• Jackie Bradbury

How Cheering Made Me a Better Martial Artist

I did not grow up in the martial arts.


Instead, from a young age, I was a cheerleader.


I was the competitive, two-practices-a-day, national-championships, stunningly high rate of injury kind of cheerleading for much of my youth.  In high school, I was a cheerleader for three years, then I was in Flag Corps with the marching band my Senior Year.


Me in my elementary cheer days, and then me in high school.

If circumstances had been different, I might have remained with cheering much of my life.  At one point, as a child, that was certainly my plan.  I was going to cheer through college, join one of the national cheering companies, and then become a cheering coach.


I loved cheering. I mean I loved it. I loved the physical challenge, the mental challenge, the teamwork, and the sense of community and belonging you get when you're on a squad.


But, hey, life got in the way, and I ended up on a different path.


Fast forward twenty years, and I ended up in a gi.


And I'm telling you, those formative years in competitive cheering makes me a better martial artist.   Here's how:


Competitive cheering develops all of the same basic skill sets that are needed to be a successful martial artist.  These include superior hand/eye coordination, physical fitness (cardiovascular as well as strength and flexibility), an awareness of where one is in space, memory, and good timing.


If you watch cheering - you can often catch competitions on ESPN - you are watching highly choreographed routines that require memorizing dozens of moves in a particular sequence.  Check this out:


Some routines are as long as 5 to 10 minutes.  Your forms - even the super long ones - don't last that long.


All the things you want when you're doing a form.  Compare what you see above to this group kata video, and tell me that the skill sets aren't related.


Additionally, in the competitive cheering world, you may have several routines you know (not to mention the actual cheers you do at games, assuming you aren't a pure performance team and are actually going to games). You know many, many cheers with various hand/foot movements, lots of different pyramids, etc. 


Just like we do in the martial arts.


I believe that cheering in my youth gave me the skill sets to learn and perform kata/anyos/forms pretty quickly.


Cheering is dangerous.  Look at the video above.  If something goes wrong - someone is in the wrong place, someone isn't 100% focused, or just an accident happens like stepping the wrong way - somebody gets hurt.  Cheering has a ton of injuries.  In fact, it's the #2 catastrophic sport and the #1 female dominated sport in injuries in the US.


When you cheer competitively, you do not want to let your teammates down, let me tell you.  The pressure is immense to keep going through injury that can and does happen while performing.  Many a cheerleader has competed on a sprained ankle or wrist.  At the highest levels, you won't even know they are injured until they get off the stage.


This is the same attitude we develop in the martial arts, isn't it? Aren't we tempted to train through our injuries, and often give in to that temptation... especially in competitions or on tests?


Finally, much of what you learn physically in cheering is literally nearly identical to what you learn in martial arts.  Here's a picture of a flying side kick from TKD:


And this is a jump called a "herkie" in cheerleading:


Those two things are not that different, people.  If you can learn one and do it well, you can learn the other.


Finally, let's talk about the values of cheering.  You learn not to let down your team mates.  You learn to have an upbeat and positive attitude.  You learn commitment, you learn tenacity... heck, cheering is all about "indomitable spirit".


I grew up learning all of the skill sets that serve me well as a martial artist today, even though I didn't make the connection at the time.


So you see, cheering prepared me to train in the martial arts in general, not just to fight vampires.


What activity did you do as a child that made you a better martial artist, even if it didn't seem like it at the time? Let us know in the comments!

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