Karate class.I got my butt kicked last night by a girl — a pleasant high school student, who happens to be a black belt in my karate class.

Okay, she didn’t actually kick my butt. She kicked my chest, hard enough to make me lose my breath, and hard enough to make my ribs so sore that I couldn’t sleep on my right side last night. Then, after apologizing profusely about my chest, she kicked my nose.

I finally did manage to kick her butt. Literally. Unfortunately, that’s as high as I could kick, and the butt zone doesn’t score a point in karate sparring.

Still, I felt proud about the experience. Why? I got kicked in the face by a black belt, and although it hurt like crazy, I didn’t cry. (The last time I got popped in the face was 20 years ago. I didn’t cry then, either.) As David Powers shared in “Wanna to Join a Fight Club?” it is empowering to know that I can still survive a blow to the face.

(I should admit that she was going easy on me, and didn’t kick nearly as hard as she could have. In fact, the reason her foot connected with my face is because I chose to start an awkward move that brought my face closer than she’d expected.)

I never thought I would learn karate. Martial arts and self-defense never had the slightest appeal to me. Karate caught my interest by surprise when two of my kids started taking lessons offered by a friend of the family. Danny and Cecily had been taking lessons for three months already when I finally showed up to watch — that’s how little the topic of karate interested me. But when I saw the athletic nature of their lessons, and the mix of young and old students, I realized there were clear reasons why the average guy like me would benefit from learning karate.

  1. Each class provides a great cross-training workout. Especially in the winter, I have a hard time staying interested in exercise. My weekly karate class provides a fun mix of stretching, strength-training, and cardio that leaves me sweaty and exhausted.
  2. It’s a great experience with your kids. There is something special about learning something new and challenging, right alongside my kids. I think the three of us will grow closer through this experience, and create positive memories that last a lifetime.
  3. It teaches humility. In our class, there is almost no segregation of beginners from advanced students. I see very clearly (and sometime painfully) how bad I suck compared to the green and red belts. And yet, because of the mutual respect in the class, I feel totally comfortable with my novice skills and can enjoy the learning process.
  4. It teaches patience. After my very first class, I felt I had already mastered the techniques needed to gradate from white-belt status to yellow-belt (and get caught up to Danny and Cecily). But the tests are offered only about four times a year, so I spent three months refining those techniques. Given my personality type and birth order, it was hard to be patient, but it helped me to practice those fundamentals into my muscle memory — and to “enjoy now” rather than merely look forward to a destination.
  5. It brings to light just how important stretching is. As we age, stretching becomes more important to avoid injury and maintain an active lifestyle; many people stop their favorite activities due to pains that would go away if they properly stretched. It’s easy to ignore the need to stretch. In karate, I can’t ignore it — every class reminds me that I need to stretch or else I’ll never be able to kick higher than my opponent’s butt.
  6. It builds self-confidence. Though I’m still a novice karate student, there is something about learning self-defense that is already impacting my confidence level. If faced with a threat to my family, I still would attempt a diplomatic solution, but I would be negotiating from a stronger position.
  7. It increases respect for women. At first, I felt uncomfortable sparring against women and girls in my class. I’ve always been taught to protect and defend women. In sparring, we try to avoid hurting our classmates; we’re merely putting our learned techniques into practice. When we spar against a lower-skilled or timid student (which includes over half of the females in my class), we are more careful to be encouraging and protective. Last night I sparred against a timid, 8-year-old girl, and yet I felt completely in line with my wiring to protect women. In the same night, the aforementioned black belt, as well as my 13-year-old daughter Cecily, both sparred against me with higher levels of skill and aggressiveness — definitely making me respect their strong femininity.

For more on this topic, check out episode 22,

Question: What are you doing to bring these kinds of benefits into your life?