Tag Archives: life advice

Q&A: Martial Arts, Any Age, Anytime

Anonymous asked:

This is less a writing question and more a “your blog has awakened something in me” question. I’m 31, hideously unfit, and also a wimp. I also have a longstanding interest in martial arts that I’ve never pursued due to aforementioned poor fitness and wimpy nature. Am I kidding myself by thinking I could learn a martial art? Am I better off simply enjoying it as a spectator, or is it worth finding a class?

It’s never too late!

People can start martial arts at any age. The littles (ages five to seven) are the most common in the vast majority of martial arts schools because their parents are looking for afterschool activities, but plenty of people start in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies, even eighties, and beyond. One of my testing partners, Dave, started doing martial arts in his early fifties as an activity to do with his kids, and continued long after they quit. Last time, I checked in with him, he’d earned his fourth degree black belt and was a part time instructor at our dojo. One year, there was an eighty year old cancer survivor who got her black belt. And, during my third degree test, my regular practice partner was a woman in her forties who was recovering from a stroke. Any age, any time.

Most martial arts instructors who run martial arts schools actually came to martial arts in their early twenties to thirties. There aren’t that many professionals in the US who began their training as a little. That’s because the US doesn’t have an established family dynasty system, and you have a better ability to choose your passions as an adult rather than as a child. 

The important thing to remember when you’re starting martial arts is that you get out what you put in and it takes time to become good. There is no end to the journey, and the journey to really get a grip on yourself can take years. (My view is a little skewed because the vast majority of my martial training took place while my body was developing, so it took a lot longer to get out of the awkward phase.) Everything about developing flexibility and endurance takes time, exercise can often feel embarrassing, silly, and even stupid. The goal is to not give up and keep coming back. Nobody is Jet Li or Jackie Chan on their first day. (Not even Jet Li and Jackie Chan.) If you see kids half your age doing incredible things on your first day, it’s important to remember they’ve been practicing for years.

I was an extremely shy and wimpy kid when I started. When I was between the ages of six and seven, I was so embarrassed about showing up late that I’d sometimes just hide in the changing room and refuse to come out. (My parents were the only ones who ever actually teased me about it, btw.) By my senior year of high school, I was an extremely chill and confident third degree black belt. Practicing martial arts is a great way to help you challenge and overcome your fears and build your confidence. If you don’t give up, the biggest blocks you’ll tear down are the ones you built in your own mind.

If you are interested in martial arts, it is absolutely 100% worth it to find a class in your local area. Just keep in mind, you may need to go through several schools before you find a martial art and a school that’s a good fit. There are so many different ones out there and most will give you the option of free first classes to get your feet wet. If one isn’t a good fit, don’t give up! Do your research and find another in your area. Training is about trust, you’ll get further with a teacher and a community you jive with.

These schools will also, usually, have classes later in the evenings that are a better fit for adults scheduling around their jobs.

Remember, martial arts schools are a really low stress environment. You’ll have fun, connect with other humans, and learn important lessons that will positively impact every part of your life. Also, if you’re a writer, it’s hugely helpful to get experience for writing those battle scenes. Really, I can’t recommend good schools with positive teachers enough.


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Q&A: No One Decides How Many Chances You Get (Except You)

flowerapplejacks said to howtofightwrite: I have always felt that the phrase “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is not only patently false but harmful and ignorant. It seems to romanticize the concept of pain and suffering always leaving potential for individuals to grow. Often times the reality is completely opposite. Pain cripples and stunts, it doesn’t help you grow. What are your thoughts?

So, what is the alternative? Lie in a corner and hide from the world, and hope it all goes away? It won’t. You can roll over and wallow in the pain if you want. Sometimes, you need to. Sometimes, you’ve got to nurse your wounds. The problem is you can’t lie on the floor forever. In the end, you’re gonna have to get up and figure out what you’re doing next.

You can’t stay on the floor.

You shouldn’t stay on the floor.

Don’t give up.

I say this as someone who’s lived with clinical depression since I was thirteen, I’ve lost most of my family members, lost my dog, broke my leg when I was twelve. I’ve learned from my pain. My mistakes have taught me a lot. I wouldn’t be where I am today (or who I am today) without them.

I’ve been in the pit. I climbed out. It took twenty years, but I made it. I wouldn’t have, if I was avoiding pain.

One of the truths about life is that it’s painful, often in a variety of different ways. You can learn a lot from pain. You learn about yourself, about your body, about your personal weaknesses. You’re often stripped of the illusions you had about yourself, about your bravery, about how far you’d go to protect your ideals, about the kind of person you are, which can be damaging all by itself.

What I don’t like about the statement “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is that it’s passive. It assumes a positive outcome rather than acknowledging the courage, hard work, and emotional toil which often comes with overcoming traumatic incidents, overcoming injuries, or even just getting up to try again after you’ve made a mistake. I think what you’ve missed is the core message of the statement, which is that if it didn’t kill you then you still have the opportunity to make things better, to rectify your mistakes, to be better than you were before. If you’re dead, there are no second chances. That’s it. That’s the end. There’s no more you.

Pain is your body’s response to getting hurt, and also for saying, “don’t do that.” Like all natural instincts, it’s not always right. Not all pain is bad for you, and some of it, like the kind you experience from change, is unavoidable. Learning to distinguish between the two is a natural part of living. Learning to distinguish between the pain from a stubbed toe and a major injury is important. Learning to push past the limits your mind has set for you, that’s important. It’s just like learning to ignore or push past your fear when it’s standing in the way of what you want. Just because you’re afraid doesn’t mean you should be. You need to learn which fears are valid, and which are standing in your way.

My feelings on pain are very simple. Pain is one of life’s constants. You will experience a lot of different kinds of pain throughout your life. Emotional pain, pain from fear, from disappointment, from rejection, from loss, from embarrassment, from change, from growing up, from your memories of past, painful experiences. You’ll experience physical pain from injuries major to minor, you could break your leg, you could bump your head, or just walk into a door. You experience low-grade pain from working out. Your stomach hurts when you’re hungry. You’re gonna feel pain from stubbing your toe. Getting hurt is an eventuality.

My approach to pain is the Rafiki quote, “you can either run from it, or learn from it. So, what are you going to do?”

If I took your advice, that pain should be avoided at all costs because pain is bad, I wouldn’t have two functioning legs. I wouldn’t have eventually reached acceptance with my father’s death, which has taken most of my adult life. I wouldn’t have three black belts. I wouldn’t have gone to college. I wouldn’t run a successful blog while also managing clinical depression. Hell, I wouldn’t be managing my depression. My depression would be managing me.

When I was twelve, I fractured my tibia (the big bone in your leg) doing martial arts and I needed to get surgery. The break itself was incredibly painful, yes, but so was the recovery. Learning to use crutches was painful, I made mistakes and those mistakes hurt. Every day, I had to work on stretching my leg and performing exercises to keep the musculature up in my leg. I had to learn, among other things, to navigate a world not designed for people with physical disabilities. I had to learn to deal with my situation when my circumstances were no longer novel to my friends, when they didn’t help anymore. I had to learn to deal with the stares and curiosity, and even bullying.

However, I learned from it. I learned how to open doors while in a wheelchair when there was no one around to do it for me. I learned how to navigate and get to my classes on time. I learned how to get around on one leg with just my own internal balance. I learned how to handle classmates who hid my crutches. I learned how to get into a house that had only stairway access. I learned how to take showers without getting an infection. I learned how to not just live with my broken leg, but thrive with it while I worked toward recovery. I had school counselors who’d tell me the story, years later, about how they were so impressed with how I figured out how to open my junior high’s heavy, double doors in my wheelchair. And do you know why I figured it out? I couldn’t sit around waiting for someone else to do it for me.

Yes, pain hurts. Pain can be uncomfortable. Pain can be horrible. Crippling? Only you really get to decide that. Stunted? Again, being emotionally stunted is something you can address.

You’re going to get hurt no matter what you do, even if you spend your life trying to avoid it. The act of learning… anything, really, is painful. You’re going to make mistakes, and making mistakes can be painful. It’s also unavoidable. Life is short. You’re going to get thrown by the horse while learning to ride, and I say that having been thrown by many horses. You’re going to lose people you care about. You’re going to face rejection. You’re going to be disappointed. You’re going to fail. You’re going to fall down. You’re going to get injured. You’ll face setbacks.

However, that pain can help you develop resilience. You can develop emotional strength, and the courage to face what you’re afraid of. When you encounter setbacks, you learn how to push past disappointment. You realize the pain isn’t as big a hurdle as you thought, that you are tougher than you previously believed.

When you get knocked down, you have two choices. You either get back up or you stay down. And, you know? Some people do choose to stay down. Some people choose to wallow. Some people never try again. Some people need time before they’re ready. Getting back up isn’t always easy, but the more you do it the easier it becomes.

No one ever gets to tell you how many chances you get.

The question of what you do after the pain occurs is what matters. Just because you got hurt doesn’t mean you should give up. Maybe you should take a step back and reassess before trying again, but you should, probably, try again.

I broke my leg trying to do a tornado kick. Now? I can do a tornado kick. I could have given up, but I didn’t. I could have avoided dealing with my father’s death, I could have run from it and there were certainly points where it felt like I’d never feel anything again, but now I get to celebrate his memory.

Pain is a learning experience, but what you learn from it is up to you. You’ll experience so many different kinds of pain. You’ll learn to distinguish the good from the bad and the mild or middling from the terrible. Hurting yourself more to get better might feel like an oxymoron, but, sometimes, you need to.

Celebration of survival isn’t irresponsible. Sometimes, the simple act of existing requires courage. Courage deserves recognition. If you’re bothered by someone saying, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” then you might not have come out the other side yet. You might not be ready to celebrate how your experiences and what you’ve gone through have made you the person you are. In the end, it’s not really any different than saying, “you know, we went through some rough and tumble times but we made it!”

Do you stop playing on the jungle gym because you bashed your funny bone? Probably not, but you might be a little more circumspect about where you put your elbows.


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Q&A: Never to Late to Start

I want to learn a martial art but I am 25. I feel like I’m too old to train my body for something new. I even tried to take figure skating classes a year ago and it was embarrassing and frustrating. Everyone who great at something seemed to learn when they were kids. I read books all day and do well with learning new intellectual things but struggle with learning new physical skills.

Twenty-five is not too young. I’ve seen people get their black belts in their eighties, I’ve seen cancer survivors get their black belts, one of my major training partners for my third degree black belt was a woman in her mid forties who’d survived a stroke and the other was a man in his late forties/early fifties. Dave went on to get his fourth degree, and is still a part-time instructor at our martial arts school to this day. He got into martial arts because of his kids, and stayed long after they quit because he loved it.

Believe it or not, most martial arts masters and instructors at most schools actually started in their late teens/early twenties. You get the rare ones who start when they’re five or twelve, but most of the ones who start as kids eventually quit. They lose interest, and go on to do something else.

You’re not going to get past the embarrassing and frustrating part if you’re embarrassed by struggling, nothing regarding physical activity is going to click quickly. Training your body to do something new takes time. Realistically, in a recreational martial arts school where you train three days a week for forty-five minutes to an hour a day, the techniques will start to click about three months after you start. That’s if you’re consistent with showing up to training, and if you try hard. At two years, the techniques are going to feel good and you’ll be limber enough/coordinated enough to start doing them well. Four years to six years in is when you usually test for your first black belt, so that’s when you actually start getting good.

However, it’s only embarrassing and frustrating if you let it be.

There’s a real reason why willpower and fortitude are the most admired traits in martial arts. You don’t give up in the face of adversity. Mostly, this is a learned skill. The vast majority of people who start give up within the first three months. They get frustrated and they get bored because they’re not progressing fast enough. Physical activity is the beast where the conditioning part feels miserable until you reach a point where your body clicks, you plateau, it gets easy, and then you start all over again. There are no short cuts, you just have to do it.

It’s important to remember that the stunt actors you see in the movies have made martial arts and martial arts choreography their careers. The people you see who started as kids have all been doing this for anywhere between five to fourteen years depending on how old they are now. You don’t get to see how they looked when they started out, which most of them will admit was pretty terrible in comparison to what you’re currently seeing.

You’ve got to give yourself permission to suck. Give yourself permission to say, “yeah, I’m doing okay.” Realize everyone you train with has been where you are, at the beginning, at the bottom of the mountain and intimidated by the climb. It’s going to take awhile for your body to catch up to what your mind imagines, and you probably won’t be able to do a high kick day one. Or day two, or by day three. It takes time for your body to build up coordination, to develop your balance, and work on your flexibility.

Be honest with yourself about what you really want from the martial art experience. There’s nothing to stop you at twenty-five from eventually competing on the martial arts circuit if that’s what you want, but if you just want to practice recreationally or get skills for self-defense then try not to beat yourself up for not being Jet Li.

Focus on the progress you are making, rather than what you’re not doing right. Try to have fun. Find a good, supportive community, most martial arts schools aren’t what people imagine. They’re family affairs with people who start from all different ages and are from different walks of life. They’re communal, rather than competitive. They’ll push you to find the best version of yourself, if you’re willing to put in the time.

Learning not to be immediately discouraged by something your not immediately good at is difficult. It may take a few tries to find a martial art and a school which fit you. I can’t promise the experience won’t be frustrating at times and occasionally embarrassing because it is, you’re going to fall down even when you’re really good. You’ll get sweaty, and gross, and your face will be a red mess, you’ll get out of breath, you can pull muscles, even break bones. There will be days when you want to quit, want to give up. However, there’s no better feeling that conquering your own body. No better feeling than conquering your fear. The sensation you get where everything just clicks into place, and just works is great. The point where it stops being hard and starts really feeling good? The fantastic thud of landing a powerful kick on the training pads? Those are the moments you live for.

Martial arts is a fun, rewarding experience. Martial arts is for everyone willing to put in the effort. There is no cut off, only the hurdles you build in your own mind and your own perceptions. Ultimately, life is what we make it. Training in martial arts, what you’ll eventually learn is, most of the time, the only thing stopping you is you.

So, don’t let fear, frustration, or embarrassment stop you from getting what you want. The only way to know is to start, stick with it, and not give up if studying your martial art is what you want to be doing. Also, study a martial art you’re actually interested in because that’s half the initial battle.


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I have a question about the instinct post, fleeing specifically. I had to run from serious danger once when I was 14 and I thought of it as instinctual, but my mind actually got really clear and I remember thinking things like I’d turn a corner rather than cut through to reduce chances of tripping and falling and the best route to reach the street where there would be people who could help. I didn’t feel panic until after I was safe (broke down sobbing then). So what was that if not instinct?

You using your brain. That was you problem solving on the fly. That was not some deep seated instinctual ability. That was you processing information, making intelligent choices in a stressful situation based on what you knew about your environment, and saving yourself.

It’s called “thinking on your feet”.

You said it yourself, you remember thinking about things.

Instinct gets you as far as running or into flight mode, but it has no direction. If you don’t start thinking about where you need to go, what you need to do, which route to take, then you can end up literally anywhere. The same is actually true for fight, one reacts on anger and fear, leap on the other person with a scream, maybe tackle them to the ground, and start swinging wildly in a blind rage.

That didn’t happen for you, you used your head. You may not realize what you were doing, but that’s what was happening. That wasn’t actually instinct. A form of self-preservation? Sure. Some level of intuition? Yeah. But not instinct.

You used your head. Acting on knowledge you had, you made decisions. You grabbed your life with two hands, and you didn’t just run for it. On the fly, you suppressed your panic, you didn’t let fear take charge, you used it, and dealt with information. You picked the best route to actually saving your life. More than that, you succeeded. You saved yourself.

You saved yourself.

That’s huge.

So, stop giving your instincts more credit than they deserve. Give it to your intuition and cognitive processes instead. Why? You’re smarter and more capable than your giving yourself credit for. This is within your ability to control it. You controlled your instincts, they didn’t control you. In the crucible of life and death, in the midst of an incredibly stressful situation where you were running for your life, you came out on top and it was all you.

Just you.

And you could do it again.

This isn’t a one time, miracle thing. You could intentionally
replicate this experience without the danger, and you probably do in
your daily life without realizing it. This won’t just happen when you’re in danger. While the danger gave you the push to realize that you needed to.

Our brains are very complicated, and we do think on multiple levels. Often, like when we’re in danger, those can feel like they’re outside of our control. Except, what you did was the actions of someone who was in control. Which I will reiterate, in the heat of the moment you made choices cognitively that lead to saving your own life.

The major problem with ascribing these experiences, experiences you may not have completely understood at the time, to instinct is that it ascribes everything we did to something else that’s outside of our control. That it’s something that can only happen when we’re in danger. Some other part of ourselves which exists in a nebulous state and slumbering until trouble arrives.

It’s a nice idea, especially since it’s an easy way to avoid challenging your own perceptions about yourself and what you’re capable of.

When you’re ascribing what happened to your instincts, you’re selling yourself short. This is especially true if you’re female and are already pushed by society to accept a passive role, to not see yourself as an active decision maker who is in control of your own existence. Someone who is capable of action, of taking charge. Pawn it off on instinct, and we can just go back to our own self-doubts. Ignore the proof, staring us in the face, that we have it in us to be incredible.

You are incredible.

You are amazing.

Not your instincts. Not some nebulous thing existing in a separate space and not part of your regular existence.


Just you.

You saved yourself.

And knowing that? It’s empowering.

Empowerment doesn’t come from the amount of ass you can kick. Or from running around swinging a gun. Or from being violent or engaging in violence. It comes from making decisions, from taking action derived from choices and accepting the responsibility which comes with those choices.

It’s terrifying.

It’s also freeing.

So much of what we do is learned behavior, even when we don’t realize that we’ve learned it. The kind of rationality and logic you experienced doesn’t happen to everyone. A lot of people out there when they’re in danger freeze up, run without thinking, or end up going nowhere.

The ability to utilize your intelligence under pressure is a powerful thing.

Give yourself more credit.

Because you can do it again in your daily life, whenever you want and whenever you need to.

Powerless or powerful? All it takes is realization. So, which would you rather be?


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I’ve read that small (usually women) people are not good fighters because they are fragile and must play to their strengths instead… I’m not really tall but I’d still like to learn to fight, is it possible?

I’m sorry, but those people don’t know what they’re talking about. It’s an attitude I see consistently perpetuated and it’s just flat out untrue. Short people can do martial arts just as well as tall people, short women can do martial arts just as well as tall women, and women do martial arts just as well as men.

It’s not a question of is it possible. There are hundreds of thousands of women out there across disciplines that do martial arts already. There’s a female division in the UFC. There are female fire fighters. Female police officers. Women in the FBI and women in the military. The style of Wing Chun’s oral history notes it as having been created by a woman. If you look into history, you’ll find footnotes throughout of women taking up arms to protect their families, their homeland, or just because they wanted to and were given the opportunity to do so.

They exist. They’re everywhere.

People of all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and histories. Remember, Bruce Lee was only 135 pounds.

The thing to understand most about martial arts and combat is that “where there’s a will, there’s a way”. It’s more about willingness to overcome your own self-set limitations and determination to succeed than it is about gender or body type. People set artificial limitations all the time, but the mind is a powerful thing. What we choose to believe about ourselves will affect us in a variety of ways, those are not always positive.

If you believe you are less powerful than a man doing the same job then you will be.

If you believe you are fragile then you will be.

If you believe you are powerless then you will be.

If you believe you can’t succeed, you won’t.

If you’re willing to work hard and learn, then you’ll discover a lot of what you’ve chosen to believe about yourself or what you’ve been told isn’t true.

There are differences between men and women, physically. There are, but those aren’t the differences that matter. Cultural programming that tells you that “you must behave a certain way or do specific things because otherwise you won’t be considered X” is ultimately going to have a lot more impact.

As a female, you don’t need any special accommodations or rules to be able to compete. You don’t. You will muddle through and figure out how to make your body work best for you. And you’ll have to work hard. It will be difficult. It’d be just as difficult for most guys. We all learn at our own pace. The trick is not to get discouraged.

Start researching the martial arts in your area to get an idea of what style you’d like to start learning. There are probably some classes available at your local college, YMCA, or similar programs if you don’t have much money. The trick is finding a style which suits your interests and an instructor that you’d like to learn from. Visit their classes, watch one, see how the students behave, note how many women are there, and ask the students questions about how they like their class.

Does it feel like this would be a good fit for you?

If yes, check out to see if you can afford it and sign up.

If no, then there are other schools out there.

Not all martial styles are going to fit either on a goals level or a personal one. Find somewhere you feel comfortable, with teachers you feel you can trust.

You aren’t going to receive special treatment for being female. You won’t learn the “special way women fight”. You’ll learn the techniques as presented and adapt them to suit yourself through practice.

Eliminating those pesky mental barriers is a good first step.

Don’t let idiots decide what will or won’t be possible for you.

You want to do it?

Then do.


othersidhe said: BTW all of this post is good for advice on writing characters whom are in the same situation as the original anonymous poster.

Ha! Yeah, life is pretty good for character building. Honestly though, I actually recommend the “Do It Yourself” approach first and foremost. It’s hard to write experiences we don’t have and even building off someone else’s isn’t the same as our own. Our blog is about supplementing that, but everything Stark and I write and do is through our own biased lens.