Character Building With Martial Arts



Focus is an attribute people are looking to attain through martial arts training. Focus goes hand and hand with the attribute of discipline (see previous post.) A well focused mind is essential for having mental and physical discipline. Martial arts training teaches students to focus on the task at hand. As you concentrate on one task and work to accomplish that task, you are disciplining the mind to focus on seeing a job through to the end. The development of focus starts with small things and grows to encompass many more aspects of life. The cultivation of focus begins with an act as small as a punch. Students are taught to focus their punch to a specific area. As they practice, the student learns to focus their strength and energy into that area. I often tell students there is a difference between aiming and focusing. Aiming is placing the punch on a particular spot on a target or opponent. Focusing is not only hitting the spot, but is striking the spot with the desired power. At higher levels, this would include focusing the body’s internal energy or “chi” into the strike. This is a simple but effective example of the stages of focus development.

Stage 1 – Focus on hitting one specific spot.

Stage 2 – Focus delivering power into that spot.

Stage 3 – Focus on projecting the body’s energy “chi” into the spot. Each stage requires a higher level of focus to achieve. No stage can be skipped. The new stage will just happen the more the previous stage is mastered. This demonstrates a progression of the level of focus through on technique. Focus not only grows stronger in one technique at a time; focus spreads from one task into more and more aspects of life.

Students start by focusing punch after punch. They focus on making sure a block is in the right place. They focus on balance and targeting while throwing a kick. Students learn to stay focused on a series of movements as they train forms. Later, students realize they must stay focused on many elements at once, if they want to achieve their next rank. The goal is for the student to carry this new found skill of focus into other areas of their life. I try to encourage my younger students to approach school with the same focus they apply to Kung Fu training. I tell them, “If you focus on the current assignment, you can complete it faster with better results. Don’t let your mind wander. Stop wishing the assignment was done and stop dwelling on what you are not getting to do while working. With focus the job will soon be finished and you’ll be able to do what you’re wanting to do sooner.”

Tso Ting
Tso Ting

In my school, we begin class with a Tso Ting or “sitting contemplation”. Students sit cross legged for one minute, breathing deeply, and focus. I suggest students take this time to focus on what they want out of class that particular day. What do they want to work on? Will they focus on their stances? Will they work on developing more power in techniques? Students should use this minute to block out all outside distractions. Students should put themselves into a “Kung Fu” mindset. For the next hour the student will focus on and give full attention to Kung Fu training. After hearing this explanation, one student’s grandfather told me he was going to suggest his group do something similar the next dental conference he attended. This is a great example of using character building skills from martial arts outside the Kwoon or Dojo.

Be sure to check out the next character building post on Respect.


Setting Goals For What You Want From Martial Arts Training

A Guide To Choosing The Right Martial Arts School

A Detailed Look – Post 2

This post is a continuation of the previous post:

Reason 3: “Character Building”

One reason people want to train martial arts is for personal character development. Character developments are the advancements students make in their mental and emotional development while training. This is where martial arts training becomes personal. Each student comes to a class with their own specific personalities. These personality traits are largely shaped by the individual’s mental and emotional development. For example, some students come to martial arts with low self esteem, while others may be a little cocky. Two students can workout side by side in the same class. One may develop the confidence they need, while the other learns to be a little more humble. This is the wonder of martial arts training. It targets each student personally, helping to improve any short comings that student may have. Character development is an aspect of non-physical training that is part of a great martial arts program. In the following I will discuss a few of the character building traits of martial arts training. 

Karate stance


Discipline may be the most recognized of the character building traits. A style of martial arts is sometimes referred to as a “discipline of study.” To many children, discipline means “punishment.” Discipline also has a more positive definition. One definition is “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character.” (from I view discipline in these positive terms. I tell young students that, “If you can develop self discipline it will keep you from external discipline enforced upon you by others.”

tai chi sword on beach

Martial arts training can discipline the body and discipline the mind. Through repetitive physical practice, the student can discipline the body to perform complex movements and techniques. If students remain disciplined in their practice, they can achieve a level of accuracy and power that seems almost superhuman. You can see the same discipline in the top stars of other sports.

Martial arts karate discipline

To achieve high levels of physical discipline requires high levels of mental discipline. The mental discipline to force one’s body to practice when it doesn’t feel like it, or to push on past fatigue and pain is what separates the average from the great. The same is true for other activities, not just physical endeavors. Many of the top successful business professionals exhibit the same mental discipline.

Mental and physical discipline can help to keep you safe. When confronted with high stress or dangerous situations, the body’s fight or flight response kicks in. You begin to act on instinct. A disciplined body can begin to react in ways it has been programmed to respond. A disciplined mind can cut through the fog of adrenaline and make appropriate decisions. A quality martial arts program will help the student become more disciplined.

I have decided to break up my post on “Character Building” into several smaller post. Please come back for the my next post on building “Focus” through martial arts training.

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A Guide To Choosing A Martial Arts School

Finding a martial arts school that is right for you is a big decision.  The following guide can help with that decision.  It consist of a list of questions you should ask yourself before settling on a school.

Kung Fu-Karate-BBJ-Jujitsu-MMA-Martail Arts schools

1.  What are your goals and what are you wanting from training martial arts?

2.  Does the style of martial arts being taught offer what you are looking for?              Does the style fit your need?                                                                                           There are many styles of martial arts that originated from different countries all over         the world. The style is the type of martial art. You can think of it in terms of an automobile.  Martial Arts = Car,  Kung Fu = Make of car,  Sil Lum (the style) = Model of car

3.  Are you and/or your child comfortable with the training environment?

4.  Does the school offer free trial classes?

5.  Is the price of classes a good value?                                                                             Cheap does not mean value, expensive does not mean quality.  If there are three Karate schools that are equal in training and instruction, price can be a factor.  If there is only one school that offers the style you want, don’t be afraid to pay more.

6.  Is the instructor qualified and is the system legitimate?                                             The system should have a long history or new system should be endorsed by other          Grandmasters and or martial arts associations.  An instructor should be able to  supply you their training history.

7.  What is the school’s philosophy, focus, or mission statement?                                 Does the school concentrate on tournaments, are they trying to produce fighters, do      they teach real life self-defense, or do they work on character development.

8.  Most importantly, do you enjoy training at the school?                                              The instructor may be the top in his field, but if your personalities do not click you may   want to train somewhere else.

As an instructor, I would love to teach you Kung Fu.  However, if you want to learn Judo you should use this guide to find a great Judo school.  I do suggest taking advantage of free trial classes.  You may find that a style you knew little about is just what you’re looking for.

This guide provided by Grandmaster Chris Laing. The guide is always available from the blogs main menu.

In upcoming posts Grandmaster Laing will go into more details on each question above. He will use his own schools as examples in answering the questions. Grandmaster Laing hopes that the post will be helpful to anyone looking to begin a journey into martial arts. Feel free to go to the schools website to try using the guide to find some of the answers for yourself. The site should open in another window, so it will be easier to toggle back and forth between the pages as you look for answers.