When you think of martial arts, is the first thing that comes to your mind brutality or, at best, Bruce Lee or Kung Fu Panda? If so, it's time to change it and sign up for your first practice session, because these fine sport disciplines are open to anyone who can understand their underlying philosophy.
MYTH #1. Martial arts trigger aggression
Associations with violence are likely the most off-putting myth about martial arts. They stem from the widespread confusion between martial arts and combat sports – in the latter, the aim is indeed the effective elimination of the opponent in a usually brutal, extremely bloody and sweaty fight. These quintessentially sporty and spectacular athletic disciplines were created in contemporary times, and although they are rooted in ancient traditional martial art techniques, they have little to do with their original philosophy or tradition.
The term “martial arts” is reserved for combat styles which are not intended as a way to demonstrate one’s physical strength, but to use that strength purposefully, as a kind of energy originating from the awareness of one’s body in harmony with the mind. This is obviously linked to the philosophy of the Far East, known as the cradle of the most famous martial arts, including the Chinese kung fu and tai-chi, Japanese judo and karate, Korean taekwondo and Thai boxing. Although the oriental martial art styles differ significantly in terms of the striking techniques and dynamics, they are all focused on the pursuit of development, not only in the physical, but above all in the spiritual sense. They are also based on the premise that the art of striking should not be used to attack the opponent but for self-defense only.
In the martial arts philosophy, physical training goes hand in hand with training of the mind, which is why besides building muscle strength, improving coordination, agility and speed, you learn humility, respect for your opponent, as well as patience, consistency and controlling your emotions.
MYTH #2: Practicing martial arts is dangerous
Well, there is a grain of truth to this myth. Martial arts are not among the safest physical activities because they require physical contact with the opponent and include techniques which engage the entire body. Especially joints and tendons are at risk of injury, while contusions and skin abrasions are quite typical. However, remember that recreational martial arts practice does not have to be associated with constant pain or risk of injury – especially at the beginning, when you only start to learn striking techniques. What’s more, regular workouts under the guidance of an experienced trainer improve your body awareness, letting you avoid injury not only while engaging your opponent, but also away from the mat, e.g. when you instinctively use your safe falling skills practiced in judo classes.
Regardless of the discipline you choose or your proficiency level, a good warmup is necessary before each session. You do not need to worry about its correct composition – leave that to your instructor, who will start with aerobic or stretching exercises to prepare your body for more intensive activity and reduce the risk of injury to a minimum.
MYTH #3: Boxing is only for tough guys and karate requires a kimono
If you would like to try your hand at martial arts, forget about some popular misbeliefs. Some will tell you that boxing is a typically masculine sport and that you had better not forget a professional kimono to your first karate practice. Anyone can practise martial arts, whatever their age, sex or physical condition. Do not bother bringing any special outfits or accessories to your first practice session – put on some comfortable sport clothes and rent the necessary equipment, such as gloves or protection pads, in your selected sporting venue.
When choosing a sports discipline for yourself, focus on what you expect from the workouts.
For example, you can choose:
- to do meditative gymnastics in the form of the safe and contactless tai-chi;
- to improve your self-defense skills in karate or aikido classes;
- to build physical and mental strength and vent negative emotions through regular boxing workouts.