Three Ways Martial Way Has Changed My Life – Matt Watkins

My decision to join Martial Way was an outgrowth of my interests outside of the martial arts. I had arrived at the conclusion that training in the martial arts would be one of the best ways in which to accomplish several of my goals in a manner which was compatible with the lifestyle I am building. As such, I’m hesitant to say that Martial Way has changed my life, and prefer to speak of it as reinforcing some of the commitments I had already made. In my case, I believe that many of the ideas that may be “life-changing” for other students are ideas I had already come to from outside Martial Way. My focus at Martial Way has been more about application, and I have seen my goals and drive toward them change through this application. That being said, I’ll now mention three particular points of interest.

I can clearly recall an incident during my first month of kickboxing in which I had eaten a delicious buffalo fried chicken sandwich from Threadgill’s (which I ate frequently while I worked there) a few hours before the workout. I felt, almost immediately into it, that I was sluggish and not as crisp as I had been during other workouts preceded by a lighter lunch. I decided then that I did not ever want to feel like I was climbing uphill simply because of what I had eaten, so far as I could. I ate fast food almost daily in high school, and though little of it as I was skinny and in good shape from playing football. It wasn’t until a few years later, while in college and no longer as active that I read Fast Food Nation and decided that I should avoid eating that kind of “food”, though its affect on my health was not my main reason for quitting. Within weeks I felt generally better, and I remember having a sort of epiphany when I realized that it wasn’t normal to feel groggy and sometimes sick after eating, and that I often felt so because of what I was eating. So I was putting effort into my diet prior to training, but this early experience really underscored its importance. I am not meticulous with my diet and don’t have an interest in micro-managing it, but that may change as well if it becomes necessary for what I want to accomplish. The point here is not as much about what I eat as when; after testing I’ll eat pretty much anything, but the day before testing I’ll be much more selective.

After the football season ended in the fall of my senior year in high school, I completely ceased working out. I can clearly recall timing how long I could hold my breath while at work (because work was endlessly stimulating, I’d often play little games like these) that spring and being astonished at how much my lung capacity had diminished since I’d stopped running sprints. Although I enjoyed being in shape, I didn’t think that I’d ever need to be in shape to that degree ever again. Why would I ever need to be able to run consecutive 100-yard dashes outside of playing football? Since that part of my life was over, so was being in that kind of shape. Toward the end of grad school, I’d decided that fitness would be a part of my life in the long-term, but was unclear as to how big of a part. I knew that I didn’t want to be obese, and I was mainly interested in being just fit enough to not repulse any females I’d be interested in sleeping with. I started lifting weights again and swimming, which I’ve always enjoyed, but I quickly found that without a clear goal in mind, my motivation to be fit would waiver. I then began dating someone and since she didn’t have a problem with my fitness, I’d usually spend time with her after class instead of working out like I had been doing.

Once I moved to Austin (and was newly single) I resumed working out, but again without a defined purpose as to why I was working out, I had difficulty sticking to a schedule. I’ve never placed much importance on my appearance, and working out “to look good” would simply not motivate me. Working out to live a healthy life was an idea that I could get behind, but I was in my late twenties, rarely sick, and felt fine. Training in the martial arts would provide me with a system of related goals that I could use to lay a foundation for a long-term healthy life. Since joining Martial Way the level of fitness I’ve been interested in has changed. I have no desire to be in the best shape at the school, or to out-push-up other students, but I am interested in being competitive. In order to spar on a competitive level with the most advanced students, a comparable level of conditioning is required. Up to this point I’ve been willing to push my conditioning toward that level (to a point), far beyond where I would have been satisfied before joining Martial Way. I couldn’t run all those sprints like I used to at this moment, but I can also do things now that I couldn’t have done then. There is a point where pushing my conditioning will begin to eclipse more important things in my life, but I am now realizing that that point is not set for me but by me.

As a kid growing up, my dad would always ride my ass for not doing things that I didn’t want to do. He thought I should be outside helping him spread mulch at 9 am on a Saturday morning, I thought I should be sleeping or playing video games. I can clearly recall, on days of anticipated yard work, calling my friends early in the day and asking them to call back sometime later and invite me over so that I could escape the situation. Perhaps because of things like this, I developed the impression that I was lazy, though I’d always insist that I wasn’t lazy when it came to doing the things that I really liked. I was lazy when it came to 8 hours of yard work, but I could play video games or listen to music well past the point most people would have given up. Again, I think in part because of this perception, I associated discipline and “willpower” with the ability to persevere through unpleasant things. When it came to reading philosophy, though others may have seen me as disciplined, since I enjoyed it I tended to not think of myself as disciplined, but as always stopping when there was more to be studied. When it came to working out, I definitely thought of myself as lacking discipline because it was less enjoyable and I did it less often. One of my reasons for joining Martial Way was to develop this discipline. I remembered the discipline in my childhood karate classes and desired the ability to apply that determination to anything I might be doing in life. Since joining Martial Way I have developed a different understanding of this. While kickboxing classes (and Super Challenge in particular) began as something I had to develop the discipline to get through, they became something that I enjoyed. I didn’t need discipline now, because it was fun; but at the same time this also meant that kickboxing wouldn’t provide me with what I was looking for (something I’d have to fight to get through.) It didn’t seem that regularly attending
classes was helping me to get through the things that I didn’t enjoy. I would still procrastinate when it came to grading, and put other things off like I always had, and I’d wanted to build the discipline to be able to do these things whether or not I wanted to.

I came to realize that I had found a way to take enjoyment from that which previously seemed joyless. What’s fun about doing 50 jumpers? “Nothing”, I would have said. But what is fun is be able to do 100 when you could only do 50 before. What is fun is being able to kick faster and harder. You can’t enjoy those things without doing the jumpers (or analogous exercises), but if you only value the jumpers as way to get to the harder kick, you’ll abandon them as soon as there is another way to get there. If you learn to value just doing the jumpers, then you can take enjoyment from them—and what they bring is like the icing on the cake. Is this what discipline is? Is it the ability to tough out the unpleasant or the ability to make the unpleasant pleasant? I would now argue it is the latter, and that no one can continue with something they take absolutely no enjoyment from. Training at Martial Way has helped to clarify this for me, and my understanding of this applies to much outside of the martial arts.

I believe that it is important to know where your boundaries are. In a sense it helps you to focus; when I know what’s impossible, I can avoid wasting my efforts on that and be more efficient at spending my efforts on what is possible. One of the earliest things I picked up on since beginning at Martial Way was a simple difference in language. Beginning students often begin with their “no’s”. They will start by telling you what they cannot do and why they believe that they cannot do it. The advanced students often begin with their “yes’s”. They will tell you what you can do and how you can make it happen. It is a difference in attitude that I believe reveals a deeper difference in psychology. If you’ve never climbed a mountain before, the task will appear impossible, but if you start to climb in the face of this impossibility, you may find that you are now doing what you thought you couldn’t before. You may not be at the summit yet, but if you’ve made it this far it may be possible to make it all the way—and you’ll never make it all the way if you stop at that first feeling of impossibility. In applying this philosophy at Martial Way I have seen this for myself and observed it in others. There will always be things that I absolutely cannot do, but much of what can and cannot be done is my own determination. I want to help my students both at Martial Way and outside of it to find this for themselves.

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