Personal Improvement

Why Practice Martial Arts?

Everything went blurry for a few seconds. I soon realized it wasn’t getting any better. I blinked hard. No improvement. I blinked again. The clock stopped, and my opponent came over to see if I was all right. It was then that I realized that my contact lenses had fallen out from a kick to the head. Thank goodness it wasn’t a concussion, I thought.

This was one of my few experiences sparring in a martial arts tournament. I’ve been practicing Seikido – a martial art based on Taekwondo and Aikido – for the past 3 years at Western. Here I’d like to share some of the benefits martial arts can bring. Full disclosure here: club’s week is coming up and I will be promoting Seikido club. Nevertheless, what I am about to write is genuine. It also applies to most martial arts, not just Seikido.

I consider myself somewhat academic. That means I like to think, and would do things to improve or prolong my ability to do so. According to research published in the journal Aggressive Behaviour, martial arts practitioners gain greater degrees of self-sufficiency and self-control than people who do so-called “power sports”, such as rugby. The research was conducted based on longitudinal data from judo practitioners, which controls for selection bias. In other words, martial arts don’t just appeal to cool-headed people. They help develop them.

This makes sense in practice. If you observe a class of Seikido, you will see how much our instructor emphasizes breathing. Practice for a few months, and you will appreciate the importance of coordinating movement with breathe. The process is meditative. Try thinking of anything else when you’re sparring and kicks are flying towards your face. Practicing martial arts is a process of subdued violence, the art of controlled chaos.

Of course, many people who practice martial arts are not there to spar. When I first started Seikido, I was captivated by the self-defence aspect. Take a couple of simple wrist movements, apply them to the right joints, add a few degrees of pronation, and you’ve got yourself a dangerous masterpiece.

The multifarious aspects of Seikido mean there are plenty of diverse practitioners. I’ve met a neurosurgeon who claimed that picking up Seikido was one of the best decisions he’s ever made (it’s starting to sound cultish, I know). There’s also a beer-drinking, poutine-loving philosophy professor who is now in Vancouver. Some black belts have been part of the army or police force. University students come from science, kinesiology, business, art, history, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

The central figure holding all of us together is our instructor Grandmaster Petkovic, whom we affectionately call by his first name, Master Zeke. Master Zeke’s idea is that martial artists – including ones practicing other arts besides Seikido – form a global community, bound by similar philosophies of life. The creed behind any martial art always includes elements such as humility, openness, and harmony, qualities that, according to Master Zeke, are desperately needed in our individualistic society. Enter any dojo in the world, he would say, tell them what you’ve been trained in, and there you will find friends.

At the end of the day, practicing martial arts comes back to intrapersonal development. Certainly, other people help you along the way. Kicks to the face can knock a few degrees out of an overblown ego, while a word of encouragement from a fellow practitioner bolsters confidence. That said, martial arts is ultimately a competition against yourself. The best practitioners are not necessarily the ones who kick the fastest, or punch the hardest, but the ones who persevere to the end.

Shameless plug time: If you would like to check out Seikido, follow our Facebook page, and visit our booth at the rec centre next week.

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