I first became interested in martial arts in my late teenage years. I had viewed the requisite number of Bruce Lee movies (wow!), knew a couple of boys who had learned some Taekwondo and Karate, and even a girl whose father was a local Judo instructor, but at no stage did I think that martial arts were something "for me".
Then one day when I was 15 or 16 I was talking with two friends who were also state-level gymnasts. A new guy had started training with them who had a black belt in Karate, and in under a year he was performing some "level 8" (i.e. very advanced) moves. This was unprecedented. I thought, "This is interesting": I had cottoned onto the idea that the martial arts hold important keys to learning transferable skills.
My friends and I agreed that it would be cool to learn a martial art, and that we would all definitely do so while at University. When I checked back with them a few years later, their interest had evaporated -- What about the pact? -- but I was motivated to begin.
Means, motive and opportunity
In crime fiction a character needs means, motive and opportunity to be considered a suspect. These criteria also apply to taking up any new activity, such as learning a martial art. Here's how:
Means: You need enough time and money. For the un(der)employed, money may be a barrier; for those with significant work and family commitments like me, finding the time is the limiting factor. In both cases, when starting out, taking one class a week has the advantages of easing you in gradually, and should be affordable and possible to schedule.
Opportunity: You need to find an instructor whose class you want to attend and who is prepared to take you on.
Motive: This is the big one: Motive (motivation) is incredibly important, because not only will it get you started on new activities and expose you to new experiences; it is the main thing that will keep you going once the novelty wears off.
In the modern consumerist world there are any number of other things that you could be doing with your time (and money), so much of the remainder of the article will outline the aspects of the martial arts that I have personally found appealing and commendable.
What's my motivation?
When I went to my first Classical Judo class, at the age of 22, I was impressed by the abilities of the instructor and senior students and how they taught. I had always thought of myself as clumsy, but this was of no interest to my instructor. I was transported away from my everyday concerns, and fully absorbed by the task at hand: How to fall safely. Soon I was making progress, and within six months I was hooked.
As a beginner, I appreciated that:
The instruction was impressive, and different to what I was used to from school and University
The practice sessions were absorbing and flowful
It was challenging, but I was able to make fairly steady progress
Over the next few years, as I started to attain some degree of proficiency, I began to appreciate the gains that I was making in technique and fitness, and my motivation changed. I had progressed from being a naive beginner to a slightly less naive student. By now I had some idea of what Judo and Jiu-Jitsu were about. Having scratched the surface, I was keen to dig deeper.
As a committed student, I enjoyed:
The opportunity to keep refining and extending my skills
The friendships that I was making through martial arts
Learning realistic self-defence
Improving my concentration, coordination and fitness
The rush of competing in occasional tournaments
The challenge of trying to apply my martial arts training to non-martial arts situations
As an example of transferring skills to other situations, one day I went kayaking with some expert kayakers. I had never been particularly good (or bad) at kayaking at school, but on this occasion I closely observed the experts, mucked around a bit, and then the penny dropped, first for my body, and then in my mind. I had understood a key point, that power comes not so much from the near hand, but from the far hand -- and I was doing it. One of the expert kayakers looked over, pronounced me "a natural", and invited me on the "Murray Marathon" (a multi-day long distance kayaking event). I declined, but was thrilled that my study of martial arts had trained my observational skills and intuition about levers so well.
Now, as a more grizzled student of the martial arts, and also as an instructor, my motivation continues to evolve. In addition to the points listed above, I want to:
Teach my students well, and learn through teaching
Help popularise the martial arts, and promote quality teaching
Learn something every time I train
To find connections between different aspects of my training, between the various martial arts, and between my training and my life