On Discomfort and How Martial Arts Training Creates Confidence

 Mar, 07 - 2015   NinjitsuPhilosophy

One of my favorite memes is the Awkward Seal. If you have spent any time on Facebook or Reddit, you’ve seen something like this:

You probably parked next to each other too

You probably parked next to each other too.

We can and should point and laugh at situations like this, but let’s take a moment to acknowledge the power of the underlying force at work here: discomfort. If there was a “Discomfort Scale” (patent pending), simple awkward situations like this would probably register pretty low. On the other, something like an escalating verbal and/or physical confrontation should (hopefully) be up towards to the top for an average person. How well you can manage yourself in uncomfortable situations helps you manage your response to situations all along the discomfort scale scale, and you can develop those coping skills with martial arts training. To find out why that works, let’s talk about what discomfort really is.

Discomfort is an important psychological and physical phenomenon. Whether it’s the anxiety or worry that comes with uncomfortable or dangerous social situations, or that feeling you get in your stomach when you are hungry, it is your mind and body telling you to take action to end it. Discomfort is never classified as a “pleasant” experience any stretch of the word, but it is important in driving your behavior. Whenever you make a decision, observe how much discomfort actually plays a role in your decision making process; for example, do you deserve a raise at your job?  If so, what is stopping you from asking for one? What would need to change for you to ask for it?

The answer is simple: you become more comfortable through developing your confidence and self efficacy. Through training yourself to be successful, you learn just how much of your life you can control. Martial arts training is a huge opportunity for this. Case in point: A couple of weeks ago, I was approached by one of our blue belts, who said she had been thankful for the confidence she’d gained in this art, and that it led to her asking for a raise. Before training, she let discomfort get in the way of asking, like many people; after asking (and getting the raise) she was pumped to see what kind of control she actually had! That’s why ninjitsu and the martial arts are important. They help you bring about life change, and I tie many growth opportunities back to improving our ability to deal with uncomfortable situations.

How exactly does this work though? How does martial arts training improve my ability to cope with wider ranges of discomfort while developing confidence? Glad you asked!

First attempts at sidestepping punches

First attempts at sidestepping punches

1: It provides different levels of opportunity to experience discomfort and be successful. Some people new to martial arts are uncomfortable with even being grabbed by the wrist or lapel, and within two years are fine with being thrown around and attacked with knives. Martial arts gives you the opportunity to start small with stressful situations and develop the intensity at your own pace.

2: Martial arts provide the opportunity to be repetitively successful. When you have slipped the same punch 200 times, success and the ability to dissect your performance becomes habit.

3: Training prompts you to look inward and comprehend and analyze your emotions during stressful periods. Whether we are reflecting during post-class discussion or you are just staying aware during normal training, you will start to see how what you think and feel is affecting your movement and behavior. A primary to fixing problems is understanding them.

A great example: First day, learning a basic clinch and knee

A great example of #4: First day, learning a basic clinch and knee

4: Martial arts and especially ninjitsu provide you the chance to train to respond in ways you normally wouldn’t. While we as instructors want you to develop along your own personal path, we will still ask you to try new things. Teaching a normally shy person to explode into an attacker with a fiery, aggressive technique is uncomfortable for many people when they first start, but they develop the ability to do it over time. It becomes a “when needed” resource for students who normally live more passively.

5: Training surrounds you with a community of like minded and supportive people. You can have a great art, but if you don’t have a positive community you will not be a school that people will want to attend for long! Surrounding yourself with people that celebrate your success with you is HIGHLY important for people developing confidence. You will see this is especially with young children, as we see in our Little Ninja class, and it holds true for adults too. There is a reason why many therapy models incorporate a group support component. Think of Discovery as a support community that just uses a heck of a lot more joint locks.

6: If all else fails, sometimes it’s just nice to hit something.

CS kpads

Padwork: Tell me you don’t feel good after!


It’s very easy to sit back and “play it safe.” Oftentimes, it’s advisable! Otherwise, you have the sport of “skateboarding.” However,  If you have noticed a need in your life that you fear chasing down; that new promotion, that raise, that difficult conversation you need to have with someone, then martial arts training with Discovery may be what you need after all. Not only will you improve your ability to take control over your own life, but if you ever come across a violent or dangerous situation, you can become the person who could handle it.

I know training has certainly shaped who I am today, but I have a question for all of the other martial artists out there: How has your training shaped you?


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