The following is the essay I wrote for my 5th geup (green belt) test in TKA Tang Soo Do.
Ten Benefits of Training in Traditional Martial Arts
The study of traditional martial arts is a complex journey that has benefited many in the past, and will continue to do so in the future. However, it must not be mistaken that an individual can simply perform the motions and obtain mastery. Mere proficiency in martial arts requires intense mentorship and dedication. Musashi said: “If you merely read this book you will not reach the Way of strategy.” (bookoffiverings.com), meaning that a person cannot achieve proficiency through mimicry; understanding is a product of experience, and the benefits of traditional martial arts increase with experience. The following list contains ten benefits of traditional martial arts training, which are: 1) Self Defense 2) Physical Fitness 3) Endurance 4) Spatial Intelligence 5) Confidence 6) Cultural 7) Ethical 8) Social 9) Philosophical and 10) Personal. These benefits can be broken in to two groups: practical and enriching. The practical aspects provide real-world tools that improve an individual’s survivability in day-to-day life, as well as extraordinary situations. Enrichment, on the other hand, involves development of the individual, and encourages the practitioner to be better-rounded and mentally agile. Together, these traits of traditional martial arts training improve the whole person physically, spiritually, and mentally.
The first benefit of martial arts training is self-defense, the reason martial arts exists in the first place. This basic result of training in martial arts attracts many people who are worried that they may face some threat of violence in the future. Traditional martial arts may not grant this benefit as quickly as more modern combative systems will, but a practitioner will gain a general understanding of how to resist violence.
The second benefit is physical fitness. Achievement in the martial arts requires strength and flexibility to deliver effective strikes. The training itself provides much of the conditioning required to defend one’s self in the real world, but also has the added benefit of improving health and strength. The Shaolin monks were among the first to practice martial arts for this reason alone. This translates to other aspects of the martial artist’s life and well-being.
The third benefit, endurance, derives from the second. Endurance is the ability to sustain activity under stress, which is a core concept of martial arts. In a prolonged fight, a less conditioned fighter will become sloppy and fail to connect their strikes. Endurance prevents fatigue under stress. This has the added benefit of providing stress relief and resiliency in other situations that require a calm mind.
The fourth benefit is spatial intelligence, which is the ability to perceive the environment without thinking about it. This is a benefit many may not think of until they find themselves disoriented. The martial artist must have flawless situational awareness to achieve victory, especially against multiple opponents. A spatially intelligent person reacts naturally with purpose and accuracy without forethought, which frees the individual to make other decisions under stress.
The last practical benefit of traditional martial arts, number five, is confidence. Exhibiting the skills listed above, a martial artist can relax knowing that their training will give them an edge in any situation. Knowledge of this instills confidence. Confidence encourages an individual to continue advancing and achieving, as well as to live their life without fear, or at least in control of it.
The last five are more esoteric in nature. The sixth benefit is cultural. Martial arts provide exposure to a culture different from mainstream America, which expands one’s world view. A breadth of experience and ideas improves creativity, which is essential as both a student and instructor of marital arts.
The seventh benefit is ethical, which concerns an individual’s ability to do the right thing. Willingness to protect others is not enough; one must also be able to counter wrongdoing. Martial arts provides this ability, as well as reinforcing the desire to do good in the first place.
The eight benefit is social. Martial arts training requires interaction with peers, juniors, and instructors. This interaction instills an awareness of where one fits in in society, as well as how to advance, and what causes regression. The social benefit encourages skills as a mentor and instructor, as well as how to be a good colleague. This skill transitions to all aspects of life.
The ninth benefit is philosophical, the most esoteric of the ten. Traditional martial arts emphasize awareness and meditation more than modern combatives do. Mindfulness of our selves and the world is key to developing wisdom and understanding, not of just martial arts but of all things. This may take the longest to achieve, but can be the most rewarding.
The final benefit is unique to the individual. Different people may get different things out of traditional martial arts; achieving those goals provides a greater sense of personal identity and pride. This benefit is what rounds out the other nine and leads to greater contentment with life. People practice martial arts because they believe in it, or think they do. Even those who quit learn something about themselves from the experience; everyone walks away with something different. Those who stay continue to draw from the experience in ways those who quit cannot and might not ever.