So you (or maybe your spouse) are considering studying a martial art, congratulations!! I can honestly say that the first day I bowed on to a mat legitimately changed my life and put me on a path I never expected to embark upon.
After more than a decade of training in multiple martial arts, there are a few lessons that I’ve learned that would have been good to know before going all in. If you are just getting started or considering a martial art, here are my top 10 things to expect that might not be so obvious. If you are an experienced martial artist, I hope you agree and feel free to add-on in the comments.
1) This is not Fight Club.
The first rule of Fight Club may have been to never talk about Fight Club but if you really get bit by the martial arts bug, you will not be able to shut up about it. My poor wife has heard more stories about spinning hook kicks, slip step-under counter hooks and triangle chokes than she knows what to do with. Be sure to keep that in mind before you jump headlong into another story about how so and so did what and what.
2) You will want to train – all the time.
I would train or teach all day every day if I could. Perfection is impossible but the pursuit of perfection is available to all. You’ll find yourself looking to attend multiple classes each week, participating in ‘open mat’ and looking for others to help you improve. Trust me, it is completely addicting in all the right ways.
3) Martial arts is a small, tight knit and supportive family.
For a long time I had the picture above from my son’s black belt test as the wallpaper on my computer. He is landing a beautiful spinning hook kick and stopping his partner cold. Now with my job, I am all over the country doing presentations and projecting my computer on big screens in multiple offices every week. As soon as any martial artist saw the picture, there was an immediate connection. Questions would immediately turn to his training, my training, rank, passion, training methods and goals. Heck, I have even spared with some of my clients as I have traveled to their offices.
4) Your Laundry will never be in balance again.
Seriously people, this is an issue I was not anticipating and one my wife hates. Think about it. Gis are made from really thick cotton to avoid rips, tears, etc. It is like having 3 towels in the wash that have to be on the same side of the washer. Now imagine that in our house with 3 of us (14, 16 & 43) all actively training multiple sessions a week. It just never stops and the washing machine continually sounds like a jackhammer.
5) There is a reason that martial artists say they “study” and “train”.
If you come across someone who says they ‘do’ Jujitsu or karate or whatever, you have come across someone who really hasn’t evolved into a martial artist yet (and your belt rank has nothing to do with whether or not you are a martial artist). To be successful in the martial arts, you really do have to study and train. You have to study the techniques to understand their effectiveness and when to apply them. You have to train your body to react to the opportunity without thinking. I have spent hours on YouTube learning the principals of a technique (study) followed by hours on a mat applying them in an actual situation (train). I stopped ‘doing’ karate a long time ago.
6) You will always be ‘hurt’.
I don’t remember the last day I was not sore somewhere. Now please understand, I am not talking about being injured. That happens pretty rarely in a well-run school environment – there is a difference between martial arts and fighting. However being sore is routine and an important part of the martial arts lifestyle. In fact, I have never been as sore as I was the day after my first Jujitsu session. Soreness indicated weakness and weaknesses can be strengthened through studying and training.
7) You learn to embrace the suck.
Real progress is made when you put yourself in positions that are challenging to you and you work to improve. I refer to this process as “suck training”. As a beginner that may be continually letting your partner jab at you until you can slip the jab. On the ground, let someone take your back and sink a choke in and then work your way out (this is not for your first day however). You will fail a lot in these situations but that is the point. Fail less tomorrow than you did today and fail in different ways than you failed previously.
8) People love black eyes – just not receiving them.
I get a black eye or two every year. Even as a black belt, I occasionally forget to keep my hands up and my partner slips in a great technique or I simply fall the wrong way. It is simply a part of the beautiful dance we are performing. What cracks me up is how people outside of martial arts react. They either want to know every detail and are fascinated by my participation or they are scared to death to ask anything and assume I have some type of sorted past or had a run in with the wrong kind of crowd. I find both reactions hilarious.
9) Higher level belts practice offense by destroying lower level belts – just slowly.
A really good black belt can execute her techniques at full speed without hurting her partner. She can also slow it down so that their partner can learn to feel what is going on without losing technique. As a black belt, when I am sparing a lower belt, I am typically picking a single technique to focus on and do so in a way that will also teach them something (like keep your hands up!!) Lesson here for beginners – you want to spar the black belts!!!
10) Lower level belts learn defense (aka survival) by being destroyed by higher level belts.
I will never forget the first time I countered a superman punch effectively. I had been getting caught for weeks with the technique and it was driving me nuts. In the round it happened in, I was clearly ‘losing’ the round but in my mind, I had won because my goal was to slip the superman punch and I had accomplished it. If I had been sparing another brown belt at the time, they would not even be throwing that technique. Lesson here for beginners – you want to spar the black belts!!
11) Bonus for families that train together – what happens on the mat does not stay on the mat.
Nothing makes my wife more frustrated than when random grappling matches break out in the living room. Or when someone ends up in a kimura on the couch. Or when turning a corner someone eats a round kick to the face. Our house is a virtual mine field of martial arts techniques and I absolutely love it.
I hope the list above gives you a little more insight into the journey you are embarking upon and welcome to the martial arts family. The destination is absolutely worth the journey. Oss!!