I have been asked this question on numerous occasions and I have always struggled to explain my reasons, my normal reply is “Can you tell me what mash potato taste like” which is a bit of get out clause. The reason being is that I have never really dug deep enough to really know. That sounds shallow but there are so many different answers I could give and the reasons have changed considerably over the years. In fact, my reasons change all the time. Let me explain,
I first started training in martial arts at the age of 7, 43 years ago. My reasons then was because I wanted to be able to fight like Monkey. For those readers that haven’t a clue what I’m talking about, it was a Japanese 1970 series about a Chinese god that travelled about on a cloud and had to travel to India with a priest that was a women pretending to be a man and had to protect her/him beating up lots of badies along the way. He had a staff that he carried behind his ear which he could magically make full size by summoning it to get bigger. Yes it was a weird one but I loved it and even carried around a staff with me most places I went, which at that age, consisted of my street and maybe up to the top shops. I was a kid that didn’t have any confidence and was scared of his own shadow. After Monkey, it was the Bruce Lee films and the series The Green Hornet which he starred in, and again, I just wanted to be as cool as him and beat up the bad guys.
Around this young age, I was also bullied and I believe that this had a lot to do with wanting to be like my idols.
I also believe this was still my reasons right up until my late teens, being honest, I hated myself all through my teens, as I, like so many other young people, was trying to be someone that I wasn’t. I hated being frightened of confrontation and bullies. Martial arts was my thing that I thought once I got my black belt, I would overcome these fears, Okay, being more honest with you, this carried right through till my mid 30’s but I don’t think this was a strong enough reason for my to carry on with my training.
I started reading self development books at about 16 and it was about this time that I started running and attending a gym. I hated physical exercise all through my school years but martial arts was different and I wanted to get fit for my martial arts. Personal development and martial arts seemed to go together and at 16 years of age, I obviously wanted to look like Jean Claude Van Damme, who wouldn’t!
So in my teens, fitness was a big part of my reasons, I felt good after a good workout. I have gone through lots of stages with going to the gym but I have always said that I’ve needed goals to go for. Going to the gym was hard to see the results whereas martial arts was easier because of the belt structure and also having an instructor who pushed you. Its also good to see new beginners starting which is another good way to see how much you have progressed.
I don’t know why I was so driven to get good at martial arts. I was beaten black and blue at some hardcore clubs but I didn’t quit as I wanted to be bloody good at it. I also changed instructors and clubs so many times. I’m not sure if this was because I like to learn from different people or when I got to the senior grades, I didn’t have the self belief that I could go any further. Its probably a bit of both.
Going through my 20’s I was in a marriage that was wrong for me, all my mates were into drinking and doing drugs. With me wanting to be popular and with my people pleasing skills, I did the same. Even though I went down this route, I always said that my training came first and I would never touch alcohol or drug until after I had been training. I am not making excuses but when you have never had much confidence, and then you start to become popular, you do some stupid things. Around this era I used to say that martial arts was my anchor which kept me on the straight and narrow which I suppose it did.
I eventually achieved my first black belt at age 30 in Tae Kwon Do and guess what, nothing changed in my life. I was still frightened of confrontation and bullies, I still thought of myself as a wimp, even though by then I was okay at sparring, inside I still felt like the kid that was running from everything.
They say that the black belt is just the beginning and a new chapter starts in your life. I think this is true but you also start to realise that their is a lot of politics in martial arts. I started to question everything that I had learned and I wanted something else in my training. I started training with Geoff Thompson who at that time was all into pressure testing the martial arts but also the higher spiritual side of it too which is something that I had never had an instructor talk about like he did.
It was around this time that I started to gain a bit of confidence in myself as I was holding my own and training with a lot bigger guys than me. I had also started training in Kung Fu then which had all the philosophical stuff with it too.
Kung Fu was a martial art that I always wanted to do as it was Bruce Lee’s first art, I loved the fluidity of it but must admit, I struggled with it as it was so different from Tae Kwon Do.
At this stage in my life, I had already had my first mental health crisis and I was looking into ways of staying strong mentally well as well as physically. Since my first breakdown at the age of 26, I have suffered from poor mental health right up to my early 40’s, I would say I still do but with new learnings and coping strategies, I am stronger mentally than I have ever been. I do look at it like an alcoholic or a drug addict, in that you are always aware and can can slip back at any time, which I have had many relapses.
So I would say that from my late 20’s through to my late 40’s it was the fact that if I wasn’t doing martial arts, my mental health would spiral down hill. Now that I have reached 50, I am still working on things with my mental health but there is more to it than that. Its about movement, being mindful and enjoying it. Even though I still obviously have an ego, looking back, it was my ego that wanted the extra boosting. I wanted to be hard and be able to defend myself. The funny thing is, even though I have never been a world champion or the doorman that has had over 300 fights, I did win competitions, I worked on the doors with success, I pressure tested what I’d leant and I have had to use my skills in a self defence situation and came away better off, I’d passed 6 black belt tests but I still didn’t feel that I was good enough!
I now train in a lot more softer arts and am qualified under Steve Rowe to teach his Tai Chi system. I do believe that people turn up in your life at the right time, Steve hasn’t been in the greatest of health for a while now and he still teaches and helps share his wisdom to people that value it. As I am now in my 50’s, I believe that Steve’s philosophy and teachings are the reason I will still be training in martial arts for all my life. He has been a big inspiration to me and so many others.
The biggest take away from all above is since I have been working on what I have learnt in martial arts and taking it into my own personal life, I have seemed to of left all the above behind and enjoying the martial arts for what it is. Its what Steve says all the time, you should be working from the inside out, I think that most of my younger years training was the complete opposite.
Now that I have my own school, I believe I teach the way that would of been better for my own development. When I teach students, it can be to help them gain confidence, to gain knowledge, to help with mindset, sometimes its to help people with taking the shit way from their lives, sometimes its to become fitter, sometimes its to become more spiritual.. Its no different to my path except I hope to make their path quicker to get to as you will never stop learning new truths.
To conclude, now a days When I practice on my own, its about the practice and enjoying it but it always makes me feel better about myself. That’s a good enough reason for me.