Is Martial Arts Training Fun for Men and Women?

Fun? Really? I guess it depends on what you are doing in the martial arts to classify it as fun. Or if you are a sick, twisted fool that is into self-abuse and mayhem, brutal martial arts training can be fun. It boils down to what your motivation for training is. If you are into competition, patches, trophies, name recognition and glory then a commercial school oriented to the sporting aspects of martial arts is where you want to go. If you want realistic self-defense training perhaps going to a dojo with fewer trophies on the wall is something you want to seek.

Different cultures have different martial arts and it may take a few tries to find one that fits you and your personality. Personally I have been seeking my path in the martial arts for over forty years. I have found some really great schools and top-notch instructors and I have found some schools that I would not waste another second investigating. But my motivation for martial arts training is not the same as everyone else’s motivation. It may be similar but it is not the same.

My martial art training is not done as a hobby or a sport or even a pleasant past time. Sometimes it just plain hurts. Yes there is pain involved but that does not mean that the training does not have its own rewards. The camaraderie and bonding that takes place when you place your life in the hands of your training partner achieves a very high degree. It is true that we do not train for fun but occasionally we can have fun training.

If your goal in the martial arts is to achieve a fairly high degree of physical fitness, to maintain good muscle tone and flexibility then you may want to participate in such things as tournaments, and or demonstrations and that is an excellent goal. It can be fun and provide motivation for setting goals or meeting people of similar interests and abilities.

If your motivation to train in the martial arts is to provide yourself a venue to learn to fight and defend yourself you can still find an enjoyable experience but the bumps and bruises will be more extensive.

To seek “budo” or the way of the warrior your path will be quite different than if you were seeking the thrill of competition. The possibility of female participation is reduced but not eliminated. The concept of having fun is pretty much out the window. The training will be brutal by necessity. On the warrior’s path you are not training to compete, you are training to survive.

Back in 1967 when I began training in Shotokan my goal was to become a professional soldier. Vietnam was in full swing and I knew if I wanted a military career, I would have to have combat experience. My dream was to join Special Forces (Green Berets) and to command an SFOD – A. I thought I would be more and better prepared if I had some real martial arts training. The club I joined was the Brigham Young University Shotokan Karate Club. There really was not a choice if I wanted good martial arts training. There was nothing else available. The training was brutal. If we did not draw blood during a workout, it was not a good workout. That intense training served me very well when I entered the military in 1973. I missed out on Vietnam (darn the luck! Shucks, I really wanted to go. Not!) as well as all of the other live fire exercises the United States became involved in up until 1990 when I was medically discharged. The martial art training during those early years was not fun but it saved my butt several times. Just being able to push myself beyond my perceived limits of physical endurance was a direct result of my martial arts training and it served me well. Now my martial art training is very different from that in 1967. It is more intellectual and spiritual and has much more potential for severe physical damage. It still is not fun because pain is involved but we can have fun during the training. The close-knit group of students who care about each other’s safety is very much different than in the early days. I run classes in my dojo in the basement of my house and training is done by invitation only. Many of my students are prior or current military. Some have had law enforcement experience. The training is hard but the banter and joking provide an environment that is “fun”.

Karate is up close and personal. Jujutsu is intimate. This makes some people uncomfortable until they get past the ma-ai barrier and learn to get close to their training partner and maybe their attacker. We must learn to leave our ego as well as our gender at the door. The focus should be on training and learning. Leave the sexist crap outside. That said, then training can become fun.

I have had several junctures in life that if I quit training, retired my uniform and belt and pursued other interests in life it would be permissible. I’ve broken my back twice, broke my leg really bad and dislocated my ankle, got hurt on a night parachute jump etc. etc. But I discovered that I can’t quit. The martial arts have become quite addictive. Perhaps it is the flood of endorphins that keeps me coming back. Maybe I am just waiting for the fun to happen?

Nicole Thomas

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