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Personal Development Through Martial Arts

Do Martial Arts Fit In A Personal Development Plan?

I’ve been training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the past eight years. When I first began, I was 225lbs and smoked a pack a day of cigarettes… I was nineteen years old when I seriously took to the mats with the goal of losing weight and joining the United States Army. I was dedicated to self improvement and my personal development goals had never been more real.

Personal development had never been where I had invested my time. In school, I cared about getting good grades. In my social life, I enjoyed drinking, smoking, and eating junk food with friends. Overall, a pretty unhealthy lifestyle and overall pretty unhappy life despite some level of academy success. When I decided to join the Army I knew I had to commit to personal development and self growth.

Personal Development Started Early:

My Father is a Judo black belt. He began training in Judo as a young child in Turkey to fend off bullies and defend his brothers. In his life, Judo and the martial arts have been a powerful personal development vehicle that propelled him forward in his life, kept him safe, and allowed for immense self growth and self improvement. He is now also a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

My Dad first introduced me to Judo when I was about six. We attended a few classes and I remember the hard sting of the cold mats as my first Judo instructor – Naval Academy Coach Edwin Takemori – would toss us around. It was my first brush with martial arts as a vehicle for personal development and self improvement: a taste of what would happen in my future.

I returned to the Judo mats when I was about fifteen. This time, I went as a way to get some social adventure (I was a homeschooled kid!) and to get the personal development track started. At that younger age, I wanted to improve my life, get in better shape, and develop a better mindset.

Judo practice whipped me into shape. I was on the mats for hours every week. I got a little bit obsessed. However, after about a year (and earning my Orange belt!), I gave up. Wanna know why?

I lost In Competition.

I went to my first Judo tournament and got destroyed. I remember that match well: my opponent felt like a brick wall when I grabbed onto his Judo Gi. He beat me in about thirty seconds. After a year of obsessing over Judo, it was a heavy blow. I would not recover for a few years, even though I did not realize it was still haunting me.

So what can you learn from my early failure?

Personal development means never giving up… It means getting back on the mats of life when you fall down. It requires a strong mind to conquer your goals, overcome limiting beliefs, and make something of yourself in this world. As a young kid junior to the world of personal development and self growth, I did not understand these concepts. I never realized that a true champion gets back on the mats after defeat. Had I known, maybe I would have stuck around Judo for a bit longer in the my early childhood.

Thankfully, I’d return to the mats when I was nineteen.

This is when the real personal development began.

Personal Development Knows No End.

I returned to martial arts at the age of nineteen. Why did I come back? I wanted to join the United States Army. Like I mentioned above, I was 225 pounds, smoked a pack of cigarettes every day, and knew nothing about working out or how to get in shape. I was still a junior in personal development. I was a shadow of the person I would become, thanks to the powerful transformative self growth process of the martial way.

Personal development became my obsession. I was fixated on my goal. I started jumping rope twice a day, once when I woke up and once before bed. I changed my diet and started following the Gracie Diet developed by the Gracie family, the founders of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Eight years later, I still follow most of the tenants of this way of eating that revolves around food combinations and spacing our meals roughly 4.5 hours apart from one another to allow for optimal digestion and energy.

 

“Martial Arts are a Vehicle for Developing your Human Potential”

Joe Rogan

 

Self development consumed me. I started doing martial arts five times a week. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, I would do Judo class followed by Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class for a total of three hours of hell. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I went to Ninjitsu class because I wanted to become a Ninja. I still do! When I was not at martial arts practice, I was running on the treadmill in my basement, running sprints at the track near my house, and jumping rope like crazy. Self improvement for me grew exponentially to become my number one priority. As Adam Walker would say, I made Martial Arts the Alpha of my life.

This period of frenzy lasted about a year and a half. As a result of this personal development period, I lost sixty pounds and quite smoking for good. Honestly, it was easy. I was so obsessed with my training that it came naturally to experience self growth and increase my potential. I had joined martial arts again simply to lose weight but found a vehicle for personal development that became addicting, amazing, and completely life changing.

I had begun to adopt habits of successful people. Little did I know, I was on a road that would take me far indeed. Martial arts would become a personal development vehicle like I would not believe. The me that existed ate age nineteen would not recognize the person typing this blog.

Here’s how my personal development journey evolved in those first few years of training:

  • I gained discipline.
  • I learned how to eat correctly.
  • Finally, I understood how to lose weight and workout.
  • My mindset was tougher than ever before.
  • I knew I could do anything…

Have you trained in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or a similar martial art? Here’s why it’s such a great vehicle for personal development: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is incredibly difficult. There is nothing more challenging than getting crushed by someone fifty pounds heavier than you and working to fight your way out of a bad position. If you’re looking for personal growth and self improvement, Judo, Wrestling, or Brazilian Jiu Jitsu are shortcuts.

How Can Lessons From Martial Arts Training Serve Your Personal Development?

Self growth and personal development are a key part of the human experience. When we do not explore our fullest potential, we are robbing ourselves of the beautiful experience of self development and self improvement. Throughout my martial arts journey, I’ve learned and grown tremendously.

On the Beyond Homo Sapien Podcast, we often explore the topic of how martial arts assist in personal development. It is a way in which we can spiritually develop our souls and personally develop our minds. It is a great blend of body, mind, and spirit which catapults the practitioner forward in their journey of overcoming limiting beliefs, evolving their mindset, and realizing a greater potential for self growth within themselves.

Want to dive into this topic? Here’s an episode of the Podcast with Charlie Vinch. Charlie is the owner and head coach at Budo Martial Arts Studio in Ewing, New Jersey, and a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Phil Migliarese.

On this show, Charlie and I dive into the topic of personal development. Charlie experienced a massive setup in his martial arts journey due to a hip injury that left him practically bedridden for three years. Charlie’s journey back to the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu mats is one that will hold truth and inspiration for anyone, regardless of if they have trained in the martial arts before. Self growth happens in all walks of life. Let’s get into the show:

Personal growth through the martial arts is easy once you make the commitment to attend. Too often, I see folks who start training in martial arts fall prey to their limiting beliefs. Personal development often is not easy and many are left by the wayside. My passion in life is ensuring that the doors of opportunity are open for all… The idea that a person can limit their personal development journey because they fall prey to limiting beliefs is one that I want to conquer.

Personal Growth Continues Forever:

My journey of self development continued after I lost weight through continued martial arts practice. As the years went on, my commitment to martial arts deepened. Although I continue to love Judo (eventually earning a Brown Belt under Sensei Lanny Reed at the Golden Dragon Academy in Williamsport, PA), my attention and passion turned completely towards Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I fell in love with fighting people on the ground, leglocks, and the NoGi (aka without the martial arts kimono) grappling. I was hooked.

After about three years of training, I finally earned my blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Master Pedro Sauer administered my test and I was a nervous wreck when taking the exam. Nevertheless, I persevered and earned the first rank in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. My journey of personal development had given me a reward that meant the world to me: a piece of cloth that embodied blood, sweat, losing sixty pounds, quitting smoking, evolving my mindset, and carrying myself into a new world of possibility.

A sweaty and tired version of me earning a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Master Pedro Sauer

When I returned home from college, I returned to my training. To be honest, this part of the martial arts journey during college was a masterclass in perseverance and returning to the art. There was a period where I began training CrossFit more often than I did Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and even stopped training BJJ all-together for about six months. Although CrossFit is certainly another great avenue for personal development and self growth (and a lot of sweat), I ultimately decided to return to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu because of the sheer love that I had for the martial art.

Personal development never stops. Part of the battle is to return to the mats… Return to the job that you started. If you continue to dedicate yourself to self growth and self improvement, there is a strong chance you will be challenged. You will go through periods where you do not feel like completing your goal or you get distracted and chase something else (as I did with CrossFit).

It is not about how often you go in a different direction. It is about how often you go back to your goals. Personal development means resiliency and a shattering of the limiting belief that giving up for a small period of time means overall defeat.

Martial Arts as a Spiritual Practice:

So far we’ve discussed in detail how martial arts can aid in personal development. However, can martial arts also assist in a spiritual awakening? Can they be involved in spiritual enlightenment? Personally, I believe that personal development and spiritual awakening are closely linked. Indeed, one cannot be achieved without the other it would seem. One leads to the other in more ways than one.

In my journey, the carryover of martial arts and spiritual practice is evident. A book that influenced my thinking on this topic is The Zen Way To The Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru. As a student of the last living Samurai, Taisen Deshimaru presents a compelling discussion on the relationship of martial arts to personal development and spiritual enlightenment. In his discourse, it is suggested that a person is not a true practitioner of the martial arts if they are not also incorporating practices of meditation, spiritual disciplines, and self awareness.

So how are martial arts similar to spiritual disciplines? Well, it is important to see the carryover of how personal development is influenced by a person’s ability and willingness to achieve a sort of spiritual awakening.

On this episode of the Beyond Homo Sapien Podcast with Karla Kelp, we dive into the topic of martial arts as a form of spiritual practice. It’s a great conversation I think you will enjoy:

 

It is important to recognize the carryover of martial arts to personal and spiritual development. Through the disciplined practice of something like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, our souls can experience themselves overcoming hardship, becoming more resilient, and we can develop in our abilities to interact with each other from a place of peace and understanding rather than violence.

Martial Arts Aid In Spiritual Development:

Personal development is closely linked with spiritual development. In fact, some might suggest that self growth done correctly will always lead to a sort of spiritual awakening. Why are martial arts such a powerful vehicle for this transformation? If you explore spiritual teachings, you find that ego reduction is a massive part of spiritual growth. This is a topic explored in A Course In Miracles, a landmark book in spiritual development.

Personal development is closely linked with ego dissolution as well. Oddly enough, there are few better ways to dissolve your ego than the martial arts. Over time, martial arts create this paradigm shift wherein a person experiences intense self growth because their ego no longer plays such a massive role in their life. For martial artists, this is a key part of how martial arts bridges the gap between personal and spiritual development.

I’m going to be updating this post over time. This is an extensive topic and I intend to cover this topic of martial arts crossing over to personal development in great detail. Look forward to much expansion on this post. Much love!

-Paul

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