Throughout my high school years, like many teenage girls, I was obsessed with diets and fitness plans. I remember flipping through countless magazines to see what Jennifer Aniston was eating for breakfast to get those abs, what fitness classes JLo was hitting up to get her infamous booty, and of course, I wanted to read all about Beyoncé’s guilty dessert indulgences!
Oh yes. The glorified, unattainable carrot of molding myself into the physique of those celebrities and cover models was the teenage dream.
Little did I know that depriving myself (because did you hear Mariah Carey only eats a spoonful of baby food to keep her cravings at bay?!) and forcing myself into hours and hours of intense workout sessions was only working against my body.
Low-calorie intake and high physical demand did nothing more than secrete more stress hormones in the form of cortisol, which in turn actually caused the body to hold onto fat, increase mood swings, and generate all-around misery.
I was strongly disconnected from the real reason we should want to create fulfilling wellness routines for ourselves – to add more beauty into our lives, not take away from it.
I hardly cared about the connection to my movement – the holistic mind, body, and soul nourishment that could enhance my natural shape, align with my hormone levels, and be a stress reliever as opposed to a contributor. Since I was operating in the pursuit of surface-level results through yo-yoing dieting and fitness modalities, I was receiving yo-yo levels of connection with myself in return.
Experiencing the Transformative Power of Fitness for Myself
As a cardio junkie, I had tried it all...that was, until I heard about kickboxing.
I was intrigued and simultaneously intimidated. I wasn’t sure if that kind of practice would suit me or if I’d get laughed out of the dojo. But something inside kept luring me back to the idea.
So at 16, I decided to give it a shot.
And as you would believe, I certainly embarrassed myself! I remember throwing a roundhouse kick, completely missing the target pad, and kicking my partner right in the stomach.
“OMG!” I said, horrified, “I am so, so sorry, are you okay?” She chuckled (to my relief!) and said, “Is this your first class?” I knew it was obvious. “Yeah!” I said. Then she kindly gave me some pointers and patiently walked me through my first round of kicks and punches.
Typically, I would have been too humiliated by that incident alone to ever return. But something in me at the end of class felt….at peace.
Not only did I go back the next day, but I went back almost every day after. I started adding in Muay Thai classes in addition to my kickboxing classes. The dojo quickly became my second home. It was certainly the longest “fitness routine” I had ever stuck to, except it was so much more than that. I noticed a transformation in myself – all of myself. I felt connected in the way people say they feel in meditation or yoga; I felt a deep sense of self-awareness, self-respect, and healthy discipline. I healed my relationship with my body and food as a result.
I healed my relationship with my body and food as a result of my kickboxing experience.
As my practice evolved, I decided to become a certified instructor and spent almost a decade teaching women’s classes at multiple studios around the city. In that time, I watched numerous women walk through the door with the same mindset I had started with: “I want to lose 10 pounds.” “Will this class help me get rid of my cellulite?” “What about this belly fat?”
Confident they would find much more than that, I would start the class. Over the months, I watched transformations take place right before my eyes: Women not only lost 10 pounds but also healed their marriage. Women got those washboard abs they wanted and also gained the confidence to find love again after a devastating breakup. Women achieved the “thigh gap” they dreamed about and also received the assurance they could face that challenging conversation they had been avoiding with a friend.
I knew there was something to it.
The level of commitment, dedication, and devotion participants demonstrated was something I had never experienced before. It was inspiring.
Even now, I find myself constantly tapping back into the wisdom learned from the mats when faced with challenges off the mats. I attribute much of my personal growth over the years to the teachings I learned through martial arts. So today, I decided to share the five most essential ones with you!
1. You’re Worth Defending
Throughout my time in the dojos, I attended a handful of self-defense seminars. I specifically remember one instructor asking at the start of the class, “Tell me, what’s the most valuable thing you own?”
Women across the room were shouting out: My car! My phone! My house! My engagement ring! And so on.
I watched as the instructor listened and scanned the room, unimpressed. When the women were done rattling off a laundry list of tangibles, he asked, “What about you? Aren’t you the most valuable?”
It’s our own body, health, and well-being that’s of utmost importance.
That moment will always echo back to me because how true is it? We get so caught up and deceived by the illusion of what’s truly valuable in our lives. When in reality it’s our own body, health, and well-being that’s of utmost importance and should be treated with as much care as we give those tangible items.
The takeaway? You’re worthy of being defended in every battle – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
2. Your Mindset Sets the Tone
That same girl I kicked in the stomach during my first class? Well, we ended up becoming great friends. Each training when we were assigned to pair up on target pads, she was my go-to.
One evening, we both came into class after a long day. Stressed, frustrated, and definitely not in the mood to work out, we took it to the mats. The instructor demoed the first combination and as the buzzer sounded we started throwing our strikes.
Andddd we couldn’t have been more critical of ourselves: “OMG Christi, that kick was horrible. Come on, what are you doing?” Annoyed with myself, all I did was focus on how terrible my technique was and pick on every single flaw.
My friend was up next and did the exact same thing to herself.
As Babe Ruth once said, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.”
After a couple of rounds like this, we both finally just stopped, looked at each other, and started laughing. Realizing how unnecessarily hard we were being on ourselves, we made a pact that for a whole week we weren’t going to say one critical thing in our self-talk.
And we ruthlessly held each other accountable.
I noticed that when my mind was in check, my kicks were higher, my endurance increased, and my punches were more precise. I couldn’t believe it. It really was that simple after all!
This brings me to the second lesson: your mindset sets the pace in any given situation. If you tell yourself you can or you can’t – you’re right. Beyond fitness performance, you get to be the one who decides how situations will unfold for you based on your attitude and mentality.
As Babe Ruth once said, “You just can’t beat the person who never gives up.” So don’t be the one who gives up on you.
3. Protect Those Who Can’t Protect Themselves
The golden rule taught in any dojo: protect those who cannot protect themselves.
There tends to be a common misconception about the “violence” or “aggression” that’s promoted through martial arts. However, that’s not at all the messaging it’s rooted in. The level of discipline and self-control taught in these practices are seen and accepted as an honor and a privilege to use. I distinctly recall character banners that were hung on the walls of the dojo stating, “I use my practice to protect, not harm.”
Advocating for yourself and others is a noble act. There are ways to take a stand that are done through grace, love, and strength. We see it happening today. Many are being silenced for their beliefs and values. And we’re watching those rise in defense of others and their rights while they may not feel strong enough to do so for themselves.
The level of discipline taught in these practices is seen as an honor and a privilege to use.
I have a lot of respect for those who courageously put themselves into positions like that – even when it seems impossible, even when they’re outnumbered, or even when it doesn't make any sense.
Just like self-defense, you’re always going to be more powerful when operating from intrinsic motivation. They say it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but rather the size of the fight in the dog that makes all the difference. In which case, allow passion to drive you to be of higher service to others in whatever capacity you can.
4. Your Intuition Is Always Right
In self-defense seminars, we’re told that time is obviously of the essence. In threatening situations, a fraction of a millisecond could become the difference between life or death. Which makes our intuition that much more invaluable.
Our intuition is our guiding compass – it knows well before our logical mind if we need to stay or go, signaling our body to respond accordingly. The only thing is, we’ve become so distracted we don’t pay attention to it. Or we don’t trust ourselves enough and instead waste precious time second-guessing.
If you’re walking down a dark alley and feel like something is off, it probably is. Don’t doubt it. The same stands for non-physical dangers too. If your gut instinct is telling you something isn’t right, follow it. Your intuition is its own intelligence system to be recognized as a gift.
5. Be Assertive
Prior to partaking in martial arts, I was painfully shy. I was the type to not speak up or draw attention to myself in any way. Which also made it easy to be walked all over and taken advantage of. Through self-defense classes, I learned a lot about utilizing my voice to my advantage.
Your voice doesn’t necessarily have to get louder to be heard.
I learned that your voice doesn’t necessarily have to get louder to be heard. It can get more deliberate, intentional, and focused to deliver exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it.
This translates into many different areas of life, as communication is key. When you get comfortable expressing yourself in ways that are beneficial and true to you, you become unstoppable in declaring your wants and needs. Plus, finding your own voice helps you hear others better too. Win-win!
You see, strength is much more than just a physical state, it’s a presence. It’s in how you show up for yourself, fight for others, and contribute to the world around you.
Whether you’re currently in a branch of martial arts or not, these lessons are designed to empower you in mind, body, and heart. Striving to become a better version of yourself with the awareness of how it influences others around you is a different kind of growth, one that transcends the ego. Therefore if you wish to see change, then be the change. You most definitely have the power to be!
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