Build strength and strength of character.
By Nick Moretti | Photography by Jerry Zolynsky
Awise person once said, “Nothing exists. All things are becoming.”
When it comes to improving physical health, the body benefits from training for activities it will never actually perform. For example, people who do strength training are unlikely to become competitive bodybuilders. The same holds true of martial arts.
Although everyone knows a black belt in karate is likely skilled enough to disable any non-practitioner in a “fight,” most students of martial arts will never use it to actually fight for their lives. However, the physical discipline required to succeed at the skill itself offers myriad benefits to the practitioner.
“The benefits of martial arts are many,” says Peter Malota, owner of Birmingham Martial Arts. “Not only are you getting in better physical shape, but you are also learning self-defense. The aim of martial arts is to make you better, stronger and to condition your body so you can feel one with your body and mind.”
Many think of Bruce Lee or Chuck Norris when they think of martial arts, but these are superficial cultural images that have little to do with the actual practice. As Malota points out, the mind is at least as involved as the body in martial arts. By clearing the mind of distractions and allowing it to focus on the demands being placed on the body, one achieves a unity of body and mind that leads to continuing growth.
When water is put in a cup, the water becomes the cup.
One of the many benefits of martial arts is that it is ageless. One can begin as a child and continue for a lifetime.
“Our kids learn discipline and respect while building confidence and self-esteem,” Malota says. “Over time, through the physical workouts and belt promotions, children learn goal setting and ways to reach those goals. Our martial arts program brings out the best in every child and this spills over to their daily life.”
A great example is Gavin VanDerKerkhove, 13, of Lake Orion, who just earned his second-degree black belt. He studies at the Professional Karate Schools of America of Oxford.
“I started taking karate when I was 7, and I was nervous,” Gavin says. “I really didn’t know much about it when I started.”
Gavin became involved in martial arts through a community education program that offered a few free introductory lessons. By the third lesson and getting to break a board, he decided he liked it. Two years ago, he got his black belt.
“Getting my black belt made me feel really good. It was hard, an all-day test that included running a mile in less than 15 minutes, going through every motion ever learned, doing calisthenics and even watching some people pass out,” he says.
However, ultimately, he agrees that martial arts is good for everyone because it teaches discipline and respect.
Birmingham Martial Arts offers two programs for youngsters.
“Our first age group is for students 4 to 5 years old,” Malota says. “It is a very basic structured martial arts class that focuses on discipline and coordination. This class is called ‘Power Rangers’ and is preparing the young children to move up to the Beginning Children’s Program for kids ages 6 and up.
“This class is focused on building confidence, character and is more physical in nature, learning basic blocks and kicks. It is an easy step-by-step basic class structure, bowing before entering and when leaving, and respecting instructors by saying ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir.’”
Do you hear the grasshopper at your feet?
For adults interested in martial arts, it is a chance to make that mind/body connection, to engage in a physical activity that allows you to set and achieve goals while supervised by experienced practitioners.
“Part of the training will help you lose weight, gain flexibility and release stress, which causes you to feel better and gain confidence,” Malota says.
“Throughout my 35 years of being a martial arts instructor, the rewards are many. It’s being able to share your knowledge with your students and see their progress and growth. To see the weaker students become strong and to see the strong students become compassionate and respectful, as is the true martial arts way. It is very rewarding to see this growth. To be a part of making our children more responsible, respectful and confident helps us all by building a stronger community.”
For someone interested in taking martial arts for the first time, Sifu Robert Brown of the School for Martial Arts of Berkley and the Rochester School of Martial Arts has some wisdom.
“It is impossible to be a martial artist only on the mats,” Brown says. “So, if you are thinking of your practice only as techniques you perform, you are just training to be a fighter, not a martial artist.
“Martial arts is ultimately about learning to change your state of consciousness, to develop new and more effective ways of seeing and thinking and acting. There is nothing linear about this type of education. You may be able to track your physical practice through a ranking system, but you cannot measure how practice changes you mentally or emotionally.”
Brown emphasizes the inner and the physical progression of learning.
“There is no tool to measure consciousness,” Brown says. “Focusing on a progression of colored belts, advancing from point A to point B is less important once we realize that martial arts is more than physical. This never-ending path of self-discovery is the art and the ongoing creative expression of our spirit through physical and mental discipline that is martial arts.”
All things are becoming. NS