When I was 23 I was authorized by my jujutsu school, Kokusai Jujutsu Renmei, to start a training group at the University of Minnesota.
The group offered extremely low training fees aimed at college students, who frequently can’t afford the tuition associated with most martial arts schools. It’s one of many amazing projects started by Michael Coleman of Futen Dojo.
I had some student organizing experience from my own college days and I nervously, but faithfully planned my recruitment drive. I hung posters everywhere but that wasn’t the key to success. As the first week of classes started, I took time each day to stand on campus and tell people about the training group in person.
“Are you interested in a free martial arts class?”
Wham! Put a flyer in their hand.
I must have asked that question 100 times a day. For people who seemed sincerely interested, I took down names and email. Over the course of a week I developed quite the roster of potential students.
I also learned a lot about peoples’ views on martial arts. At one point I saw the woman of my dreams striding toward me: a confident step, head held high, dressed in hippie garb with a killer fashion sense. Her oversized sunglasses hid her eyes, but we locked gazes. I had to talk to her!
She came closer and I readied my most impressive voice.
“Hi, are you interested in a free martial arts—”
Wrong choice of words.
“I believe in peace.” Her voice was icy cold and she kept on walking. The confident stride and the chin held high were a direct show of distaste for this warrior in her path.
I watched her go, dumbstruck. She was ten paces away before I figured out my own reaction: But I believe in peace!
“So do I,” I mumbled to no one. I had the good grace not to yell it after her.
Why I Practice Martial Arts
I’ve practiced martial arts since I was 14. Originally, I started because I was fat, nerdy, and picked on. In my head I had some idea that I would become a really badass fighter and then beat up all of the kids who bullied me. Like most spiritual pursuits, this one started with selfish reasons in mind.
For four years I practiced Tae Kwon Do. I’m not a fan of TKD anymore, but it served its purpose. I lost weight (which I somehow didn’t expect), gained a lot of confidence, and had something meaningful in my after-school time. I even accidentally saw a girl’s nipple for the first time, which pretty much makes any 14 year old’s day. Or year.
By the time I moved to Milwaukee for college, martial arts had become a part of my identity. At that time I was privileged to begin training at Futen Dojo, which was my first experience with traditional martial arts. For the first time I learned techniques actually designed for the battlefield. I also learned how to fall, how to roll, and how to escape. These are among the most important abilities I’ve ever learned.
The other half of the training at Futen Dojo was the rigorous discipline. The dojo is run exactly like a traditional school in Japan (and it is part of such a school) and students give apprentice-like respect to the teacher’s instructions. I was at just the right age where this was immensely transformative to me. Over the course of years, I was broken down and built back up. I developed better manners, more awareness of my surroundings, and a deep instinct for my own body.
Heroes Have Swords
This blog is about the Heroic Life: the idea of living for high ideals, taking action, and leaving a deep impact on the world. In recent months, you guys have helped me hone what it means to live heroically. We’re getting close to ready for the beta.
One of the things that has become apparent: it’s not a metaphor.
The Heroic Life isn’t code for doing charity work or picking up litter (though that rocks if you do). It’s about actually living a life that echoes the great heroes of myth. Game-changing change.
And here’s the thing: heroes know how to fight.
And you should too.
I don’t actually mean “fight.” I haven’t gotten into a fight since I was 8, when my only attack was stepping on the guy’s toes and we became friends afterward.
Most people who practice martial arts never get into a bona fide fight. (If they do, they might be doing something wrong.)
But the associated benefits that come with knowing self-defense include:
- A greater range of motion than most people think is possible
- Confidence across the board
- The ability to dodge, block, or escape blows
- The ability to safely restrain someone who is drunk or aggressive
- Strength and lean muscle
- Surviving falls and accidents
This last one is far and away the greatest skill I’ve gotten from martial arts. How often do you need to dodge a punch? Hopefully never. But anyone can take a spill from a bike or trip going downstairs.
I’ve flown 30 feet off a bike going 25+ miles per hour, stood up unharmed, and kept biking. (In fact, I caught the bike between my legs as I flipped through the air, without thinking, to keep it from getting banged-up, too. And I’m a mediocre martial artist.)
The fact that faces every would-be hero is this: you can’t help anyone if you yourself are not as capable as possible. That’s why one of the steps to living heroically is learning as many skills as you can. And few things on earth teach as many skills, or such crucial ones, as martial arts training.
Finding the Right Art
There are a million martial arts out there, and they all do different things. There’s an ongoing debate between the advantages of eclectic martial arts and traditional martial arts. Eclectic martial arts tend to be custom-designed for rapid progress from the start of training, and good results in the ring at tournaments. Traditional martial arts, including traditional Japanese jujutsu, tend to take a slower arc. They cultivate a lot of skills that don’t directly apply to tournament fighting but have incredible results over time.
I won’t add fuel to the debate other than to say that of the many martial arts I have practiced or continue to practice, the only one that has never given me a training injury is traditional Japanese jujutsu. And the only one that I’ve ever found real-life applications for outside of the dojo? Also Japanese jujutsu. For me, these are two of the most important qualities in a martial art.
What are your thoughts, Rogue fans? How many of you practice martial arts (or have)? I’m really curious as the community here is growing and we’re getting new voices every week. Do you think the ability to defend yourself is essential to heroism?
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