A co-worker was surprised to hear that I have been training with the same people for 10 or more years. She asked me, "Why are karate students so loyal? I mean, what do you all get out of it?"
At first I was dumbfounded - I mean, who wouldn't keep training for 10 years? A decade is a drop in the proverbial experience bucket of many students and masters I've met over the years. My mouth may have actually dropped open in cartoon-like fashion before I realized most adults don't stick with any activity that long, let alone one that is so demanding.
So below is my list of reasons.
Top 10 Reasons for Karate & Kickboxing Loyalty
1) Physical conditioning - The stretching, strength, and balance attained from training allow dedicated students to do all kinds of physical activities without injury or fatigue. I can keep up with (sometimes even outlast) my kids and seasonally kayak, roller skate, and bowl with ease. Thanks to routine training, I am physically able to do those things at will and can still walk the next day. Last summer we hit an entire water park and climbed about a billion steps in one day, plus I also ran my first 5k at age 40 without actually preparing for it (not saying that was smart & yes, that one did leave me a little sore).
2) Health benefits - We all know that regular exercise is beneficial for cardiovascular health, maintaining muscle and bone strength, weight management, and keeping limber. So much of what we do in class involves core strength, which helps prevent back injuries that plague so many adults. Flexibility and balance are also key components of training. When I worked in an assisted living home, I saw the difference in independence that flexibility made when a limber 80 year old could bend over to put her own shoes on versus others that needed someone to do it for them. I have every intention to keep training for as long as I can.
3) Reflexes - This didn't happen right away, but I very rarely drop anything these days. Something gets knocked off the kitchen counter and I have already caught it before I even consciously realize it is falling. I look down and I'm surprised to see it's in my hand (however, not so good when it's a knife). Not gonna lie, the first time it happened I felt a bit like a superhero, but no cape needed - I've just developed keen reflexes. These good reflexes especially come in handy when driving in NJ, with any sport involving a ball, and I have also caught my kids on a few occasions.
4) Confidence & Assertiveness - It's hard to intimidate students outside the dojo, physically or mentally. And I'm not just talking about people, obstacles too. With full contact kickboxing, at some point, even with control and protective gear, you will get hurt. Hopefully it's nothing too serious, but those bruises teach a lesson. How to overcome, how to push through limits and barriers, and keep going. Sometimes it means getting up after being knocked down (literally). Other times it's pushing past fear and anxiety to compete, test, or fight. Traditional training fortifies the student.These are not lessons you can learn from a DVD in your living room or a cardio class.
5) Stress relief - I appreciate deep breathing and meditation - but only after I have spent at least 30 minutes trying to decimate a heavy-bag. This may say more about me as an individual - I'm not very calm and patient by nature - but I know I'm not alone. I can only seem to find my center, relax, and think "deep thoughts" after I have physically released whatever aggravation, despair, or excitement that I am holding on to and nothing helps me do that better than hitting a heavy-bag. I truly think my family, friends, and co-workers get a better version of me after a kickboxing class.
6) Knowledge - Traditional karate is handed down through generations. That kind of ever evolving wisdom is simply not mastered in a couple of years. The true essence, the deeper meanings come with time, repetition, and experience. These lessons can't be manufactured in a "one size fits all everybody is a master in three years" kind of training. There is an additional responsibility to learn about the history, culture, and lineage of your art. Besides the physicality, a serious student will expand their understanding by reading books about the philosophy and history of martial arts. There is always more to learn.
7) Preparedness - As part of regular training, we learn self-defense techniques. When practicing on each other, we have control, and modify the techniques to prevent serious injury. However, we also learn real-world applications. What level of force is necessary and where to strike to disable someone, permanently if necessary, who intends to do you harm. No one ever wants to be in that position and I do my best to avoid putting myself or my family in situations that could be dangerous, but better to have the knowledge and not need it, than need it and not have it. "Chance favors the prepared mind" - Louis Pasteur.
8) Everywhere is the dojo - This is one of my Sensei's favorite sayings. You don't leave what you have learned behind when you bow and walk off the floor, it becomes a part of who you are. You internalize what you have learned and look at everyday life in a different way. You try on a pair of pants and think, "Would these be good for kicking?". I work in insurance, and when someone showed me a segment of burst pipe caused by freezing - my first thought wasn't about the claim, it was that it would make a great weapon for stick fighting. If a decoration is dangling from the ceiling, my natural inclination is to wonder if I could reach it with a jump kick. Sometimes in the checkout line, I find myself sizing up the person in front of me, ("Hmm, they look strong, I'd have to try to take out their legs first"). Now of course I wouldn't DO that, but it is fun to let the mind wander.
9) Anger Management - Contrary to the common perception that kickboxing and MMA athletes are brutal savages, you actually have to learn to control your temper, keep focus, and maintain a level head when sparring. I have seen several students not pass belt testing because they failed to do so. This carries over to the real world - you learn to think before acting out of sheer emotion.
10) Family - Fellow students are referred to as dojo brothers and dojo sisters. Over time a unique bond develops with fellow karateka, we see each other at our best, most glorious, and also in despair, frustration, and defeat. Friendships often extend beyond the dojo and I'm honored to have been included in weddings, baby showers, and sadly, funerals. It's not just that we all share a common interest, but we are committed to a passion that involves a path of lifelong learning and practice, that many people don't understand. I have met some of my favorite people through the martial arts community. When it really comes down to it, this may be the most surprising, but biggest factor in why people are loyal to the art, it is the extended family you gain.
Before she asked me, I had never really considered why students like myself are so loyal. When I began this list my intention was to jot down a "Top 5 list", but I found i just couldn't contain it to so few reasons. Part of what I love about my martial arts family is the incredible diversity of people. If you train, I'm betting you can relate to most of these reasons and can probably even think of a few that I missed. If you don't train, perhaps you have found something in your life that hits these same points. Either way, I hope I have shared some insight and offered a small glimpse into why the martial arts are a beloved lifelong pursuit for so many, including myself.