18 years. That’s how long it took me to man up and start learning how to fight.
I’d always wanted to learn a martial art, but for one reason or another, I just never got around to it.
It wasn’t until I moved away from home to study - and coincidentally eliminated all other distractions in my life - that I finally decided to get serious about fulfilling a childhood dream.
Those first few muay thai classes kicked my ass. My lungs burned, and my heart was close to popping… but I survived. And better yet, I left class feeling on top of the world.
Taking up muay thai has provided enormous physical and mental benefits. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of in my life.
If you’re thinking about taking up a martial art, my advice would be; DO IT NOW!
No more thinking, excuse making, and observing from the sidelines. Take action, get to the gym, and choose to be in the arena.
If you take on the challenge, your life will be infinitely better.
The infographic highlights the many benefits of martial arts, and then I'll deep-dive into each point and share some of the surprising ways learning a martial has changed my life in the article below.
1) Learn Noble Values
Although brutal at times, martial arts are a beautiful art form steeped in history and good ol' fashioned values like hard work, honour, and respect.
When you learn a martial art, you’re not just learning a particular fighting style. You’re learning about the history and culture of the art, and the vision the original creators had for it. You end up living the values of the art and those of your instructors.
Adopting these values has taught me what it means to give maximum effort, the value in never quitting, and how to think positively and to always play to win, but also how to be gracious in defeat.
2) Learn Respect
Respect is often lacking from today’s society. On the other hand, martial arts are founded on respect.
Bowing, wearing a uniform, not swearing, not taking advantage of lower ranks, and giving your instructor your undivided attention are just some of the ways respect is taught in the gym.
It instills a deep-rooted respect for the art, your instructors, fellow students, and the dojo, which has been a guiding light for many people.
Learning respect has altered the trajectory of the lives of disadvantaged youths, who were once caught up in drugs and petty crime, but who have gone on to become admired pillars of society.
3) Develop the Self-discipline of a Monk
Nothing can whip a young toe rag into line the way learning a martial art can. Turning up for training day in and day out takes enormous self-discipline.
Training is tough, and not always enjoyable. There will be times when your body aches, and your willpower tank is empty. Those that push through and make training a daily habit no matter what, develop incredible self-discipline.
The will to persevere and keep pushing developed through martial arts training also shines through in the workplace, school, sports, and other life challenges.
4) Personal Development On Steroids
Learning a martial art is no walk in the park. It's challenging and takes years to truly master.
You will be presented with constant trials in the long and arduous pursuit of becoming a master of the craft. Stepping outside your comfort zone and growing is a must if you are to learn new skills, attain the next grade belt, or compete in the ring.
Challenges embraced and conquered will lead to you becoming a bigger, better version of yourself that can handle much greater challenges, not only in martial arts, but in all areas of life.
5) There’s No Better Stress Relief
After a long day at the office, my mind is foggy, and I’m drained of energy. Crumbling into the sofa while stuffing my face with pizza and binge watching Netflix is all I want to do.
On the rare days I’ve given into this temptation, I’ve felt like a bag of shit shortly afterwards. But when I show up at the gym no matter how I’m feeling, it takes all of five minutes to completely transform my energy levels and psyche.
Trust me; there is no better stress relief than smashing pads or laying into the heavy bag.
Not only is hitting things great for relieving frustration, but the combined effect of endorphin release with increased exertion tackles stress from both ends.
Stress and work anxieties melt away in minutes, and I leave the gym feeling great.
6) Develop Unshakeable Confidence
Mastering a martial art is a great way of developing lasting confidence while learning a valuable skill.
Pushing yourself through tough training sessions is a daily confidence booster. Attaining the next grade belt gives you reassurance in your skills and abilities. And those that get in the ring and put themselves on display in front of a crowd are rewarded with an everlasting belief in themselves.
I’m a huge fan of personal development and believe it has its place in building confidence through positive self-talk and setting and achieving goals. But if you want that bold, there’s-no-way-you’ll-ever-break-me kinda confidence, ditch the Tony Robbins stuff and get your ass to the dojo.
7) Workouts That Don’t Suck
Why do we give up on gut-busting cardio workouts and punishing weight routines even though we know they’re good for us? I’ll tell you why, because they suck!
Let’s be honest; running on the same spot and lifting pieces of metal is FUCKING BORING!
We only do it for the reward. We do it for the rush of satisfaction we get after doing the hard thing. We do it because we like the way it shapes our bodies and for the strength it builds.
But if it weren't for these advantages, no one would engage in this form of manual labour.
Martial arts, on the other hand, are actually fun. Learning and applying fight techniques is an enjoyable way of getting your fitness quota.
8) Highly Efficient Workouts
Depending on the discipline, you can engage in a workout that builds strength, fitness, endurance, and flexibility in the one training session. Talk about being highly effective!
You don’t have to split your workout into strength days and cardio days, and then beat yourself up if you miss a day and your whole routine is thrown out of whack.
A typical martial arts class will involve stretching, heaps of fat shredding pad and partner practice, and lots of bodyweight exercise. Push ups, sit ups, squats, and burpees are the staple diet of the martial artist.
9) Build Mental Toughness
Learning to push through pain and keep on fighting no matter what, fortifies the mind and develops a never-quit mindset.
Being pushed to your physical and mental limits through thousands of pushups, killer rounds on the pads, and tough as hell sparring sessions will build an impenetrable mental fortress.
Through the challenges in training, you’ll become immune to the difficulties of life, and you won’t whine like a little bitch when something doesn’t go your way, or there’s hard work to be done.
You learn how to deal with discomfort (and even find joy in it), and so you just get on with it and do what has to be done.
10) Torch Calories Like A Furnace
Practicing a martial art is one of the best ways for losing weight.
Calorie burn depends on the specific exercises performed, the intensity, your weight, and your fitness. But as a rough guide, an average guy training for 60 minutes and weighing 70kg (155 lbs) can expect to shed:
- 425 calories with a heavy bag boxing workout
- 650 calories boxing sparring
- 720 calories in a Karate, Judo, Jujitsu, or Tae Kwan Do class
- 800 calories with a kickboxing class
11) Crank Up Your Metabolism
By building new muscle, burning fat, and increasing endurance, you’ll crank your metabolism all the way up to the max.
When I’m training heavily, I can devour seven or eight decent-sized meals a day and still lose weight!
I’m not an anomaly either. Most people report that they burn through calories faster than they can consume them even when they’re only training moderately.
Skip fad diets and take up a martial art. You’ll be able to eat a full, healthy diet and lose weight without starving yourself.
12) Healthy from the Inside Out
Most martial arts will involve periods of intense exercise followed by periods of moderate intensity which mimics the conditions of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
What’s so great about this type of training is that it is proven to build a strong heart and healthy cardiovascular system. Putting your heart through HIIT workouts will strengthen the muscle, allowing it to pump blood around the body more efficiently which will reduce your blood pressure.
Your body also turns into a fat burning furnace with interval training, and as you lose weight, you will reduce the amount of harmful cholesterol in your body.
13) Increase Endurance
As I mentioned, martial arts classes are bursts of energy for a few minutes followed by moderate intensity exercise in-between. Before long, your body will be conditioned to give maximum effort for the duration of a round (1-3 minutes) and be able to recover within a minute or two of rest.
However, as classes last 30-60 minutes with repeated cycles of intense movement followed by less active periods for the entire time, you’ll quickly build endurance.
You’ll notice that you have more energy throughout your day and you no longer suffer from afternoon energy crashes.
14) Pack on Lean, Athletic Muscle
The dynamic, full body workouts build toned, athletic muscle. Unlike weights routines that only make you “gym strong”, fight training builds functional fitness.
Your mind and body will be in a battle ready state and will be ready to tackle whatever life chucks at you, whether that be carrying the groceries, or defending yourself on the street.
Martial arts training is not concerned about achieving vanity metrics – like adding X kg’s of mass or having washboard abs – but is the pursuit of real skills that develop an incredibly fit and powerful body as a byproduct.
15) Make Friends and Get Social
The group training nature of martial arts makes it impossible not to make friends.
You’ll naturally become friends with your training buddies and gyms often host plenty of social events outside the dojo. You’ll find yourself inundated with invites to seminars, fight nights, fundraisers, and other social events.
If you’re a natural introvert (like me), you’ll also find that participating in classes is great for building social skills and developing confidence with people.
16) Positive Role Models
Young minds are impressionable, and it is the people that we encounter in the early stages of life that have the greatest influence on our attitudes, mindset, and ultimately, what we do with our lives.
It’s, therefore, vitally important that kids and teenagers have regular contact with positive and inspirational people of good character. The kind of people that have integrity, respect, treat others fairly, and who carry themselves with pride.
Finding adults with such values can be hard for some kids. However, youngsters that are involved in martial arts never find themselves short of positive role models whose behavior they can model and who they can turn to for advice.
17) Improve Coordination and Balance
Embarrassingly, many adults would struggle to stand on one leg for 30 seconds without toppling over. We rarely work on improving our coordination and balance unless we’re a dancer, athlete, or in some other field that requires control over fine motor skills.
Being in tune with your movements may not be top of your priority list, but it’s still a nice secondary benefit. Apart from improving your fight skills, it will make your everyday movements more graceful, and you’ll not be that guy knocking over drinks at the dinner table.
18) Increase Flexibility
As we age, our muscles, tendons, and ligaments become shorter, reducing our flexibility and causing us to feel tight.
Not stretching regularly can lead to joint pain, a reduced range of motion, problems with balance, the tendency to get injured easily, and could even lead to more serious mobility issues.
But there’s good news; stretching exercises are an integral part of martial arts training. Full body stretching routines are part of most warm up routines, and each strike is a dynamic stretch.
You’ll soon regain that suppleness of your youth and be flexible enough to head kick while looking after your long-term joint health.
19) Develop Laser Focus
Martial arts will teach you how to focus 100% on the task. You have to watch and actively listen to demonstrations so that you can follow through on instructions.
Kids benefit greatly from this type of teaching as they learn how to listen and block out distractions, which they can then apply in the classroom.
It’s also pretty hard to think about anything else when you’re engaged in training. That argument you had with your spouse before class or the looming deadline for a big project at work are long forgotten when your mind is occupied. Martial arts allows you to clear your mind and interrupt negative thought patterns.
20) Know How to Handle Yourself
It’s unfortunate, but bullying, violence just-for-the-fun-of-it, and loud-mouth drunken dickheads are a part of life. Through absolute no fault of your own, you can be drawn into a confrontational situation that could end up in a fight.
Learning a martial art will arm you with combat skills and the confidence to defend yourself and protect your loved ones in such situations.
Street fighting is different from martial arts fighting, but knowing and being able to apply a fighting system will allow you to beat the average, untrained guy on the street.
Very few pursuits, sporting or otherwise, offer the health and fitness benefits, confidence development, and overall sense of accomplishment that learning a martial art provides.
Trust me when I say that it will bring incredible value, well-being, and a sense of fulfillment into your life. It will be one of the greatest pursuits you’ll ever undertake.
If you’ve not already started your martial arts journey, what more convincing do you need?
If you’ve got a story of how martial arts has positively influenced your life, please share it in the comments below.