Written by Andres Salazar

Anyone can learn valuable skills and perspectives from all sorts of different places and things. Maybe you learned that anyone could cook from Ratatouille (2007), or you perhaps even learned a thing or two about patience from having to deal with the Moodle Testing Center. Either way, people can take important lessons from all situations, activities, and contexts. In my case, martial arts have been an important source of many life lessons. I have been practicing different combat sports since elementary school and have been coaching for the past couple of years. Although things like kickboxing may seem like just an excuse to kick each other in the face repeatedly, there are lots of life lessons that can come from it.

 The obvious things people look at in relation to combat sports are fitness and the idea of getting into shape. While that is the case, we can take a deeper look at one crucial lesson from combat sports: self-improvement is achievable and takes time. We’ve all been in the situation where we don’t start something, because becoming great doesn’t seem possible. Going to the gym, or dojo, and learning to position yourself in a fighting stance may seem awkward at first, though it gradually gets more and more comfortable. I see this all the time as a coach. Many people will start by being flat-footed and unable to control their weight distribution. However, after weeks, months, and years of practicing that basic stance, many students find themselves shuffling across their kitchens and subconsciously keeping their weight on the back leg, ready and loaded to throw a kick with the other leg. The point is that while something might initially seem awkward, persistence and consistent practice will eventually make whatever you’re doing an integral part of your daily life.

Have you ever seen an MMA fight in the UFC? What about a professional boxing match? Did you notice that the fighter that seems more relaxed often tends to do better? Professional fighters tend to focus lots of their training on physical and emotional control. Going into a fight and full blast swinging violently with all your might will often not get you very far. Instead, the fighters that perform the best are the ones who know when to relax in the ring and when to tighten those punches. Knowing when to ease off and when to step on the throttle is an important ability in the fight and a valuable lesson for people in all contexts. Students and people in the workplace who put all their effort into every single second, every day, will often burn out the fastest and get the most tired. It’s important to recognize when you need to ease off on the work and studying to have a better long-term performance. Although it may seem like an awkward pause, professional fighters will often relax for a second or two in the middle of the round to reassess their game plan, reset the momentum and continue with any needed adjustments. This is something that anyone can directly adapt into their own daily life. In short, take a break.

Many people who aren’t involved will see martial arts in one of two ways: either an evening activity where you learn how to throw fancy punches for a different coloured belt or two dudes pumped full of steroids fighting to the death. However, martial arts is more than just those two definitions. Just like people’s interests, specialties, and backgrounds, combat sports are full of diversity. Some people prefer combat systems revolving around grappling, while some prefer striking. Even within the same sport, some might choose throwing knees over kicks or throwing straights over hooks. Nobody fights the same way. As a coach, it has always been my opinion that we should push each fighter to develop and perfect their own unique style. The same goes for the non-fighting world. Whether you choose to chase a specific career choice or decide to go with the flow, both options are equally valid. Find your style and push towards growing it and developing it into something that empowers you instead of trying to mimic something else.

These are only examples of some of the lessons that martial arts can teach us. Not to get too poetic or anything, but learning to fight has a literal and a more illustrative purpose. While people often start their martial arts journey to get fit or learn to knock someone out, the life lessons have just as significant an impact as the punches learned in class. While often these lessons come unintentionally, the parallels between the training and daily life become more transparent and more precise the more time is spent around these combat sports. Who knew that you could learn so much about life in a field where people kick each other across the face for fun?

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