Martial arts have been around for centuries yet somehow many misconceptions still abound. Here are 11 of the most common misconceptions about the martial arts you can stop believing.
1. You have to be flexible to get started
You may be shocked to learn that you do not need any flexibility to begin martial arts classes. There are some arts where flexibility is more important because they focus on kicks, particularly high kicks, like Tae Kwon Do or Kickboxing. According to the Mayo Clinic, stretching may help you improve your joint range of motion, which in turn may help improve your athletic performance and decrease your risk of injury. While your chosen martial art may not emphasize it, you may still want to improve your flexibility.
2. Martial arts are only for men
Whether you’re a man or a women, martial arts can be great for self-defense, meeting new people, getting into better shape, and boosting your self confidence. While it’s true that martial arts were once primarily dominated by men, things have significantly shifted in the last 20-30 years. Today, it’s not all too uncommon to see women making up 40% or more of traditional martial arts classes.
3. Competition is required
While some instructors require their students to compete in tournaments as part of their training, the greater majority simply do not. Just ask the instructor at your prospective martial arts school if its require or not. My philosophy is that everyone should try it at least once. If for no other reason, it can help you face your fears and help you to really get focused. I used to compete and gained a lot from the experience, even when I lost. I found that the preparation for competition was sometimes more impactful than the competition itself and that it gave me greater motivation to push myself I wouldn’t have had otherwise.
4. Every martial art is pretty much the same
Wikipedia lists over 100 different martial arts on its website. If they were all the same, why so many? That’s because each martial art is as different as a person having different strengths, weaknesses, philosophies, and appearance. Martial arts can be broken into three divisions including sport, self defense, and health. There are no contact, light to medium contact, and full contact methods. They include strikes, punches, kicks, takedowns, grappling, weapon defenses, using weapons, multiple attackers, and more. Some arts focus on one or two methods like KickBoxing, which focuses on punches and kicks, while others like Kenpo cover them all. Do your home work before attending any martial arts school to make sure they teach what you want to learn.
5. A black belt is a martial arts master
Actually, earning a black belt is just a beginning and really means you’ve completed the basics of a system or style. By no means are you a master. It takes decades of dedicated practice to really master anything. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell writes that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. For perspective, it takes between 800-1,000 hours to achieve a black belt in many martial arts schools. If you want to learn from a master, seek those with many decades of proven experience.
6. You have to be in shape to get started
You don’t need to be in shape to start martial arts classes anymore than you need to be in shape to join a gym. Did you know that conditioning and endurance are key components of most martial arts programs? It’s true. In time, you will get into better shape with regular physical activity in each class you attend. If that’s what’s been holding you back from getting started, let it go.
7. Only learn from a champion
The number of trophies, belts, or medals someone has won has ZERO to do with their ability to teach you or hold your interest. All that says is they’re good at it. That doesn’t mean they are a great teacher. In order to stick with any martial art, you need an instructor that can put things in terms that you can understand, will challenge you, and who will motivate you. If they can’t, it doesn’t matter how many championships they’ve won, you’ll lose interest. That’s why I recommend finding an instructor who has a good reputation as a teacher, first.
8. Size and strength are required
If you’re worried that you’re not big or strong enough to take martial arts, think again. Most schools focus on teaching moves that any sized person can do that do not require great strength or size to execute. In fact, martial arts provide an in depth study in the weaknesses and strengths of the human body. You’ll learn vulnerable places to strike or manipulate that get immediate effect without much effort.
9. It’s all about fighting
While martial arts were developed for combat purposes thousands of years ago, that doesn’t mean they’re all about fighting. In fact, they can also help with additional benefits like stress relief, increased flexibility, conditioning, coordination, balance, confidence, focus, peace of mind, and more. Read 101 reasons to learn the martial arts to learn more.
10. You must register your hands and feet as weapons
I remember hearing in elementary school that if you knew karate you had to register your hands and feet as lethal weapons. While it would be cool to have a card like this in my wallet, sadly, it’s not true. This misconception probably got started on some movie or TV show and many believed it and perpetuated it ever since. As it currently stands, you only need to register man made weapons like firearms.
11. You need to start when you’re young
There is absolutely no age restriction whatsoever for anyone who has a sincere desire to learn the martial arts. If you are ready to train hard, regularly, and consistently and will put everything you’ve got into it, then that’s all you need to get started. Every day adults in their 30’s, 40’s and 50’s start their training and earn their black belts. In fact, it’s estimated that there are 3 million participants in the martial arts between the ages of 18 and 54, while 100,000 are 55-years-old or older.