Martial Arts and Mental Toughness

In Benefits of Martial Arts, Grandmaster DeMasco, National by SDSS

Martial Arts teaches mental toughness. You will hear martial arts instructors say it all the time: “A Black Belt is a White Belt who never quit.” This statement is absolutely true. Your journey to Black Belt will be challenging, humbling, and yes, it will probably involve some pain along the way. Not just physical pain, either. It will build in you a mental toughness that will transform your character and make you a much stronger person.

Martial Arts and Toughness The true Martial Arts journey is about a “fight.” But your opponent won’t be the other person on the mat. Your first, last, and toughest opponent will be yourself. You’ll learn that it will take ten more reps, twenty more times through the form, or just getting to class instead of sitting home on the couch if you’re ever going to make that next belt. As a result, you’ll discover that each challenge is just an obstacle to be overcome, and that those are the times we win the most important victories.


Grandmaster DeMasco talks about this in his book, “The Shaolin Way.”

“Each of us is fighting a sort of war against weakness. Even though we may not actually be in a physical confrontation, as Sun Tzu said, every obstacle we have to climb over in our lives can be considered a battle in itself. One of the keys to overcoming weakness lies in understanding what kind of war we’re fighting, and what we don’t often realize is that the scariest player in the war is you or me.”
The Shaolin Way - p. 79

That last line may have taken you by surprise. Like much of Grandmaster’s wisdom, it challenges us personally. It is tough talk to think of yourself as a “scary” opponent. But, as the journey will teach you, that’s where the challenge lies. You never know, for sure, just how far you’ll go until you look down one day and you’re wearing a black belt. You’ll never know just how strong you can become until you become strong. You’ll never know how amazing you can become until one day, years into your journey, you discover you’ve become a bit more amazing.

We have, over the years, seen dozens of people change their lives because they found a way to be mentally tough when they needed to be. We’ll share many of those stories in coming posts. Stories about people like Abby*. “Petite” doesn’t do the job when describing Abby, and for the first couple of months her biggest challenge was to overcome her own fears and keep coming back to class weekly. Now, she’s a brown belt, she can throw grown men three times her size, and is mentally tougher and more amazing than ever.

We will share anecdotes about kids like Tim*, a terrific middle school student. Like many of the nice kids in school, found himself face to face with a bully. This time it was in the middle of the school cafeteria with 100 peers watching. Not only did he stand up to the bully and take care of business, he had the presence of mind and self discipline to get adults involved before the situation got out of hand. He showed mental toughness and character.

Martial Arts and Toughness
It’s a challenging journey, but you won’t go it alone. Not by a long shot. Our instructors take a personal interest in every student’s progress, whether the student is a child of 4 or a teen or a parent or someone with an executive career. Miss a lesson? Chances are your phone will ring. Does your child need a mentor to help them make Kung Fu work in daily life? We’ll sit with him or her as long as it takes. Need to spar? We’ll find you a partner who can help you get better. Need a workout partner? We’ll work the schedule to help you out. Our mission is to see every student succeed on their personal journey. Period.


It’s easy for someone to decide they can’t become mentally tough. Each of us writes our own “I can’t” story, about being too small, to big, to busy, too old, or whatever. Grandmaster DeMasco grew up in the projects of Brockton, Massachusetts. He was desperately poor, the child of a single mom who herself had a profound physical handicap. If he can do it, so can you. It won’t be easy, but as he says:

“It makes very little difference where you grew up; when you start that uphill battle toward any goal - a fight, always - it is virtually impossible not to get knocked down, dragged around, spit on, rolled over, and told many times that you will never make it. What really determines how things turn out for you is your threshold for pain. Your ability to keep coming back and keeping your fists raised against weakness as you find your own personal strengths will determine whether you win or lose.”
The Shaolin Way - p. 80

Take it from someone who traveled the journey and found the mental toughness we all seek. “Your ability to keep coming back and keeping your fists raised against weakness” is about an internal battle. It’s one that martial artists fight daily, and it is a battle you can most certainly win.


*Names have been changed to protect privacy, but the stories have been verified by SDSS instructors.