October 11, 2017

Discipline in Martial Arts

Whichever way you look at it, discipline is a key part of Judo: it is a key part of any martial art and indeed, in reality it is an essential element of life. I’m not talking about obeying orders, military style, rather it is about having a degree of control and responsibility over your own actions. It ranges from not eating the extra biscuit that will contribute negatively to your health, to fighting demons such as gambling and drink and even basic control of your own body.

Many parents bring their young children to Judo lessons quoting the desire for discipline as the reason for wanting their offspring on a Judo mat.  Sadly, many coaches do not understand it because they are focused on the sporting element of Judo, but fortunately discipline is sewn into Jigoro Kano’s system. From the calming rei at the beginning and end of each session, to the concentration needed for uchikomi to the coolness that is essential in randori, Judo has discipline through it like a stick of rock.

A few years ago I ran a scheme for young people on the edge of the criminal justice system, trying to enable them to re-focus their lives. The scheme was monitored by Dundee University psychology department and the results were positive. The pre-and post-survey’s showed an improvement in attitude and behaviour amongst the young people across a number of measures. For me, the key element was that they had all improved their self-discipline, which allowed them to re-align their behaviour. There was deeper psychological aspects going on, but for now I want stay with the theme of discipline.

I don’t believe Judo is unique in providing an inner core that produces such self-control. I am not an expert on any other martial art, although I have studied aikido for a number of years and found that to have a similar ethic.  In any case, as Kano pointed out, Judo, and by extension, martial arts in general are not the only way for an individual to achieve such calmness, it was just his way.

Nevertheless, Judo produces this calmness that results, as Kano wished, better citizens.  There are few psychological studies that back this up, but the anecdotes are legion. Many people will tell you the positive effect Judo has had on their lives and even beyond self-reporting, I can come up with a few stories.  The landlord of a pub where I run an annual summer school once said that he could tell who the judo people were in his pub by their manners.

Again we must remain with anecdotes, rather than quantifiable facts here, but in my experience, those studying eastern martial arts seem to generally have a good degree of self-control. As some who read my blogs will know I work in the security industry: I have worked doors, in a hospital, retail and done close protection. I can’t think of a time at work or in my social life where I have come across an out of hand judoka, karateka, aikidoka. It would appear that in terms of making better citizens Kano, Ueshiba (the founder of aikido) and Funakoshi (the founder of Shotokan karate) got it right.

Sadly, I have to report something different for the western art of boxing. Now, as a fighting skill, I think boxing is perhaps under-rated, but it appears not to instil much in the way of discipline within its ranks. Where I work, when the boxing is shown live on big screens, we need to up our security presence by 100%. Even then the frequency of fights and disorder produced by ‘fans’ are high.

Of course, you can quickly point out that I am referring to followers of the art here, rather than practitioners. But the stories I can recount regarding practitioners are no better. You only have to think of the behaviour of professional boxers when hyping their up-coming events, with the face-offs at the weigh-ins. More to the point, however, I can still think of out-of-control boxers taking an ‘iron man’ stance during their down time in social settings. Recently I had cause to refuse entry to a young man who was showing signs of aggression on his way into my establishment. The result was an eruption of aggression from him that needed three security staff to restrain him before police arrived. It turns out the lad in question is one of the top amateur boxers in the county. It is a shame.

Without being an expert in it, I suspect that boxing can have the same sort of effect on self-discipline as any other martial art. Indeed, I remember reading On the Ropes, a boxing book by Geoffrey Beattie and thinking it could easily have been a journey through an eastern martial art such was its effects on those deeply involved.

Intrinsically all martial arts offer a path of self-awareness and self-improvement. It is incumbent on those who take on the role of coaching to be aware of the values and how the arts can make better citizens.

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