Monday, June 16, 2014

Martial Arts and Discipline

When you hear the word discipline, what comes to mind? Do your thoughts drift towards moments of your former, younger self, being the recipient of physical duress at the hands of a parent, teacher, or Drill Sargent? Do you immediately think of being uncomfortable, akin to near torture? Discipline is one of the most highly touted aspects of martial arts training, and yet it may be the most misunderstood. (Right next to "if you know how to fight, you're more likely to fight" - not true).

To be fair, the true nature of discipline in the martial arts is not only missed by outsiders (non practitioners), it is often missed by students, Black Belts, and teachers. I've lost count of the number of parents that have asked, "If I bring my child to your school can you give him discipline?" Equally, I can't count the number of times I've seen some ill-behaved youngster doing a round of push ups as discipline for some class infraction. The discipline of martial arts has nothing to do with punishment, retribution, or even with anti-social behavior. It also has very little to do with bowing to one another - that's etiquette.

What makes a person get up everyday and go to work? What is it that causes one to brush their teeth regularly? To eat right, to do their homework, or to clean their room? Discipline. Oh, there could be other factors, but if you work out the logic you'll find that it usually comes down to reaping the benefits of being proactive.

You've no doubt heard the idea that we must all suffer one of two fates, the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. Think of anything you do that takes effort - enough effort that if you could, you'd stop doing it. Laundry? Grocery shopping? Home work? What would happen if you stopped? I'm betting that the pain of regret would be higher than the pain of just doing it. This is the discipline that grows within the martial artist; the discipline that comes from effort, from pushing the body and mind beyond the self imposed limits and expectations.

What keeps a person from getting up in the morning and going to work or school? It's not tiredness, because we're all tired. It's not boredom, we all get bored. So why do some of us get up everyday and go, and others not? Discipline. Those of us that do, do so because we know we can. We know that our bodies will do whatever our mind tells us to do. There's no debate. We pull ourselves out of bed and go because our mind says to do so. It is the undisciplined mind that believes we can't get up, we're too tired, too bored.

Have you ever had the thought that you just couldn't do something; like make dinner, practice an instrument, read another chapter - and then did it anyways? Most of us have experienced this - that's discipline. I sometimes marvel when teaching that no matter how many repetitions I challenge the class to do, they always do it. After class, I'm often told, "If you would have had us do one more, I would have asked to be excused, cause I had nothing left." And yet, these martial artist have learned, and learned early on, that the mind controls the body, not the other way around.

The slow steady march towards increased flexibility, stamina, body control, patience, confidence, and self esteem - these are the result of discipline gained through repetition and effort. Once a person learns that discipline pays off in the Do Jang (training hall), it's an easy step to be disciplined in other aspects of their life.

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