I’ll never forget that cold autumn evening as I sat in my car and held back tears.

It was during a point in my life when I felt like the world was against me. People whom I once trusted and respected had turned on me and sought to ruin my livelihood. Many grand plans I had conjured in my head failed to materialize. The burdens of adulthood crept up on me and I felt powerless against them.

But none of that mattered when I walked through the doors of my dojang, or training hall.

For as hellacious as my life seemed at the time, I had one constant I could rely on to keep me sane: martial arts — specifically, a Korean style called tang soo do.

For an hour a day, at least three times per week, I could grant myself a respite from the outside world at the dojang. I ensconced myself in a supportive environment where yelling at the top of your lungs and punching things was allowed (and highly encouraged).

It was the catharsis I needed to keep myself level during a tumultuous, uncertain time in my life.

The Benefits of Martial Arts

When I began my tang soo do journey more than seven years ago, I was merely looking for something to keep me active. When I first started I was in my late 20s and never pegged as the “athletic” type. I knew it would be a challenge, but I didn’t foresee how much that challenge would transform me.

Here are four ways the martial arts have changed my life for the better:

It’s Made Me Physically Stronger

I’ll get this out of the way — I’m in much better shape now than I was in my teens and early 20s. My first tang soo do class, I could barely do one push-up. Now I can keep up with the most strenuous workouts my instructors dish out. Not to mention, I’ve survived hours-long black belt tests and three-mile runs.

My endurance is certainly much higher than when I first started my training. I may not be submitting an application to American Ninja Warrior any time soon, but I am no longer out of breath after going up a long flight of steps.

It’s Made Me Mentally Stronger

I believe this is a benefit of the martial arts that often gets overlooked. Sure, it’s easy to focus on kicking and punching. That’s the fun stuff. But don’t discount the mental components, either.

Sparring has taught me to roll with the punches and face my fears head-on. Self-defense has helped me become more assertive and aware of the world around me. Meditation has allowed me the opportunity to empty my mind and tune-in to the present, instead of ruminating on the people and things that have hurt me in the past.

The lessons I’ve learned on the mat have made me a much more resilient and dynamic human being away from it.

It’s Given Me a Sense of Community

The instructors and teammates at my dojang are friendly and supportive. Whenever I’m having an off day, I can count on them to energize me. We may all be on different journeys, but we’ve bonded through our desire for self-improvement and love of tang soo do. In the years since I started my training, I’ve made several wonderful friends.

That sense of belonging extends beyond the school where I train. Meeting other martial artists in the wild, regardless of discipline, has made for quick bonds being formed (followed by hours-long conversations about the styles we practice). It’s almost akin to being in some sort of secret society.

It’s Provided Me a Much-Needed Outlet

For the first several years of my professional career, I had no real outlet. I would use work as an escape from the rest of the world, but then quickly burn out with nothing else to turn to. I felt trapped and miserable.

Since finding the martial arts, I have the ability to put my work and personal woes on pause, if only for a short while. My training is a chance for me to regroup and work myself back to a healthier state of mind. Tang soo do doesn’t make my problems go away; it gives me the tools I need to face them head-on with confidence.

Grateful For My Training

Photo by author.

Taking up a martial art is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself. It’s definitely a huge reason why I was able to overcome such a difficult time period in my life. Today, I’m successfully working towards a number of personal and professional goals — which includes becoming a tang soo do instructor myself.

My training hasn’t always been easy. I’ve hit many plateaus and even dealt with a few minor injuries. But the rewards I’ve reaped, and continue to enjoy, far outweigh those setbacks. I wouldn’t trade my martial arts journey for anything.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need a positive way to channel your energy, I encourage you to look for a solid martial arts school in your area and begin your own journey. It’s never too late to start!