You see it all the time, martial arts schools advertising the benefits of their programs through positive words, things like; gain confidence, improve self-esteem, develop social skills, discipline for your child, bullyproof your child, improve your fitness, etc. And in providing my obviously bias opinion, I believe such promises are not far from the truth.
In drawing on my own experience I can provide a quick account of how martial arts has helped mould me in one very specific area, that being confidence.
I first started martial arts as a teenager. I was around 15 years old at the time and myself and my 2 good buddies had just started getting into Kung Fu movies. We tried a couple different martial arts at the time for very short periods, namely; boxing, Wing Chun Kung Fu, and from memory I think White Crane Kung Fu also. Soon after I stumbled upon the Brazilian martial art/dance Capoeira. I ended up training in Capoeira for 2 years until I finished high school and found myself a broke teenager surfing everyday with my mates and partying on the weekends. It wasn’t until about 6 years later at aged 23 when my then security supervisor suggested I learn a martial art to help with the job. He took me to a Muay Thai class at John Wayne Parr’s gym and for a time I was hooked.
The greatest character changes I took from my 3 years in Muay Thai were increased self-esteem and confidence. I can still remember, I had been training for 10 months when Angie asked if I would like to fight on their amateur fight promotion that same weekend. Three days away to be exact. I said ‘yes’ more because I was put on the spot than anything, but I was also intrigued by how I would go, and was very into trying many different new experiences at the time. My strongest memory of that experience was of the huge rush it gave me. But I also recall thinking along the lines of ‘What the hell am I doing here?’. Funnily, I had always been fearful of public speaking, and situations of being put on the spot in front of a crowd. At the time I was at university, and public speaking was a hugely stressful part of uni for me. But after this fighting experience public speaking was minuscule in comparison. From thereafter I had no fear of public speaking, and in time came to really enjoy it, so much so that I know basically do it as a profession. I figured, I had been put on the spot in front of a couple hundred people, I had risked being humiliated in front of such people (e.g., getting knocked out), so doing a speech in front of 20 people at uni was nothing in comparison.
To add to this when I started working security at around 21 years of age I was 6’3″, 112kg of pure muscle, and scared. I was a big and strong young man, but was not confident in by ability, both physically and verbally. When working I would constantly have people make fleetingly but somewhat joking remarks such as, ‘I wouldn’t want to mess with you’ or ‘I bet you can fight’. Funnily though, such remarks couldn’t have been further from the truth. It was all a mask, the muscle was like a bird sprawling its feathers out so to make itself look larger and more intimidating in the presence of a threat. I couldn’t fight, in fact I didn’t like (and still don’t like) fighting. I was just saw myself as someone working a convenient job out of university hours, where I didn’t have to expend a whole lot of energy, and could save my energy to invest in my study. The muscle suit I was wearing was just a product of a pass time of lifting weights with my mates, and a conscious move to make myself appear more intimidating so to hopefully deter patrons from acting-out in my presence. Now over 10 years later, 3 years spent training Muay Thai and 7 in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I find myself back working security on the weekends whilst working on our new business during the weekdays. I can honestly say I am now around 15kg lighter, a whole lot less muscular, I walk around with a little belly when I’m not competing, I do not look intimidating in the slightest, however I am more confident in the job than ever. Martial arts has provided me a quiet confidence in my abilities. I can now work this security job with the knowledge that I likely have experienced more confrontational scenarios than these patrons, I have more tools both physical and mental to appropriately deal with such confrontation, I am likely physically fitter than most such patrons, functionally stronger, I likely have a better ability to remain calm in the face of confrontation, I am likely more aware of aggressive and confrontational physical and verbal cues, the list goes on and on. Martial arts training has provided me this comfort. And funnily people can sense this comfort. When I started security and was walking around like a man mountain, but a scared man mountain, many aggressors could sense this and would play on this; now I walk around in a far less intimidating manner but due to an emanated confidence I am approached in a lot more cautious manner by aggressors.
For me this positive change in confidence is priceless. It is not an outward confidence, a puffy-chested confidence, or an arrogant confidence. It is rather a quiet confidence; in a funny way it is a sense of feeling or having a little something special that others don’t. And I know this feeling is not only reserved for myself. Funnily, I sat down to start writing this blog in the morning and this same night one of our new students of around 3 months training shared an experience with me exactly along these lines. Out of nowhere in our conversation he commented on how beneficial Jiu-Jitsu had been for him by way of confidence. He told me that he is feeling more confident in many areas of his life, but specifically he provided an experience he had encountered the night before. He mentioned that while playing touch footy against a rival club one of the rival members lost his cool and started becoming aggressive to the point of calling people out to fight. This member of ours said the aggressor had come up to him, ripped his tags off (which is just hilarious), and started to call him out for a fight. Our member told me that he wasn’t into fighting, he in fact had never had a street fight. But most surprising to our member was his own calmness in this situation. He said he didn’t get the usual nerves, anxiety, and adrenalin spike that he had experienced in the past when he had been called out for a fight. He said he felt calm, in control of his thoughts and emotions, but somewhat ready for what might ensue. This member had told me he had never felt like this before in such situations, in the past he would have freaked-out, and become very nervous and anxious. And whilst the fight did not happen, this member was very surprised and impressed by his new found ability to handle such situations.
So I guess in concluding, as the title reads ‘Walk Taller’, for myself and I know many other martial artists out there it is undoubtedly the case that martial arts has provided them many positive life benefits, but for me none so pronounced as the boost in general confidence. I know many other martial artists out there have had similar experiences and I would absolutely love to hear of them. Please don’t hesitate to comment on this thread.
thanks for reading and happy rolling,
Co-owner At Flow Martial Arts