It is not always clear, but training doesn't end in the training hall or the day you retire your belt.
By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here
I often call myself a "martial artist," but upon some self-reflection I had to think about what it is I mean by this term. The more it gets thrown around without thought, the more meaningless it becomes. "I love my family," uses the same term as, "I love this pizza." It means different things in different contexts, in different countries, and different time periods. So what exactly is a "martial artist"?
To begin, I decided to ask the most philosophical and witty martial artist that I know, Renzo Gracie. A true mixed martial arts pioneer and a member of the legendary Gracie clan. He makes you think, laugh, or both. So I decided to send him my philosophical question about what a martial artist is. He sent this back:
At first, it seemed funny and nothing more; as I posed this question to others, the more meaningful Renzo's response became. There was a clear pattern, everyone's answers were nuanced based on their life and their background. Bruce Wayne influenced Batman just as much as Batman influenced Bruce Wayne, to use the Renzo analogy.
I asked over 20 martial artists, ranging from Silicon Valley, Wall Street, to Hollywood, and everything in between: what is a martial artist? What I learned is that, some get good at martial arts, and some get good at getting good.
On What Being A Martial Artist Means...
David Allen is a world famous productivity consultant, executive coach, speaker, writer, and the New York Times Bestselling author of Getting Things Done.
Chatri Sityodtong is a self-made millionaire, business leader, global investor, philanthropist, and motivational speaker. As a fighter, he has over 30 professional fights. As a coach, he has trained several world champions and was named one of the top combat coaches in the world by MSN sport. At Harvard Business School, he subsisted on $4 a day when his family lost everything during the Asian financial crisis. He went on to become a startup founder, hedge fund manager, and chairman of ONE Championship and Evolve MMA. Chatri serves on the board of directors for Project Sunshine, one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world for terminally-ill children. He is also active with Boys Town Home and Singapore Children's Society.
Dr. Terry Wahls is a clinical professor, staff physician, and a multiple sclerosis patient. Confined to a wheelchair for four years; she created the Wahls Protocol™ and restored much of her health, now pedaling her bike five miles to work each day. Her TEDx talk has received over 2 million views, and her book, The Wahls Protocol, has revolutionized how people think of autoimmune and neurodegenerative disorders.
Russ Simmons is the co-founder of Yelp and is a member of the "PayPal Mafia," the founders and early employees of PayPal. Members have gone on to start YouTube, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, LinkedIn, Yelp, and Kiva (several members also early invested in Facebook). Alumni include Peter Thiel, Elon Musk. Chad Hurley, and Reid Hoffman. Years ago, I was living out of my car and training martial arts around the country. Russ heard about my wild plan and let me crash on his couch for a part of the journey.
Rubens "Cobrinha" Charles is a former baker who gave up his apron to become one of the most decorated and winningest competitors in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and submission grappling. As a teacher, he has coached world champions in grappling and MMA. He runs Cobrinha BJJ where I am fortunate enough to be one of his students.
Lisa Maki is the CEO and co-founder of PokitDok, a cloud-based API platform designed to make healthcare transactions more efficient and streamline the business of health. A Stanford grad and former Microsoft employee, Lisa hit on the idea while recovering from a spinal injury. After six frustrating months, Lisa found an experimental treatment and is now pain-free. She's determined to revolutionize healthcare.
Sean Patrick Flanery is an American actor, known for The Boondock Saints, Dexter, Suicide Kings, The Dead Zone, Powder, The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, as well as Saw 3D. He has studied martial arts since childhood, is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and owns Hollywood BJJ. He is also also one of the most influential teachers I've had in martial arts. It was only after several months of training with him that I learned that he was a well-known actor. He embodied: martial artist first, everything else second.
Robb Wolf, a former research biochemist, is the New York Times Bestselling author of The Paleo Solution. He has a top ranked iTunes podcast, helped to pioneer CrossFit, and is one of the most recognized names in the health industry — having been featured in countless TV shows and articles.
Dr. Mark Cheng is a Chinese orthopedic medicine specialist, acupuncturist, teacher, Sr SFG kettlebell instructor, and FMS faculty. He is a researcher in the fields of pain/ injury rehabilitation & athlete pre-habilitation, and martial arts anthropology.
Terrence Chan is a professional poker player and mixed martial artist. He has won the WCOOP and SCOOP poker titles, as well as being successful in WSOP. He also blogs about life from the perspective of a gambler, fighter, game theorist, and probability genius.
Lawrence Kenshin is a fight analyst, writer, and martial arts historian. In my opinion, he is one of the best minds in combat sports and has elevated fight analysis with a mixture of history, science, and context.
Professor Alan Yuille received his degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge, and his PhD in theoretical physics was supervised by Professor Stephen Hawking. He has taught at MIT, Harvard, and UCLA. His research interests include computational models of vision, mathematical models of cognition, artificial intelligence, and neural networks.
Tom Callos is a successful martial arts entrepreneur who now helps other martial artists run a better business with integrity. As a humanitarian, he is involved with homebuilding for the underserved, peace education, health programs, community outreach, and many others. He also happens to be former UFC champion BJ Penn's first instructor, and father to submission champion Keenan Cornelius.
Hywel Teague is a photographer, filmmaker, journalist, documentarian, and is the creator of BJJ Hacks.
Rony Sellam is the CEO of InsideTracker, a company that analyzes health through a series of biomarkers. As science evolves, so does the model they use to analyze and optimize the health of their clients. It's a service that's revolutionizing self-tracking and quantifying.
Paul Moran is a school psychologist, jiu-jitsu coach, and cancer survivor. He is also the creator of Open Mat Radio, co-host of The Journey Podcast, and co-founder of Moran Equestrian.
Marlon Ransom is currently working on a documentary about his son's battle with a deadly kidney illness. He is a serial entrepreneur, business consultant, speech writer, and law student. He also manages the DDP YOGA workshops and sponsored athletes program.
Chrissy Polcino is a health blogger, web developer, entrepreneur, and lifelong learner. She loves the wonders of the universe and everything coconut.
Kamal Ahmed works with at-risk youths as a meditation instructor and therapist-in-training. Currently working towards his MA in counseling psychology, he is involved in expanding the mental health field for people of color. He hopes to someday open a private practice as a licensed clinical therapist.
Brian Herskowitz, currently in his late 50s, still actively competes in judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, holding world titles in both arts. He is a screenwriter, producer, director, author, business consultant, teacher, and film financier. Brian was there for my first judo class, and twelve years later, there he still is...
David Penn is a tech blogger, specializing in financial technology. He is also a black belt instructor in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
Why Did I Do This
It is not always clear, but training doesn't end in the training hall or the day you retire your belt. You take it with you, wherever you go, in whatever you do. It's not only about the physical practice but about the mental and attitudinal changes that the practice brings.
Martial art isn't just stylized violence, though that's what many of us (even modern martial artists) have come to believe. Then it is no wonder that many believe it to be a waste of time, just as many believe the humanities to be a waste of time, since they cannot see any practical day-to-day usage. We seek utility when some of the most important things cannot be quantified under those terms. The humanities may not make immediate sense when we think of income potential, yet that is not the only purpose of college, for college was also intended to help people lead better lives, become better thinkers, and better citizens. Rather than specialized knowledge, the humanities gives one diversity — where a graduate can be good in many fields, in a broad spectrum.
That is, or perhaps was, the martial artist — one who was capable of being good at many things. One might argue that the purpose of the martial arts were always militaristic, yet the most highly trained military operatives say, they aren't trained for killing, they are trained to have an ability to get good at anything that is necessary of them. The militaristic definition still tracks back to generalized preparedness — any situation, one must be prepared, especially when that situation is peace. (One only needs to look at the military leader Marcus Aurelius — or for the pragmatist, perhaps the number of Navy SEALs who have successfully transitioned to entrepreneurship is more inspiring.) It is hard to define what the martial artist is now, we can, however, give examples of the potential of a martial artist.
We are transitioning to an age where there are more cyber attacks than physical ones, wars are fought with buttons, and achievement through income is the new religion. Then the career path of the martial artist is not so obvious. Yet the purpose is not to win fights, but to successfully overcome. The martial artist must evolve or perish.
Many people self-impose limits on themselves; they create a self-identity and only do those things related to that identity. If they are a "jock," they only pursue physical activities. If they are a "brain," only mental/ career pursuits. If they are "spiritual," they only meditate or focus on church. Professor Alan Yuille (who researches the brain) told me, he doesn't understand the mentality: nerds are nerds and jocks are jocks. He said it always made the most sense to try to be good at many things. "That's what is actually best for the brain," he said. People fear being good at one will hurt the other, when in fact being good at one helps the other. For every contributor to this article, there is no separation between the pursuits of the physical, mental, spiritual, and career. And there shouldn't be. A martial artist's identity is to seamlessly pursue it all without conflict.
At first, I was amazed by the amount of responses — but maybe I shouldn't be; martial artists help the world. There is a lot said about the mental aspects, the cognitive aspects, novel connections, and that martial arts have limitless applications that go beyond the training hall. Many of us have spent more time training martial arts than many have spent pursuing higher education. It would be an extraordinary waste of time if the only application for martial arts training was limited to only that activity, just as college would be a waste of time if it had no application outside of college. And there isn't, unless we find applications for that knowledge. That's on us.
Many of the contributors to this article may argue that martial arts has served their lives better than formal education, or perhaps they may argue formal education and every other aspect of their lives got easier after their courage was constantly tested on the mats. From their backgrounds, it's apparent that there are a lot of things they are good at, and they are always looking to learn more. That may be the common theme: lifelong learning, then applying that knowledge to give back — or as Tom Callos puts it, "Out of the dojo, into the world."
You don't have to physically train to adopt these principles. Many leaders incorporate these principles without ever having stepped on the mats. It is worthy to note how many of the people interviewed try to live the superhero's life. Or perhaps they see the martial artist as a much needed hero. (The point Renzo Gracie made.) In a far gone era, that's exactly what they were.
- Why I Never Quit Martial Arts
- Ender's Game and Nick Diaz: On the Realities of Fighting
- The Pink Gi in the Room
- What Getting Punched in the Face Taught Me
- How Jiu-Jitsu Healed My Body Image
- On 36,000 Kung Fu Fighters
- Beyond Hacking: Why Trying Harder Matters
- On the Meaning of a Belt
- On Walking the Path With Enson Inoue
- Be Like Water, This Is Water