It seems from the people I’ve spoken to that there’s more or less two man ways of looking at martial arts. Some people see it for what it is, namely martial arts: a way of using one’s body as a weapon. Fortunately, the majority of people who practise martial arts aren’t violent (and most martial arts stress a doctrine of self-defence as well) and just use it has a great way to stay in shape. There are others who use martial arts as a way to get to know culture, philosophy and even spiritualism. This is especially true of the more traditional and ancient martial arts such as karate.
While neither way of viewing them is more or less right, they each certainly have their advantages.
Focusing on the corporeal aspects has obviously health benefits. Although it could be said of nearly any sport, martial arts has an influence on one’s everyday life. It might be simple as making the body more durable so that little things like running to catch a train or shifting furniture are not as arduous as they might otherwise be. It also helps to one to . Quite crucial to the benefits of martial arts over other sports in regards helping tune the body, is the focus on balance and recovery of balance, as well as the emphasis on flexibility.
Of course being flexible and being able to balance are paramount to all sports. A footballer who falls over all the time or a gymnast who bend well are pretty useless. However, since martial arts were originally developed for combat the focus given to mastering those very basic elements of the body are truly crucial. They were developed to aid people in life-or-death situations and thusly the steaks were always higher, so to speak, when compared with scoring a goal.
Then there is the more cerebral element to martial arts. Many of the older martial arts developed in tandem with philosophies. Nowadays east Asian martial arts are more well known than European ones, especially in terms of philosophies associated with them. However, fencing and archery as well as swordsmanship, developed alongside early and taught practitioners, ie knights, to live ‘pure’ and ‘noble’ lives.
Many of the eastern martial arts like traditional yoga (which was developed by ancient Indian armies most likely, though no one is certain) or karate in Japan . They taught the values of obedience, tolerance, and self-discipline. Karate especially, had and still has, a strong emphasis on respect and social order. These skills are not directly related to the fighting craft that is taught but they inculcate values related to kindness and living a good life.
Why one decides to get into martial arts is largely irrelevant. For me it was simply a whim and a desire to try something new. But whatever the reason it is true that martial arts make for an excellent hobby for both body and mind.