February 1, 2007


Learning the Martial Arts to improve self-esteem!

I was a student at the Karate and Judo Schools of America. The mental and physical skills I learned have proven to be priceless! Thank you, Sensei.

Achieving positive self-esteem is a daily job. Overcoming the obstacles to this process (daily problems, critical people, watching the news on TV, negative self-talk, etc.) takes effort and skill. There are many things we can do to achieve a healthy self-esteem so we can overcome these daily negative influences. Learning the Martial Arts is one of them.

Martial Arts training teaches us:

HOW TO MANAGE OUR FEARS - We become confident in our ability to handle distressful situations because we are more likely to manage our emotions and impulses than if we did not have any formal teaching. Having this courage could mean the difference between saying yes or no to peer pressure. How much is it worth to us to learn the self-confidence it takes to say, "no", to somebody who wants us to do something we do not want to do?

COPING SKILLS - We learn how to cope with dangerous situations. It is called self-defense. Self-defense skills are transferable to our psychological well-being. It is a pretty good feeling to know we can depend on ourselves when the situation calls for it.

SELF-DISCIPLINE - It takes discipline to practice kicks, punches and blocks over and over again, letting the sweat drop to the floor while we work-out, and not be distracted. People who have self-discipline are not distracted by their emotions or impulses. Self-disciplined people are able to conform to a certain standard of behavior in all circumstances. They have taught themselves how to channel their emotional energy into goal achievement. A good instructor keeps his students focused on a goal as one way of teaching self-discipline. This could mean enduring a vigorous group session of calisthenics, sparring, or practicing "katas" (a sequence of offensive and defensive moves with an imaginary enemy aimed at improving physical and mental concentration).

A qualified instructor believes in the motto: "TRAIN, DON'T STRAIN." Self-discipline can be taught without lessons being beaten into a student. For the student, this means finding a school that hires instructors who understand how to teach Karate skills in a non-abusive manner. Yes, it is good to learn self-discipline, but not at the expense of missing water breaks during a work-out session or pushing through painful exercises to the point of risking injury.

RESPECT FOR SELF AND OTHERS - Martial Arts expert, the late Bruce Lee, described his "style" of fighting as, "The art of fighting without fighting", in his 1973 movie, "ENTER THE DRAGON." In an interview, Bruce Lee said, "If confronted by an opponent, one must ask, am I really afraid? Having no fear of an assailant, no self-doubt, the situation can be treated lightly." This means having the courage to walk away from a fight if it is possible. We learn to use our heads rather than our fists in real life situations. There is no need to prove anything. Martial Arts training has taught us that we can feel self-assured that it is okay to walk away from a fight rather than risk hurting someone else or ourselves. Old school wisdom teaches, "He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day." New school wisdom teaches, "He who finds a way to sidestep a fight, approaches life in a positive light." Someone with high self-esteem, as taught by learning the Martial Arts, has no problem with avoiding a fight if possible.

ONE WAY OF GETTING IN TO SHAPE - Working-out at the "dojo" helps us to feel better about ourselves because we are exercising and improving our body image as a result. This helps to improve our self-esteem! It is always recommended that we consult with our primary care physician before starting any exercise program. 

I equate the process of developing a positive self-esteem to that of developing our "mojo". What is "mojo" and how do we get it? How is learning the Martial Arts linked to the development of our "mojo"?

Hollywood personality, Mike Myers, portrays a British Secret Agent in the 1999 movie, "AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME". It is a movie about how "good" tries to overcome "evil". Austin's "mojo" is stolen and part of the movie's plot centers around his attempt to get it back. In the movie, "mojo", is described as, "life force, libido, essence and the right stuff". Austin is robbed of his ability to have sex. His feeling of "potency" is missing and so he feels terrible about himself. This reminds me of the joke about the man who goes to his doctor's office for a vasectomy. He is wearing a three-piece suit. His doctor asks him, "Why are you all dressed-up for the operation?" The man replies, "Doc, if I'm gonna be impotent, I want to look impotent!" "Mojo" equals the feeling of potency. The feeling of potency is one part of having a healthy self-esteem. The people who have high self-esteem feel potent. They have the skills that enable them to tackle their problems. They have the energy and endurance it takes to handle all of life's ups and downs. Like people are undaunted by bullies and other negative people or situations in life.

Yes, I am an advocate for teaching people self-defense skills. Men, women and children can all benefit from enrolling in a Karate school to learn the Martial Arts. In addition to learning how to physically defend ourselves if needed, Martial Arts skills improve our self-esteem and self-confidence. We begin to feel more comfortable with ourselves and can manage our fears more effectively than before. Enlightened students renew their respect for others and themselves. We become aware that the human body is strong, yet fragile. Students find out first hand what it's like to hit and be hit. Either way, it hurts! This awareness teaches respect.

Martial Arts training is a form of self-expression just like playing the drums is to a musician. Self-expression done appropriately is healthy and it can even feel good. Martial Arts training provides another option of asserting ourselves so we are less passive about life. Learning self-defense skills is not about wanting to go out and hurt somebody. It's about learning how to fight so we don't have to fight. People who have self-confidence in their ability to defend themselves understand this concept. It sounds ironic, but the truth is in the results of our self-perception. We can find our "mojo" at the dojo, a potent self-perception: "STRONG LIKE BULL!"

* To have "mojo" means to feel "potent" with high self-esteem.
* The "dojo" is the place where Martial Arts training is taught.
* The execution of martial arts skills at the dojo is a form of self-expression.

Written by,
Mark S. Rogers, LPC.
Licensed Professional Counselor
Only one kind of smile is genuine. It is called the "Duchenne" smile. A picture is worth a thousand words as Liz shows her "Duchenne" smile which underscores her excitement about striking a pose with her Stooltime Counseling ball cap. Thank you, Liz, for your support!

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