5 Things Martial Arts Has Taught Me About Changing Habits

[stextbox id=”grey”]This article was contributed by Andi P (ZA web admin, student and perpetual newbie)[/stextbox]


Since starting my journey into the martial arts world, I’ve picked up a few translatable lessons that have helped me become a better student and better at managing the changes I wanted to make in the rest of my life as well. Replacing a bad habit or way of thinking with a good one is challenging. Essentially you are remapping your brain to make different associations and it takes time and repetition. Here are five things that help keep me on track.

 1. Always have a plan of action

When you’re free sparring, feeding for drills or actually fighting someone, having an idea in your head about what your next move is can be hugely advantageous. Because I’m in the Pad Drills program  right now, half of what I do in class is combination feeds for my sparring partner. This requires me to think ahead, plan what my next move is going to be and how I want to direct my partner to focus their effort. I realized that to be a better training partner and better at managing a habit change, I need to get into the mind set of planning ahead. In the arena of life, setting a plan that involves routines, reward mechanisms and support systems will give me the extra edge I need to create a better habit or break an unhealthy one.

2. Be adaptable

Knowledge and a plan will only take you so far, and then you have to adapt. Sometimes you can make a small adaptation and stick with the original plan, and sometimes the only way to unf*%k the situation is to change the plan completely. The end goal remains the same, be it delivering that devastating teep or kicking a bad habit. But the environment is not always going to be on your side. This winter I decided that I was going to (re)focus on eating more vegetables and wanted to plant all sorts of veg goodness in the back yard to help engage with the process. Well, spring time came around, along with stupid amounts of busy and visit to my “garden” now requires a machete to clear out the 6 foot thistles that have grown there in lieu of tomatoes.  Soooo… it’s time to change the plan. Hello, Fresh City Farms!

 3. Body and mind as opponents is a no win scenario.

10458773_10154906178385377_5623715099978677661_nOne of Bruce Lee’s most famous quotes is “Be like water”. In the JKD world you hear it so often that we can forget the significance of the instruction. It’s not just “move like water” or “think like water” but BE. In order to fully integrate an idea like that you have to spend some time contemplating it. What does it mean to you? How do you get your heart, body and mind in sync and working towards the same goals so that you can fully BE. Some folks work out, some dance. I sometimes use meditation. To me, it’s like a team building exercise to get all aspects of myself on the same page. And I find when I’m in that place, it’s not only my martial arts training that benefits but it extends to all the other areas of my life that I’m trying to maintain momentum in.

 4. Keep fear as a plucky side-kick but not the star of the show.

Fear should be like an awesome friend that hangs out with you, gives you good advice and tells you when you’re about to do something monumentally stupid. Unfortunately, we usually associate fear with one of those other friendships. The co-dependent, whiny, never brings their wallet to the restaurant and will-absolutely-not-try-that-new-[insert food or activity here]-because-it’s-weird… kinda friend.

Fear is a biologically conditioned survival mechanism and acknowledging the rational aspects of it is a great way of keeping perspective in both martial arts and life. For example, a healthy fear of long term injury can help you fight smarter. Conversely, an unhealthy fear might make you hesitate resulting in a missed opportunity for entry. When it comes to habits, I’ve learned that recognizing which fears are helpful and which are not, is key in determining the underlying motivations for what I do or what I would rather be doing.

 5. Failure doesn’t have to be a pejorative term.

© Heliburcka | Dreamstime.com - Vector Cartoon Two Tiger Cub Cute Young Martial Arts PhotoOne of the things all newbies (and some seniors) struggle with in class is keeping their guard. When you’re starting out, it feels awkward, your arms start to feel tired and quite frankly, you’re trying to get your feet to work a female/male triangle footwork pattern while throwing a jab-cross and ITS JUST TOO MUCH TO REMEMBER!. So, our guard drops. And that’s when, at some point, you are going to get punched in the face.

  • Failed to protect my face? Check!
  • Hurts like hell and my vision resembles a Starfield screensaver circa 1995? Check!
  • Will not drop my guard for at least the next 5 classes? Priceless.


Failure is a learning mechanism.

When trying to change my habits I’ve often slipped up or “fell off the wagon”. I usually took this to mean that I wasn’t ready to make the change and would give up. Once I thought about this in a martial arts context, I realized what a great opportunity I was passing up. Imagine if I quit the first time I got punched in the face? Now I know that when I lapse or make a mistake, it’s not the end, it’s not final. It’s simply a course correction.




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