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  • Writer's pictureJackie Bradbury

Under Pressure

At its heart, martial arts training is basically about one thing.

It's not about being healthy, or about personal growth and development, or even about how to fight.

Nope, at its most fundamental, martial arts training usually involves...


Think about the definition of the word "Pressure". Here it is from

  1. noun : the exertion of force upon a surface by an object, fluid, etc., in contact with it:the pressure of earth against a wall.

  2. verb : to force (someone) toward a particular end; influence:

Isn't that the martial arts in a nutshell?

Here's how pressure is the common thread that runs from the gentlest version of internal arts to the hardest, most violent combative systems.


This is pressure at its most fundamental level. We learn to apply force to other people in stressful situations, and we learn how to manipulate and force them into specific actions, like, y'know, STOP ATTACKING US! Even the least practical marital arts system is learning to manipulate and force the body of someone else to do... something.

We also learn how to cope with that pressure being applied to us. After all, a bad guy initiating violence against us is trying to force us to do something the bad guys wants us to do, right? Again, the gentlest, least-aggressive versions of the martial arts do this!


One major reason we bother with testing for rank in the martial arts is to evaluate how students do in an artificially stressful situation - the test itself.

Some of us take this to extremes, and some of us are pretty laid back about it, but they're all a form of putting pressure on students.

Me at my Kobudo black belt test. Underneath this cool, calm, competent exterior is a person who is FREAKING OUT.


Performances - demos - and tournaments share the pressure of doing what we do well in front of strangers who don't know us and aren't particularly invested in seeing us do something well (and may be actively rooting for us to fail).

Sometimes this would also include tests - some tests are public and in front of family and friends who don't train - but usually this is about peers or the general public that you're trying to prove that you're good at what you do or to impress.

This would also include sport fights in the combative arts. Not only are you under literal pressure (the verb form of the word, as you're trying to force someone into losing a fight) but also the pressure of performance, too.


As we move up the ranks in a martial arts style - especially if you become an instructor - there is more expected of us. Not only should we be able to demonstrate specific skills in a specific way, but it's very common for "seniors" to have other expectations of them in their school or organization.

This includes things like making sure juniors are instructed properly and don't get hurt. Does your group practice what mine does, which is if a senior gets hurt working with the junior, it's the senior's fault, and if the junior gets hurt working with the senior... it's the senior's fault? Many of us do, and man, that's some pressure, isn't it?

Seniors are also under pressure to transmit the requirements of the style accurately to students be an example of what the style values in terms of skill, physical fitness or character. That can be big-time pressure right there.

Just using a few examples, you can see that we all share the attribute of pressure in our training. We do this for fun, usually as a hobby, often paying for the privilege.

Yep, we're weirdos.

What are some other ways martial arts training is about pressure? How do you cope with pressure - the pressure of testing, of performance, of living up to your style's standards? Let us know in the comments!

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