10 Martial Arts Life Lessons You Can Use Everyday

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I’m a novice at jiu-jitsu and kickboxing, both of which I recently started studying this spring at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’m not very good, but I’m not supposed to be yet — I’ve only been training for about two to three months, and it takes most people a decade or more to get a black belt. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point. What I do know is that I feel physically stronger, have reduced my exercise-induced asthma (no more wheezing on staircases!), and am pretty confident that I’ll be able to hold my own if some sucker ever tries to mug me on the street. I’m also pretty sure my abs could lift a car.

That said, there are far more benefits to studying martial arts than the obvious physical ones. Here are some important life lessons I’ve learned while studying with the incredible staff and students at BBJJ. (And if you want some awesome self-defense tips, check out instructors Nova Parrish and Corey Gallagher giving some amazing demos here!)

1. No pain, no gain. If your muscles are sore, it means you did something. Think of it as your body checking off your workout on a to-do list. It’s a good pain, because you’re gaining strength from it, unlike, say, the pain from a papercut, which hurts like a mother and just makes you mad.

2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. One of my instructors, the glorious Nova Parrish, put it this way: If you’re comfortable with a partner putting you in an armbar, a key-lock, or a choke, minor everyday discomforts like waiting in line, being stuck in traffic, or being stuck on the phone with your annoying cousin seem much more, well, minor — and thereby much more bearable.

3. Ask for help. No one is an expert on everything. (I know, not even me!) Chances are, there’s someone who’s better than you at a particular skill. Instead of being silently jealous or insecure and seething, ask that person how to do that one thing, whether it’s a knee-elbow escape or how to incorporate graphics into a PowerPoint.

4. Communicate. If your partner is getting too aggressive, don’t hold it in and get resentful and choke them too hard when it’s your turn. Tell them. If your husband ignoring the laundry bothers you, instead of muttering to yourself, tell him, “Hey, it’d be a huge help if instead of stepping over your dirty clothes if you’d just toss them in the washing machine.” If your boss is overworking you, let her know you have a lot on your plate and won’t be able to successfully tackle another project unless you drop something else. Most people aren’t mind-readers!

5. Be flexible and adaptable. When I was first being taught how to do an arm-bar, I was partnered with someone of considerably more girth. As a result, when I sat on her back to perform the finish, my feet didn’t touch the floor, and I had a really hard time doing the move. My instructor showed me a variation, and I was finally able to nail it. The lesson here? There’s more than one way to do most things, and every situation is a little different. Assess your opponent or your particular adversity and adapt your solution to your circumstances.

6. Push yourself as far as you can … then go a little bit further. Be realistic about what you can do, then try to beat that. If you think you can only do 10 pushups, try to go for 12. If you think you can only land four new clients this month, aim for six. You’ll never improve if you trap yourself in your low expectations.

7. You are with whom you surround yourself. Before I began training, a lot of (not all) my friends were through work or comedy, and frankly, a lot  (but again, not all) of those people are miserable and exhausting. If your buddies are overwhelmingly negative, self-sabotaging, lazy, complacent, or just meh, you may well end up following their example, even if you don’t intend to do so. Try to pal around with successful, happy, well-adjusted people — even if you don’t see those qualities in yourself just yet. They’ll inspire you to do better and be better.

8. Observe and assess yourself positively. You’ll never perfect your form if you don’t see yourself. Similarly, if you don’t view yourself or your work objectively from the outside, you won’t be able to appreciate how wonderful you are or see how you can or should improve. I didn’t realize my left hook was so wonky until my instructor helped me stop and look at it. Now I can probably unhinge your jaw.

9. Alter your thinking. If you only see negative, force yourself to counter that with five positive things. For example, I’ve had a monster zit between my nose and my left eye since f*cking March, and it drives me insane. However, whenever I fixate on it, I tell myself: “My hair is really shiny, the rest of my face looks okay, my brows are on point, I have the Jesus cuts on your abs, and my teeth almost glow in the dark.” I also had an editor on Friday claim that I needed to pare down my writing, which made me question my skills and years of experience that outdo her own. I told myself, “I’m funny, I have a slammin’ resume, I corrected her grammar last week, my actual boss likes my work, and I can put her in a trap triangle until she passes out (even though I won’t).”

10. Appreciate stillness. Don’t fidget. Don’t look around. Don’t think of everything you have to do in the morning. For a moment, even if it’s just for two minutes in the shower or when you first wake up or before you go to sleep, just be still. You may find you get an amazing idea when you’re not trying.

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