7 Money Lessons I Learned From Martial Arts

People tell me all the time that it's hard to believe I studied martial arts for six years. I don't know if that's a compliment or an insult to my training, but it doesn't matter — I loved the time I spent learning how to discipline my body and my mind.

That's the thing about martial arts: It looks like a sport (and it is), but it's so much more. I learned all sorts of things about life and living it and being a good person, all from my time spent in the dojo. (See also: 5 Things Yoga Can Teach You About Money)

I even learned about money. Yup, money. Here are some financial lessons I learned from studying martial arts.

1. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

As I became a martial artist, I became more and more aware of my surroundings. No matter where I was, I started to notice people — what they were doing, whether it seemed normal, how I felt around them, everything. My sensei drilled it into us: Be aware, be aware, be aware. After all, if it comes down to it, you may not have a chance to use your training if you don't notice what is going on around you.

I apply this to my money all the time. By keeping track of what we spend on a weekly basis, I have a good handle on whether or not we are achieving our goals. I also know how much we have available for an emergency and whether something like an odd charge or a bank mistake needs to be handled. My finances don't get away from me because I'm always aware of where we stand.

2. Discipline, Discipline, Discipline

Another concept that is huge in martial arts is discipline. It seems a little strange and unnecessary at first, but students soon learn that, without discipline, they will never be the martial artists they want to be.

Similarly, discipline is essential for achieving my financial goals. If I want to go to Mexico this year, I can't buy every shirt or art print or doodad that comes along. So I keep my goal in mind and I use the discipline I learned as a martial artist to progress towards the things that really matter to me.

3. Breathe Through It

Martial artists learn to breathe as they move. They also learn certain types of breath for certain types of movements and situations. And they learn to calm themselves, to still themselves, simply by paying attention to their own breath.

Breath helps me financially all the time. When I want something but I know it's not in the budget, I breathe through it. When something bad happens and we have to spend a lot unexpectedly, I take a couple of deep breaths. When I'm worried about our money, when something doesn't seem right with our balances, when the market plummets, I breathe.

In all of these situations, breathing helps me make good decisions. It slows me down, calms my body and my mind, and helps me think, rather than just react. It's become second nature now to breathe first when money is an issue.

4. Clear Your Mind

It might sound like a cliche, but a clear mind is essential to being a good martial artist. You have to clear your mind to focus on the one move that is right in front of you, to respond to what your sparring partner is sending your way, and to let your body do what it is trained to do.

I have found that it helps me to have a clear mind, too, when trying to solve financial problems. When the budget feels like a tangle, when my husband and I have competing financial goals, when some unexpected expense comes up and we aren't sure how to cover it, I strive for that same clearness of mind. It helps me see solutions that I might not have seen otherwise, and it helps me to take a larger perspective, one in which a single disagreement or setback isn't the end of the world.

5. Sometimes Pain Is Acceptable

Martial artists experience pain. It's not only the sore muscles that come from practice and learning new techniques, but the bruises that come from sparring and breaking, rolling and more. While no one condones long-term injury, most martial artists accept these as par for the course: The bruises are necessary to grow as a practitioner.

Sometimes, our financial decisions hurt, too. The pain can be small, like choosing to pay a bill rather than go out on the weekend. Or it can be much bigger, like choosing to help an ailing parent rather than purchase a home. Financial decisions also hurt when they are proven to be mistakes, when we feel like we set ourselves back.

This pain, while uncomfortable, helps form who we are. It not only forms us financially, but as whole human beings. Whether we hurt from making a right choice or a wrong one, learning is part of the financial process, and sometimes pain can be acceptable towards that goal.

6. You Can Do More Than You Think You Can Do

Most people (and I say this having been a student and a teacher) come into martial arts wondering if they can really do it. They've seen the movies and it looks impossible, but for whatever reason they are motivated to try. Most of them find that, while they will probably never be Bruce Lee (or even Jackie Chan!), they can do a lot more than they had once thought.

I've found that this belief — that I can do more than I think I can do — helps me financially, too. There have been times when we were sure we couldn't make ends meet on our income, when we desperately needed a vacation or a car and thought we couldn't do it. And each time I was able to step into believing that there had to be a way, because I'd seen it happen before, during my martial arts journey. We solved each of those problems, which only gave us more confidence in our financial prowess.

7. Progress Comes Slow and Steady

Most martial arts have an established path that takes a person from beginner to expert and beyond. It's a slow path, with motions and movements building on one another in a way that is logical and allows the body time to accustom itself to these new patterns of movement. Some people get frustrated with this, wanting to learn faster or do all the cool stuff right away.

It doesn't work that way with martial arts and it doesn't work that way with money, either. Wealth is built one investment at a time. It is built by making one wise decision after another. Most of us won't get rich in a year or two, but we can build our value and our savings the way martial artists are built: slow and steady.

Have you ever done something that wasn't directly financially related but taught you about money? What did you do and what did you learn?

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Guest's picture

You have extracted some of the really important points from Martial Arts. Discipline is very important to achieve financial goals. And the most important thing is to believe in yourself that you can do more than you think you can. Nice article!