Welcome back, Dear Readers.
Ever since I began this blog over a year ago, I’ve received some negative commentary about my participation in martial arts. Why, when there is already so much senseless violence in the world, would people deliberately seek out opportunities to hurt others? My dedication to muay thai may seem directly opposed to the message of peace I often preach.
Admittedly, I have met students who were in martial arts for the wrong reasons. These were bullies and thugs who wanted free license to damage other people–they could care less about the hundreds of years of tradition. Simply put, they just wanted to hurt somebody. Unfortunately, I imagine that those who have no experience with martial arts assume the majority of us are like that, and that is not the case. Those people were–and are, I’m happy to say–a sad minority.
I’ve met the kindest, gentlest people through martial arts. These are people who may perform well in the ring, but who would otherwise take great care to avoid or prevent violence. They are giving, empathetic creatures-perhaps because they know what pain feels like, they give it a greater respect and think twice before causing any themselves.
A lot of people develop their first bit of self-confidence through martial arts…not because they can beat someone up, but because they have mastered a complex set of skills, or survived one of the toughest workouts on the planet. Martial arts develop discipline in unruly children and absent-minded adults. Training can keep depression at bay and improve sleep. There are dozens of benefits one receives without even so much as stepping near a boxing ring.
Without going into nasty details that would hurt or humiliate people I love, my childhood was not a happy one. There was abuse–some physical, but mostly emotional–on an almost daily basis, which completely eroded my self-esteem. I could stand up for my friends, but never for myself. My elementary school was ruled by a pack of mean-spirited older girls who threatened violence if you accidentally glanced their way. When I look back on my youth, the overriding feeling I remember is fear–fear at home, and fear at school. Not a nice way to grow up.
My opinion of myself was so low that by the time I was a teenager, I couldn’t look in the mirror unless the lights were off. I was convinced that I was the ugliest person whoever lived, and so did not desire to live. I was often suicidal, and deeply miserable. Only my writing and a few close friends got me through that period.
When I moved to the city, I was still scared. Walking down busy streets, I was convinced that I would be mugged. Whenever I left my home, I was positive it would be broken into. As a wounded bird, I attracted more than my share of cruel, abusive men.
Martial arts didn’t change my personality overnight, but slowly, my inner strength began to build. This was the same survival instinct that had seen me through so many tough times–only, now it was encouraged to thrive. I walked with my head held high. I found the courage to speak my mind. I didn’t become a bully or a thug, but I was no longer a victim. I walked away from the people who treated me like crap, and surrounded myself with good friends and positive relationships. Muay thai gave me the courage to reinvent myself, and every time I train, I get stronger. I still put myself down far too often, and take mistakes too hard, but I am learning to be kinder to myself. I’m becoming a better person, one kick at a time.
I’m not saying that my experience with martial arts is the same as everyone else’s. But what I do know is that when I train, I’m not surrounded by dangerous, violent people. I train with healthy, happy souls who have smiles on their faces and an encouraging word for everyone…even strangers.
Not what you picture when you think of martial artists? Then I hope I’ve at least helped to change your mind.