How does martial arts build confidence?
There are many reasons why people get interested in training Martial Arts. By far one of the most common we hear is “confidence.”
What is confidence?
Just put it’s a belief that you can, rather than an idea that you can’t. But there needs to be more to it than that. A few years ago I read about a report on the performance of school children in various OECD countries. The American children, according to this report, we’re going backward in comparison to the other countries on every measure (literacy, numeracy, etc.) except one.
Self-belief. In other words, American kids were getting worse at everything except their belief that they were getting better. I believe to be beneficial confidence needs to based in reality. From having experiences that demonstrate the “I can” rather than merely reciting positive affirmations to yourself or having people around you tell you-you’re great. True confidence is earned.
And that’s where martial arts come in. Particularly the so-called “live” martial arts. These are the styles that involve some full resistance sparring, be it grappling, or striking, or mixing both. This live environment allows the student to take all the guesswork out and to develop a sense of “I can” based on evidence they feel every night on the mat.
The confidence in this kind of training comes in three forms.
First of all, there’s a confidence that comes with knowing you can take care of yourself. Even in a modern civilized society where let’s face it, most of us are unlikely to get into a fight next week – the knowledge that you have tools to protect yourself if you ever have to give you a real sense of assurance and security.
I find martial arts have made me much better at dealing with verbal conflict and handling other people’s anger because that assurance allows me to come from a place of calm consideration rather than being in fight or flight mode and responding emotionally.
From that flows the second kind of confidence. The confidence martial arts practitioners develop about their ability to develop any skill. Because what martial arts teach us is that we can learn.
That once you have the right methodology, you can get skilled at anything you choose to apply that methodology to. Whether it’s a new armbar, learning a new language, or new skills at work. In our classes we are not just teaching people how to choke, armbar, kick and punch.
We are teaching people how to learn – and we are quite explicit about that. That’s why so many of my students are excited to tell me about the other areas of their lives that have gotten better since they started training.
And then there’s the third confidence. The confidence that you can handle it. When students start, they are often a little nervous about their first class. And then they come in and have a great time and realize that there was nothing to worry about. And because it’s fun, they keep coming.
And as they keep coming, they feel more and more comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable. Certain fighting positions that felt hard become easy. Until one day they realize that they are staying calm and composed even in the toughest of situations. And that’s how this confidence works. It creeps up on you.
You suddenly notice that along with becoming physically stronger, fitter, tougher, you’ve also become mentally tougher. In other words, when you know that you can stay calm fighting off an armbar or choke hold, suddenly the performance review at work, or meeting the new in-laws doesn’t seem as daunting anymore.
Because you have confidence based on real and regular experience that however tough things are, you are tougher. You can handle it.
I don’t’ believe martial arts exist to teach people to fight. They are there to teach people about themselves. And specifically, how to get more out of themselves. This is the confidence you get when you realize that you are effortlessly doing today, what seemed impossible yesterday.
The confidence you get from knowing however good you are today, you can be better tomorrow.
The confidence that whatever challenges are thrown your way you can take a deep breath and get to work on moving forward. Confidence that is based on real-world capabilities demonstrated regularly. Trust that is earned.