Martial Arts Lessons – 5 Life Lessons Other Than Fighting

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Blocking a kick silohette
Martial training is not just for fighting

When the average person hears the words “Martial Arts”, they think one of two things; professional fighting (i.e. MMA tournaments) or self defense. Though these concepts may be included in the training, to assume that this is all there is to it is a very narrow viewpoint.

There are some very important life lessons that come with the martial arts lessons that many people seem to overlook. The purpose of this article is to highlight those life lessons and recognize that fighting is not the only answer.

Self Control – If you cannot control yourself, something or someone else will.


Angry person out of control
Time to take a chill pill.

Very often, I hear people saying, “They made me angry” or “They forced me to take action”. This is an illusion. No one has control over your emotions or your actions unless you give them that
control. Giving a person that level of control over you based on what they say or do is called “reactionary”.

Martial arts teaches a person to make a decision based on the needs of the situation – not a person’s words or deeds – and act (if necessary) in an appropriate way. The training shows you that
you have choices in what you do or say.

Knee-jerk reactions and instant, “instinctual” responses to a situation can often prove detrimental to the person making. There is no better place to learn this lesson than in martial arts practice. If you act in a reactionary way, an immediate and negative result occurs.

Adaptability – A thing changes just by observing or measuring it.


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Found in physics, the observer effect is the theory that simply observing a situation or phenomenon necessarily changes that phenomenon. Looking at it from a martial standpoint, touching hands – thereby making contact with another person – must effect the outcome of the engagement.

Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke once said, “Strategy is a system of expedients. It is more than science, it is the translation of science into practical life, the development of an original leading thought in accordance with the ever-changing circumstances.”

The well-known paraphrased version of that is, “No plan survives contact with the enemy.” For this reason, we must remain adaptable to the situation and gently guide it to our desired result. This is another life lesson martial arts teaches us.

Imagine you are start a conversation, stating that you cannot find something either because you misplaced it or were given the wrong item. In the middle of your statement, someone interrupts and tells you where that object is. You have two choices:

  1. You can choose to get upset because you were interrupted, OR
  2. You can absorb the new information, drop the rest of your statement and take appropriate action.

Here’s another example. You are making a request of someone. You start your request, “Would you be willing to (do this thing)?” You have a reason and rationale all prepared for them as to why you are asking this of them. The person seems to wait a moment and then answers, “Yes.” You have two choices:

  1. You can continue with your explanation though they have already agreed to do “this thing” either with or for you. This has two negative effects, though and you need to be aware of them. First, it assumes that the person is not intelligent enough to weigh the request for themselves. Second, it shows that you are more interested in your question than their answer. OR
  2. You can receive and act on their answer the moment they give it. This shows that you are interested in their position on the matter and that you are giving them credit for making their own decisions and providing their own reasons for agreeing. Sure, you were ready with an explanation, but it became obsolete the moment they gave their answer. The path you had planned no longer applies.

Both in martial arts and real life, you can apply this principle of adaptation. You can make contact and be open to the results; ready to steer it in the direction you desire. Techniques in martial arts are a “plan” of action. That’s why they don’t work during a real attack. You might start the technique, but the opponent is not going to cooperate with your intention.

Being open and adaptable allows you to flow from any point of a technique into a different technique as the situation dictates. Getting stuck on a thought or action is a recipe for disaster. In your daily life, things are changing at all times all around you. If you get stuck on one thought or action, the situation will get out of your control and now you are chasing it to reestablish that control.

Some martial systems call this ability “sensitivity”. It’s the ability to seek and find the central point of control and – using very little pressure or effort – control the whole thing. Judo, Brazilian Jujitsu, Aikido and Wing Chun practitioners use this method.

Using the same method, though, you can effect negotiations, make good marketing strategies or have meaningful conversations. This same principle lets you make friends, form good business partnerships and lasting personal relationships by following the needs of the situation and acting according to the desired result.

Economy of Thought and Motion – Find the controlling point.


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In martial arts practice, try this. Have someone stand firm not let you move them. Try to press on their shoulder. Try to move their feet. Once both those fail – and they will fail – press on their
hips; either forward or backward. They will move in the direction you press.

Everything in life has that one point that makes it easy to manage without much effort or pressure. This saves you the hassle of having to struggle with something just because it doesn’t seem to want to do what you want it to. Trying to force something to happen will only result in resistance and side effects that you don’t necessarily want.

In the real world, this is called compromise. In martial arts, it’s called leverage. In the business world, it’s call bartering. It’s the process of giving up something for a better position. Instead of
struggling to make something happen, we sacrifice either distance, ego, money or something else of value to achieve the goal of the moment.

You can use that with your thoughts as well. See through the maelstrom of  emotions to the heart of a matter. Find that thread that – when pulled – unravels the entire problem. To do that, you have to calm your mind, don’t let outside events control you and address the issue; not the symptoms. If you are angry, find out why – within yourself – you are angry. It’s not because Billy Joe Jim Bob is being stubborn or “pig headed”. You are angry because you allowed that stubbornness to effect you.

You are being resisted because your current path is not the way he wants to go. So, find out what he wants and gently guide him to your destination. Though it may take a little longer, but the effort and frustration it takes will be considerably less.

Grace Under Pressure – Relax harder.


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Tension makes everything slow down and you will have less control over yourself and what it is you are dealing with. In martial arts, relaxing and only using the parts of your muscular system you need to achieve a task will speed you up, give you more power and improve your aim.

Learning to relax in your everyday life has the same result. You make clearer decisions, communicate your thoughts more clearly and have a more positive effect on the world around you. Tai Chi and Qi Gong both teach this and help you get ready for your day as well as wind down from a stressful day.

Regardless of the situation you find yourself in, if you start from a relaxed point and maintain that relaxation, you are more likely to find the answer to whatever problem might arise. Is it easy? No. It is, however, the building block that will let you build the life that is best for you.

It’s Not Martial Arts – It’s martial living.


The same principles that allow you to throw super-powerful punches and kicks are the same ones that allow you to carry heavy objects, enable you to have a lot of endurance and maintain control of yourself and your environment throughout your day.

The psychology and philosophies in martial training are easily adaptable for every day life. A martial artist – especially a self defense specialist – know that it is better to not get attacked than to be able to survive an attack. In order to do that, you need to not be a target. That takes a lot of introspection, honesty with yourself and the willingness to make the necessary changes to yourself to make it happen.

There is a very old philosophy that the best way to defeat an enemy is to make him/her your friend. It’s also known as “killing them with kindness” or “taming the shrew”. Whatever you want to
call it, it all starts with the same thing; you. You never know, you might be part of changing the world for the better. Are you going to pass up that opportunity?

You are more than welcome to share your thoughts and express what you think. Please leave a comment – the link is at the top of the blog near the title – and let us know what you have to say.

Cheers.