The Actual Benefits of Karate


What (really) are the Benefits of Karate?

Depending on who you ask, the benefits of Karate, or any martial art, are as varied as the number of styles that exist.

If you have ever seen an ad for a Karate, Taekwondo, Kung Fu, or Jiu-Jitsu school, there were probably several promises made to catch the attention of students (or more accurately, their parents). The usual things will usually say in big, bold letters "Improve Focus!", "Discipline!!" "Learn Respect!!!", "Build Confidence!!!!", "Read Minds!!!!!".

-Okay, probably no one has claimed that they can teach you to read minds, but that conveys my next point.

How exactly do you teach a kid Focus, Discipline, Respect, Confidence, or any other desirable attribute that parents of would-be-students find compelling?

The short answer? You don't. And you can't. Anyone who says otherwise is just trying to sell you something or get you to sign a 6-month contract (Or something else).

The truth is, that's not how the human mind works. You can't teach something like Discipline to a kid, nor can you teach them Confidence, Respect, or any other emotional/mental trait. Nope. Not how that works. You go tell a 4-year-old or a 14-year-old they need to respect you and they might listen, for a minute, then it will be gone like a fleeting breeze.

So what, it's all a lie then? A clever marketing scheme? A ploy to get your money?

-Eh, kind of. But let's explore that a bit more.

These traits can be learned, but they are not taught.

Are you confused yet? Here's how it works.

Let's take Discipline as an example. Discipline is not a command or trait; it's an exercise. Your brain, like your muscles, has to exercise and practice something to be good at it. The hard fact is that martial arts don't teach Discipline, but they do provide an environment that encourages it. If you have ever been to a Karate dojo or other highly disciplined martial arts school, you may have thought "Hey, these kids are super disciplined, they have great self-control, I want that for my kid! (or me)" But here's what is actually going on. In a Karate dojo or other martial arts school, the kids who succeed are those who exhibit self-control and Discipline. BUT only if the teacher requires it. Those successful kids are the ones who stick around, the undisciplined ones, and those who can't adapt to be disciplined, drop out. Either they hate going, and their parents let them quit, or they are made to go, they cause an interruption in the class, and the teacher kicks them out.

Now, Here's the cool part.

Remember how I said traits like Discipline are an exercise? Here is where that becomes applicable to Karate. To practice something, you need to have an environment that allows practicing that thing. Nowadays, there are fewer and fewer situations where we (kids and adults) must be patient, show control, and be disciplined. More and more things are becoming microwave-oven-ready. Entire industries are fueled by impatience, impulsiveness spontaneity: convenience stores, fast food, mobile applications, games with microtransactions. The world will encourage poor decisions and a lack of self-control because they can profit off it.

And the same principles can be applied to any other mental skill that you see on those Karate Ads.

Let's take Confidence, the big one. This is the other key "Characteristic" that people think of when asked about the benefits of martial arts. But how do you "teach" Confidence? You don't. There it is again. It's a skill that has to be practiced. And guess what? No matter the number of kicks and punches you do, you will not "Learn" Confidence. Nope. This is where training in a Karate Dojo may help. Often students are asked to demonstrate a technique to others; this requires an element of human interaction that exercises that "mental-confidence-muscle." Students are also required to interact with and practice with other students, which will help engage that mental muscle of Confidence.

So what's the point I'm trying to get at?

Just practicing Karate, Taekwondo, Kung Fu, or anything else will not build any of those traits you see in the Ads.

It takes a fantastic Teacher that understands these concepts, sets an example through their actions, and INVITES their students to do the same. And that's the KEY CONCEPT of what I am getting at today. A good teacher INVITES their students to practice these traits. An inexperienced teacher tries to tell their students; telling doesn't work. For these mental exercises to work, the student has to initialize the exercise.

So before you sign that 6-month contract, ask the teacher if you can watch a few (as in more than one) classes. Ask to watch their older and younger students.

-If they let you, great make the decision based on how they teach and how their students act.

-If they don't, then don't bother paying them because they either have something to hide or know they can't deliver on what they promise.

Never have I EVER met an experienced, wise teacher that won't let you watch their class before joining.

Anyone can teach martial arts. Really, it's not that hard. But it takes someone with a lot of experience and mental fortitude (by practicing those mental exercises regularly) to teach what those Ads all promise.

I'm not saying that you can't trust an Ad for a martial arts school; I'm just saying that there are many phonies out there, and just because you are paying a lot does not mean they can deliver.