Why Train?

Why would someone dedicate so much time and energy into a martial art?  If you believe in the 10,000 hour theory, proficiency can take a long time to achieve.  After all that time spend training, what do you have?  The physical skills achieved from martial arts training are not always relevant to modern life.  The rewards for all the training time and effort seem incommensurate.  There must be some other underlying reason to continue training.

Is being the best fighter a reason for training?  It could be for some, but it seems like a fleeting goal.  No one remains on top very long.  Competitive fighting requires a high degree of physical conditioning, which inherently declines with age.  At some point, age will be the dominant factor over fighting ability.  Yet, martial artists often continue training well past their competitive fighting days.

If not fighting ability, then perhaps the point of training is for self defense?  Certainly, that’s a reason for many people who take up martial arts.  The ability to use the body to strike, block, and throw carries over well to self defense.  However, martial arts and self defense are distinct entities.  Being a skilled martial artist does not guarantee self defense ability on the street.  The essential skills for self defense are more related to situation awareness and conflict avoidance than to martial arts ability.  The ability to fight should be the option of last resort for smart self defense.  While martial arts training can provide a segue into self defense training, honing martial skill is ultimately an inefficient way for training purely for self defense.

Then, what about physical fitness and health?  Exercising the body during martial arts training does improve fitness and health.  But then again, just about anything that puts the body in motion will improve health.  The human body thrives when it moves a lot.  That movement doesn’t have to come from martial arts training.  Yoga, sports, weight-lifting, running, hiking, biking, or any number of exercise-related activities can do an equally adequate job of keeping you fit and healthy.  Personally, I keep my strength and conditioning training mostly separate from my martial arts training.  There is carryover between the fitness and martial training, but the two reside in distinct spheres.

How about community?  There is something to be said for the camaraderie developed from martial arts training.  A community of people training towards a common goal (or perhaps suffering towards a common goal depending on the training) develops bonds of friendship.   I’ve met plenty of interesting, funny, knowledgeable, and genuinely warm-hearted people in my martial arts training.  But martial arts training is equally something that sets you apart from other people.  Not everybody practices martial arts, and the community practicing a particular style of martial art may not be that big.  The pursuit of martial arts can also be a solo pursuit.  A lot of “a-ha!” realizations occur in moments of solo practice away from the social setting of class or group practice.  While a definite perk of martial arts training, the community is ancillary to the training drive.

Just what would drive someone to continue training?  To answer that question, I ask another question.  What would drive someone to pursue any interest?  People with regular jobs practice for weekend music gigs for little monetary reward.  Artists often flirt with poverty for their craft. The crazy among us (speaking from my own personal graduate experience) pursue advanced degrees even though it’s financially smarter to start working sooner. Pursuit of an art often makes little sense by most metrics.  Yet, people continue pursuing their interests despite the disconnect between the required effort and lack of apparent rewards.  There is an inherent drive to improve, and we seem to derive happiness from even minor improvements at our pursuits.  So why train?  For me, it is for the drive to improve and the sheer joy of immersing myself into an art.