The Price We Pay to Be a Martial Artist (For Ryan Ostlund)

One of our readers posted the following comment:

If you do knuckle pushups you will have arthritis later in life, and possibly get arthritis from shooting your hands in and out of a bucket of pebbles. Doctors have proven this, so this is not a good way to train.

I would like to address this. It reminded me of something my teachers all have said about the decision to live the life of a martial artist: We leave who we were behind, and become a fighting man. But there is a price.

First, the above statement is probably true. But the life of a career martial artist is littered with less-than-desirable outcomes:

  • financial problem
  • marital issues
  • no retirement
  • wear and tear on the body

No one promised that we would enjoy the life of a modern warrior. We are no longer respected as a vocation–until someone needs us to save their lives. Just as the soldier who lives the life of a warrior may disappoint parents by not going to college or getting into law school, they will always be appreciated during war time. But this is a path that actually does command respect, and has many benefits. Unfortunately, many of the benefits we enjoy are not valued by the masses; that is, as I stated earlier–until they need us. So just as the professional footballer understands that he will likely end up with knee and other joint problems, boxers may have brain damage, and brick masonry men may end up with bad backs–it is the side effect of the life we choose. And a side effect we must suffer to live the life we love.

But how does a boxer avoid the inevitable? And the bricklayer? And the martial artist?

Well, Roy Jones Junior found out. He avoided health problems by fighting tomato cans and avoiding real competition. Drawback:  no respect in retirement. In the generation of warriors like Ricky Hatton and Manny Pacquiao, who will never turn down a good fight, Roy Jones is a pansy. (Sorry, Jones fans!) On occasion, one of us will get through this career and do all the work required of us as traditional, hardcore fighters, and make it to old age without the bad joints and facial scars (and I havem!) and remain pretty (but I am still pretty). Unfortunately, the sad reality of what we do is that if you do it right, you will have problems in your older age.

For Ryan’s comment, which he left on the article about fist training, there is a way, I believe. The answer is that my grandfather pushed my brother and I into hand conditioning, his way, much too fast. My Kung Fu teacher preached Iron Palm training was to precede fist training. While I was learning iron palm at the Jow Ga Kwoon, I was practicing fist training at home. By the time I was in my mid-20s, I was capable of breaking stone, but also arthritic. My students today use a combination of muscle-building in the hand and light hand conditioning, and as far as I know no one has arthritis. I don’t know if they will develop it later in life, but the Filipino idea of beating up the body is the same as the Thai idea:

We sacrifice our older years in order to reach our maximum as young men. If we attempt to preserve our later years, we must take away from our potential when we are young.

Thai fighters beat the body up in the effort to produce the most powerful, most destructive skills possible. It is a given that we may hurt joints in the process, but it is the price you pay to reach your maximum, as we don’t need this fighting skill when we are old.

The only way to avoid it is to never develop our fists, to never push our bodies past the fathomable limits of most men. And in doing so, we prevent ourselves from realizing the potential achievements at our disposal.

The martial artist cannot reach his potential by worrying about his future. His whole existence is defined by sacrifice. A warrior sacrifices his life for the safety of others:  his family, his comrades, his country, his religion. He shuns the endeavors others pursue, in order to achieve his dreams. Show me a martial artist who has sought other fields of expertise, and I will show you a mediocre martial artist. The greatest martial artists, fighters, forms practitioners–are all people who passed up something else for love of this art. We are the kind of men who fast for the month of Ramadan, yet still work out (I ran 4 miles today, and will run 4 more tomorrow…). We ignore doctor’s orders not to train or fight (I fractured my skull twice in my early 20s, but still fought–even full contact–until I was 32). We commit to our martial arts schools, even when our schools are not profitable–resulting in poor credit scores and failed marriages (look around you. many of us are divorcees). Among the martial artists I know, many have left careers in law, education, the military, etc., for pursuit of the martial arts. I have seen men in the Philippines PCS stateside, get out of the military, and then return a year later to study Eskrima and Karate. I have had students live with me since the early 90s, and I even have one living with me right now. We martial artists are a curious bunch, and many of the things that spell trouble to others do not scar–us, like bad credit and knee problems–if means we will have a few decades of fighting superiority.

I was once told that when I accept students into my school, I should treat it like accepting a son-in-law or daughter-in-law:  They leave their former lives and their new identity is to be one of my students. This is not a hobby or a career, it is a calling, and we give up everything in order to pursue it. Many won’t understand, but those of you who want it will when you make that decision.

Thanks for visiting my blog. By the way, go to the Offerings page and check out my new book on Philosophy of the Martial Arts!

Author: thekuntawman

full time martial arts teacher, full time martial arts philosopher, and full time martial arts critic

2 thoughts on “The Price We Pay to Be a Martial Artist (For Ryan Ostlund)”

  1. Thanks for your insight, I’m finding myself looking forward to your words of wisdom. I suppose i should go and find out why my knuckles are getting creaky and what the lumps on two of them mean.

  2. I am curious, because I am with a girl right now who I believe could actually turn out being someone I marry. I am in my twenties, so chances are she won’t be… but she is a martial artist, and it is through martial arts we met. I wonder if perhaps that common interest, and shared stake in the bizz, so to speak, might help get over potential marital difficulties, or perhaps offer paths to navigate through them.

    I am young, have never been married, and have no children. So I am very naive on this subject. I have devoted my life to martial arts; so it would set me at ease, to a degree, to know what things I can do to avoid, or at least mitigate, or prepare for such difficulties. I know the wisdom you have to offer will be sagacious; even fighters are allowed to love, and martial artists are among the most passionate people I know.

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