It stands to reason that over the decades, I’ve been asked about karate and the martial arts on a number of occasions. Many people have made a point of saying that they could never do what I do, as they don’t feel as though they have the physical abilities or the patience to do so. I usually try to explain that there is no specific physical pattern one must have to study the way, and I’ve trained with people who have had debilitating conditions and they’ve still gone on to become skilled martial artists.
Despite this fact, most people are of the opinion that the martial arts is a level of fitness that they could never achieve. The truth is, my body was essentially giving out on me when I started karate. But I stuck with it and thirty-one years later, I have a better constitution than most non-Diabetics of my age group who haven’t studied martial arts. But the biggest question during these conversations is usually what does it take? It often goes a little something like this:
“So you do karate, huh? I could never do that…”
“I don’t really think I’ve got what it takes to train in karate…”
“And what, exactly, do you think it takes?”
“I don’t know, I assume you need to be physically fit?”
“Do you need to be strong?”
“Well, if you don’t need those things, then what does it take to study karate?”
“Commitment and concentration. With those two things, which anyone can have, you can be successful in the martial arts.”
Now, this is a generalized conversation, of course. But it’s usually the gist of it. I’ve had some colleagues and students watch me when I use a punching bag or practice my forms and I’ve even had some ask me how I put so much power into my strikes. In recent years, this would be where I would insert a Mark Ruffalo joke about how “that’s my secret, I’m always angry.” But I usually like to use the analogy of a bullet versus a fist.
A bullet is a minuscule thing. It usually weighs in at about 40 grams or more depending on the size and caliber, and doesn’t really seem all that intimidating when it’s sitting on a table. If I were to pick up that bullet and flick it at you, it would bounce harmlessly off your chest and fall to the floor. For the most part, a bullet in and of itself is pretty harmless.
But take that same bullet, wrap a bunch of gunpowder behind it and ignite that powder and that same 40 grams of lead will be propelled at about 1,400 feet per second. At that speed, the bullet will penetrate flesh, bone and even some solid structures. The “minuscule” object that was harmlessly flicked at your chest in the previous paragraph is now capable of serious bodily harm. Doesn’t seem so harmless now, does it?
The same can be said of any technique you train with in the martial arts. When you train constantly and consistently, focusing on your form, technique and speed, the size of your bicep really doesn’t matter in terms of what physical power you exert. It all comes down to physics and Newton’s Second Law (F = ma). That formula basically means that an object’s Force (F) is equal to its mass (m) multiplied by its acceleration (a). It doesn’t take a math whiz to acknowledge that the greater the acceleration, even if the mass doesn’t change, the greater the overall Force.
This is why I usually tell people that their current physical state is never a reason NOT to try the martial arts. I know that when you see martial arts’ movies with actors like Jean-Claude Van Damme, you tend to assume that the musculature is a necessary aspect, but it really isn’t. In fact, if you check out any footage of Shaolin monks, they’re generally of average musculature. So the harder and faster you throw the punch, the better and more effective it will become. Same with your kicks and any other striking technique.
I’ve seen people with terminal cancer, heart issues, colostomy bags and even artificial limbs train in the martial arts and even go on to achieve a black belt. One good example of this would be Shoham Das, a young boy I wrote about some time ago in a post entitled Half A Heart, All Of The Will who literally had a piece of his heart missing but trained consistently and has gained black belt level.
The bottom line is that anyone can train and achieve the level they want. All it takes is the commitment and concentration required to keep going, even when it gets tough. This is what martial artists are referring to when they say “mind and body.” If you think you don’t have what it takes to do martial arts but you’ve always wanted to, you should give it a try. You might just surprise yourself. ☯