During the last dozen years, I’ve been regularly punched, kicked, thrown to the ground, and had my arms folded into pretzels. Good times. How do I account for the fact that the nicest people I’ve met in the last couple of decades spend their evenings in dojos devoted to martial (literally, “warlike”) arts? It can’t be opposite day every day. I think that people enter martial arts dojos for physical conditioning and self-defense, but stay for a couple of other reasons.
Reason number one, is mental conditioning. If you’ve trained in a physically-challenging endeavor for years, you know that the physical part is easy compared to the mental part, that is, the part where you keep focused no matter how tired you are (and dare we admit it, even sometimes, bored), and the part where you return to train week in and week out, year in and year out. The physical conditioning required to train comfortably in a martial art takes months, a few months for younger people, many months for older people. The mental conditioning required to train comfortably in a martial art is marked in years, and I believe it would be a rare person who could make it through those years without reason number two.
Reason number two, is that the dojo is our third place. What’s a third place? Your home is the first place, your work environment (or, for children, school) is the second place. The third place is the place where you go to relax and see friendly faces, such as the mythical Cheers bar, “where everybody knows your name.” Both Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder, and Ron Sher, developer of (among others) the local Third Place Commons, set out to create third-place hangouts, but didn’t quite make it. How many times have you said to yourself: “I can’t wait to get off work so I can hang out at Starbucks for a couple of hours”?
I find that family-friendly martial arts dojos, such as USA Karate, fit the third-place ideal far better. People form bonds, not over easy times, but over hardships. And by hardships, I don’t mean making your way through a cup of Starbucks burnt-firewood flavored drip, I mean hardships that include pain, fatigue, and (mostly self-) criticism.
What do you think? If you’re a relative newcomer, do you find yourself attracted to the third-place aspects of USA Karate? If you’ve been around for a while, how much of the third-place aspects helps you to keep coming? Do you have other thoughts on why you and others continue at the dojo? Please comment below.
If you have a question that you’d like to ask USA Karate members, please let us know.
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