Why Martial Art is great for you!

Martial Art is a particularly great way to practice facing fear and walking through it. Martial Art provides you with a great opportunity to release any build up emotions such as fear and anger that we hold in different places in our bodies saying, thinking or feeling things like:

  • My throat is tightening
  • My blood just froze 
  • My knees felt like rubber
  • My head is going to explode
  • My blood is boiling
  • My heart was standing still
  • That was a thump in the stomach

These are all physical symptoms on emotional states that we need to examine in order to find the underlying cause so we can change what needs to be changed in order to become more balanced in life: 

It is important to become aware of how we place emotions in our body and to start releasing our habitual patterns of holding them. Probably the easiest and best method of letting go of fear and anger is through exercise. It not only benefits us through the actual physical exertion, but it also gives us psychological and mental release. The endorphins and dopamine that are released through aerobic exercise are very beneficial. Exercise is a wonderful way to do a moving meditation and to practice spirituality. Dance, yoga, long walks, Martial Arts, movement classes, and sports are all ways of getting in touch with our bodies and releasing our holding patterns. Fear is a fact of life. Those people who prosper and grow with their fear are those who move through it. We learn to recognize fear in our body and move with it and through it. We do something to release it physically.

Drop the rock, second edition 2005, Hazelden Foundation, p. 76

In martial art we build our capacity to face and walk through fear. Through lots and lots of training we build and expand a catalogue of motion to handle various dangerous situations in the safe environment of the dojo. We do this by learning and practicing specific self-defense techniques and forms and apply our knowledge in free style sparring and other creative self-defense applications to enhance spontaneity. 

We go through different stages when learning Martial Arts as described by Mr. Parker. In the first primitive stagewe are taught the mechanics of how to do each move. In the next mechanical stage, we are taught definition to give each basic meaning and purpose (Infinite insights into Kenpo, Mental Stimulation 1, Kam IV, Inc. 1982). 

At the final spontaneous stagewith lots and lots of practice we learn to free it up to the point where the body knows how to defend itself automatically in any given situation without the delay of cognitive processing:

In this stage the natural weaponsfunction as if they had MINDS of their own… Conscious thoughts and feelings do not interfere with the immediate task of defending or attacking. Strategies and plans of defense and offense are not thought of consciously – they just happen naturally. If the attack is real, so is the response. Thus, if you are properly trained MENTALLY as well as PHYSICALLY, your bodyand mindwill automatically respond to any given situation. 

Ed Parker: Infinite Insights into Kenpo, Mental & Physical Constituents 4, Kam IV, Inc. 1986, p 3.

Furthermore, in Martial Art we learn how to keep a tranquil state of mind – keeping calm and collected while we face and walk through fear by practicing physical refusal skills. 

The feeling of success from facing and walking through fear helps us to build a positive attitude. It helps us while facing danger to keep negative thoughts and emotions from overpowering our mind:

Control of one’s emotions is necessary to enable you to handle a threatening situation with confidence and good judgment.

Ed Parker: Infinite Insights into Kenpo, Mental & Physical Constituents 4, Kam IV, Inc. 1986, p 17 

This helps us to develop mental stability and concentration. We learn how to keep calm and say no in a physical way to protect us from potential physical abuse. 

We can also draw on this physical skillset of self-defense when we need to protect ourselves from verbal abuse by setting boundaries and learning to say no. That we have a right to refuse requests, slow down, make time-outs and take care of ourselves. 

The phrase below is from a philosophical protreptic conversation with a client on aggression. The client is also martial artist and is talking about self-defense and verbal judo as skillsets to handle physical and emotional aggression:

It takes a level of emotional maturity and the ability to remain calm under stress and that calmness that allows you to think rather than react with emotion to emotion. It’s like if all I do is get angry back at you when you are angry with me then all we are doing is just budding heads against each other. If I can stay emotional stable and centered in my mind, so I can think about stuff then I can deflect your anger by changing the subject or repointing at something else maybe. “You’re not really angry at me you are angry at that person who cut you off in traffic”. And that kind of thing.

C: In order to gain that emotional maturity that you are talking about. Is that something that you can learn?

One can learn the theory of anything but in order to actually practice that… That really only comes with experience. To be there. And have felt it and been involved in it. So that you can gain that experience and the next time it occurs you can have a different level of response… It is like you learn the ideal phase of a Kenpo technique. You know how it is done on a complying partner. It is totally different when they are not complying. So you can do that technique on a complying partner your whole Kenpo career and be a whatever but if you have never done it for real on somebody you have no clue if what you have learned will actually work. It is the same with emotional response… It is the same with aggression in interpersonal relationships or businesses unless you have been there and felt what it feels like to be there and actually having that occurring then you have no idea. And so, you can read the theory and you can read the books. There is head knowledge and then there is – for lack of a better term – heart knowledge which is internalized knowledge. That is really more an experienced thing. 

From a philosophical protreptic coaching conversation on Agression

In this passage the client is implicitly touching upon some of the same elements as Krishnamurti regarding conscious awareness and non-judgmental observation of ‘what is’. Read more about this in my blog post What is the conditioning of the mind?

Emotional maturity enables a person to remain calm under stress and therefore being able to take a step back and observe ‘what is’ going on instead of reacting with emotion to emotion. Furthermore, the client refers to heart knowledge or internalized knowledge which is similar to what the Greek philosophers would call Phronesis or ‘practical wisdom’. This is the wisdom that comes from learning through experience here presented with the words of Aristotle:

In the first chapter of his Metaphysics, Aristotle concedes part of this Isocratean point about “empirical” versus “theoretical” science: “with a view to action experience seems in no respect inferior to skill, and we see men of experience succeeding more than those who have theory without experience. The reason is that experience is knowledge of individuals, skill of universals, and actions and productions are all concerned with the individual; for the physician does not cure a man, except in an incidental way, but Callias or Socrates or some other called by some such individual name, who happens to be a man. If, then, a man has theory without experience, and knows the universal but does not know the individual included in this, he will often fail to cure; for it is the individual who is to be cured”

I.1, 981a12-24, tr. Ross in Aristotle 353 BC; Hutchinson & Johnson 2017, p. 31

From the point of view of Aristotle men of experience are more likely to succeed than those who have theory but no experience. 

In this blog post about Why Martial Art is great for you I will let Mr. Parker have the final word which is in line with that of Aristotle. Real mastery and practical wisdom in Martial Art can only be obtained through lots and lots of training applying theory and knowledge of the principles of motion: 

Martial Arts can bring out the full potential of man. It can heighten our level of awarenessas well as aid us in obtaining deeper insightinto our mental capabilities. Progress toward obtaining Chior Kican only mature if there is outer as well as inner growth evolving simultaneously. Outerimplies the learning of physical skills and psychological principles. Balance, agility, stamina, speed, timing, control, etc. must be applied correctly with every move to ensure maximum effectiveness. To lack any of these ingredients, or to perform them poorly would only diminish the achievement of total culminationof mind, breath, and strength. How can Chior Kibe arrived at if you are struggling for balance, unable to back your actions with substantial force, or unable to properly employ the principles of torque, gravitational marriage, focus, leverage, anchoring, sandwiching and other similar principles? Answer – learn your basics and learn them well. You can only become totally proficient by hard work, self–discipline, and repetition.

Ed Parker: Infinite Insights into Kenpo, Mental & Physical Constituents 4, Kam IV, Inc. 1986, p 21

See you on the mat! 

Please contact me if you have any questions or leave a comment below if you want to share your experience on Why Martial Art is great for you!

Sophie Higgins & Peter Woltjes – Dogtown American Kenpo International on a beach in Denmark

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