Martial Arts

Does practicing martial arts mean you like to hurt people?

In a class at our Summer Expo, working and practicing in one of the many classes, I was admonished by someone with “oh, you don’t like to hurt people.” In the moment this felt like negative feedback, and I had a momentary flash of shame, of not feeling “tough enough” in class.

Wait…Hold it just a minute.  So…in my head I was asking this person, so you do martial arts because you LIKE hurting people? Taekwondo makes you better at hurting people, more efficient?

Why did I feel bad, or shamed by that comment? I think it’s total BS and really got me thinking.

It’s a classic Miyagi moment. I mean, this was the whole them of the original Karate Kid. Master Miyagi and Daniel were the heroes because they used karate for honorable reasons and fought with integrity.  Kobra Kai were the ‘bad guys’ because they used their martial arts skills for dominating and hurting others (like beating up Daniel.)

No, I don’t like to hurt people.  Yes, I like taekwondo. What does that have to do with learning a martial art?

One of the first things I learned in my very first class, before I even had a uniform on, were the final two words we say in class as we bow out: Ho Shin.  Self-control before self-defense. That’s pretty much the opposite of hurting someone.

So if it’s not to be a better fighter, why learn a martial art?

I’ve got a lot of reasons:  Self-defense. Health and weight loss. Self-confidence. Because two nights a week I get out of the house to be not the mom or the wife and to be just me, challenging myself.

I learn taekwondo for personal development.  In the tradition Chinese and Korean systems of medicine, nature is the model of health.  In nature, there is a balance of yin and yang. We need the outward, the active, the movement in equal parts with stillness, reflection and inward. And I’ve spent a lot of time in the past studying more ‘yin’ aspects of movement--yoga, mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, qi gong, yoga nidra. At some point I stopped making progress and lost my way a bit. As I’ve quoted Sherlock before, I think the Universe is rarely so lazy as to rely on coincidences, and I think my opportunity to learn taekwondo came just when it was supposed it.  I needed to learn more about the yang, and instead of quieting myself, I need to challenge and push myself in a new way.


Because, really, I can let myself off the hook a lot. I was never a solid, daily meditator because I lacked discipline. I’m hoping taekwondo builds up my self-discipline.I lack a strictness with myself in many parts of my life, and committing to working hard, to the structure and form and discipline of a martial art helps shore up my many yin qualities. The balance between yin and yang is the best of both worlds–honoring my tendence to yin but having the balance of yang to keep it from going too far.


That does go both ways.  I see long-time practitioners fighting injuries in very yang ways, when some yin balance could be helpful in healing. An overly yang way of handling an injury is taking a painkiller and pushing through. A balanced approach is to rest and work internally with an injury as well.  Nourish it with nutritional and herbal support, get care from a massage therapist, acupuncturist or other practitioner.


I have a book about the Kung Fu nuns. For Buddhist nuns, much of the day is spent in silence, meditating, being in service. Yin. One monk decided the group of nuns he managed would learn Kung Fu.  And this is perfect–to balance all that yin with the action, the kihaps and noise, the upright strength of yang. It has been scandalous to some, but I think it makes perfect sense.


So, the answer is Yes. I don’t like to hurt people. My yin qualities have been dominant for years–being a mom, a teacher are very yin jobs. I do taekwondo right now for balance, for yang, for discipline. To push myself. To do jumping jacks and take two hour belt advancement tests that get so hot and work me so hard I throw up. (Thank goodness I’ve only done this once.) To be working out, look down and be sweating so hard the drops hit my uniform and deflect, continuing on until the orb drops, flattening on the carpet. (Remember, when you’re doing push-ups, face and nose down into this carpet, don’t think about all the sweat and bare feet…)

Have I succeeded? Am I more balanced? Do I have specific goals for this balance?

The most outwardly visible is my shape, and losing inches. Excess weight is a yin condition–fat is yin. Muscle is yang.  Speed is another example–tai chi, yoga, qi gong are all slowly paced exercises. I was a slow person–my running has been mocked on multiple continents. So at Expo, when we were doing target kicking, I did three fast front kicks that earned a “good speed” from the black belt holding the target.  THAT felt like a shiny gold star, like I was back in 2nd grade and my homework had a smiley face AND a good job! sticker.

Am I more disciplined? I’ve missed very few classes. There are days where I’m still nursing a cold and I think, you know, it’s okay to skip.  But I don’t.  I hate jumping jacks and I am SO tempted to try to bribe my way out of them, but I don’t. I do them. Did I mention I hate them?

So far the “Carrie as a martial artist” experiment is going pretty well.


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