Most individuals in the pursuit of fitness and wellbeing are unclear about whether to follow a Functional fitness program, play a sport, or practice martial arts. I would say, do all three!
But where is the time, right? Modern lifestyle has, in many ways, made human beings much weaker, than intended by nature. Since everyday life has become somewhat easier, and many dangers are now extinct, people have no need to be strong and brave – at least, not like they had to be a long time ago. They changed the very style of life, becoming more immobile and even slack.
Some events in my life led me to choose Martial Arts. Luckily I joined The School of Martial Arts [TSMA] on the 11th of October 2008. I was introduced to this class by my college buddy Madhan, and I'm grateful to him for that. The most common reason, people practice martial arts is to gain confidence. They also want to be able to defend themselves or to protect their loved ones, and my reasons were no different. Being a software developer by profession, I wanted some form of physical activity, which is one of the primary reasons why I joined this class.
Though I used to play a bit of soccer and was fit in some aspects, only after joining the class did I realize what real fitness is. Our class teaches us a combination of martial arts mainly comprised of Karate, Taekwondo, and Aikido. Hence, our routine requires us to exercise most of the muscles from head to toe. And when I started working out I started discovering a lot of unused muscles. Other than that my reaction time has improved greatly. Let me illustrate this with a real life example - an accident which happened about 5 years ago while I was riding my bike. I was going at around 30-35 kmph and a car hit my bike from behind. The impact threw me about 6-7 feet away; but as I was hurtling through space, my reflexes (honed by the training) helped me maneuver myself and perform a front roll on landing thereby diffusing the force and I eventually emerged unscathed. I owe this to my training here in class; else I would have suffered grievous injuries. In this incident, the highlight is the reaction time and the flexibility which were both enhanced by the training in this class. Before this incident, I used to wonder why we were required to do a variety of exercises though we use only 2 or 3 types of kicks/punches in sparring. I can now understand and appreciate the systematic approach and the scientific principles behind this unique method of training.
When I joined the class, my expectations were to learn flips, acrobatics, etc., as seen in the movies. But I was disappointed when I got slaps and pushes! Wondering what is the relation between slaps and martial arts, I continued reluctantly. Eventually, I realized that acrobatics were suited for the movies only. In a real street fight, it is the basic things like how you react to a slap or a blow, not panicking, using intelligence and common sense which are crucial.
Personally, joining a professional training institute to learn an art has not been my cup of tea. Be it academic tuitions, music lessons or athletics training, I am too lazy to hold on to something beyond a few weeks. But it is now 7+ years since I joined this class. Such is the ethos of our class. To me, our class is like the ancient gurukuls, where the art and discipline are the most important things, unlike modern schools. The teaching methods here are the simple effective and progressive. Each complex technique is broken up into parts. Different students have different levels of energy and flexibility. Sufficient time and individual attention are given to each of them. There is no compromise on awarding the belt to any student, each belt takes a minimum of 5 to 6 months. We have 4 classes weekly, On Saturdays we do Aikido, starting with Yoga. Our Sunday classes are really challenging. Being lengthier than weekday classes, it stretches us to our limits. We enjoy ourselves in class without compromising discipline and decorum. We get to work out as well as to practice the technical elements and to learn something in every class, no matter how small. Every class is a healthy balance of these elements that caters to our varied needs.
The senior Black belts in our class are a real inspiration to me. They have amazing stamina and endurance. Yet each one of them is so humble, which I feel is their most striking feature. It is truly their sweat, blood, and determination that has earned them their Black belt. They have set high standards for us. When I think of our instructor Master Ashwin, I am reminded of Albert Einstein’s words - “Only one who devotes himself to a cause with his whole strength and soul can be a true master. For this reason, mastery demands all of a person.” He has really devoted his whole strength and soul for the class. He spends considerable time analyzing every student and then focuses on getting the basics right. He experiments with new techniques thoroughly tries it out himself before trying it on a student. Also during the MMA fight competitions, which are tough, he leads from the front. He entered the ring first to motivate us. He embodies inspiration and wisdom. Outside the class, he is a friend we can have a drink with. He can talk about anything under the sun, anytime, for hours, or till the listener gives up!
My friends Suresh and Ramesh have been great companions in this journey of black belt. Suresh is a quinquagenarian but also has been a fitness freak from his youth days and still looks youngJ. Every time during our exercises, when it gets tough, I draw motivation from him. He makes it a point to complete the repetitions, every time, however tough the techniques are, whereas I tend to skip sometimes. He is associated with TSMA from a long time, his knowledge and commitment have made him the best partner Ramesh & I could have. Apart from being a Black Belt, he is an Entrepreneur, recently started a new company! This should give a measure of his spirit, determination, and stamina. Ramesh is a sensible and a hardworking person, having a cool head on his shoulders. His ability to understand us in spite of not having a formal college education and language barriers is simply awesome. He understands techniques in one shot. His submissive spirit in class has been the characteristic of him. Apart from being a Black Belt, he is a good chef.
I have learned a lot more from Master Ashwin than just martial arts. After joining the class, I participated in 10k runs, few half-marathons and completed a full marathon which I would have otherwise watched on TV. I have also been on some awesome treks with this class. I have never enjoyed treks so much, even with my best friends. Every outing with the class has been a memorable one. We faced some challenging situations, due to bad weather, during our Kudremukh and Bandaje Treks, but our leader(Master Ashwin) managed it perfectly and brought us back safely. The trek to Kumara-Parvath is the most memorable time of my life, till now. The students in our class are a heterogeneous lot in terms of age, qualification, experience and occupation which has helped me to learn something valuable from each one of them.
In conclusion, I can say that something magical has happened after I started learning martial arts. But certainly, the training in this class has made me more efficient physically and mentally and has given me a tremendous amount of self-confidence. In short, I am leading a high-quality life, after joining TSMA.
WITH BELTS, MY LIFE CHANGED COLORS
Jagadeesh [ Black Belt ]
Published: 21st February 2016 (4th Black Belt Ceremony)
It was the last day of my college, my friend Madhan and I was returning home by public bus in Bangalore. A young man boarded from the front door, where usually ladies get into the bus. It was a peak hour and fully packed, but this fellow got in from the front and by looking at him we could make out that intentions were not right. I cannot forget the disgust and helplessness in the few ladies this fellow was troubling. But then we were both watching in silence. After the incident, the next day we spoke with each other, ashamed that both of us were guilty of doing nothing. My friend decided to do something and he joined this Martial Arts class [TSMA]. I had joined kungfu class at the office and quit just after two classes and continued my boring life. After a while, speaking over the phone, he mentioned about this class, describing the quality, dedication of the Master and the classy Black belts. I did not wait long, joined it the very next day. Now looking back, after 7+ years with the class, am proud that this was one of the very few good decisions of my life.
The journey is what makes the destination so satisfying. My journey to black belt has been a life changing one. Of course, a black belt is something to be proud of, but in the end, it's just a piece of fabric that holds your uniform. The literal blood and sweat that are the true milestones of the journey. The years of work that are put into learning your art are ultimately what you remember. When I joined initially, my primary goal was fitness from the punches, kicks, and self-defence. I also was dreaming of somersaults but slaps and pushes woke me up. Though surprised, slowly I realized that in the real world these are the basic forms of assaults, that makes them important. Keeping a calm mind while reacting to such situations is the key. Exercises improve the ability to tolerate physical pain.
Every belt starting from white till black had its unique challenges. For me, yellow (2nd) belt to green (4th) belt transition was the most challenging phase, where the techniques get drastically tougher. Sunday classes were lengthy and tough, was testing my stamina. Though, every muscle of my body wanting the closure of class faster, our master ensured we complete every technique with the planned number of repetitions. Sparring is real here, no stunts will work. This was where my ego was hit and that was for good. Sparring is a high energy consumer, was literally sucking both physical and mental juices in us. Eventually, I got better at this. The key was not letting ego take over. The sparring standards in class gave me a tremendous amount of confidence going to MMA fights – Club wars, Pro Muay Thai fights etc. Fights with Professional Muay Thai Fighters was an enriching experience. The analysis of these fights raised my respect for what we were learning in TSMA. Ours was a complete system of martial arts, only that we didn't have the adjective ‘Mixed’. Our syllabus is well balanced, learned basics of Wing Chun and Judo during my green to brown transition. The basics in multiple forms of martial arts have made me a lot confident in learning any art.
A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way and shows the way. Master Ashwin is my inspiration and motivation for black belt. While Learning Martial Arts from him, I was able to learn simple and quality leadership qualities from close by, which I had only read as a theory. His dedication has been tremendous. The ability to analyze each student accurately and experimenting with new techniques is phenomenal. He leads by example. As an instance, professional Muay Thai fights were scary, but whenever we went for the fights, he entered the ring first to motivate us. He pushed us out of our comfort zone, without which I feel there progress cannot be made in any art. I have seen students’ transition for good, not just “martially” but in basic skills of life too. He is absolutely perfect in managing people and logistics. On two of the treks we had been, the weather turned bad and most of us panicked, but as I thought we should the trek halfway sir managed to convince us to carry on, we completed the trek. On the other hand, when there was a dangerous stream crossing, he rightly stopped the excited kids from doing so. Somehow he takes the right decisions or it proves right after a while. From him I have all the data and theory to be a good teacher, will try to be one. Being a good student is just as important as being a good teacher, no matter what you do.
Our Master was trained by Master SK Murthy and follows him perfectly. Recently I personally met Master Murthy, or rather I was lucky to meet him. He spoke to us for about an hour and a half. He spoke pure matter and nothing unnecessary. Felt like I can listen to him for days together. I was mesmerized by his depth of knowledge, his simplicity. The life he lived was an inspiration. He told us that focus on basics was the most important and also perfection comes by proper repetitions and nothing else. I also realized that our Ashwin Sir was striving hard to give us Master Murthy’s knowledge as it is – which is the most essential of any Guru-Shishya Parampara. After this meeting I considered myself blessed to be in this lineage. Looking forward to meeting and listen to Master Murthy again.
I was into running as a teenager but had stopped from a long time. After joining the class I got in touch with long distance running again. Our Master was taking part in running events, hence that inspired us. I was initially skeptical about finishing 10 km but our master was always telling that our regular day’s workout is equivalent to a 15 km run. Completing the 10 km run few times, without dedicated running practice proved him right. Then after a few 10ks, a couple of half-marathons I felt running long distance was about mental strength and it was martial arts that gave that. The confidence of half-marathons, I registered for the full marathon. Master and a senior student who had completed a Marathon motivated me before the big day. I completed it in 3 hours and 46 minutes, which was a magical day for me. Looking back I had only practiced for about 3 weeks, running about 8 km on alternate days, but this quantity of practice alone it was impossible to achieve the feat. Again I owe it martial arts practice in class.
Our class is very heterogeneous in terms of Age, Educational Qualification, and Occupation. Everyone has something to teach you. Even after being involved for 7 years, someone new would show up and teach me something on their first day. Every person has a different body, with various height, weight, strength, flexibility, and so on. All of these factors can influence how you go about fighting them, and you can learn something new every time. In life, every person has their own set of experiences, perspectives, and failures that can teach us something new. It just takes an open mind. Not making quick judgments about people is the most valuable lesson for me. I have made very good friends in class, it feels like family to me. This has made outings with classmates the most memorable ones
Ultimately martial arts are also about art. As in every art, the beauty is in the details and depth of it. Any art learned slowly - stays firmly and longer in us. My advice to learning artists, any type of art for that matter - Take each day as it comes and focuses on the little goals, the grand achievements will come with time and experience. Though in class we never speak about popular Martial Artists, still I would like to quote Bruce Lee “To be a martial artist means to be an artist of life”. More than sport, fighting, or self-defence, the martial arts are first and foremost about life. About finding what is at the essence of your own being and expressing that essence. I have learned more about life from the martial arts than through any other endeavor.