Yes, they’d put us through brutal workouts, jumping between kata’s, intense conditioning, grilling us on Japanese history. But what was more difficult than any of this was how easily they got into your head.

9. Martial Artist’s view everything as an extension of themselves.

After a certain rank, students were introduced to weapons training, as it was part of the martial arts education. In this class, we began learning and practicing different forms and methods to use a wide variety of weapons. While our core focus was on weapons from Okinawan history, we had a mix of different styles included. Bo staff, nunchaku, and tonfa were included: but we also trained escrima (known as kali or arnis to some), sai’s, bokken training (wooden samurai sword), as well as self-defence against some of these weapons. What was unique about our weapons training was the goal behind each weapon: to understand it so well that we can use the tactics and methods with other objects. We’d often spend classes drawing parallels between using an escrima (a wooden stick, typically the length of your arm) and say a book. How could one use a book to defend themselves if they were attacked? How you answered that often depended on how well you understood the weapons you were using.

10. Confidence comes from repetition.

We would spend the whole class repeating the same movements: the same punch, kick, stance, kata… If it was a part of our training, you bet we spent hours repeating it over and over. Those classes were LOOOOONG. Each repetition was intensely scrutinized and analyzed for areas of weakness, where we were compensating, or what we needed to improve on. If we were weak punchers, guess what we would practice regularly? You guessed it. Punches. Spinning kicks? Yep. Feedback was frequent and extremely specific.

11. There’s a lesson in everything if you learn to look for it.

At the end of every class, my Senpai would ask us the same question. “So, what did you learn today?” It didn’t matter your rank, age, or what class you were in. If you participated, you were asked this question.

To conclude…

These 11 lessons are some of the many that I learned during those 11 years I called that dojo my home. I owe much of my success to the principles I learned during my time there. Self-discipline, personal unity, and the fighting spirit are integral parts of my identity, and I am grateful to my teachers and the martial arts I had the privilege to study.

Poli Sci grad, Comms Strategist, great at remembering names and terrible at pronouncing them. I write on political psych, practical philosophy, and random stuff

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