Not everyone begins martial arts for the same reason. Everyone has their own goals and personal reasons for deciding to integrate martial arts into their lives. I have thought about this and narrowed these reasons down to five main motivations for getting into the martial arts:
1) Those who are looking for a way to stay in shape or a “cool” activity to participate in.
2) Those who are interested in getting into the sport or competition aspect of martial arts
3) Those who want to appear tough or build up their ego.
4) Those who want to learn self-defense and be able to protect themselves.
5) Those who make martial arts their lives, the warriors.
With the exception of the third category, there is really nothing wrong with any of these reasons; it simply depends on what you are looking for in your life. Let’s look a little closer at each of these categories.
Category 1 – Those who just want to hone their body into a powerful physical specimen or be involved in a cool activity
There are many people who are simply looking for a better way to get into shape, and kicking boxing classes have been a very popular alternative, especially since Billy Blanks came out with his Tae Bo workout videos. By the way, I met Billy Blanks in California last October and he is still in great shape. Martial art training is absolutely a great way to stay in shape, and it carries with it some great benefits such as self-defense as well.
Others are merely looking for an activity to fill their time or to make them look cool. They see the movies and television shows which glorify martial arts, and they want to be able to call themselves martial artists basically because they perceive it as something that sets them apart and makes them unique. These are the people who rarely earn their first black belt. Unfortunately, many of them only stay in martial arts for a few months, but still consider themselves martial artists for the rest of their lives. After six months of martial arts at the local dojo, they abandon their goals. Where does their motivation go? One must turn motivation into a rigorous habit, and these people have not done this. Perhaps they didn’t care enough to continue.
Category 2 – Those who are into the sports and competition side of the martial arts
This is one of the biggest categories of martial artists. They train long and hard with one goal in mind, to win in the tournaments. Sports applications are the main focus of this group. They train for sparring, forms, weapons, and breaking, and train hard. The lure of becoming well-known in the martial arts world, winning those shiny trophies, and even possibly parlaying their hard-earned championships into television and movie roles is very motivating. This is probably the most commonly recognized category of martial artists.
The martial arts competition industry has grown by leaps and bounds over the last 30 years, and the tournaments have become big business. The tournaments have really changed since the 1970’s and 80’s as well. They have become much flashier and now resemble something more like a hybrid mix between martial arts and gymnastics. Some of these martial artists are amazing to watch, but many of them do not bear a resemblance to the traditional martial arts of the past which were mainly taught for self-defense.
Category 3 – The wanna-be tough guys and paper collectors
While everyone is entitled to live their lives as they see fit, this category of “martial artists” has very little in common with true martial artists. These are the egomaniacs whose main goals are to appear tough and to brag about how great they are. While you might think that this group is only a very small slice of the martial arts world (as it should be), there are actually way too many of these cons and thugs.
These are the guys that always talk about how tough they are, how bad they are, and many times, how fake everyone else is. I have seen guys in this category who start their own so-called “martial arts federation” and then promote themselves to the rank of 10th Dan and the title of Grand Master. Others simply fly to Korea, or other places, and buy their rank, which they then brag about having earned. Many of these people claim multiple 10th degree black belts in multiple styles.
Those in this category can be seen posting photo after photo of themselves trying to look tough and wearing ridiculous looking belts with more stripes than prison inmates. They may post photos of themselves punching concrete slabs with bloody knuckles or posting dozens of shirtless photos of themselves with a scowling face which is meant to convince us that they are the toughest of the tough. Usually they only end up looking like the clowns that they truly are. In my book, these guys are martial arts frauds with self-esteem issues or mental health issues. Most are trained thugs, not true martial artists.
Category 4 – Those who are only interested in self-defense
The people in this category are interested in the martial arts for one reason – self-defense. They want to know how to defend themselves from a world that is becoming more and more dangerous each year. These martial artists are completely focused on the physical side of the martial arts and how to stop would be predators; they are not interested in competition, bragging rights, or being cool. They simply want to learn how to defend themselves, should such a situation ever arise.
People in this category may train with a variety of weapons, along with learning the martial skills of self-defense with their hands, feet, knees, and elbows. This category is closer to what traditional martial arts were meant to be, without the katas, forms, and philosophy. Krav Maga would be a good example of this category of martial arts.
Category 5 – Those who make martial arts their life – the warriors
The last category basically gets back to the real principles of traditional martial arts. This category contains many aspects of the other categories, with the exception of category 3. These are the people who integrate the martial arts into their lives as a whole. They don’t just practice martial arts; they are martial artists. Every aspect of the martial arts is important to them; they are warriors.
People in this category don’t just train for self-defense or to stay in shape. They also study warrior philosophy and wisdom texts in order to be the best that they can be in every area of their lives. They live their life by a code of honor. This is not to say the other categories do not dabble in the philosophy, but the martial arts warrior concentrates on the philosophy as much as they do the physical aspect. The warrior code infuses their lives with meaning; it becomes an inseparable part of their life.
These men and women are not just participating in martial arts or self-defense classes until they become bored with them and move on to something else. For them, martial arts and martial arts philosophy have evolved into something much bigger – a total lifestyle. They could no more stop being warriors than they could stop being human beings. The warrior lifestyle has permeated their soul, their spirit.
This is merely a very short summary of the different types of martial artists. Like I said at the beginning, everyone has their own reasons for getting into the world of martial arts. There is nothing wrong with just doing martial arts to get into shape, to participate in the competitive side, or to simply learn self-defense. These are all legitimate reasons to become interested in martial arts.
Not everyone is made to become a warrior, but anyone can decide to dedicate his or her self to the warrior lifestyle. It is a personal decision and one that will permanently change your life.
Take some time and reflect on exactly why you are interested in the martial arts. Everyone should understand why they are pursuing the martial arts. And no matter what your reasons are for becoming interested in the martial arts, always apply yourself completely to whatever you do, be sincere in both your thoughts and actions, and be true to yourself. The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday.
author of the new book
THE WARRIOR ETHOS