Training martial arts can make you more attractive, more confident, and help heal many of the childhood traumas you faced. Especially if you were bullied in the past.
Being bullied in childhood makes you vulnerable, afraid of confrontation, and worse with women as an adult. Training in the martial arts can show your inner child that you can handle the tough situations life throws at you.
In this episode, I reveal the 4 surprising therapeutic benefits you’ll unlock by training in the martial arts.
Listen to the episode now.
Show highlights include:
- The weird way martial arts frees you of your childhood fears that sabotage your confidence and courage today (4:38)
- The biggest therapeutic benefit of martial arts (and how it makes you more attractive to women) (6:45)
- How martial arts prevents you from “Hulking out” when you’re fuming with anger (7:22)
- The “Assertiveness Approach” that puts your confidence on steroids (15:28)
- How being a one-dimensional stereotypical person plunges your attractiveness (and how adding contrast to your persona makes you as attractive as James Bond) (17:12)
- The simple “Both And” method for becoming safer, sexier, and happier (18:31)
- How martial arts helps you land more dates than someone more naturally attractive than you (28:36)
Does your neediness, fear, or insecurity sabotage your success with women? Do you feel you may be unlovable? For more than 15 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find confidence, fulfillment, and loving relationships. And I can help you, too. I’m therapist and life coach David Tian, Ph.D. I invite you to check out my free Masterclasses on dating and relationships at https://www.davidtianphd.com/masterclass/ now.
For more about David Tian, go here: https://www.davidtianphd.com/about/
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Note: Scroll Below for Transcription
Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast, where we answer key questions in dating, relationships, success, and fulfillment, and explore the psychology of masculinity. Now here’s your host, world-renowned therapist and life coach, David Tian.
David: Welcome to the Masculine Psychology Podcast. I’m David Tian, your host.
Today’s topic is something near and dear to my heart and has been so since I was a young child, and over the last few years, especially in my work as a psychotherapist, I’ve noticed that this particular approach, which has so many benefits and is a great lifestyle choice—not just for its therapeutic benefits, but for just life overall—this particular approach is really helpful for people to develop and discover their natural self-confidence, courage and self-control—and this is all about the therapeutic value of martial arts. [01:01.5]
Over the last more than a decade of my work in helping men around the world become better with women, a big part of that work is helping men to discover this confidence in themselves and to be able to assert themselves naturally, and assert themselves in a way that doesn’t require a lot of effort and doesn’t create a lot of tension in their bodies and a lot of anxiety, but that is just a kind of natural expression of their values and of how they’re feeling.
But a lot of times, what gets in the way of that natural assertiveness and the ability to step up to a leadership role that might require some degree of social dominance or expressing being dominant in a social setting, what often gets in the way of that and creates this anxiety, nervousness and fear or, maybe even more accurately, terror, is the fear of not just safety, but especially physical safety that has its roots in childhood bullying or, in even more severe cases, abuse, physical or sexual, as a child. [02:09.0]
Now, in severe cases, especially for very young children, and especially in the cases of sexual abuse, in the early treatment period, I wouldn’t recommend a lot of big changes in lifestyle yet. A big part of the early stages of treatment is just distress tolerance and this kind of emotional endurance, and being able to stay mindful even when you’re triggered.
If that’s you, what I’m going to be sharing in this episode may not yet pertain to you, but I hope it will pertain to you later as you get better at being able to endure the uncomfortable feelings and sensations in the body that might get triggered whenever those memories come back of that childhood abuse. But sometime in the course of your treatment, I think that it’s very beneficial to explore martial arts taught and trained in the right way, so I’m going to be getting into the details of that here. Just got to make sure it’s the right way. [03:13.5]
In addition, anyone who has less than severe symptoms or less than severe cases of bullying, and often bullying by other classmates or peers at school is going to be, in general, and I know it won’t feel that way for those who are suffering the fear of being bullied, but it’s generally less severe emotionally and psychologically than childhood abuse by someone in the home or by someone that you trust as your caregiver in the home.
In those cases, the caveat—I was going to actually put this caveat out later, but I guess I’m starting with it—is in the cases of child sexual abuse, especially, but child physical abuse as well, and the younger the child, the more this is true, the place where martial arts in that treatment will come later. In the early periods, you just really want to practice and develop the skills of mindfulness of the emotional endurance and so forth, so that you can endure the triggering that comes up and then be able to work with it from there. [04:13.0]
If you’re in that place where you can tolerate that discomfort that comes from having to do any kind of work, really, any kind of growth, then exploring martial arts and embarking on a journey with martial arts can be very beneficial, and not just for therapy or therapeutic goals, but for your life overall.
Okay, great, so with that caveat out there right from the get go, I want to point out that the big promise of exploring and training in martial arts over the long term is a development of a naturally-occurring organic type of development of self-confidence, courage and self-control.
This is really important for those parts of you that are these child parts that are locked in their fears of the bullying or the abuse, so that they can trust that you have a track record of being able to learn how to take care of yourself, and then of being able to take care of yourself, and those are really important. [05:12.8]
It’s not just that you are depending on the graces of society or the structures in place in society to come to your rescue, because, in many ways, relying on the police to show up to protect you from a mugger or something is like waiting for the teacher to rescue you from the bully at school. That didn’t work, and in many cases at school, teachers and the adults kind of suck and don’t get it, and they’re never really there and it’s pretty relatively easy to evade them in terms of bullies picking on the kids and finding the right time to do so.
You’ve got to develop that within yourself, and if you haven’t yet as an adult, it’s no wonder why some of your child parts can’t relax and can’t trust you, because you actually haven’t taken the steps to learn how to be more resilient in yourself. [06:01.5]
Now, we know automatically as I’m saying that, that those among or whoever, if you’re listening and you’re a therapist, that there is going to be a sizable minority. I’m not sure exactly how many or what percentage of therapists might be triggered by the suggestion that you learn how to defend yourself and are maybe hardened to pacifists, judgmental pacifists who look down on anything that could be construed as violence. But I hope that you’re listening to this, and the podcast is called Masculine Psychology—so maybe that conjures up something along these lines here that you’re going to lean into these suggestions here—at least have an open mind as I explain how martial arts properly pursued can have a lot of therapeutic benefits.
Probably the biggest therapeutic benefit is being free from the fear of your physical safety and fear that you could become out of control. Part of the fear related to what could be construed as violence—construed as violence by those who don’t understand the skill element—is that if they give into it, then it will quickly lead to this repressed energy that they’ve been holding down for so long of their own anger and they’re even afraid of their own anger. [07:15.0]
I’ve done a whole series of a few podcasts in a row that has looked at the shadow and the dark side, and a big part of that is your own anger, and so if you haven’t actually dealt with your own anger and you’re afraid of what might happen if you give into or indulge—I think maybe the more accurate word for those who are stuck in that fear, I mean, indulging—your own anger that you could end up being like the Hulk and out of control, and then you’ll create all of these negative consequences that you’ll have to live down later, then that’s good that you are going to confront that through a controlled environment of a proper martial-arts training, because this will give you the outlet for accessing that anger that you’ve been repressing and then learning how to control it. [08:01.0]
Anyone who has been to a good martial-arts gym, if you tap into your anger while you’re sparring or rolling, or in any kind of training, it might be beneficial and fun and kind of a release to do that against the punching bag or even to do it against pads, though your pad holder might throw you down and call you out for it.
But if you were to do that against the sparring partner, especially if you’re a beginner and especially if you’re rolling against anybody who’s more experienced, you’ll quickly get shut down and realize how counterproductive anger is as a way of channeling skill in martial arts. It’s going to be counterproductive in almost every case.
A little bit of anger and maybe a little bit of aggression—so it’s not really anger then, right? It’s a little bit of leaning into that kind of killer instinct—can help, but if you’re feeling the full-on anger, you’re going to be making mistakes. You’re going to be sloppy. You’re going to be speeding up too fast. You’re going to be going out of control, and you’ll quickly get taken down or controlled or taken out.
That’s a great lesson to show you the anger itself that you are so afraid of actually isn’t very effective, and so it’s actually a really good way of encountering the limits of your anger, because you’re now with people who can handle your anger, and that’s a really important thing, because you are repressing your own anger and that’s what you’re really afraid of letting go on. [09:15.4]
You have not encountered your own anger in full, and because of that, you’re scared of it because you just make up these imaginary scenarios in your mind or you are around people, when you did let it out, who couldn’t handle it. But if you’re in a good martial-arts gym with good trainers and good training partners, they’ll be able to handle your anger, especially if you’re with good instructors, and because of that, they’re not afraid of it, and you’ll quickly find how counterproductive that is. But you also get this outlet, a kind of a physical outlet, for that pent up anger that is eating away at you from the inside.
Okay, a big part of the therapeutic benefits of martial arts, and I have four points I want to share, but I want to just start off with just the overall kind of big picture, the fear of physical safety and the fear of being out of control. Imagine you can be free of those. Imagine that you have the courage to face those and so much courage to face those that you don’t even feel those anymore. They don’t even enter into your considerations anymore, except in extreme cases when it comes to physical safety or being out of control. [10:18.6]
Okay, so this is a natural, fun and healthy way of developing a good degree of self-confidence, courage and self-control that can also tell your child parts that you’ve got this, and when you say to them, Look, I’ve got this. You can relax. The times are different now. Things are different. They will actually relax into trusting you because they’ve seen, or have kind of been there in the background and have noticed, that you have actually taken steps to arm yourself in this way that you can defend yourself intelligently and skillfully.
Okay, so just before I dive into the four points, one other thing I want to point out is that there’s this myth of harmlessness floating around, especially maybe the New Age or the therapeutic space. Of course, they wouldn’t call it harmlessness. They might go under the name of pacifism or something like that, the idea being it’s best to just not learn any forms at all of fighting because somehow that will help the whole world to stop fighting. [11:16.2]
If you just stopped for a moment’s reflection, you can see how ridiculous that is. That won’t stop the bullies. If you don’t know how to defend yourself and defend those you love, it will almost always embolden the bullies, especially if you have fear.
Now, if you don’t have fear and you still don’t know how to fight, the bullies might just stop picking on you because what they’re are really getting off is the fear actually, the terror they see in your eyes, because that gives them that significance. If you take that significance away and you kind of just look at them with pity as they’re beating on you, but you’re not afraid of this, then it takes the pleasure away from them. [11:53.5]
Almost always, a bully is not really into the action and doesn’t derive pleasure from the physical action. What he derives pleasure from is the emotional power and the psychological power he gets to exert over you as a result of the physical bullying—because if he just got off the physical bullying, he would just find bigger and bigger challenges, right? He would actually join a gym to do this. But it’s the emotional, psychological bullying as a result of the physical dominance that the bully gets off on, and that won’t stop if you are cringing in fear.
I’ve met quite a few therapists who say that they’re pacifists, but they’re just afraid, so it’s better to face your fears. Face your fears of the bully and assert yourself. Hold your ground. This is more important. This is more effective than being harmless or just thinking that not fighting will stop the people who are fighting.
What you want is—and I found this term somewhere in my research, but I can’t remember the source, but this is a fun way to put it—a badass pacifist. If you’re going to be a pacifist, be a badass pacifist. Now, the badass part in the pacifism is the badass knows how to defend himself and knows how to defend himself and those he loves and is ready to do so. [13:06.5]
The badass pacifist, which is a fun way to put it, is the archetype that I saw growing up in the Shaolin monk movies I was watching. My dad was a Christian pastor, a minister, and he was also a military man, having been enlisted in Taiwan at the time. I think even now, there’s mandatory conscription, so there’s mandatory military service. Back then, I think it was two years. Then he did another two years on top of that, so he was an officer, and part of his role was hand-to-hand combat training. Anyway, he used to train me since I was five years old in our basement in Canada in Kung Fu and military fighting insofar as a child could learn that.
Anyway, he also enjoyed or we enjoyed watching together lots of these Kung Fu movies on VHS and Betamax, if you guys can remember that, how long ago that was. We’d go to these specialty video stores in Chinatown and each week we’d get a new cassette tape, and we’d sit down and watch that together. [14:09.6]
The main hero in almost every case, the heroes were always reluctant fighters, like they never really wanted to get into a fight. They do everything to avoid it, but then when they finally fight, it turns out they can kick everybody’s ass and they’re the most powerful. Then the bullies are not very good fighters and they’re just pushing people around.
This was the common storyline that I saw over and over and over since I was five years old, and the “badass pacifist” is a good way to put it. The badass part is the hard part. It’s relatively easy to be the pacifist, in my opinion, but the badass part is what gives you that confidence.
Then just one other point to make here, which is the difference between aggressiveness and assertiveness. Now, aggressiveness is not healthy. It’s not going to be constructive. It’s not effective in creating interpersonal harmony or happy solutions for both sides, win-win solutions, despite whatever you might have heard from kind of toxic machismo masculinity. [15:07.8]
Assertiveness is different from aggressiveness and those very important distinctions to make. Assertiveness is simply defending your boundaries, defending yourself and its defense, so having a good defense, that’s sort of the badass pacifist.
Aggression is the bully, right? That’s the attacking. That’s entering into somebody else’s territory and invading. Assertiveness is defending your own territory. Now, if you can’t defend your own territory, if you can’t defend yourself, then no wonder your parts don’t trust you.
If you’re triggered by defending, if you have parts that are triggered by defending and you’re blended with those whenever the time comes, then no wonder the parts that are more vulnerable in you, your inner-child parts, can’t trust you to handle things, so they freak out.
From a therapeutic perspective, it is important, in my opinion, and in my experience and in all the research I’ve done, to learn how to defend yourself skillfully and effectively, and to allow or invite your more vulnerable inner-child parts to witness that and to feel the confidence that naturally emanates from you or that naturally emanates from someone who has the experience of learning martial arts. [16:16.2]
The <unclear 16:17.6>, actually, it didn’t define what martial arts includes, but I would include in there any kind of self-defense, any kind of effective self-defense. In America, I think a big part of that would include firearms training just because of how much easier it is in America as a kind of unique country to be able to obtain firearms and the prevalence of them. I think it’s important to be able to defend against them, to get to be knowledgeable about them, and so on.
I don’t really have an experience with that, not having lived in America for that long. I mean, I lived in Michigan for several years and then I did grow up in the ’80s in New York, New York State, but I personally don’t have experience with firearms. But I have a lot of experience with martial arts, but I would include firearms self-defense training under martial arts, just the ability to defend yourself and defend in terms of assertiveness. That’s really important. [17:06.4]
Just one other thing to bring up before I dive into the four points—this is a long preamble—is the contrast principle, and this is especially important for those guys who are following me because they’re trying to get better with women or improve their dating lives.
Contrast principle is an important aspect of attractiveness. If you are a one-dimensional kind of stereotyped figure or person and the persona you’re presenting is just easy to figure out, then it’s not going to create much intrigue. One thing that’ll make you really attractive is the contrast.
Now, that could mean that on the outside you look intimidating physically, so that no one is going to mess with you, which is a good way to go if you want to be free from the fear of physical safety, but then on the inside, you’re this cuddly love bug, right? This is an example of a real tough guy, kind of like a godfather figure, and then at his loved one’s funeral, you see him crying. It’s a powerful crying there from a big tough guy. [18:04.6]
Then the opposite can also be quite attractive. A gentleman wearing a tailored suit and appears to be a cultured, educated gentleman, and then you find out he also is a very high-level martial artist and is badass and is carrying, I don’t know, a cool firearm, knows how to use it and has a lot of control. I mean, just a James Bond kind of figure. That contrast is also really attractive and intriguing.
Notice it’s never either/or. It’s both/and, and if you can embrace both/and, you’ll not only be safer and sexier, you’ll also be happier, so embrace the contrast principle. In fact, one of the reasons you’ll be happier is because all of us have both sides of those in us. I’ve covered that in actually many episodes, but especially the ones on the shadow. [18:59.3]
We have all of that in us, both sides of the polarity, and being able to just appreciate that that’s in us and that both sides can be developed in a healthy way and in harmony, and especially if the leadership of your higher self can superintend which parts come out when, then you can have that badass pacifist option in you, so that you don’t only have to be harmless and end up emboldening bullies even further
Okay, getting into the four points now.
The first point is that traditional martial arts has built into the teaching and training of it a set of moral virtues. Here’s an example. I learned not just Kung Fu from my father in our basement since I was at a very young age, but also just before middle school and then for a number of years, several years, continued to train in taekwondo. [19:59.0]
This was sort of in the late-80s and early-90s in the suburbs of Toronto, and at that time, we didn’t have the option of Muay Thai or I didn’t see many boxing gyms. I’m sure there were some, but in the suburbs, the sort of white-collar suburbs of Toronto, we didn’t see any. There was judo. There were traditional martial arts. There was kendo. There weren’t any Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or gyms teaching BJJ yet at that time.
Those of you, those of us who are learning martial arts now are really spoiled for choice, but in the late-80s and early-90s, taekwondo was really popular. It had just started as an Olympic sport, I believe, around then or just auditioning or whatever the term is to become one. There were a couple of my friends in my school who started taekwondo before me, so they were there and it was sort of like, Hey, why don’t we join together and we can, after school, go together to the gym?
One of the things that happened there in taekwondo was that for the kids’ classes, which is what I was in, when you entered you bowed to the front of the room. At the front of the room, there’s a Korean flag, and then, for us, it was a Canadian flag. [21:06.2]
Then there was, I think, and this was a long time ago and I can’t remember even the name of this taekwondo gym that had a few branches around my suburb of Mississauga, so I’m not certain, but I think there was also a portrait of the founder at the front.
Anyway, we bowed to the front. We bowed to the instructors and then we recited these tenets at the beginning and the end of the class. You bow in and you bow out of the class at the end, at beginning and the end, and the tenets—and I googled these and it turns out—these are the tenets of taekwondo. If your gym was part of the ITF, the International Taekwondo Federation, you would have recited these as well, and they are courtesy, integrity, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit.
Back then, we had a little card, like a birthday card kind of thing that opens up, and it has, at the front, the logo of the gym. Then inside, when you come in, there’s somebody. You’re supposed to leave your card at the desk and they check it off. Somebody manually checks off with a pen that you came to class, and that’s how they kept track back then, I guess. In the late-80s, they didn’t all have computer systems. [22:09.8]
But, anyway, inside this card, the same card I dropped off and picked up at the beginning and the end of each class, were printed. These morals, these are virtues, some of them. They’re not really moral virtues per se. They could be epistemic virtues or life virtues, but these are virtues—courtesy, integrity, perseverance, and self-control, and an indomitable spirit.
Then, also, you have to recite some version of these student oaths for ITF and you have to hit these points in the oath, and it’s to observe the tenets of taekwondo, the tenets being these virtues: respect seniors and instructors. Never misuse taekwondo. Be a champion of freedom and justice, and help to build a more peaceful world.
All these are all really nice ethical principles to instill in young people, and then especially the ones that stuck with me were integrity, perseverance, and self-control. I think indomitable spirit was embedded in there as well in my unconscious mind, but I definitely didn’t use the word “indomitable” very much. [23:08.0]
But integrity, perseverance and self-control, since I was 11, got drummed into me two or three times a week, twice each time, and perseverance as just a virtue, that’s the one I wrote down first when I was brainstorming the points I wanted to cover. The training in martial arts, if nothing else, will teach you perseverance, and, of course, it would also teach you self-control.
A big part of martial arts is there’s a rule set, and if you cheat on the rule set, people don’t like you, no one wants to spar with you, and you might get kicked out of the class and the instructor won’t like you either. There’s a part of it that’s you’re kind of self-monitoring it because there are lots of little cheats that you could do when the instructor is not looking and this happens in tournaments, too, and it speaks to integrity that it’s fair play, and that if you’re matched with somebody who is at a much lower skill level than you, you don’t just go full-on, but you try to get to their skill level. [24:03.8]
This especially I’ve learned again as an adult learning BJJ that, especially coming in brand new, I try to tell my sparring partner that this is my nth class, it’s only my second month or something, and they just basically take it easy. Especially when I’m rolling with colored belts, blue belts or whatever upwards, I’m really hoping they’re not going all out on me.
For them, to make this an enjoyable role, they’re going to have to bring it down to the level where they’re making it challenging for themselves in a way where it’s still attainable for me as a white belt—and part of that is integrity and it’s basically a kind of not bullying, an agreement, a gentleman’s agreement, so to speak, not to bully each other, but instead to try to learn and to be gracious in doing so. [24:51.2]
Then, of course, a big aspect of it is perseverance, and at the beginning, it’s supposed to be tough, like you’re not supposed to be really good at it, but if you stick with it, you’ll get better. This is something you’ll discover in any kind of athletic endeavor if you stick with it, actually any kind of skill, learning a skill, but it’s especially obvious in martial arts because when you suck, it’s in a kind of public forum, in a sense like other people are going to see it. You’re not doing it just in the privacy of just you alone in your study room. In addition, it can sometimes hurt physically to suck, and you just stick with it and get better at it, perseverance. It’s one of the easiest, most natural, organic ways of teaching a child perseverance, which is martial arts.
Of course, the other one is self-control, a big, big aspect of it, but perseverance, that’s the first thing I want to point out. There are moral virtues or epistemic virtues, or virtues depending on how you want to qualify them, they’re just virtues in traditional martial arts in a good gym. I’m aware there are Cobra Kai type of toxic machismo type of gyms out there that have no connection to traditional martial arts and the virtues at all. [26:04.8]
I don’t recommend training in any of those gyms, and so it’s important to be able to get a feel for the type of quality or character of the trainers and the founders, and the owners and the managers of the gym that you’re looking at. I’m aware that there are some that are toxic, so looking for one that actually cares about the traditions and the virtues that are instilled there.
One way to look at it is to see if they have kids classes, because it’s going to be hard if you. Even if you’re just fully training professional fighters, if you have kids’ classes and in there, it’s going to be hard to prioritize just the fighters over people who are just learning. That’s something to consider when it comes to practical, the practical considerations of choosing an actual gym.
Assuming that the gym you’ve chosen actually gives a damn about the traditions and the history, and the virtues that are part parcel of martial arts, the art part of the martial—perseverance, self-control and integrity—these are really important aspects of what I was brought up to see as part of, an essential part of martial arts. [27:10.8]
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The second point is that training in martial arts will help you see the importance of skill over talent. The whole point of martial arts is that you can take a smaller, less athletic fighter, so a smaller, lighter, shorter fighter can beat a bigger, taller, longer, more athletic fighter. [28:14.0]
Now, if the skill level is the same, then, obviously, the more athletic fighter would have an edge, and even in real life, an athletic fighter and a much bigger fighter. That really matters, especially weight. A weight difference can really matter in a full-contact sport. Athleticism really matters, especially if the skill levels are close or similar, obviously.
But the point of martial arts is that there’s an art to it and there’s a skill to it. It’s not just pure strength and speed, or pure power, right? Learning martial arts helps to ingrain in you that you can learn anything, that you can overcome the odds, that you can overcome the obvious, what other people take to just be natural advantages that cannot be overcome, but that there is a way to overcome them. [29:04.8]
Martial arts has been something that has been developing for hundreds and thousands of years, really, and to the untrained eye, I remember, man, growing up being a martial arts enthusiast since I was five years old, growing up in the 1980s Canada, trying to convince my friends. I remember it was really difficult in middle school.
I was in one school in Grade 6, and then in Grade 7 and 8, I moved to a French immersion school where the kids were overall a lot smarter and more educated. They came from a more educated background. But in the Grade 6 school, that’s where it was tougher. Mississauga is a suburb of Toronto, but it was a tougher neighborhood, a lower-income neighborhood, and there, those are the kids, my classmates who were doing taekwondo.
We went together and there was very little—what’s the word?—resistance to the effectiveness of martial arts. “If you doubt it, let’s take it out in the playground.” We would actually full-on fight in the playground and, pretty quickly, the other kids who didn’t train would back off, so it never really blew up to a big fight, and then we just had some fun sparring and that sort of thing, fun play fighting. [30:13.4]
But then when I moved to the Grade 7 school, there was no bullying physically. It was a small school. It was a French immersion school and everyone was pretty civilized, which was a big surprise to me back then, going from a bullying school to one where there was no bullying at all. There it was tough because there wasn’t an outlet to prove that martial arts worked, because if you ever doubted, “Hey, let’s just go and I’ll show you.” It was more like convincing these white kids that this Asian thing actually worked.
Nowadays, you can just watch, I suppose, UFC or something, but, back then, martial arts like Kung Fu was still this exotic thing, and if you are a Gen X are older, you can remember those times—and maybe even now. Maybe even nowadays there are doubters, but that’s the point, that there’s skill here. It’s not just the strongest wins or the fastest wins, or the more athletic person wins. It’s that there’s this big variable called skill and that’s what martial arts is all about. [31:11.7]
Of course, if you can become more athletic along the way, I remember as a kid training in taekwondo, and this is actually hard to imagine, but there were punishments, like if you came late to class, you dropped down and did 100 pushups. Sometimes it would be 20, but, often, you’d see there was some kid who came really late to class and maybe he has been chronically late, so they’d just make him do 200 pushups and he’d just take, I don’t know, it must have been five or 10 minutes to just do 200. He’d just, I don’t know, do them in sets and eventually get to 200, and then he was done and could join the class.
I think when you’re a kid, like 11 years old, because you’re not pushing as much weight, maybe it was a lot easier. I remember doing a lot of pushups. I remember for Canada fitness each year—it was a countrywide fitness assessment back then—we had to do push-ups. I remember hitting 50, the excellence, the highest bracket. I looked and the number was 56 or something and I knocked out 56 pretty easily, and then I just stopped because there was no one else who was challenging me. [32:07.0]
But I do remember, in taekwondo, doing 100 pushups like it was nothing and that was really cool, to think back on that, because now 100 pushups is not nothing. I can still do them because I do test myself, but I definitely can’t do them all in one go.
But, anyway, we do. We do learn physical conditioning. Strength and conditioning matters. But the most important thing in martial arts is skill, and over and over and over you learn how important skill is over just being fast or strong, especially in the martial arts that are more of a thinking kind of chess game type of martial arts like BJJ.
I do recommend, if it’s your first time getting to martial arts, that you try out a bunch of them to see which ones you like because they will feel very different. Boxing, training in boxing as a beginner feels very different from training in BJJ as a beginner. [32:54.7]
When you’re doing any kind of grappling sport as a beginner, you’re going to have to wait through that. What’s the right word? Not wait through, but wait out the beginner’s hell and there’s a lot of learning and you’ll be thinking a lot—whereas if you just want a good sweat and a good workout, and get the muscles going and get the strength and conditioning going, while also learning some self-defense or martial art, then striking art, like boxing or Muay Thai, is often more beginner-friendly because you can get going and hit paths, and have some fun and feel like you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t yet. You have some fun pretty early on. But try them all out and that’s a practical consideration to keep in mind.
But the point here is skill over talent. Learning and training in martial arts helps instill that belief that you can overcome through perseverance by developing the skills.
Okay, and then the third point I want to bring up is training in martial arts, after the beginner level, especially, helps you to face fears, and a big part, especially of sparring a rolling is there’s a danger element to all of that. You could get hit. In rolling, you could get choked out unconscious. You could have a limb break if you don’t tap early enough, or if you get a really mean, more advanced sparring partner. [34:12.6]
You’ve got to watch out for that as well. Pick your sparring partners wisely or just get a good coach. If you can afford it, get a one-on-one coach who has a healthy, friendly and positive attitude to learning, isn’t just there to create competition machines, but is there because he’s happy to train and enjoys training people who do this as a hobby part-time.
If you get the right type of attitude, it can really help you to lean into facing danger and persevering, and having that courage to step up to something that is just outside your comfort zone, because that’s where growth happens. Imagine that every time you step in the gym to train, you are doing that in a big way where there’s a real danger if you don’t keep your guard up, but that it’s just beyond your skill level, so that you’re constantly learning. [35:01.7]
Then, of course, you have to balance that out with some recovery weeks or some recovery sessions. But what martial arts will do is it will give you this container that’s safe, assuming, again, a good gym and a good trainer and good training partners. It will be a safe container for facing your fears, stepping up and providing just that right amount of risk or danger that will keep you on your toes, and you just get used to facing the thing that, if you were to focus on it, might amplify and become really scary.
For those who have experienced acute bullying or physical abuse, take it easy and be gentle with yourself, and just realize you might need lots of downtime between training sessions. You don’t want to push it and just jump into the deep end and do training every day. Maybe start with once or twice a week until you get used to that pace and before ramping it up, because what it will do is it will trigger those fears. [35:58.0]
Especially if you had debilitating consequences in being bullied, it might trigger the memories of the abuse and the bullying that you haven’t resolved yet, and then that it’s great fodder for your work in your therapy sessions. It’s good all around if you have enough compassion for yourself to take the time to process what’s coming up as a result of facing your fears.
The fourth point is—maybe this is obvious, so I don’t need to dwell on—just like any other kind of skill acquisition with a difficult skill that has many levels to it is long-term training and discipline. It instills in you the long-term perspective and we almost always overestimate how good we can get in the short term, in the next month or two, or week, right? But we almost always underestimate how much we can accomplish and how good we can get at something in the long run in the five-year timeline or even the three-year timeline, or even in the one-year timeline. Especially the younger you are, the less likely you are to think in longer timelines. [37:05.4]
But what martial arts does is it trains in you this resilience and stick-with-it-ness to keep applying, keep showing up, keep applying yourself, and then being able to look back on how far you’ve come and being able to see the development of that skill over time, and having that discipline of just showing up for training. Some days you’re going to have bad days and some days are going to be great days, but, overall, over time, you’re going to see this upward trajectory in your skill development that you might not notice in the moment. That’s an important thing to instill in young people, but also for those who are lost in their fears that, if you just stick with it, it will get better, but you’ve got to stick with it and you’ve got to continually develop this habit of continually facing your fears.
Okay, just to recap then, the four points are –
- Perseverance and other virtues that are embedded in traditional martial arts, and a great way to instill those in yourself and develop them in yourself is training in the martial arts. [38:00.7]
- The second is the point of skill, skill development, skill over talent or raw power, that skill is the big variable.
- The third point being facing your fears and making that a habit, getting good at it. That’s how you develop courage naturally. The natural development of courage comes from continually facing your fears and proving to yourself that you can do that and getting in the habit of stepping up to the thing that you’re afraid of.
- Then, the fourth is teaching yourself the rewards and the consequences of long-term training and discipline, the payoff of the long-term point of view, and just sticking with something over the longer term.
Okay, so it’s really important that you consider, if you are afraid for your physical safety or afraid of being out of control as a result of tapping into, I don’t know, any kind of aggressiveness or anger because developing that self-control is really important for facing those fears that you take seriously that martial arts is a way to do that. [39:02.3]
It’s a natural way that has all kinds of other great benefits. I haven’t even mentioned any of the fitness or health benefits to it, and I’m just mostly focusing here on the psychological benefits, but it’s awesome. I’ve noticed that as a result of my upbringing of my dad raising me with martial arts in my brain since I was a child, I’ve developed this natural stick-with-it-ness, as well as a natural systematic approach to facing fears, as well as a kind of self-reliance and, also, control.
There were a lot of bullies that I faced in Grades 4, 5 and 6 that I could have done some serious damage to, in my mind back then, if I wanted to, but I wanted to exercise restraint because I knew, intellectually, what will happen if I really fought back and bloodied someone’s nose or smashed someone up against a brick wall, because I’d get suspended and then all the bad things. [40:00.0]
Now, they’re the bullies, but if I fight back in a way that is devastating to them, I will also get punished. It was really just being good at defense and then just fighting back just enough to show them. Kind of like porcupine needles, just enough to show them “It’s not worth your time to bully me.” But at the beginning, a lot of it was just learning how to take a hit.
It helped that, in Canada, in the winter—which is like half the year is winter in Canada—and there’s snow on the floor, so if you get on the ground, so if you get pushed down, you’re just landing on snow. For the most part, it’s not that hard. Then, we had big puffy coats a lot of the times, so any kind of body blow I hardly ever felt, and it’s just other Grade-4 kids. They weren’t vicious with weapons or any of that sort of thing, and this was suburban Toronto, so it wasn’t that bad compared to what I know that many of you might have faced and what, these days, kids have been exposed to and have at their disposal, so I’ve had relatively mild bullying in my school years. [41:00.0]
But a big part of not reacting to it and not having any downstream effects long-term was, since a young age, I saw that skill can beat a bigger person, the bigger bully, the faster, stronger one, if I had the right skill and I did the right things.
Then that led to self-control. Knowing what I could do meant that I could refrain from doing it as well, and just learning good defense and then being able to have the wherewithal to not panic when that happened or started, and being able to think about the long-term consequences and create wiser, more effective solutions or responses.
Okay, just to repeat some practical considerations, though, make sure that you check out the gym you go to. Don’t end up at some Cobra Kai type of gym. Right? Look for a gym and a trainer that actually prioritizes teaching people who aren’t going to be pro or competitors in any kind of tournament, but are just there to train for self-defense or just for fun. [42:00.0]
That means that some of the top gyms, if you were to Google the best gyms here, the top gyms are often the ones that the professional fighters are at and sometimes those aren’t the most appropriate gyms for beginners, just to put that out there, but it’s a case-by-case kind of thing. You’ve got to go and visit it and see if you jive with the vibe there.
But it’s important that you take this seriously, because I know, just a suggestion, a lot of guys who have been bullied in the past who are in fear of dominant males—I suppose, that’s how they might put it—or alpha male types, the fear of their own physical safety in case they disagree with somebody, the fear of confrontation, whether it’s verbal or physical, the fear of standing up for themselves, or the fear of not being able to control themselves if they were to give in to some of that energy that they’re afraid of, that they know in the back of their minds or deep down in their minds that there is that part in them that just full of anger raring to come out.
If you don’t explore that in a controlled manner, and martial arts is a great way to do it, if you don’t explore that, then they will eat you up from the inside. From the inside, it’s going to be this toxic energy that will keep sapping away at your own masculinity, and your own energy and zests for life, really. [43:14.2]
On the outside, you’re going to keep getting bullied. You’re not going to be able to stand up to your boss. You’re not going to be able to speak up at the board meeting. Whatever the external manifestations are for you, you’re not going to be able to walk up to that woman that you want to talk to. You’re not going to be able to stand up to the guys who try to butt in when you’re talking to her and try to give you a hard time.
All of these things are manifestations of the lack of self-confidence and courage and self-control, and all of those, those three in particular, self-confidence, courage and self-control, are exactly what are developed through a good martial arts gym and training regimen over the long term.
Invest in yourself for these lasting gains in yourself to prove to your vulnerable inner-child parts that you can handle it because you have learned how to handle it, and this then will allow them to relax and trust in you that you’ve got this confidence, courage and self-control that don’t feel fake or forced, but are earned and are the natural result of training over time. [44:14.3]
In the next episode, come back to the episode because I’m going to be pointing out some dangers in going too far in this direction. That’s an important caveat that’s way too long to put into this episode, so come back to the next episode as I get into some of the dangers of “I’m going too far down this road.” But it’s an important road to explore, especially with these therapeutic benefits, and especially for anyone who has non-severe trauma from child abuse or something along those lines, or for those who have made these quite a lot of headway from their severe cases and are ready to take on some behavioral therapy. I highly recommend martial arts for this.
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I’ll see you in the next episode. Thanks so much for listening, and David Tian, signing out. [45:13.8]
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