The Phases of Being a Martial Artist
As I checked my cumbersome six-foot bo staff case in at the Southwest ticketing counter for a trip to teach private lessons in San Diego, the employee asked a familiar question: “Are these fishing poles?”
When I told him it actually contained martial arts equipment (I’ve learned to never say “weapon” at the airport), he was surprised. He immediately complimented my dedication for spending 15 years studying the martial arts. After some small talk, I left him with a “Thank you, sir” and began to ponder this unique feature of most martial artists. We typically begin our training in childhood and fall in love with a particular style. Some of us even make a career out of it. I believe that this life journey of a martial artist can be generalized into three phases: Introduction, Growth, and Sharing.
The Introduction Phase has by far the most variability. People begin their martial arts training for a wide variety of reasons and school owners, as they should, market to these motivations furiously. Some children are bullied and begin martial arts to learn self-defense and build confidence. Others watch superhero movies packed with traditional combative techniques and modern acrobatics and sign up for classes to become the next Batman. Many students start at an older age to begin a fitness quest or simply challenge themselves with a new learning endeavor. A few, like myself, are fortunate enough to be introduced to the martial arts by a positive role model. My first-grade teacher was a black belt at a local tae kwon do school. At a school carnival, I won a silent auction for a two-week introductory course. I ended up sticking around long after those two weeks had passed.
However you wound up in your art, the reason you found your way to this blog is because you are still enthralled with it. Martial artists love the principles that we are taught, the thrill of a human chess match in combat, and the simultaneous elegance and strength demonstrated when running a form. These are the things that propel us into The Growth Phase.
The Growth Phase is a selfish one, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. For some martial artists this phase begins the moment they line up in class the first time, at the back of the room looking at the array of colors around the waists of those ahead of them. The moment a martial artist sees the rainbow of belts hanging on the wall of the school, a goal is formed. We can’t wait for the day we get to have the black one tied around us.
This starts a journey of self-improvement in which we strive to learn as much as we can from our instructors and invest hours of blood, sweat, and tears into our craft. As each month of training passes, we become more confident: We stand up to bullies, unlock more Batman-esque moves, lose another few pounds, and ultimately become focused on being the best that we can be. What’s most fascinating about The Growth Phase is what we discover at the end of it. We realize that becoming the best version of ourselves is great, but teaching and sharing the martial arts with others is one of the most euphoric things that a human can experience.
This realization marks the beginning of The Sharing Phase, the most important phase in the life of a martial artist. At this point we have gained an appreciation and admiration for all the incredible things that martial arts has done for our lives. This deep respect drives us to share the martial arts with as many people as we can reach.
Martial artists have become increasingly creative in how they share their beloved way of life. School owners take on teaching the martial arts as a profession and their success is quantified by the effectiveness of their teaching and the number of lives they are able to impact. These school owners are the largest group of martial artists in the sharing phase and they impact hundreds to thousands of students each.
Some of the most skilled martial artists take their talents to Hollywood to perform in stunts and become the next superhero that kids want to grow up to be. Others choose to compete for many years to develop a platform through which they can inspire thousands of children, not only with their performances, but also by teaching private lessons and seminars. The rest of the martial artists that enter The Sharing Phase become consultants that help school owners become successful, employees of companies like Century that provide enough product for millions of individuals to train, and so many other possibilities that a life in the martial arts can provide.
I also believe that it is possible to live in all three of these phases simultaneously. I find myself being introduced to new styles of martial arts all the time at open tournaments or the MAIA SuperShow. I continue to grow as a martial artist by pursuing the unobtainable goal of perfection and innovating new bo tricks as often as I can. I also love living in The Sharing Phase and spreading my love for the martial arts by teaching and performing. In fact, I am beginning a new endeavor in The Sharing Phase.
This particular blog is the first in a series of blogs that I will be authoring indefinitely. I am humbled and honored by this unique opportunity to share the martial arts and I hope you enjoy this journey with me as we explore all aspects of the martial arts from traditional history to contemporary innovations and everything in between.