3 Powerful Areas of Focus (For Martial Arts and More)

No truly healthy person I know just stumbled into a life of proper nutrition and emotional balance.

Sure, they may have come across the martial arts by accident…or they may have found a diet that worked for them by chance. But none of their long-term results happened passively. They’ve all been the product of consistent effort over time.

That effort over time is what people call “habit”. And they come in good flavors…and bad.

If we want to lead a healthy lifestyle, we have to develop healthy habits. And just as with Martial Arts training, there are no shortcuts.

So how can you develop a successful lifestyle – in the martial arts and beyond?

  • Put a premium on your physical fitness. It’s got a few components, starting with what you eat and how you rest. You can never out-train bad nutrition, poor rest/recovery habits or poor energy planning. You can be the most talented practitioner in the world, but if you neglect your physical health off the mat, you’ll soon pay for it.
  • Work on your emotional fitness. Your attitude, temper and emotional balance need attention also.Are you working on improving your emotional state management? In training, you can discipline yourself to approach each partner, each drill, each technique with an open mind. Not letting small things set you off part of working on emotional balance. And you can integrate this practice in your daily life – in your family, at the workplace, during your commute – by reflecting on the classroom lessons.
  • Don’t neglect your mental fitness. This is all about your focus and attention. Your mind is always with you, so if you don’t do something to strengthen your willpower, your ability to pay attention or how you talk to yourself, you’ll never feel completely healthy. How are you training yourself to listen better? Being mentally fit means that you’re becoming a better communicator. It also means creating the self-discipline to make hard choices you know are good for you. Mental toughness, perseverance, non-quitting spirit…these are all part of your mental fitness.

In the martial arts, we start working with all of these on the mat. It’s the most immediate and up-front way to examine where we’re weakest.

Because the practice is a concrete habit, it’s also ideal to strengthen these “habit” muscles. We can next start to work on these areas when we’re off the mat.

Nothing too complicated: increase your water intake, or start eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Maybe it’s time to eliminate fried foods, junk foods or sugar.

Health is about proportion, harmony, stability. Martial arts brings balance…and so should your habits.

If you’ve been neglecting one or more of these areas, start right now. By developing good health habits, you don’t only take steps toward black belt-level martial arts. You think clearer, have more energy and perform better than ever before.

You’ll be a better parent, spouse, friend and martial artist on purpose, for the long-term.

And who doesn’t want that?

Martial Arts Philosophy: The Dojo Kun

The “dojo kun” outlines the most important precepts in Shotokan Karate, one of the world’s most practiced martial arts. Written by Shotokan founder Gichin Funakoshi, it is literally a list of rules for the practitioner, providing guidance and suggestions for how we can be the best version of ourselves and live a happier life. If we “break” those rules there is no punishment by law, but there is suffering. And we are the ones who suffer the most. Below is an outline of the five key philosophies of this deep martial arts practice.

Seek Perfection of Character

This line speaks to the essential principle of “kaizen” – we are always trying to improve. How we treat other people – and ourselves – is crucial for a life well-lived, and an area we can always work on. There is no “real” perfection here: it is more like something being whole, complete. And there is always room for being better, kinder, more loving, as we approach that sense of being whole.

Be Faithful

Faith means belief: believing in yourself, the Martial Arts and your teacher. We learn what we need to learn when we need to learn it. In the dojo, everything happens step by step. This is how we learn. We reach the top of the mountain only to see that there is another peak before us. What we’ve scaled is just one height of many. The only way to move in this way is with faith. To believe that our teacher is on our side and will help us through obstacles in training as well as in life. To believe that every obstacle in our way is only asking us to grow stronger, so that once we are through we’ll be more prepared for whatever comes next. To believe that by continuing to move forward, through consistent training, there will be improvement. Kaizen.


This means trying something new, the willingness to but aside our misgivings and fears. Not to grow stagnant in life or in training. To take risks. Work hard. Find our passion. Create possibilities. Have fun. Love. Be vulnerable. To step ourside your confort zone to truly experience what makes you, you.

Respect Others

Without respect for others, there is no chance at a complete life. If we close ourselves off to other ideas, we miss out on opportunities for improvement, togetherness, happiness. Violating this principle creates chaos: disrespect leads to arguments; arguments with no respect turn into resentment; resentments turn into war, individually and globally. Respecting others doesn’t mean always agreeing with them. In any relationship there will always be something we disagree with, but with mutual respect and understanding, solutions can be found or a new path can be laid out.

Refrain from Violent Behavior

This means verbally as well as physically. As in the previous precept, we have to be responsible for our part in our relationship with other people. Speak well of others, and with others. It is our work as Martial Artists to build people up and not put them down, to let them discover their own potential. People don’t remember what we say, but they remember how they feel when they’re around us. When we’re responsible in this way, we create the space they need for their own work. Of course, there is no room for physical violence either. Misunderstandings can be solved by talking to each other with mutual respect, by listening and being open. To learn to put aside ego and personal preferences is the way of the karateka: to begin to lessen the suffering in ourselves and in the world, we can begin with this one precept.

Every martial arts practice has its rules and outlines. These are time-tested and accessible, a guide not only for the karate practitioner but good counsel to every student who sets foot into the dojo anywhere.

Sonja Hofstetter
Instructor, Curatorial Research Manger and Archive Administrator
Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu


Do you have kids? Even if you don’t, you’ve probably still had the opportunity to watch as they see, hear, touch, and learn things for the first time. They progress at different rates in different areas.  One child walks “early” and talked “late,” whereas another may be just the opposite.  In either case they have to walk before they run, no matter when they start or how quickly they progress.

It seems, though, that their inclination is to run first, which often leads to great frustration.

As practitioners, it’s easy for us to watch them and liken it to our own Martial Arts training.  Most of us have had the experience where we feel like we’re just starting to run, but it comes with all those months (or years!) of walking, stumbling, misstepping, and falling down.

In fact, the students who are the most successful for the longest time are usually the ones that can learn with the “walk before you run” mindset.

The good news for us is martial arts are designed for that slow process of incremental growth.  We crawl in the beginning, and then when we can stand on our two feet confidently, we’re invited to reach a little beyond where we are. Maybe not to run, but certainly a brisk walk or a trot. It may mean working with more experienced partners, or it may mean more progressive techniques. It could be moving to a more advanced program of training.

But that still doesn’t mean that it is time to run just yet.  Next we show ourselves that we can walk consistently, and we build some confidence at the next level. Then we pick up the pace a little.

Just like with children, it’s natural for motivated, excited, progress-oriented adults to want to run right away.  But the “dark side” of positive progress is often frustration. In the martial arts, as in lots of other projects we take on for our personal growth and development, short-term frustration can lead to feelings of failure, which then lead to quitting.

What’s unique about Martial Arts is that there is a built-in additive system to keep our pace of progress where we need it – just out of reach.

See, the mindset of gradual advancement gives everyone the time and place to improve. Each protocol gives us room to correct and refine our shortcomings, and as a result to help us train for life.  Standing straight helps us develop a disciplined body and mind.  Bowing reminds us that we are in a respectful environment.  Keeping our uniforms clean maintains professionalism and displays a certain level of care.

Sometimes it’s hard to watch your kids fall down, even if its part of the process.  But its our experience that tells us that they will get through it, that the frustration will give way to success. So what do we do? We hold their hands and we prop them up and we give them the confidence to keep going.

Similarly, inside the dojo we get both the structure and the example. Our instructors have been through the process of working towards their Black Belts. In this way, it’s not unlike the parent – a guiding influence who’s been there before, seeking the best for us. That’s why, at times, it seems as though they are holding our hands and propping us up. The trust and guidance gives us the confidence we need when we fall.

We want to run, so we set the stage. We trip and fall, have to get back up, then we get started again. We make corrections and adjustments, ask for help, and keep exploring. This process, which runs all the way to black belt and beyond, works naturally for each of us. There is no “early” or “late”.

With good instruction, good conditions and a curious mindset, we finally find ourselves able to run, simply and genuinely. That’s progress.

Jason’s jiu-jitsu journey began at BBJJ in 2008. He’s credited his martial arts training with improvements in everything from temperament and patience to reaching personal fitness and relationship goals.