Why do you practice?

December 4, 2009

When you think about it, practicing martial arts is a huge waste of time. Unless you’re in an environment where you expect to actually get in fights (military, police, bouncer, etc.), the odds that you’ll actually get to use your training are fairly low. Practicing weapons, that’s doubly true – I’ve spent I-don’t-know-how-many thousands of hours practicing with a sword, with no expectation of ever using it to defend myself. If you are only interested in fitness, you’d probably get better results by doing aerobics or pilates. So, why do we bother? The answer is different for everyone, and at some point you have to decide for yourself what you’re looking for, or you won’t follow through with your practice.

I had such a moment recently. Since my Sensei got in a motorcycle accident last year, he hasn’t been teaching, so I’ve been looking for another group to join. For the last six months or so, I’ve been practicing kali (aka escrima) with Doug Marcaida and the Rochester Kali group. Guro Marcaida is amazingly skilled, and an excellent teacher, but I found that I was having a lot of trouble getting myself to practice and go to class, beyond simple laziness (which is my constant enemy). Finally, I sat down and thought about what it was that I wanted to get out of martial arts, and whether I was getting it from kali.

My goal from my practice is control. I’m primarily after self-control, but control of self, taken far enough, provides control of others. This is most obvious if you look at the purely physical (good structure and movement lets you easily overpower someone whose structure and movement are less good), but it works on the mental plane as well.

Kali is a pure combat art. The Filipinos have been using it to kill people for hundreds of years, and are still using it today. The people I was training with were, in large part, people who expected to use the art in practice: police, bouncers, etc. Because of this, I had a hard time connecting to what they were doing. They aren’t after control as an end in itself – they need control insofar as it makes them more effective combatants, and no farther.

There’s a lesson in this that everyone should consider carefully. You need to know what it is that you want out of your martial arts practice. There are no right or wrong answers, and your answer will likely change over time, but if you don’t know, then you’re not going to be able to tell whether what you’re doing is right for you.

Why do you practice martial arts? This is a serious question – I’d really be interested in feedback from anyone who reads this.



  1. I train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) for confidence, exercise, and self-defense. Ultimately, the self-defense aspect is the main reason. This is perhaps why I have chosen BJJ. Many arts can provide a host of similar benefits; however, in my humble opinion, only a few are truly effective for self-defense. That said, I train with a variety of ninja weapons as well. I cannot walk around with a Katana in my belt, so in this case, I simply train with them for entertainment.

  2. Just stumbled upon your blog, and will say I have found it very informative! When I started to get seriously into martial arts it was largely from a sense of weakness in terms of being able to defend myself should a need arise — which, in truth, was probably more paranoia than was reasonable. 🙂 Now, I study martial arts (and really, any formalized patterns, being a composer and performance musician) as a means to better understand the world on a larger scale. Just like in music or martial arts, or any pursuit for that matter, I think the farther we go down our path the closer all the paths seem to converge. Keep on posting!

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