Whatever happened to self-discipline?

It's almost a cliché, really. Whenever you ask someone why they want to study a particular martial art, they typically give you the same handful of reasons: self-defense, to get in better shape and self-discipline.

I think we can all understand where the "self defense" part comes in to play. For various reasons, many of us at some point feel a basic, fundamental need to protect ourselves. Maybe we live in a dangerous part of town or work in a potentially violent profession (such as law enforcement, emergency services, or even playing music at a raucous hole in the wall) and the threat of violence is ever-present; or, maybe we've always been picked on by bullies, be it physical or psychological abuse, and we want the confidence to stand up to them.

It's a fairly strong motivating factor, one that's probably worth spending a few posts on in and of itself. But it's not what's on my mind.

As for getting in better shape, there are probably much better ways to accomplish that, or at least more direct and efficient, truth be told. And for some people, pumping iron and running 10 miles a day is just fine. But I suspect that, for some people, lifting weights and climbing a Stair Master is just a little too boring. They want physical exertion, but they also want to engage their minds somehow at the same time. Sports (and by extension, martial arts) are a great way to do that.

Now, I'll be brutally honest, here. Our particular dojo is not the most... physically demanding, shall we say. One of the nice things about judo and aikido is that they can be practice at various levels of intensity and at various ages; our dojo has students in their 20s and students in their 60s+ and everything in between. For some reason, though, it seems that most people aren't very interested in working hard enough to break a sweat (which I find rather disappointing, actually), so I suppose for them, they're looking for a more "tai chi" kind of physical activity, which is fine.

Again, another post for another day.

For me, I'm perplexed by that last reason: self-discipline. First of all, while I think I understand the first two motivating factors, I'm not sure I fully get this one. What are people feeling when they think they need "self-discipline"? Are they defining it the same way the dictionary does, "Training and control of oneself and one's conduct, usually for personal improvement"? Is it a deep-seated unhappiness with oneself and the desire to somehow feel better about who we are?

I've often heard this same reason given for joining the military, self-discipline. Do we think of ourselves as aimless, lazy slobs with no direction in life, incapable of achieving anything of note? And that adhering to a strict set of rules, jumping at every command barked at us by a drill sergeant or sensei, will somehow whip us into shape, and "make a man" out of us? Will following rules and obeying orders actually do all that?

I can't answer any of that. Do you know? Any thoughts you might have on the matter I would certainly appreciate.

All that being said, here's what got me thinking about it in the first place. As I watch the other students in my dojo, I can't help but wonder what motivates them. For example, we have a couple of newer students who are attending just about every class they can, morning, noon and night and even weekends. But other students are much more laissez faire about their attendance, especially with the morning class. I hear, Oh, it was too hard to get out of bed yesterday morning, and that sort of thing often. When they do show up, most of the time, they're several minutes late; chronic tardiness in any other dojo, I'm fairly certain, would not be tolerated.

Frankly, I just don't get it.

Back when I first started, I was in my early 20s, in college, and had plenty of time on my hands, so I made every class I could. Even now, I'd go to more classes for sure if I could (career, family, etc. takes a priority, of course). As it is, I don't miss a single class unless I'm out of town, my car has broken down, or somebody in my house is sick (really sick, not just a case of the sniffles). I also do my damnedest to get there on time.

I also take my falls as often as I can. No one else seems to want to, for some inexplicable reason. The older, more physically limited folks, I understand, but even many of the younger, fit guys act like taking a few air falls for a technique demonstration is going to kill them.

I also see a number of people spend a minute or two working on what the teacher presented and then, when bored with that, move on to the next technique ahead of the class. What, did you master that one already? Two minutes, and you've got it down?

Where's the dedication, where's the heart? I don't get it...

I'm not describing everyone, mind you, but a disturbingly large number of folks nonetheless. I've written too much here already, so I'll stop for now. But it continues to perplex me.


  1. self-disciplin

    As far as I know it is considered that small children (age 2-3) don't have it and behave by situation: see a thing - do something with it.

    3-4 - children learn to stop, to wait, to refuse from something small to gain something bigger. Here games like hide-an-seek are very usefull.
    5 and older - thing can be not only shown but explayned, told. Now children can at last understand phrases like "Why can't you behave for a moment!?" ))
    They learn to see the relations between cause and result, to value their and others deeds.

    All this is an ideal course of development. The outer disciplin becomes inner-disciplin (self-disciplin). But that doesn't happen to everyone. To much control or no control can lead to a situation when person has to learn self-disciplin, well, at any age... when it dawns that it makes life easier and lack of it brings trouble.

    Hope I didn't act like captain Obvious )
    And sorry for mistakes.

  2. Self discpline is very personal.

    For me, self discipline is growth and focus. The physical challenges that Aikido brings me translate to the mental and spiritual areas of my life.

    For instance, when I just attend class and just pay attention, drill over and over on a particular technique, and strive to improve on a better position (center moving, hand here, foot there, etc.)my focus and awareness are always going up.

    I can then face challenges and rewards that life brings better. My decision making and attention to people in my life are on the rise.

    To some people this is just corny. It's been proven in my life that it works though and I encourage you to focus on self discipline for the positive changes it brings.


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