What Language Learning and Martial Arts Have in Common
Last week I went to a Muay Thai kickboxing class for the first time in months. I was comfortable until the last part of the class when the teacher had us go up in pairs for light sparring rounds (practice fights). I do Muay Thai for exercise and don’t often spar so I got nervous. It reminded me of Roma’s recent post about being nervous to go back to China after three years. There I was, about to step into a new situation in unfamiliar territory, I wasn’t sure if I remembered all the moves, I wasn’t sure if I could defend myself, and there were people watching me! But, just like language learning, one of the best ways to improve is to dive into new situations and test out what you know.
Similarities between learning languages and learning martial arts
Being prepared for language interactions is a lot like being prepared for martial arts. You need to know the right moves and you need to know how to defend yourself. Here are a few other thoughts on similarities between the learning these two skills:
- It can be very frustrating, especially at first when you only have a few words or a few moves and all you see around you are experts. You finally understand how an arm-bar works, but when you go to put it on your teacher, she slips right out of it, and is suddenly choking you from behind. Or you say “hi, how are you?” and your friend replies back with 10 of the fastest, most incomprehensible sentences you’ve ever heard.
- Practice is essential: the more you use the moves, the easier they become. It might take baby steps but, as long as you practice regularly, you will continuously improve.
- People want to help: contrary to what many believe, the martial arts community is extremely caring. No one wants to hurt anyone else – they all want to help each other. And I find this is the same with language learning – most people want to help and they will be patient with you as you try to communicate.
- You have to get out there: practice is so essential to learning these skills, so sometimes you have to be brave, step into the ring (or the corner store), and just go at it. Whether it’s trying out your left hook or the past tense, you won’t learn if you don’t try, make mistakes, and try again.
Benefits to learning languages and learning martial arts
There are many reasons why people choose to learn martial arts or to learn a new language – and many reasons that apply to both:
- Connections: learning martial arts or languages allows you to connect with people you might never have known otherwise. You will meet your classmates if you sign up for lessons, but your interest in the language or the art often opens new connections throughout your daily life as well.
- Cultures: languages and martial arts are tied to culture, and learning either of these skills allows you to learn about different cultural histories and traditions.
- Discipline, patience, humility: learning languages or martial arts requires discipline, patience, and humility – skills you may develop unconsciously as you work toward other learning goals.
- Confidence: both learning language and learning martial arts can be difficult at first but once you get a hang of things, it feels great. You open the door to more and more possibilities for doing and seeing things that you never could before.
Also, martial arts classes can be a great place to learn new language too! Check out this article by Nick Kovach about learning martial arts and a new language at the same time.
Shout-outs to my gyms
I certainly was not always into martial arts. In fact, when it was suggested to me a few years ago I said “no way! I’m not a violent person!”. But martial arts is not about violence. It is about strength, confidence, and defense. I eventually did try a women’s self defense class at Elements Academy of Martial Arts in Vancouver and I loved it. It was so practical, I learned many tools for defending myself in dangerous situations, and I met a great group of people. I started to do Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, the latter being my favourite martial art at the moment. Here in Lima, I’ve been training when I can at Fight & Fitness. To see what I can do, I leave you with this clip of me taken at Elements:
Emma puts me in a headlock, I defend my neck, then position myself for a hip throw. Once she is down, I go for the arm bar. These kinds of situations might seem scary and the moves might seem complicated, but practice makes perfect – just like learning a new language.