To function at our best, we need mind, body and spirit to be in balance, and with the 2016 Olympic Games for able-bodied athletes behind us and the Paralympics to commence in September, it’s a good moment to ponder on how sports/physical activity (in our case, martial arts) contributes to this.
Our spirituality, intellectual and emotional skills are developed through mind-expanding activities such as philosophical and artistic pursuits for example, but complete health of the individual also requires physical wellness and ability, i.e. fitness.
If we think of ‘fitness’ where it has meaningful and practical applications (such as comfortably lifting heavy objects), the general physical skills developed through any kind of sustained physical activity are: cardiovascular/respiratory/muscular stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, co-ordination, agility, balance, and accuracy.
For most of us, the obvious benefits of engaging in sports or physical activity are:
• It’s fun
• Better sleep patterns and lower levels of anxiety
• Clarity of mind
• Development of motor skills
• Better overall general health.
Participating in sports/physical activity promotes good health of course, but it can also positively affect personal development through building character (it requires mental strength to get up and go to training when one doesn’t feel like it), teaching goal-setting and strategic and analytical thinking, developing leadership skills, and encouraging a healthy approach to risk-taking. When we are under stress from the pressures and anxieties of life, apart from the physical benefits, physical exercise helps release mental and emotional pressure and tension in a healthy and controlled way.
Olympic athletes are the ultra elite of their craft, they are exceptional examples of what a person can achieve, with an formidable ability to focus and set goals. But we mere mortals can still utilise their model, even while understanding that we may not possess that particular strength of mind to achieve all they have, and recognising that not everyone is blessed with all the gifts which make being an Olympian a possibility. We can still be the Olympian of our own world though, because our achievements are no less for appearing only on our own small stage; it still takes all the same qualities to set and reach goals.
Bringing this back to training in our brand of martial arts, with its focus on self-defence and developing the individual, it may possibly be a gentler path than an Olympian’s, but it still develops all the same personal skills. It is a long-term commitment that requires one simple decision to turn up to all the classes (rather than making a decision before each and every class), and an understanding that there is a constant need to take the risk of stepping outside one’s comfort zone in order to progress physically, mentally and emotionally, since mastery of this craft will take time and much practice.
Excellence is a matter of perspective. All the same, with that striving for excellence comes its beauty.