5 Ways That Martial Arts Can Make Us More Virtuous
Different people choose to pursue martial arts training for different reasons, depending on their specific goals and objectives. Possible reasons for learning a martial art include acquiring self-defense skills, improving overall personal fitness, developing better coordination, obtaining increased flexibility… the list goes on and on.
However, studying a martial art—whether it’s or wushu—is also a great way to become a more virtuous and ethical person. Here are 5 ways that learning a martial art can teach you about virtues and ethics.
Patience is the capacity to tolerate delays or problems without getting angry or upset. Unfortunately, in today’s fast-paced, high-tech world of instant communications and instant gratification, patience is at an all-time low. Anxious shoppers rush for the shortest line at the supermarket; a homeowner wants the contractor to finish renovating their house within an unreasonable timeframe; people get frustrated because they have to wait through a 15-second ad before watching an online video…
If we stop to think about it, however, we realize that the best things in life are those that require patience and hard work over the course of a nontrivial timespan. Whatever martial art you ultimately pursue, you obviously can’t obtain a Black Belt (or its equivalent) in a matter of days, weeks, or even months. Precisely because it requires years of hard work, learning a martial art will enable you to cultivate the precious virtue of patience.
Courage is the ability to face difficulties and danger bravely; to boldly endure life’s trials and tribulations. People may vary in their degree of courageousness. But even the most intrepid among us may find our courage diminished through unforeseen failures and disappointments in our lives, such as not being admitted to the university of our choice, developing an illness, going through a divorce, or getting fired from a job.
On your first day as a martial arts student, you may find yourself walking into a room of strangers to learn a skill that is completely foreign to you. Making it through that first day will already ignite that initial spark of courage. And in every subsequent class, you will gradually gain courage and confidence through a cycle of failure and success, as you gradually hone your skills. Your instructor and fellow practitioners will encourage you to never give up, and to keep trying until you succeed. Courage will naturally develop as a byproduct of this process.
Self-discipline is the ability to control your impulses and stay focused on the task at hand. Sometimes it involves forcing yourself to persevere and keep working, even when you’d rather just relax. If you need a classmate or colleague to tell you to “get (back) to work,” even though you already knew the task was waiting for you, it’s a sign that you lack self-discipline.
Training in any martial art can boost your self-discipline by forcing you to control your impulses and desires, and, instead, focus on what you ought to be doing. Whether you’re learning wushu, karate or taekwondo, becoming proficient will involve a lot of preparation on your own time, which could include practicing with fellow students, weightlifting multiple times a week, etc. No one can force you to do these things; you will do them because you’re committed to improving your skills and technique. Over time, your self-discipline will grow by leaps and bounds.
Respect means recognizing the feelings, wishes and beliefs of others, and treating them with dignity. We should be respectful to our friends and family, our classmates and teachers, our peers and colleagues—and, indeed, everyone with whom we interact. Although there is a saying that “respect must be earned,” it’s still beneficial to approach each new interpersonal interaction with at least a basic level of respect.
All martial arts place a strong emphasis on respecting your body, your fellow students, and your master (or instructor). You will learn to respect other students’ effort, passion, and positive attitude. Naturally, you will respect your master’s wisdom, experience, and commitment to imparting his knowledge and techniques to younger generations. Your instructor will also respect your work ethic, dedication, and integrity. Finally, as you develop the other virtues discussed herein (such as patience, courage and self-discipline), your self-respect will also increase.
Humility is the quality of being humble, which entails being modest about your abilities, achievements, or credentials. It is important to note that humility does not mean that you should have low self-worth, low self-esteem, or low self-confidence. Rather, it means that you should avoid having an over-inflated ego or a grandiose sense of self-importance.
Studying a martial art—whether it’s Shaolin Kung Fu, tai chi or ju-jitsu–will help you to become a humbler person, because you will be learning a new skill from scratch. Even after you’ve been practicing for years, there will always be other practitioners who are more proficient than you. Your sense of humility will grow as you recognize your fellow students’ strengths, not to mention your instructor or master’s advanced level of skill and expertise, which was likely cultivated over the course of decades.
Today, there are literally hundreds of martial arts styles (and thousands of substyles) available to choose from. Whether you decide to pursue tai chi, Jeet Kune Do, judo, or some other martial art, your initial inspiration might be to enhance your overall fitness, improve your self-defense capabilities, or increase your speed and agility.
But as we’ve seen, learning a martial art can also instill essential virtues in students, including patience, courage, self-discipline, respect and humility, among others. As you progress in your martial arts studies, you will naturally become a more virtuous and ethical person, which is a benefit that will endure for the rest of your life.