Health and Fitness, Lifestyle

Men, Masculinity And Martial Arts.

The martial arts are a variety of ancient disciplines that offer a range of health, fitness and obviously self defence benefits, but they are also a haven for nurturing true masculinity and fostering a healthy environment for young boys to learn to be men and for men to become better men, to improve themselves and nurture a positive, healthy masculinity that has largely been lost in today’s society. This is why all boys and men should learn martial arts.

Despite the popular misconception that martial arts are just about beating people up, or are just the physical representation of a toxic masculinity (yes, I have heard that!) The martial arts in general, even the competitive sport aspect of them, are one of the single most positive forces of reinforcement, education and training any boy or man can receive, and this is why I believe all men should train in martial arts at some point in their lives.

I have been a practitioner of martial arts for almost 35 years, give or take. I trained in Goju Ryu Karate first after my dad took me to my first dojo at around 6 years old, later moving onto Judo and finally adding some Jiu Jitsu as well as numerous weapons forms. I have also practiced in and against a wide variety of different arts in my last twenty years of travelling the world, from a little Muay Thai in Thailand and Angampora in Sri Lanka to Jiu Jitsu in Brazil. I have even trained in Tai Chi for a bit of balance!

I am obviously passionate about martial arts and what they can do for us physically and spiritually, but I also believe that they can give us a lot of intangible benefits that can enrich our lives in ways we don’t know, and are the perfect conduit for channelling a strong, healthy masculinity.

Now that doesn’t mean women can’t get a lot of benefits too, because they can, and I have trained with and taught countless women over the years, but we aren’t here to talk about them. We are here to talk about the positive role model that martial arts is for masculinity and the benefits it can bring men and boys.

Because I do believe that all men should train in some form of combat art, because it gives us so many tangible and intangible benefits beyond the obvious health and training. The martial arts are a haven of positive, healthy masculinity than men in today’s society sorely need.

The martial arts encapsulate the warrior spirit.

The warrior spirit is hard wired into men. It is instinctive. Modern society has little need for this dominant aspect of masculinity outside of the armed forces, and outside of those roles men struggle to deal with or express this spirit, but it is there nonetheless. Our ancestors were hunter gatherers, we were the protectors of our tribes and our families in a world were fighting was both necessary and normal. The martial arts give men an identity that they have largely lost, to put ourselves to the hazard, push our bodies to the limit and emerge as warriors.

Martial arts hone positive masculine values and traits.

Masculinity is by and large seen as almost entirely toxic in today’s society. It is almost always bad, with no redeeming features at all and toxic masculinity should be purged from all men at all costs. This paradigm is not just ideologically wrong and dangerous for men, it is extremely harmful for them too.

The problem is no one ever looks at the positive aspects of masculinity, they just look at the negatives and call them toxic. That strength that can be used to bully and dominate can also be used to protect. That drive for competition that can lead to hostility and stress can also be used to drive leadership, independence and initiative. There is good and bad in all traits, masculine and feminine, and the martial arts foster values that nurture the positive side to it.

The martial arts are as spiritual as they are physical, and driving a set of core values into a martial arts practitioner is as important as training them in form and technique. You cannot have one without the other.

Every dojo will have their own doju kun at the entrance, a set of rules that outline the expected behaviour of all of their students. These are all of course individual to each dojo but all of them have variations on a code of honour and conduct, of respect and self discipline, of self control and sincerity, of honour and loyalty.

Even the code of Bushido celebrated and fostered strength, discipline, courage, benevolence, sincerity, honour and loyalty among other things. Many martial arts will have slight cultural variations on this of course, but they all in some form or another have stated principles that encapsulate all of these traits and instil them into their practitioners.

These are the masculine traits that men are taught to celebrate, hone and use in the real world within the martial arts.

Martial Arts discourage negative behaviour.

Macho behaviour, aggression, bullying, these are all examples of behaviours that are not welcome anywhere in society but much less so in a dojo. Training in the martial arts teaches men to be men and channel those energies into a positive force instead, and where boys do start displaying these tendencies, it is very quickly discouraged and redirected.

All boys at some point will start pushing boundaries, they will find that they may be getting stronger or bigger than their peers, or that their skill level is improving exponentially. They will want to fight, to compete, to push themselves and see what they can do and get away with as well. All of those are natural, and they are good things, when channelled correctly, which is what the martial arts do.

For some boys the quiet teachings of the dojo kun is enough with a quiet talk from the sensei (or teacher) from time to time enough for them to control their newfound strength and skill. For others, excessive aggression and competition is managed by pitting those boys pushing their boundaries against even bigger and stronger boys. Excessive negative traits are surprisingly honed and channelled after being knocked on your arse a few times.

Positive masculinity is taught in the dojo not by calling all natural masculine traits toxic, but by teaching boys and men how to deal with and use those natural traits in a positive way.

It is when these natural tendencies and behaviours don’t have a channel like martial arts or healthy competition to allow them to be tested and channelled in a safe environment, is when you get out of control behaviour like bullying and uncontrolled aggression.

The martial arts teach you how to look after your body and mind.

Most good, long term martial artists will often train like a professional athlete, keeping their body in as peak physical condition as possible to avoid injury and better themselves.

Martial arts training in and of itself is often one of the best workouts you can ever get, comprising of a lot of cardio, strength and flexibility training but also in many arts comprising of a mental and spiritual training aspect as well, such as meditation, which is as good for your mental health as doing drills and kumite is as good for your physical health. It is not uncommon to find most martial artists also doing a lot of extra cardio or strength training on top of their martial arts training and this can never be a bad thing.

Through the martial arts, men can train their bodies and minds to be in peak physical condition, and in a society where men often neglect their health, making them want to look after their health should be something that is lauded.

Martial arts provide strong, positive role models.

Some of the best people I know are martial artists, and the martial arts are a place that offer young boys access to some of the best role models, both male and female, that they will ever have.

All men need a good balance of both masculine and feminine influences in their lives, neither one is better than the other but both are needed to become a well rounded person. The martial arts provide that in equal measure. Most dojos – despite common misconceptions – are not male only places and I have had as many female teachers as male.

Through the martial arts, all of my teachers have become people I am proud to look up to, and I honour that gift they have given me by trying – perhaps not always succeeding – to be the same for others.

As much as it is the art itself, no matter what art you study or train in, that provides you with a moral compass and a moral and spiritual code, it is those men and women around you who you see living that code and encapsulating it who are the ideal role models, and one that I think all men would be better off for having around them.

You learn to fight, so that you don’t have to fight.

One of the biggest misconceptions about the martial arts, or any combat art or sport for that matter, and I include boxing and MMA in that, is that they are all about fighting and aggression.

And one of the biggest misconceptions about fighting and aggression in society is that it is always and without exception, bad. This often spills over into society’s views on men and masculinity too, leading to sexist judgements of ‘toxic masculinity’.

Both of these misconceptions are wrong.

Aggression – and by extension – physical violence or fighting do obviously have negatives attached to them, but one thing I have always been taught, and taught in return, is that sometimes it can be a good thing too.

By learning a martial art you learn very early on that violence is nothing to be feared, it is just a natural human response that can be defended against and controlled. You learn that there are both negative and positive forms of aggression and that you can look for, avoid or defend against negative forms in others, or you can learn how to utilise both aggression and violence yourself in a healthy, productive and positive way.

For example sometimes violence can be used to defend as much as it can be used to attack, and sometimes an attack is the only form of defence. The big difference to those who are trained is that they know how to utilise violence and aggression as a tool. They respect it, but they don’t fear it, and they can use it when and only when it is necessary to defend themselves or others, and even then they can learn to have so much control over it that only enough aggression is used to stop or prevent an attack.

A real man is one who can feel emotion, anger, frustration, failure and fear in a healthy environment and learn to control it, channel it and use it. That is what the martial arts gives you.

Men learn to control their strength, to apply it or hold back as necessary. A wrist lock or arm bar is applied with just enough strength to make your opponent tap, no more or less, because any fool can break an arm, but an artist knows exactly at the point it will break and stops. In training at least. Even those initial flashes of aggression or anger when you are sparring or in kumite or competition are controlled and purposeful.

This is in no way the violence or aggression most people assume martial arts promote. This is not the violence or aggression that society tells us is wrong.

It is often those who are trained to fight who will be the last to do so, and the martial arts teaches men that violence and aggression can be channelled in positive ways so they can avoid the negative.

And these are just a few of the reasons all men should do some training in some form of martial art. It doesn’t matter whether you choose Karate, Judo, Kung Fu or even girly kickboxing! Other men will bust your balls in the changing room no matter what art you choose, but they are really all as good as another and will give men the best chance of being the best version of themselves they can be.

The benefits of martial arts run far, far deeper than just learning how to defend yourself. They truly are a bastion of strong, healthy masculinity and a way for men to connect back with that warrior spirit that many have lost.