5 ways martial arts teaches you and your kids to have more discipline
First, let me start off by clarifying. In my view, "having" discipline is not the right way to think. Discipline isn't something you have or don't have.
It's not a possession.
Discipline is something that you do. Folks that appear to "have more discipline" are just better, actually just more consistent and doing those things.
Martial arts training provides us with many of those lessons.
1. Chunking down is inherent to the martial arts system.
In the martial arts, the journey to the coveted black belt can take years. Depending on the style of martial art it could take 3 to 5 years and in some styles 8-10 years!
That is a daunting process for adults, and in some ways, incomprehensible for many children as the start learning martial arts.
When a goal is seemingly unattainable, or at least very far out, it's easier to forgo taking action. There are couple of things at play here.
First is a trap that we all fall into: Procrastination. We think to ourselves, "There's plenty of time for that."
The second is a sense of futility. We convince ourselves that we won't succeed, so we don't do anything at all.
Alternatively, we can break down or chunk down this far-reaching goal into smaller, more understandable pieces.
The black belt is broken down into several color belts. For example, Taekwondo uses nine belts and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu uses 4.
And, each of those belts uses some sort of interim staging often implemented as stripes on the belt.
A several year goal has been broken down into a several month goal and then broken down into a several week goal.
Now, all we have to do is focus on the process to achieve that shorter term goal. For example, attending classes two to three times per week.
While it seems that one would need "a lot" of discipline to attain a big goal like black belt, the martial arts system teaches that actually you just need a little bit of discipline (and consistency) to reach all the small things along the way.
This idea of chunking down can be applied to many aspects of your life and that of your children.
2. Start with Why (and go back to it when needed)
One of my favorite books is Simon Sinek's "Start with Why" I highly recommend you read it.
In the martial arts endeavor, we've already seen the value of breaking things down into smaller, short term goals. However, the goal of black belt is always in the background.
Everything in the classes and training serves to meet that end of earning the black belt AND what that black belt means and does for the student.
Black belt has a unique meaning and benefit to each individual student. Remembering that purpose keeps them motivated to stay on track even when doing so doesn't feel so easy.
Being more disciplined in our actions goes back to this concept as well.
Ask yourself and remind yourself why did you start this process (whatever that may be) in the first place. When you first decided to do it, what excited you? What did you imagine getting out of being successful?
Reminding yourself of those feelings will help keep you on track.
3. Create a system of internal and external rewards
The first set of external rewards are based on milestones. In the martial arts, those milestones are clear and set up by the chunking down process. The reward for reaching each milestone is a stripe, belt or certification.
Now that you've chunked down your goal what are the rewards that will be in place at each milestone?
The first set of internal rewards is something that you put in place, but might not be naturally part of what you are doing. In this way, the rewards will be more meaningful and in line with what motivates you.
I've seen this repeatedly with my most successful students. They establish some sort of "carrot" that can be acquired at the end of each milestone. Smaller carrots for smaller milestones and larger carrots for bigger achievements.
The second set of internal rewards is a little more difficult to define. But again, they need to be something important and resonant with what drives you.
This set of rewards has to do with adherence to process rather than attainment of a milestone. Often, this will take the form of acknowledgement and recognition rather than an actual "reward".
An accountability action or partner can be a good way to facilitate this. For example, publicly committing to an action or process (easier than ever with social media) can help keep on track with both positive and negative reinforcement.
Personally, I've found having an acountability buddy or group that I check in with on a regular basis (weekly) has been very helpful.
In martial arts training, we remind ourselves that other students are relying on us to be there and they'll give us the psychological "high fives" when we are.
And, this leads us into number 4...
4. Surround yourself with others that are "doing the discipline".
Martial Arts training, for both kids and adults, is very much an individual activity. The goals and motivations are unique to the individual student and much of the training is introspective.
However, experiencing martial arts training at its fullest potential cannot be done alone. Certain techniques, sparring and self-defense cannot be accomplished solo.
Plus, a big part of martial arts is the iterative pursuit of excellence. A pursuit that is undergone with peers, near-peers and mentors. A martial arts student benefits most from being in all three of those positions.
Finally, the camaraderie of the group setting is un-paralleled. The class surrounds you with students, who at times will be more discipline and help pull you along. At other times you will do the pulling.
Follow a similar strategy in other aspects of your life. Join a group that has a similar goal as you.
Want to get better at something? Commit to teaching it to others.
5. Bundle habits and tasks.
Martial Arts classes and training involves a wide variety of qualities that the student seeks to develop.
For example, a student is likely required to develop upper body as well as lower body techniques, memorize certain patterns of techniques, learn both standing and grappling self defense, develop strength and cardiovascular conditioning, practice sparring, break boards, learn weapons, and a whole host of other mental aspects.
It's unlikely that all students like to do all of the things.
But, they do come to understand that it is necessary.
Within the martial arts classes, the things you like to do will be "bundled" with the things you don't like to do.
Similarly, you can bundle a new desired habit, with another good habit that has already reached a state of automaticity.
Pick something that you like to do, or already do with extreme consistency. Whenever you do that thing also commit to doing the new thing.
It's commonly referred to as habit bundling and is quite effective.
As you can see, all of these traits of martial arts training enable to martial artist to "have" more discipline.
However, the reality is, they don't have any more or less than you.
Discipline is just a series of behaviors that set you up for success.
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Somnath Sikdar
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Master, 7th Dan Black Belt
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