Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Do martial arts influence life or vice-versa?

Do our life experiences influence our attitudes to martial arts? Or, does our martial arts training influence the way we react to life experiences? What comes first – chicken or egg? This question was raised in my mind recently by FredInChina’s comment to my last post in which he said he was looking forward to seeing how my recent experiences in Cyprus would influence my martial arts.

I have just written a post for my Student’s Eye blog in Martial News (this will appear in the May edition) in which I looked at how Funakoshi’s guiding principles could help people cope better in a crisis such as the one I experienced recently in Cyprus due to the volcanic ash cloud. I was certainly thinking in that post about how some of the Ways of martial arts can be applied to general life experiences.

When we read about martial arts, particularly books that focus on the Do aspects of martial arts we are encouraged to take the ‘self-improvement’ lessons out of the dojo and into our general lives. There is definitely a feeling that our martial arts studies should influence the way we cope with all that life throws at us and hopefully to some extent that is what happens.

However, I can’t help thinking that life experiences also influence our attitude to martial arts. For example, if you have been on the receiving end of some extreme violence and want to know how to deal with it if it happens again you may decide to learn a martial art. The martial art you choose may be heavily influenced by the need to learn self-defence quickly. This may motivate you to choose a reality based system and to have no real interest in the Do aspects of martial arts.

On the other hand, if you are like me and have never been in a fight or even witnessed one close up and don’t feel the risk of experiencing street violence is very high on the agenda then the Do aspects of martial arts may assume a greater level of importance. Life experiences do influence our choice of martial arts.

I have no doubt that martial arts can help us to develop positive character traits and challenge us to examine our motivations, desires and behaviours but it would be naïve to suggest that this is the only medium through which we can develop ourselves. The Japanese knew this only too well. They have developed many Ways to self-improvement, martial arts just being one path.

I came to martial arts at the age of 45. My character was already pretty well developed through other means – my upbringing, experiences of nursing and teaching, working at a marriage, having children etc. I think martial arts just taps into what was already there. I feel a strong affinity for the lessons being taught in martial arts. They reflect the person I already am and so provide me with a medium through which to express and explore my character further. I’m not sure it will change me in any drastic way just fine tune me a bit more.

But what about a young person? To what extent can martial arts influence the character of a maturing mind? Martial Arts clubs often offer ‘salvation’ for the undisciplined, shy or bullied child. Can a child’s character really be ‘rescued’ in one hour a week? There seems to be many a boxing club that claims to have taken a boy off the street and given his life structure, order and purpose. I’m sure this is true but I’m also sure that it has as much to do with an instructor becoming a substitute parent and role model as it has the boxing skills. I think for most young people though it is the characteristics that they bring to martial arts in the first place that determine whether they will be a good martial artist or not. Good character development in a child is something that needs to be addressed at home – day in, day out. I think martial arts training will have a minor influence for most children. Or am I being overly cynical?

Do you have any stories of children or young people being ‘turned around’ by their experiences in martial arts? Or any stories of how your life experiences have influenced your martial arts (or vice-versa)? I’d love to hear your comments, or better still, why not write your own post on this subject?

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15 comments:

Sandman said...

Hi Sue - I came across your blog via a reference to it in FredinChina's karate journey blog :) I like it!

Regarding this topic, I think we martial artists (I am a student of Yoshukai karate) often tend to think we have a lock on the "builds discipline and character" market, but that's not really true. Karate does not teach discipline - karate is just a medium for practicing discipline. Not everybody who steps foot into the dojo will be automatically granted discipline. And anyone who wants to become really good at anything - football, guitar, painting, business, whatever - must learn discipline to get where they want to be.

FredInChina said...

I don't know if an hour of boxing or martial arts is "the" cure to rescue all kids, but I agree with and believe the stories when it has happened.

For some, being in an environment with strong discipline will reveal "desirable" character traits that might have otherwise remained undeveloped in a person.

Others will benefit from learning music, or theater, playing football or participating in the boy scouts...
One thing that cannot be neglected is the influence of leadership and the example of leaders.

Osu!

SueC said...

Hi Sandman, thanks for reading my blog! I absolutely agree with you. You can impose discipline on someone to modify behaviour but the effects may not be lasting. I think that true self-discipline is something that has to come from within - it's something you bring to the activity you want to excel in.

Hi Fred, I agree with you on the leadership front - the personality and leadership skill of an instructor will probably be the most influential component acting on a young mind.

Anonymous said...

Interesting that I'm reading this now...I was just reading a facebook entry about a friend's daughter who is being bullied at school. Her daughter also happens to be a TKD student. The confidence and assertiveness training does not seem to be overlapping for her.
OTOH, I think of my own daughter who has grown so much in her coordination and athletic skill through martial arts that it truly has given her a new level of confidence overall.
I don't know-- this post taps into some of my own musings...no answers at this point, though.

Jamie R.

SueC said...

Hi Jamie, thanks for visiting my blog. There seem to be many variables that affect how a child (and probably adults) respond to their training. I think some children just pay more attention to what they are learning and enjoy it more than others. Some children bring confidence and assertiveness to the dojo whereas others fail to develop it after years of training. OTOH some shy, unconfident children have been known to blossom through martial arts training. There is clearly some interplay between a child's reactions/behaviour inside and outside the dojo but I don't think any clear pattern emerges for all children. I suppose it's all down to that nature/nurture debate!

I'm glad your daughter's doing well with her training.

Anonymous said...
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Michael said...

I think it influence in both ways.
Everything is of constant age as we adapt to our day, our art also adapt to the modern age.

SueC said...

Hi Michael, I think you're right, well said!

Ronald said...

What an insightful article. Well written and I like how it is presented. Martial arts affected my life in my ways... Believe it or not but because of my skills in martial arts I have a second life and I am so grateful I have engaged in such training. I am now more determined to try harder because of that.

SueC said...

Ronald, thank you for your kind words. I'm glad martial arts is giving you another chance at life.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sue,

I came across your blog as I was trying to find ways to teach some of the younger (6-9yrs old) kids their katas and go through some fun drills. Our Sensei gives some of us older "kids" chances to teach even though we only may be slightly better. I just recently got promoted to 6th kyu and some of the students I help teach, as well as myself, are only college students. I think it is a bit of both with regards to influence. As we are gradually promoted into higher ranks, we are given more responsibility and help the younger or lower ranks. This is not only good for us in honing our own techniques but also that we can understand others better. The different perspectives you can start to understand from these practices, I think, help us to become better people overall. So while a one hour class may not save someone I think it helps gradually. That's just how I see things.

Anyways, thank you for your blog. It has helped me a lot with understanding more about Karate and Karateka in general. Good luck with everything.

Stephanie

SueC said...

Hi Stephanie, It sounds like you have a good system operating in your dojo. I think giving young people increasing amounts of responsibility helps to build confidence and can bring out and develop positive character traits. Sounds like you are doing well. Keep enjoying your karate.

andydaly said...

Very interesting in the light of my recent post on my experiences in Taekwondo.
I think if well-taught, and being possessed of the awareness of the wide reach and application of skills one learns as a martial artist you cannot help (in my experience anyway) but transfer those skills - or the mind set/ethos that underpins them.
The answer is it works both ways: The Martial Arts influence life and life influences The Martial Arts.

See 'The way of the hand, foot and walking stick: Taekwondo and Parkinson's Disease'The Way Of The Hand, Foot And Walking Stick: Taekwondo And Parkinson's Disease: http://wp.me/pMUy3-Dc

Saundra Tosh said...

Engaging in martial arts can definitely change one's life. Self-defense can come handy to everyone. Best of all, the philosophies and beliefs harbored by martial arts forbid one from pushing someone around. Instead, these same philosophies encourage self-control and discipline.

SueC said...

Hi Sandra, well put - thanks for commenting.

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