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See You On The Mat

They say each of us has a soul of a warrior. How to awaken it?

It all seems so simple in the movies: the master of martial arts (obligatorily a small-speaking, dry man) meets a rebellious teenager, a wronged woman or a clumsy office worker looking for “something more”. First, they can’t get along because the master has rules that are difficult for an ordinary mortal to follow, and then suddenly: BOOM! A few training sessions on the mat, and a warrior is born from a person who has never even been in the gym before, able to defeat any opponent (what he usually proves in the final scene). That’s what it looks like in the class-B movies. What about real life? Can anyone come to practise martial arts or combat sports, and awaken a warrior in themselves?


Force That Sleeps

“I believe that we all have the spirit of a warrior because everybody has adrenaline, a hormone that causes us to go out of ourselves and transcend our own borders”, says Marta Niewczas, sextuple world champion in traditional karate, a doctor of physical culture at the University of Rzeszów and founder of the Traditional Karate Academy in Rzeszów. It happens that this warrior can be seen from the very beginning. “I was a teenager when I came for my first taekwondo training. I was like a firecracker. I didn’t need anyone to convince me to be courageous, combative. That’s what I had been like from my earliest years. Yes, I had my own closed world, but I wasn’t a dummy”, says Iwona Guzowska, a boxer and kick boxer, the world, European and Polish champion.

It happens, however, that a warrior in a person is only discovered by martial arts coaches, as it was with Marta Niewczas: “I dreamt of practising karate. But my mother said that it wasn’t for me, that I wouldn’t fit there... She enrolled me in a music school. So I asked my father for money for karate. And he gave it to me. But not because he drew attention to my talent. I was quite an obese kid and he thought karate would help me lose weight. Because otherwise I wouldn’t find a husband...”, laughs the master.

Usually, however, this inner strength, courage and bravery are dormant in a person for long, long years. “Most often, our parents make sure that we are not warriors... or otherwise, that we are thumbscrews. When a child is born, they have only two fears: they are afraid of loud sounds and heights. All other fears are raised by parents when they say, “Don’t run so fast, because you’ll trip over! Don’t go there because you’ll fall! It’s not for you, you can’t do it!”, explains Iwona Guzowska. Martial arts or combat sports workouts are one of the ways to get rid of these fears. It works even if you are already an adult. “Once, a woman came to train krav maga. A shy, quiet grey mouse. She had a neighbour who wouldn’t let her alone. After six months of training, she gained enough courage to stand face to face with him and tell him loudly... Go away!,” says Łukasz Mikłusiak, a Krav Maga Poland instructor.


So, it turns out that training on the mat is not only about fighting but also about assertiveness, building a strong personality, about gaining courage and inner strength and... the power to speak. “When you speak like a victim, they see you as such. At the karate academy, I teach loud shouting, diaphragmatic breathing, just like opera singers do. The shout strengthens every blow. This is additional energy. I repeat to the apprentices: when you get scared of something in a dark cellar, don’t catch the air inside, just yell!”, says Marta Nieczas.

Training also increases humbleness. “One must only be aware that this is taught by any sports. To me, it was not kick boxing, not judo, but equestrianism that gave me the most in this respect. When you become aware that your success depends not only on you, but also on the animal... Here you need to be extremely humble”, emphasises Iwona Guzowska. Workouts also make us aware that we are affected by laws over which we have no influence. If we become aware of them, we will become stronger. “What makes you feel self-confident? But we are talking about real self-confidence not being a cover for complexes. Well: it comes with humbleness and respect for the laws of nature. You have to become aware that the little one will not win against the big one, unless the little one surprises the big one. The law of the jungle. Know your weaknesses, set your strategy and then stand up to fight,” says the karate champion.

Martial arts teach independence and discipline, too. “When I was in an officer cadet school, it was no problem for me to adapt to the rules that prevailed there. Discipline, organisation, punctuality – these were no strangers to me as I attended a karate school from a very young age and I had it in my blood,” says Karol Sura, a student of Marta Niewczas, now a soldier. What else do workouts offer? “Friends, people from a group that you have known for years and who share your passion,” answers Sura. “I know that everyone talks about discipline, hard work, humbleness as bonuses resulting from training, yet I have to admit something obvious, which, however, often falls through the cracks. Most importantly, when you understand that you are strengthening yourself physically, your internal energy will also be boosted. After all, it really matters to some shy teenager when they start to feel that they are not defenceless, that they can hit, that they know how to strike in order to win. This knowledge must then be properly shaped”, says Iwona Guzowska.

Combat skills are shaped by a teacher, a master. “It is very, very important to check the person who will be teaching us. Let us avoid self-proclaimed masters. It happens that such people “mutilated” their apprentices, especially children. They mobilised their subjects to fight by shouting ‘Beat! Kill!’. This is not acceptable,” he says.

Art of War

A good teacher will also make you aware that sometimes it is worth... not to fight. “For me. it is very important to teach that confrontation can and sometimes should be avoided. If you can escape, then run away. If you walk down the street and see a suspicious group, then move to the other side. Don’t push yourself into conflict,” says Łukasz Mikłusiak. Marta and Iwona are of a similar opinion. “Don’t provoke, don’t engage with the stronger. Don’t get into a dark alley. Be aware that you are finer than your opponent, so either run fast or avoid such confrontations. I’m not saying that you’ll predict all of them, but... Think not to get into such situations,” says Niewczas.

Łukasz highlights that, once you start practising combat sports, thinking about dangers switches on at the same time. “We teach you to pay attention to dangers that we usually don’t notice. Example: A party. There will be alcohol, there will be people we do not know, so, naturally, there will be more dangers than in other places. It is not about falling into paranoia, not about staying at home. All it takes is a bit more vigilance,” says Mikłusiak. Combat sports also shape the ability of the eye to catch aggressive people and the head to judge where their strength comes from – be it because they are well built or because they hold a knife in their hands.

“Let it go” is great advice, but not always possible to implement. Isn’t this the reason why people learn to fight, to be able to deal the right blow in case of danger? “That’s why we teach you how to build your attitude towards threats, how to liberate anger, how not to remain paralysed by fear, how to judge the situation, how to see more broadly: is there one or more opponents?”, explains Łukasz. “During workouts, you learn how to inflict accurate blows; to control your body so you hit exactly the point you want. All this in order to defeat the opponent”, stresses Iwona Guzowska. What is the recipe for success? How to learn how to fight? “Repeat, repeat, and repeat again,” says Marta. And if it doesn’t work? “Then repeat it a hundred times more than the others until you get it right,” adds the karate champion.

Training, Not Therapy

Are martial arts and combat sports a good solution for those who are looking for the right classes to lose weight and improve their condition? “Yes. This is a really great workout that lets you burn a lot of calories. The aim of the practitioner does not have to be to learn how to fight. In this way, you can simply take care of your health”, says Agnieszka Sajdutka, a world champion in traditional karate. Some parents are a great example: they brought their children for karate classes to Marta Niewczas’s school and then enrolled in adult groups themselves. They are not likely to fight on the mat but are provided with a dose of movement to keep them in shape. “I believe that not everyone is made to be a warrior; however, sports should be practised by everyone. Nothing stands in the way of it being martial arts or combat sports training”, says Iwona Guzowska. “Moreover, it’s only during these classes that you can see how to skip properly and what kind of effort it is for your body,” she adds laughing.

As Marta assures, before anyone learns how to use blocks and blows, they need to gain some strength. So it’s certain that the first few years of training is simply about strengthening your stamina. “Plus, the bonuses I’ve talked about: focus, concentration and punctuality. Only the good things,” stresses the master. Do you have to be physically prepared for training? It often happens that people are ashamed to go to the gym, because... they are not in good shape. For the same reason, they may delay getting on the mat and training martial arts or combat sports. “No, you don’t have to prepare yourself for this kind of activity. This is what training is about, about building your stamina,” says Mikłusiak. The trainer admits that beginners often say that they experienced muscle sores as the dose of exercise is high, especially if someone is not physically active at work or does not do any sports. “But steadily, the muscle sores go away and it’s much better over time,” says Łukasz.

“Martial arts training is a great option for those who don’t feel strong when it comes to sports. Right from the start you work with a trainer; you are not left alone. You don’t learn how to inflict blows from the very first encounters but build up your endurance and motor skills and improve your fitness,” says Tomasz Drwal, the owner of Szkoła Walki Drwala, a martial arts school in Krakow.

Women often choose martial arts and combat sports as a way to learn how to defend themselves. “This is a great idea. It is very important that they do not think about themselves that they are weaker. And they must have the knowledge and skills to hit in defence,” says Łukasz. “I also know that such courses are attended by women who have already been harmed, while such people should visit a psychologist or other specialist who will help them deal with trauma and understand why they became victims,” says Iwona Guzowska, a kick boxer. The other coaches agree. “Sports clubs are not places where you treat your trauma.

Yes, sports may be a part of therapy, but it will certainly not replace it. If you have such problems, please contact a specialist,” says the karate champion. Łukasz is of the same opinion. “If someone regularly attends classes, takes part in internships, seminars or camps, then a group to which they belong is formed, and this always has a positive impact on people. But it’s strengthening, not therapy,” says the krav maga trainer.

Let’s go back to the couch, in front of the TV. Another movie about masters of martial arts and their rebellious students, who – despite their fears – defeat their opponents, has just ended. Maybe we would like, as they did, to awaken power within ourselves? Throw off your suit, get up from the couch, turn off your TV, close your laptop and finally get pretty tired, deal the right blow? Let’s see when the next training is coming... Tomorrow at 7 a.m.? Too early... “He who gets up at 10 in the morning doesn’t become a champion”, reprimands Marta. So, see you on the mat?

Ewa Korsak

autor zdjęć: Master 1305 /

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