There are many reasons to study the martial arts. This list is not exhaustive, but what came to mind as I was writing:
1. Self-Protection: This is one of the first reasons most people think of when they consider studying a martial art. Most martial arts boast some form of self-defense. Both practitioners and those interested in studying martial arts will often compare styles, questioning whether one style is more effective than another style. Regardless of style, keeping oneself safe should be a priority for everyone, which makes this reason one of the most important.
2. Sport: The Karate Kid movies in the 80s sparked interest in the martial arts, and in tournament competition. Nowadays, the rise in popularity of MMA continues to fuel interest in the sport side of martial arts. There is both conflict and congruence between these first two reasons. Some techniques that benefit the athlete are not as effective for the street fighter, and vice versa. Likewise, some techniques are beneficial for both sport and self-protection purposes. One does not need to be an athlete to be a martial artist, but martial arts is a great way to get in shape and is also a great outlet for one’s competitive side.
3. Fitness: Whether one is looking to step in a ring or a cage to compete or not, regular martial arts training is a fantastic way to improve one’s health and fitness. People from age 5 to 75 (and beyond) can benefit from martial arts training.
4. Self-Betterment: Physical fitness is just one benefit of martial arts training, and just one reason why people study the arts. Martial arts training comes with the development of discipline, focus, a positive attitude that helps one overcome obstacles and reach goals, respect and honor. For many, studying martial arts isn’t simply a hobby or recreational activity: it’s a way of life that comes with a bushido (a warrior’s code).
5. History: The history of martial arts is rich and full of stories, albeit some legendary and apocryphal, of the great warriors, artists, and philosophers of old. For many martial artists, studying the arts is a way to connect with the past. They learn about the founders of the arts, and the great practitioners who made their mark and left their legacy for us to witness. Every time I pick up a bokken, I am reminded of the great warriors of the past.
6. Art: Sometimes, with our concerns for practical self-protection and effective sports techniques, we lose sight that a martial art is indeed an art. Is a spinning, jumping hook kick the most practical technique for self-defense on the street? No, probably not. But it’s a beautiful kick. The artist who has mastered such a technique can demonstrate grace, power, speed, flexibility, and self-expression in a way most other activities do not allow. If all we focus on is the most efficient and practical, we risk losing much of the heart of the martial arts.
7. Science: There is a rewarding aspect to martial arts training when one learns the mechanics, the physics, and the physiology behind martial art techniques. What makes a technique powerful? As a hobby and an ongoing life activity, the martial arts provides an avenue that allows one to explore the nuts and bolts of how the human body works. I have learned so much about the human body just through my own Jiu-Jitsu training. I have a better understanding of human psychology because of my self-protection training. In comparing martial art styles, I see how one style’s version of a technique may differ from another style’s version, and why one might be more or less effective in certain scenarios.
8. Community: The dojo provides a common ground, a gathering place for people with a similar interest and similar goals. Through martial arts training, people make new friends, bonds are formed and strengthened as each person encourages and pushes each other to grow and become better. I cheered when my friend won his first MMA match, and shared in his joy because he is a student at our academy. I felt like I was watching a family member compete in the cage. In a lot of ways, I was.
9. Fun: A lot of people do martial arts because they really enjoy it. Throwing a side kick brings me as much joy as playing basketball or going for a run. Not everything in martial arts needs to be solely about self-protection. There is joy to be found in such things as executing a difficult kick or running a kata.