Different disciplines of martial arts all have one thing in common: the style demands physical involvement. They all involve motion, because their primary physical purpose is usually self-defense. Obviously, to consistently train will give certain benefits, including speed, strength, cardiovascular health, and confrontational skills.
What may be more difficult to see are the benefits that many martial artists think are superior to the ones aforementioned: the benefits to one’s mind and spiritual development.
Martial arts promote a very old philosophy, a lifestyle that many call the budo (meaning “the spirit of a warrior”). This spirit is something that all martial artists take very seriously, and is divided into a few main areas, including the principles of respect, devotion, humility, and spiritual balance. An interesting summary of the whole of budo can be found here.
First of all, martial arts is a very difficult skill. The retention rate for modern-day martial arts is extremely low, for many reasons. Most practitioners find that the skills take so long to learn, that they aren’t worth putting the necessary time into it. Those who stay, do so because of their enjoyment and interest in the sport. These people develop a devotion to training, a love of refining their technique, that eventually starts to self-propagate. There is a constant need to re-evaluate oneself and fix aspects of technique, and through these adjustments, people learn how to improve. They learn that if something doesn’t seem to work, they need to try it a different way. If that doesn’t work, they keep exploring, keep searching for something that does.
When athletes are going through a hard training, they will start to get tired. Many times, the training might even push them to the absolute limit of what their body can handle. And then they go a little bit further. This is an incredibly fulfilling experience, because it shows athletes that the limits their minds put on them, don’t really exist. It allows them to go through extreme physical fatigue and stress, because they know that, most likely, their mind is what holds them back. With this experience, comes a sense of self-confidence that is rarely seen outside the martial arts world.
In addition to this confidence, martial arts simultaneously teach a sense of humility to its athletes. If someone is a martial artist, he will tell you that he is always trying to improve, that learning never stops. Even if this person is incredibly skilled, he will say that there is always someone better, either with more understanding, better technique, or both.
These skills are invaluable, not only inside the dojo, but outside as well. Someone who is confident in their abilities, yet humble about them towards others, is one sought after by countless employers, all over the world. The knowledge on how to fix a problem, and the motivation to be diligent in the effort, is incomparable in any environment.
So, does martial arts offer physical benefits? Yes. But are the spiritual benefits given to practitioners even more valuable?