It’s not possible to understand the benefits of martial arts for your mind and body unless you have experienced it. It’s a little bit like telling someone how it is to parachute out of an airplane or jump- off a very high bridge into the water. You can explain until you’re blue in the face, but no amount of talking replaces doing.
The Total Workout
In general, if you want to get a total body workout you have to do different kinds of exercises. Running is a great cardiovascular workout and perfect for your legs but does little for your upper body. Lifting weights can be great for toning or building up muscle mass, but not so much in terms of cardio. If you want that you’ll have to do another exercise. On the other hand, if you really want to work out every muscle you possess, especially your mind, martial arts is the answer. Want powerful muscles in your legs, practice your kicks. There is no cardio workout that comes close to that of martial arts. As a head instructor I was responsible for evaluating new students. I would often get athletes who were of the mindset that they could easily handle a thirty minute lesson from me. I used to teach police officers, special ops soldiers, tri-athletes, marathoners, bike racers, weightlifters, and more. In all my years teaching these beginning lessons I never once ran across a person male of female who was not completely exhausted by the time the lesson was half over. It really is the total body workout.
Not all are Created Equal
It has been approximated that there are roughly five thousand different styles of Kung Fu spread out all over the world. I’m sure the same can be said for other disciplines as well. After all, just because you’re are studying Tae Kwon Do in California, that doesn’t mean you are being taught the same things the folks in Nebraska are learning. The one thing that appears to be universal to all the arts is the devotion of its practitioners. The guy studying Shotokan is as certain his style is superior to all others as is the gal studying Aikido who believes hers to be the best. I am probably no different from everyone else in that regard. I do however have the benefit of more than thirty years of teaching and working out experience under my belt and that alone gives weight to my words; but you can make up your own mind.
A Workout for the Mind
For the purposes of this article when I make reference to martial arts or Chinese Kung Fu, I am only speaking of the styles I taught and studied, and no others. My beliefs surrounding the arts come from those disciplines alone.
Ninety-five percent of martial arts is all about training your mind, very little has to do with the body or any physical movements. In fact, the purpose of the physical movements is to train your mind, and you cannot have one without the other. You achieve a fit mind by achieving a fit body. It is on the mat, where you sweat, bleed, and groan in pain where you really learn what your mind is capable of doing. You can learn all the kicks, blocks, and strikes there is to learn, but if you’re not mentally prepared, they’re useless. Without the proper mindset, you cannot do the physical moves required to save your own life. Take the following scenario for example.
You are alone at home and a man has surprised you and trapped you in your bedroom. He is between you and the only exit and he is wielding a nasty looking machete. The untrained or improperly trained mind will scream at you back away from the deadly madman. However, since you cannot run, the safest, best move you can make is to attack with a fierce level of anger and aggression that even your assailant cannot match. Rather than backing away from that razor sharp weapon, the safest thing to do is get inside the range of the weapon and attack with deadly precision with your hands, elbows, and knees.
Unless your mind has been properly trained, you cannot force yourself to go closer to that machete; it is just too terrifying. A properly trained martial artist will attack using speed and ruthlessness and disable the attacker before he has a chance to take a swing with his weapon.
What the Mind Learns
Many people look on the practice of Katas, also called forms, and make jokes about them because they do not fully understand the benefits. The Chinese Kung Fu system I taught, teaches about forty-five kicks, 360 self-defense techniques, fifteen weapons including the handgun, and an unprecedented 32 Katas. The longest and most difficult kata is three minutes and thirty seconds long and done with all the speed, precision, and power you possess, and it has to be perfect. Each stance, kick, hand and elbow strike has to be executed perfectly no matter how tired you are. So why do it? The 32 Katas/Forms in our system teach you everything you need in a fight. You learn how to breathe. You learn speed, timing, accuracy, rhythm, control, power; everything you need to survive a potentially fatal attack.
The learning of these attributes does not come easy. The concept is not new. You learn by breaking down the body, literally destroying it. Only then does the mind step up to the challenge and take control. When a person is training for his brown and black belt tests the workouts for the belts are typically 3-5 hours long of uninterrupted, non- stop pain. When your body has been broken to a point where mere standing is nearly impossible, one of two things happens. You either fall down, or you focus your mind and it takes over for your wrecked body. Suddenly you have more speed, power, focus, and all the other things you need for self-defense.
A Personal Example
While getting ready for my black belt test I was required to undergo six months of pre-tests 6 days a week. That is the real test. The actual black belt test is a mere three and a half hour formality. The real test happens in that 6 month period of pre-tests where each day is harder than the previous one. I’ll never forget the day I really learned what my mind is capable of. It was on a Saturday and my teacher was putting me through my paces. We were three hours into the test when it came time to do the most difficult kata simply called the Kata Exercise. It’s a grueling 3:30 seconds long. That doesn’t seem long when you are rested and refreshed. However, when you have been pushing your body for more than 3 hours without break, those three and a half minutes feels like eternity.
I was required to do it perfectly and was expected to do it until I got it right. After my fifth go at it I was wrecked. I kept making mistakes due to physical and emotional exhaustion. I was wobbling around barely able to stand and on the verge of passing out. I had a choice. Either give up and pass out or make up my mind to do it right. I chose to do it right no matter the cost. In a split second all the exhaustion and pain melted away and I had more speed, power, and perfection than I had in the beginning of the pre-test. My body had been beat, but not my mind. I learned that day what a powerful muscle the mind can be. I learned that my mind was truly more powerful than my body. And that little experience there are what martial arts is all about; using the body to train the mind.
When you learn what your mind can do you realize what you can accomplish in all areas of your life, both in your professional and personal life.