Wednesday, August 20, 2008

So, why do you train?

What is the goal of training? Why do we go through the thousands of repetitions with precise attention to detail?  I've heard a definition of discipline as the ability to defer gratification to gain a desired outcome - so what outcome does our discipline get us?
You can’t really make it your goal to win real fights because that’s a goal you hope you never have the opportunity to test. Plus, that goal is not completely in your control - the other fighter has some say in the matter. Plus, when you do get into a real fight, even if you do win, then it can be hard to tell if it was really your training that tipped the scales in your favor or if it was your physical fitness or just circumstance.
Sportive competition is just a limited form of duel combat, so it sorta falls into the 'win fights' category above.
You can set a goal to ‘master’ the system – that is, to learn to do all the kata and exercises and drills in the system and get better and better at them, but then you are working toward mastery of an abstraction rather than mastery of reality (the system is not the thing itself - the map is not the territory).
Training for health is a strange goal because you can’t ever measure success – you can’t really measure the non-existence or non-occurrence of untoward health states and events. You can train to get more fit, but then you are left with the question, “fit for what?” What do you want to use your improved strength, reflexes, speed, agility, etc… to do? And that leads you back to fighting, competition, or mastery of the system.
Some people train for the social interaction and the enjoyment. They just think it is fun and they enjoy being around the folks in the class. But then they eventually end up asking themselves, “Am I getting any better at this?” and you’re back to trying to set a measurable goal.
Some people claim that they train in a martial art because it is a spiritual experience. By this, I think they mean it gives them a venue to explore some of the intangible aspects of human performance under stress. I think it is pretty rare that martial artists claim to be communing with the supernatural or transcending to a higher state as part of their practice.
Some folks train because it satisfies an obsessive compulsion within them. They might just as well enjoy participating in most any ritualistic activity. Some of these practitioners crave the clean, systematic orderliness of the dojo as an antidote to a chaotic life.
So, why do you train?  What do you get out of your training?


  1. I train in martial arts largely as a result of one weekend. In one weekend, I spent time with my dad, 35 years older than I (then 70 years old). He still moves like a much younger man. He has energy, strength and agility, physically and mentally. While he has experienced some age related illness, he manages these with minimal chemical assistance. He's in good health.

    In contrast, I saw my brother, 10 years older than I (then 45). He has adult onset diabetes, high blood pressure and a high risk for heart disease and at 45, too something like 9 prescriptions and some kind of regular injection to manage his ailments. He was overweight, moved like a much older man and was in poor health.

    It was clear to me at 35 years old that I was at a cross roads and looking at my kids, the choise was very easy.

    I train in BJJ specifically because it stimulates me mentally and physically. It's fun, and I can "play" as hard as I want with minimal risk of injury. Because grappling is a soft art, I can spar at close to full intensity while maintaining control of my own safety and that of my partners.

  2. I just reread my last comment. I'm not sure how I managed to spell "choice" with an 'S'. I'm sure my 4th grade spelling teacher just felt a cold chill up her spine and is probably wondering why.

  3. Ha! good comment, Steve. Well thought-out and well put.

    I just figured that 'choise' was the British spelling of the word ;-)

  4. My reason for starting is simple: I saw a black and white Ueshiba video and it looked like magic and I wanted that. As for why I continue to change...that is constantly changing. One day it's because if I ever did have to defend myself, I'd like to be as prepared as possible. On any other given day, it's because I feel a unique connection with another human being during a technique that feels amazing. Other days, it's just fun. I can't give one reason, and there are a bunch more beyond what I've already put.

  5. That almost provoked a whole post, because there's just a lot that goes into it that would be interesting to explore. But to keep it short, I'd say I train:

    1) Not to win fights, so to speak, but to give myself, should I wind up in a violent altercation in this world full of crooks and nutballs, a much better chance of making it home alive and unharmed.

    2) To stay reasonably fit and functional into my old age. I work with an awful lot of sick old people, and it's very hard not to notice that the surest way to a miserably sick old age is to be overweight and out of shape.

    3) To challenge myself against a very exacting standard.

    4) To be a part of preserving a body of knowledge that is, truthfully, in danger of dying out, at least in this form. There are less than five thousand people, worldwide, that belong to this association. I am reasonably sure that the very small handful of other Okinawan karate organizations teaching a similar curriculum have similar numbers. Despite the plethora of books and videos on the subject, it seems to me that the number of people whose systems regularly and systematically incorporate these old techniques is very small, at least in comparison to the hordes of people practicing Taekwon-do and Shotokan.

    5) Because, for some reason, I have always had it pounding through my brain-housing group, "You need to be able to fight. Maybe not everyone does, but you do." Assign whatever reason for it you will, but it seems to be part of my mental makeup.

  6. Personally I train to win in a confrontation because I truely believe that Chance favors the prepared mind.

    I also train for a more spiritual reason, to defeat the ego within myself from killing another human being.

    I have spoken to many martial artist of different styles and many of them have never had a physical confrontation outside of the dojo. I, on the other hand,feel that I have had far to many. Through this practice of aikido, I have learned to control myself in times of confrontations, whether they be physical or verbal (well, still working on the verbal part).
    Maybe it's because of my environment and military experiences that I am violent in nature but I have made a personal choice to change this.

    As an instructor, I have often wondered why my students return each week. I don't charge for training but many people pay alot to train and I'm curious to know why. Aikido is a martial art, the highest form of the martial arts and the martial arts were developed for self protection. If self protection isn't part of your traing why waste your time and money with it, you can easily take up ballroom dancing and recieve complete enjoyment from that.

  7. I had to give this one a little thought, and it's nothing all that profound. I'm sure i'll come up with something for a wider audience or something that makes more sense after i submit this.

    I think i keep training (and i use that word losely with my training schedule of late) mainly because it's something to constantly work at/with. A kind of logic puzzle i guess. I can, and usually do, learn something fresh and new every time i turn around. The techniques, and more importantly (to me) the ideas can be plugged in to a variety of different things. There's always another hurdle to overcome, but i wouldn't say i'm in it to master the system.

    From where i stand i think that training for a long time in any martial art leaves a huge open-ended experience that...thought from other standpoints might seem like mastery, to the pearson that is at that particular plateau there's always more room to grow. Maybe i'm making it out to be some romantic idea but i like the thought of that.

    Also i have fun, and i'd have to agree with John that there is a twinkle of something special in a great aikido move that i never found in any of the other martial arts i tried.

    Though self defense is a part of the game, i don't think i'd be able to say that's my primary drive. I've never felt particularly threatened or unsafe enough to need to learn how to protect myself but I do feel more capable of being able to do so from my training and that's a comforting thought. And if you're comfortable in a tense situation that may arise i think that's a huge boon to making it safely out of said situation.

    I may have lost my point, my blog is called epic ramble for a reason, but i think my jumble of words may have created a sense of what i meant and sometimes that's just as good.

    I have to agree with Mr. Paden, this is so going to become a blog post.

  8. I think more important than just why I train, is why I train Aikido/Judo.

    I've done karate as well, but did not chose to continue training in it. Though I feel the need to learn to defend myself, I just couldnt stick with it. Perhaps it was because I am a very non-competitive person, I am not sure.

    Aikido on the other hand is more than a defensive art to me, it is a way to interact in everyday life. People have asked why I do it and I always reply it is a martial art that is equally skilled at defending yourself from an athletic knife wielding maniac, as well as old women and unruly kids.

    To be able to keep someone from harming yourself AND not being forced to cause physical damage to the other individual is a gift.... and it avoids lawsuits. So its not about winning the fight, just not losing it.

    Also, if you've ever fallen off the back of a truck, or off a ladder, or slipped on tennisball, and rolled to count less broken bones as a goal in life...

  9. I have enjoyed all of y'all's responses and I agree with all of you, but I think Bryce's and Andy's were the ones that resonated the most with me today and motivated me the most today.

    Thanks guys.

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  11. People who do practice seriously for health, probably use a more rigorous definition than the apparent absence of disease.

  12. I train because I have always done it and it is fun, I would have quit many years ago if this were not the case...I am 54 and have been training all my life...but I would have quite many years ago if it were not fun

  13. Matial Arts keeps you young, the key is finding a school or teacher where it is tough but nobody gets any serious injuries,,,simple you get hurt you cant train

    I see guys my age 50+ that quit 20 years ago and they look 20 years older than those of us still on the mat 3 days a week


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