By Katie Marshall
My martial arts renaissance happened a little over 2 years ago. I was looking for something to wake me up from my autopilot existence of snoozing my alarm, half-assing it at work, and maybe hitting the treadmill for half an hour afterward. I was searching for a way to not just do more, but to be more. I found it in the Nan Sho Budo system at the Southern Pine Institute of Martial Arts in Greensboro, North Carolina. I study several styles, including Progressive Arnis, Tai Ji, and others that I learn while attending seminars and gatherings across the country.
Martial Arts is powerful. Train enough and you will see everything in your world differently than you did before. It bleeds into everything that you do like water color paint on paper. Nothing will be the same, especially not you. From meditation to facing your fears to practicing the same move literally thousands of times, the Martial Arts encourage us to embrace our inner power and become exactly who we were meant to be, but not without knocking us down a few million times in the process.
While I am in no way expert, nor do I ever expect I will be, not even when I’m 80-years-old and doing Tai Ji in the park or levitating up stairs, I do know that Martial Arts is so much more than kicks and punches. Here is what the Martial Arts have taught me about life so far.
1. There is so much more to learn.
My teacher says this every so often: “There is something that I do not know; the knowing of which can change everything.” This is why we stick with the Martial Arts, or anything that is important to us, even when it’s hard, even when there are morning classes, even when we’re tired. There is more out there to learn than what we currently know. Let this inspire you. Let it motivate you. To be a lifelong student is to commit to this idea and remember it in moments of discouragement.
2. The key to problem solving is adaptability.
At its core, Martial Arts is a set of problem solving techniques. Someone wants to punch you in the face – that is a problem you have to solve. You want to achieve a goal, but you are impatient – that is another kind of problem you have to solve.
3. Resilience is an art form.
The thing about training is that to really learn anything, you have to be willing to get your ass kicked and go back for more, again, again, and again. Get hit; keep going. Get knocked down; get back up. To really get something out of life, you have to be willing to venture out of your comfort zone, get uncomfortable, and keep going. It is not easy, but it is worth it.
4. Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.
It is fantastically difficult to do things slowly, especially in our world of immediacy. Think about how easy it is to jump to anger at a stranger who cuts you off on the highway. Now, think about how long it takes to calm back down. The Martial Arts teaches that doesn’t matter if you can do something fast, at least at first. What is important is whether you can do it slowly and correctly. Eventually, the slow motions will become faster and more effective, because they were done correctly.
5. The importance of humility.
Humility is of the utmost importance to the warrior spirit. My teacher often provides several options to the same attack. In one of my first classes, I watched him demonstrate responding to a knife attack with a strike to the neck and head, followed by more responses to the arms, back, and legs. I didn’t understand; why would you need to attack further if you already choked the attacker or struck an important artery? He posed this to me: “What if you missed? What if it didn’t work?” In the dojo we train for a perfect 10 so that we could execute a 4 or 5 under duress on the street. In life, it is important to remember that you could be wrong, and the best plans are the ones with multiple back-up options, just in case.
6. Everyone can teach you something.
There is always someone who will know less than you and always someone who knows more than you. We can learn from both of them. Remember to be kind to both because you have been both more informed and less informed in many instances throughout your life.
7. The real fight is with yourself.
Budo or “Martial Way,” is a Japanese term for modern Japanese martial arts. Translated, it can also mean “Way of War”. There is an external side to the Martial Arts, where the “Way of War” explains dealing with an attacker or multiple attackers. However, the internal arts are just as important, including healing, meditation, and facing your own demons. The majority of the times I have quit mid-class or given up on a technique were not because my training partner required me to fight them. I quit because I was fighting myself. Doubt, lack of confidence, and the inability to let go of previous failures are just a few of the ways I hinder my own success. The real fight then is not others or the environment, but with myself. When I get to a place where I can encourage and support myself, I can win.
8. Hard work is hard.
…and it’s supposed to be. It helps to acknowledge when something is difficult, but it is important to keep going. The challenge cannot be enough of a reason to quit. Acknowledge the difficulty and do it anyway.
9. Take pain as a compliment.
You help your training partner when you push them out of their comfort zones (sometimes literally). If you train for an attacker that will go easy on you, you will be unprepared when the real thing is in your face. When your partner or teacher or life does something that stings or hurts, take it as a compliment: they see you as strong enough to handle it.[Important note: this does not include physical or emotional abuse. When that starts to happen, shut it down, because…]
10. You are worth protecting and fighting for.
Martial Arts taught me that I can say “No.” without explaining myself further. I give myself the permission to defend my body, my space, and my life. It is important enough to do so and I am the person to do it. No one can convince me otherwise or make me feel less valuable than I know I am. You are important. You are valuable. You are worth all the love in the world. Remember that.
11. Leadership can be lonely.
A teacher of mine shared this quote once: “Q: How long does it take the average person to get a black belt? A: The average person does not get a black belt.” The path toward any leadership role may start with a crowd, but the further you go, the more it thins, down to a very small, dedicated few who are willing to sacrifice to go farther in their craft…
12. …which is why community is so important.
There is no connection more joyful than the one between people who do what you do and who understand why you love it. It is an amazing thing to see people who might never meet otherwise become friends over a common interest. These are the people who will inspire you to keep going and will relate when you face challenges.
13. Agree, don’t argue.
“Go with the flow” is a banal platitude, but its reference to water is not a coincidence. Moving like water is something that Bruce Lee often discussed in interviews and something that is a goal for many Martial Artists. The idea is accepting the situation and flowing with it, rather than fighting it. This gives you the opportunity to ease anxiety and to find real solutions to the problem. Rather than demanding the situation bend to your will – which it will not – accept what it is and move forward with it.
14. You are responsible.
You are the only one who can determine how much you will learn or how far you will go. If class is cancelled, do you take the time to practice on your own? Do you ask your teacher questions that you come up with? Do you create ways to progress? Furthermore, you have a responsibility to pass on what you learn to others. The ability to successfully communicate knowledge and technique is the reason important things get shared and stay alive. As Maya Angelou said, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.”
15. The power of quiet.
In the beginning, I hated meditation. Years of quick stimulation from social media and TV poisoned me with impatience and a great dislike for staying still. I didn’t see the value of sitting in an uncomfortable position for what felt like hours (though it was actually minutes). I can see now how scared I was to take the time to listen to what was going on in my own head and heart. With a lot of patience from my teachers, I have grown to appreciate and seek meditation, in training and everyday life. Another thing about silence: some of the smartest people I know actually speak very little. They have refined their communication down to speaking only when they need to, and prioritize listening to others, the universe, and themselves.
16. Move when you can…
The first step to almost every Martial Arts technique is simple: get out of the way. An ideal of training is that you would never need to use the external techniques in a real fight situation, because you would be able to see something coming and get out of the way.
17. …and face it when you need to.
However, there are some things that we cannot avoid. Some obstacles must be climbed or obliterated. Some pains demand to be felt. Just like the ocean waves, some things are going to come and you are not going to be able to stop them. Try to run, and the wave will crash on you. Hold onto your ego and stand still and the wave will knock you down. But if you can see the wave coming and dive through it, or even into it, you’ll get through to the other side.
18. Do not skip the basics.
I know I am not the only Marital Artist who has spent full classes on the basics alone, even, if not especially, at an advanced level. The fancy flips and intricate disarms are impressive, but the important, even life-saving, techniques are generally simple and effective. Basics create our foundation to learn more, and without them, we cannot progress. Do not underestimate the importance of revisiting the first things you ever learned.
19. Intent makes an impact.
It is easy and almost natural for us to zone out of a situation or to only put half of ourselves in when we are nervous or unwilling to take the full risk. You cannot successfully block a strike nor can you execute a response if you do not have energy in your body and movements. You have to commit to the situation at hand with your entire self. Your footwork has to support your motion which must be supported by intentional use of the body and environment. To go all in requires energy, focus, and courage. However, when you put intention into your work, when you communicate and work with purpose, the result is one that actually makes an impact, both on you and your surroundings.
20. Always move forward.
We have a rule in Nan Sho: always move forward. Whether it’s escaping, responding to an attack, or being pushed down, we do not go backward. We do not step back. This is life for us, as well: in everything that you do, always move forward.
Image: Gracie Hagen