How Losing Martial Arts Made Me A Better Martial Artist

Charlie Cheung
Apr 11 · 4 min read

I like to believe that martial arts was something I was meant to do. Being from Hong Kong, the home of the likes of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, there was no way I would grow up without having taken at least one lesson somewhere. So that’s where my martial arts journey started, fifteen years ago in a local community centre’s taekwondo class.

When I let myself get nostalgic about it, it’s not the small, mat-less community centre I remember first, but it’s how my identity tied so deeply with being a martial artist. I felt an immense sense of pride being able to call myself that. Maybe it was because of the performances and medals. Maybe because it was the first time in my life I wasn’t known as my brother’s little sister. In time, and I’m really simplifying it here, I became a successful martial artist — disciplined and ambitious. Steady and accomplished.

Usually when you tell people you study martial arts the first thing they ask is what kind. Then it’s, how long have you been doing it for? After that, the questions differ a bit but what I’ve started to notice was this one question that kept coming up:

Do you feel like it’s helped you become more self confident?

I never knew how to answer because well, I couldn’t remember a time where I didn’t have martial arts in my life. I thought it was silly, actually. You should always believe in yourself. You should always be confident. Of course you can do anything you set your mind to. If you work hard, you can accomplish anything.

And that was my mentality until, through a series of events that happened in my late teens, I found myself unable to train anymore.

To say that I had taken it hard was an understatement. I completely fell apart as a person.

I was confident and worked hard and I failed.

What hurt me most wasn’t the failure or even the loss of a sport I loved as by that time, I was already so defeated by the environment that I was only doing it out of pure habit. What crushed me was the loss of my identity.

What I had to learn was how to grieve that loss.

Again, I would like to montage my way through that difficult part of my life. It took a lot of time and a lot of self love before I found a way back to martial arts and even longer before I found myself loving it again.

This time, instead of letting it become my identity, I didn’t abandon the other parts of me. In fact, I kind of put being a martial arts instructor in the background and that was when I could feel my mental health improve.

I let go of the idea that I had to live as a martial artist. I lived…just to be me. By abandoning the pressure I had put on martial arts to make up who I was, I let it become a guideline for my personal development which is what it should have been all along. Sure, I was a martial arts instructor. But I was also a daughter, a sister, and a friend.

To let yourself fully accept all of the benefits that martial arts can bring you requires you to let go of everything you expect it to do for you.

Martial arts isn’t going to be some silver bullet that will give you self confidence. It will however, promote values of self discipline, patience, and calmness. It’s up to you to enable these values to grow by putting yourself in a positive environment that allows these values to be fulfilled. This environment is not only external but internal.

Are you providing your thoughts with a healthy and safe place to learn, grow, and make mistakes? Do you surround yourself with supporters — friends and family that inspire and respect you?

From what I have seen through competing and teaching is that a student will never reach their fullest potential unless they are in a safe and healthy environment. I’ve had wonderful instructors who have believed in me. I’ve had an instructor tell me that everything I had was not because I had earned it but because they had given it to me. Which environment do you think promotes growth more?

By learning to embody the values that martial arts instills in you, you’ll see its effects ripple into the other areas of your life. Eliminate the feelings of stress and anxiety and live your life with surety. Understand that a loss is not permanent and necessary for growth. Realize that no matter what happens, you’re going to be okay.

Now when people ask me if martial arts has made me confident I tell them no, it hasn’t. It encompasses the values in which I try to live my life — peace, health, softness, and steadiness. It enables me to find balance and discipline. It helps me understand where my limit is and how to push past it. Martial arts helps me understand myself and understanding myself makes me confident so that, if one day I’ll be without martial arts again, I know I will still have the heart of a martial artist.

Charlie Cheung

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UX designer, tai chi instructor, and wannabe creator. Find me at IG: @ccktcch