Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Saturday, October 14, 2023

The Other Benefits of Martial Arts Training

Below is an excerpt from a post that appeared at The Tai Chi Notebook, on some sometimes overlooked benefits of martial arts training. The full post may be read here.

One observation I have on ‘internal’ martial arts is that there there is often very little focus on the ‘internal’ qualities to a human being. Or if they do address them then it is, not directly and often in passing.

I’m not talking about things to do with forces, or the body, like Qi, Xin and Jin. Yes, the Yi (intent or mind) is mentioned all the time in the Tai Chi Classics, but it’s always in relation to fighting, or releasing and accepting forces on the body. “Quelle surprise”, you might say, since Tai Chi is a marital art, but if I contrast ‘internal’ martial arts with ‘external’ martial arts for a moment, the discussion there is often on the internal qualities of a human that internal martial arts, ironically, neglect.

I’m talking about things like self-control (temperance), endurance and patience.

The goal of improving these internal qualities has been the goal of practical philosophers since man first decided to ponder his/her existence. I could quote from LaoTzu here, but I find it more explicitly written by the Greek philosophers, particularity the Stoics.

In Chapter 10 of the Greek classic of Stoicism, The Enchiridion, we find:

“On the occasion of every accident (event) that befalls you, remember to turn to yourself and inquire what power you have for turning it to use. If you see a fair man or a fair woman, you will find that the power to resist is temperance (continence). If labour (pain) be presented to you, you will find that it is endurance. If it be abusive words, you will find it to be patience. And if you have been thus formed to the (proper) habit, the appearances will not carry you along with them.”

Epictetus, The Enchiridion

Sure, these internal qualities can certainly be learnt from any martial art, however I find it is the external martial arts that really emphasise them. Many Taekwondo schools use the goal of improving your inner qualities as the main sell in their marketing approach. For example, I just did a Google search for Taekwondo clubs in the local area, clicked on Tiger martial arts, and what do I find written on their website, in all caps, so you can’t miss it?


This is followed up with “We give students the focus and confidence to achieve in all areas of their lives.  Yes, you can learn to take care of yourself in dangerous situations, but really it’s about learning to use your mind and body like a martial artist – learn how to control your body and your mind, and you will be set up for life.”

It’s the same with Karate. I did another random search on Karate clubs and found Bristol Karate Academy whose motto is “virtue in industry” from “Virtute et industria” — or by virtue and industry — from the city of Bristol, which dates back to at least 1569. They explain how that relates to the values of their club on their About us page:

“So what does that mean for us?

Virtue (美徳): We have integrity, in our commitment to traditional, effective Karate and integrity in the way that we treat others. We are respectful, fair and aim for high moral standards. We build character, strive for excellence and show courage in the face of challenges.

Industry (勉励): We work hard to reach our goals. We’re diligent and determined to get better at every single training session. We are rigorous in our approach to improvement and dedicated to our own and each other’s development.

Through hard, honest training we become our best possible selves”

Again, while I’m sure they can kick-ass with their karate, the emphasis in their motto is on the internal qualities of a human being. It’s about becoming your best possible self.

I know what you’re thinking – “perhaps it’s about teaching children?” Things like Karate and Taekwondo can be very orientated towards teaching children, and you obviously don’t want to be raising a hoard of little ninjas who have no idea about the moral implications of using their marital arts. However, it’s not just non-Chinese marital arts that have a heavy emphasis on building moral character. Similar ‘external’ Chinese martial arts do too, and those tend to have as much emphasis on adults as children. Also the moral aspects were there right from the beginning in the Southern arts.


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