Years of martial arts have taught me more than how to throw a good punch. Surprisingly it has taught me how to control myself and most importantly some crucial life lessons. It has also sharpened my focus
Around a year ago I sweated my way through a brown belt kick boxing exam. Since then I have taken a slight break as I moved temporarily for 12 months, but as I get closer to moving back to London, I’ve already started thinking about what martial art I would like to take up next. Aikido? Taekwondo? Perhaps karate (after all, maybe I will be naturally good at this one as I am half Japanese, where it originated).
I have been doing various martial arts for quite some time now, before I started living in London… some have worked out better than others (I won gold at a Choi Kwong Do competition but I had to give up MMA because, put simply, my 5ft 3 frame couldn’t handle it and I nearly broke my nose during a head lock). But I have absolutely loved trying every single one and can’t wait to start again.
I started kick boxing because I am a secret bad-ass.
Ok, that is not true. I started kick boxing because I wanted a way to shape up, give my body a good cardio-kicking and find a fun way to de-stress.
At first, I spent my time sheepishly hanging around, doing my best not to give anyone bigger than me any eye contact so I didn’t have to partner them. But then I started getting a little more confident, and smiling at people awkwardly (revealing my pink mouth-guard) with a “do you want to partner me?” look but always hoping that they would go easy on me.
As time went on though, my confidence grew (and then dipped again) and then grew some more, and I started to get more and more out of the sessions… and I started to learn some life lessons from the gruelling sessions that weren’t just about how to avoid a black eye.
Here are my 7 seriously important life lessons that kick boxing has taught me. Because it hasn’t been all sweat and muscle ache for the sake of exercise…
Life lesson 1: Push yourself out of your comfort zone
The reason why it is called the comfort zone is because it is comfortable, not because it is exciting or exhilarating. A familiar place, perhaps bringing a warm feeling, you know you are safe in your comfort zone. But since when has safety equated to fun?
The trouble is that you’ll never progress if you keep sitting on the comfort zone sofa of life. Even worse, just because it is ‘familiar’ doesn’t mean it is necessarily good for you.
The only way to truly progress and develop yourself is to push your boundaries. The funny thing though, is the more you push, the more you experience and so your comfort zone widens. You’ll find that you quickly get used to whatever you used to find unnerving. There is nothing more comfort zone pushing then putting on a pair of gloves and getting into the boxing ring.
Life lesson 2: Learn from people better than you
Whether you are top of your game or just starting out, we can all learn from others, especially those that are better than us or do things differently. When I first started sparring, I was terrified and did my best to always partner my friend Kris in the hope that we wouldn’t have to pair a black belt or a bloke twice our size.
Our instructors quickly latched on to this though and like naughty school children, started separating us from each other. Whilst terrified at first, I soon started to learn new techniques and people were generous in the knowledge they shared about how to be a better fighter. This is also something I have learnt outside of kick boxing – people are generally very giving when it comes to helping you. The trouble is, most of us never ask or put ourselves in opportunities where we can learn.
Life lesson 3: Speak up if you are not happy
When you are sparring, it is inevitable that you are going to get punched in the face a few times, even if like me, you did your best to hide rather than box. Whilst most kick boxers will offer you a soft ‘tap’ there were also the odd imbeciles that wanted to show off or make themselves better and turn a friendly spar into an opportunity to use you as a human punch bag.
Do you have to stand there and take it? Of course not!
In the beginning, if I experienced one of these hard-hitting imbeciles, I would just simply remember not to partner them in the future and avoid them at all costs. Sensible approach in my mind. But then one day, the class was so small, the 6 of us rotated around and around and there was no escaping anyone. And that’s when I had no other choice but to speak up, a rather pathetic “erm… can you… errr…. not hit me as hard?… please?”
When the reply was “oh yea sure, I am so sorry, I didn’t realise”, I realised my error – they weren’t imbeciles. I had been the idiot for not speaking up! If you don’t like something, either change it or ask for it to be changed.
Knowing this as boosted my confidence in the simple act of asking and speaking up about something if you are not happy. You don’t have to stand there, physically or metaphorically, while you’re being punched in the face.
Life lesson 4: Relax
When kick boxing, I am constantly being reminded to relax by my instructors when punching and sparring because the more relaxed your body is, the more flexible you become, which in turn makes your technique better.
On one particular grading, I was so tired thanks to a late-night birthday (the kind of party where it is “oh just one more drink”), I was too tired to even think about being worried or scared for the exam. I just got up and went to the dojo. Result? My body relaxed, my mind wasn’t worried about what to expect and I did the best sparring I have ever done, which managed to get me a (rarely given) first grade!
This is true for life too!
Relax a little, don’t be so rigid and stop your mind from worrying about the “what ifs”. You’ll find that things become a lot easier and are a lot more enjoyable.
Life lesson 5: Practice makes perfect
This is a classic, but I am afraid it is true. Practice really does make perfect. And you know what else? If you first don’t succeed, try and try again! It is boring but so truthful in life too. We can’t all be naturally gifted in everything that we do but there is no reason why we can’t dedicate a little time and effort to learn and practice. A learning curve for me was also seeing practice as enjoyable, fun and something I wanted to do (rather than ‘have’ to do). If you see it as a chore, you’ll resent having to practice to become perfect.
Life lesson 6: Be observant
Am I the best fighter in my class? Damn right! I am not! But have I won matches and passed demanding exams? Most certainly!
So how can you win a fight if you’re not at the top of the game? Wishing that your partner is having an off day can only get you so far!
My advice, be observant.
Watch others. Even if you don’t learn through someone else’s superior experience, you can always learn through your own simple observation. Even when I was partnering people my level or lower, I would still learn from each and every one of them, simply observing how they did things differently to me.
There was a guy in my class on a Tuesday that had a bad habit of starting to let his guard down half way through the match when he started to tire. The perfect time for me to land a jab. And there was a tall teenager who use to have his guard far too high up for me (because I was about his waist height) so would leave his torso exposed to me for a hook. And whilst my arm reach might mean I’ll never be able to jab my way to winning with anyone tall, my natural flexibility meant I could always plant a round-house kick to their chest or head. I may not have been the best, but observing other’s weaknesses meant I could see exactly where to shoot my arrow to find their Achille’s heel.
Don’t underestimate the power of observation, be aware of your surroundings and look for opportunities to make your move.
Life lesson 7: Improvement isn’t linear
The trouble with improvement and development is that we seem to think that it is a linear progression. That every hour of practice we put in, the better we automatically become.
This is a misconception. Success isn’t a straight line, but instead a wandering, wavy road up and down a mountain’s path. Sometimes it can even feel like two steps forward and one step back! Not every day is the same situation so you can’t expect your progress to be linear.
Sometimes when kick boxing I feel elated that I have finally mastered that double backwards kick… only for me to feel so disappointed the next lesson when it isn’t as good. But there could be a whole host of reasons for this – perhaps I am particularly tired that day or my muscles aren’t as warm or flexible, or perhaps I haven’t eaten the right foods the day before for optimum energy. The situation is different.
Progress isn’t linear. Realising this through kick boxing has made me a lot kinder to my development in other areas too, like my career or learning Japanese. As long as you are committed to trying and learning, then you’re on the right road to success, however up and down it might be.