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Martial Arts and Discipline From a Personal Perspective

Discipline is a word which I use often; it’s at the forefront of important life lessons to me, alongside hard work, self care, et cetera. When I use the word, I don’t necessarily mean the ability to follow rules and orders to walk a previously trodden path to success; I mean the ability to set goals, then self-manage, control the mind, and work hard in order to take any path to success. In my short but growing life experience, it’s already stood out as something extremely important to learn, to really ingrain in the brain, because it’s essential in the real world, and it doesn’t come naturally to many people, certainly not to me. Kids like myself don’t usually get up to activities which teach discipline as previously defined, which is why I feel the need to praise my experience with karate. Martial arts are a great investment of time for a variety of reasons, but they’ve been an especially good one to me because of their higher ability to instill this skill.

There are systems in life which are supposed to teach people discipline as they grow, through action and reaction; the public school system hands me work, and I complete it before a due date. I mow my lawn, and get paid money. I have responsibilities on my robotics team, and they determine our competitiveness. The problem is, I’m beginning to see, that few of such systems are teaching me the level of discipline which I’ll need to steer me in the direction I want to go in the future. There are various reasons for this, many activity-specific, but the most universal one is that they’re designed to accommodate all levels of skill and work ethic. Accommodating everyone helps everyone succeed, and can conserve happiness in the short term, but it also lowers the bar, nullifies the consequence of failure, and allows for success through poor discipline. My karate experience is slightly different, though, because the threshold for success is more heavily based on a certain level of knowledge and skill, not the lowest common denominator across all students. In school, people don’t fail classes; they do what they can be bothered to do, and teachers find a way to pass them. At the Elora Karate Dojo, if you don’t train for a grading, say, a 1st Kyu, you fail. That one, I can confirm. But that’s not to say that the dojo is overly harsh, because it certainly isn’t. In this situation, I was still given another chance, and I went on to grade for my Shodan-Ho, but the connection between hard work and results became infinitely more evident when I failed my 1st Kyu than in any other experience in school, at home, or any other area of my life. It was a sobering experience which really showed me how childish I cannot afford to be when I grow up, and I credit it as one of the greatest influences on my ongoing road to adulthood.

As with anyone, there are things which I’m naturally good at; I take easily to mathematics, I can draw things pretty well, and I enjoy writing. Karate, however, is not one of those things. I went into training at a level I would call below average, but it didn’t truly matter until I graded for my Shodan-Ho. At that point, I was forced to pick up the slack, work hard, seek out my strengths, and improve upon my weaknesses. I couldn’t rely on natural ability, and I needed to do more work for a given result than in any other area of my life. Now that I’m doing it again, my first thought is that it should be easier, but in truth, it’s been more difficult. For the first prolonged amount of time in my life, between karate, school, clubs, and various other commitments, I’ve had more things to do than time to do them; I’ve needed to make strategic sacrifices of time and effort in different areas in order to maximize my outcomes across the board. 100% success is out of reach for the first time, so I’ve been forced to build the discipline to get as close as I can. To most adults, this probably sounds like pretty standard practice, but for me, it’s a struggle. It’s a lesson I’m still learning, and it’s one which nothing has made as apparent to me as karate has. Training for this grading has challenged my discipline by not only forcing me to work hard, but also to think critically about what I’m working on, something which I’ve never experienced at this scale before.


So far, this involvement I’ve had in karate has been immeasurably valuable to my upbringing, because of the unique challenge it poses to me. In writing this essay, I hope to have illustrated the ongoing effect it has on my level of discipline, and in the process, draw attention to the value of this important life skill. I believe that people, young people in particular, can gain a lot from learning how to extract their potential through hard work completed in a calculated manner, and karate is providing me with exactly that. Of course, I am using my perspective on the matter, because that’s the one I know best, which does make a lot of what I’m saying a bit useless to anyone else. Not everyone can relate exactly, but the basic ideas still carry through; I know people who struggle with the academic side of school, but excel in sports, because they’re either naturally good at them, or they only apply themselves to activities they enjoy. Either way, these people can build good discipline by challenging themselves to do better in school, in the same way I can do so by challenging myself to do better in karate, and in the same way that anyone can by challenging themselves to pursue their weaknesses

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