Rei of Sunshine
Updated: Jul 16
Since I was a small person (those that know me, this means young: I am already tiny*), I have been a martial arts enthusiast.
So far, I have:
conducted a long-term relationship with Karate, the highlight of which involved accidentally breaking my dad's finger during a sparring session at the age of 11
flirted with Tae Kwon Do, whilst trying very hard not to dislocate my knees
attempted Ninjitsu in a local village hall where the most threatening participant was the owner's Jack Russell
had my arse handed to me at Kendo by a former marine whose warm-ups gave me nightmares
dabbled in Tai Chi until I got fairly epic Chinese burns from an Oxbridge graduate
nearly died from Capoeira DOMS during Fresher's Week
had a sabre poked through my leg during fencing training
and attained my orange belt in Japanese ju-jitsu in 2018 , breaking a toe in the process
Considering the various turn-offs when it comes to training, it's easy to understand why you might get less devotees to one martial art or another, when faced with the easy-access ways to sweat like aerobics and zumba.
I realise that my repeated attendance at training sessions, despite the various mishaps and injuries listed above labels me firmly as a sadomasochist, so I compiled a few reasons that apply to all martial arts styles to help me defend my case:
1. Respect rules.
Whether it's a full-blown dojo or a church hall, your training space is sacred, and deserves to be treated with respect. This runs deeper than bowing (or rei-ing) your way onto the mat, to your training partner or picking up your things.
It forces you to treat everything in that space with care and consideration - and that goes for you, and the people you train with. I've often found that you carry that respect with you outside training, and extend it to how you treat your home, friends, and family.
2. Community is core.
Speaking of family - something about being forced into someone else's personal space (obviously in a non-sexy way) and physically grappling with them breaks the ice more rapidly than any one-liner or thoughtfully rehearsed personal introduction could.
There's no time to worry about your hair, your witty comments, or whether someone likes you when you're trying to sweep them to the floor, or avoid smashing your face into the mat. Then, they extend a hand to haul you up, and before you know it, you've made a friend.
The degree of respect and friendliness shown in a dojo is generally a good indicator of how responsible a 'school' you've shown up to. You get out what you put in, on and off the mat.
3. Boredom begone!
If there's one thing to be said for martial arts - they're never, ever boring. You might struggle with a move, get frustrated or disheartened at your progress, but you won't be bored.
For all my people out there on a treadmill wishing they were watching paint dry - go and hit up your nearest MMA class. If you can get past the silky shorts, you'll have an incredible workout that engages your body and your brain.
4. Martial arts make you mindful...
Martial arts are all about controlled, and controlling violence. Hand in hand with respect is presence - presence of mind, presence on the mat. What you're learning is both empowering and dangerous - and any good sensei or teacher will ensure that you understand the safest way to apply those skills.
You learn what your strength looks and feels like, and then you learn how you can appropriately apply that force with care, consideration, and control. To do this, you have to be mindful and present every moment of your practice - or someone winds up hurt.
5. ...and teach you discipline
At their core, martial arts are about discipline. They're about digging deep to find your own motivation when you're bruised and sore. They're about one more push up when your arms are shaking. They're about showing up to the dojo in rain, sleet and snow, or scorching heat.
They're about making promises to yourself, and then keeping them. And that is the beginning, I believe, of self-esteem. Discipline, whatever form it's attained through, is the foundation of self-worth. Discipline assures you that when you set out to do something, you actually do it. You have your own back. You're accountable. You achieve what you believe about yourself.
So the next time you lob your sweaty sports bra to the gym floor in disgust at only running 20 minutes on the treadmill, but swearing it was a year since you started, do yourself a favour and check out your nearest dojo, mat, or training hall. Do some research, ask around, and most importantly go in with an open mind.
You might be surprised by what, and who, you discover during training.
*No, really. I was called El Shorto in high school.