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February 26, 2024

How Martial Arts Changed My Life: Choose Your Finish

Jimmy Pritchard

How Martial Arts Changed My Life: Choose Your Finish

For those who have trained a martial art for an extended period, it’s almost inconceivable to fathom life before the mats. 

It commonly has such a profound effect on our physical and mental capacities that we forget when this paradigm shift even occurred. (Not to mention, how much it changed our lives for good.)  It may sound cliché, but the day you tie your belt around your Gi or strap on your Muay Thai gloves is a day you’ll remember forever.

Martial arts goes far beyond the perceived barbarism or “violence” many untrained eyes see.  To most, these activities appear nothing more than two sweaty individuals trying to punch or choke each other to sleep. What they don’t see is the effect the sport has while not training at all. 

One who regularly participates in a martial art in a healthy environment reaps enormous benefits.  While difficult to measure, these benefits are vastly apparent to those who know them best.  Self-confidence, respect for others, being part of a community, and physical and mental health and toughness are just a few things that come from training. These things cannot be bought or paid for no matter how much financial wealthy you have.

Image: Matthew Barton.
Image: Matthew Barton.

How it’s changed my life

I started training BJJ in 2013 as a fresh-faced,  faced delusional 19-year-old who watched a few UFC fights and figured I’d give this thing a shot. 

My story is not uncommon. I was a failed college athlete at a medium-sized school, no longer having anything competitive in my life.  I’ve always needed something that scares the s*** out of me and makes me nervous to keep me sane, hence BJJ did not disappoint.  Like most, I found myself completely shocked in my first class at how helpless and out of touch with reality I was regarding my ability to defend myself.  “Humbled” would make an understatement.  Not only did I leave class with a shattered ego, but a nice, bulging black eye to show for it too. 

Despite this, something inside of me awoke that day and I decided to come back again the next, only to get smoked again by everybody — men, women, and skilled teenagers alike.  I fell in love with the reality of it all and the zero-nonsense mentality that it provided. 

It was obvious whether somebody possessed skill or not and there was no grey area in between.  Depending on how hard you were willing to work, you too could become better at this wild sport and feel proud of your progress.  Further, I noticed that everyone would shake hands, hug, and leave the gym each night with a big smile despite moments earlier quite literally attempting to strangle each other.  

I knew this was something special, and 10 years later I can confidently say it’s changed my life for the better in several ways:


Undoubtedly the most wonderful part about taking up a martial art is the community it provides.  I’ve been fortunate enough to make life-long friends over the years and constantly meet amazing people through training. 

If you dedicate and immerse yourself in a martial art, you too will likely accumulate untold amounts of memories and deep friendships along the way.  We as humans can’t help but become closer to one another when we have a common interest and a shared struggle.  We earn respect from each other, recognizing the mutual discipline and dedication we share toward improving ourselves.  


Partaking in a martial art is difficult. There are days you’re tired and don’t want to go, rounds you’ll avoid because you hate getting crushed by that certain person, and nerves when you compete, if you choose to.  While these things are a harsh reality, they’re also what makes martial arts so special — the yin to the yang.  Without struggle, there can be no success.

All of this has truly taught me that I can overcome difficulties, and how I handle them is my choice.  This doesn’t directly blunt the difficulty per se, but it does give me confidence. You’re more resilient than you think. 

Image: Matthew Barton.

Dealing with a difficult coworker, getting assigned a task you don’t think you can handle, getting up early, going for that run, etc… None of these things are easy, but the repeated act of showing up and overcoming a tough task like a Jiu Jitsu class proves you can do it. 

We often create our own misery and suffer greatly in anticipation over difficult things when, in reality, most of these things are momentary and make us better in the end anyway.  


Nobody, including myself, begins their martial arts journey and remains the same person a year or 10 years later. One of the biggest reasons rests in the humility they gain. 

We all have a perception of what we would do when things go sideways (or judge others, based on their appearance and physical presence) but martial arts teach us quickly to check the facts of the facade.  Everyone deserves your utmost respect and kindness no matter who they are or what you know. 

The most skilled individuals are often also the kindest because they possess a healthy ego and don’t need to prove anything.  Martial arts has taught me that kindness and respect are a currency; the more you have, the wealthier you are.

Image: Matthew Barton.


One of the greatest proverbs I’ve heard is that confidence favors the prepared.  This holds particularly true with a martial art such as BJJ.  While I hope to never find myself in a situation where I need to defend myself or my loved ones, I feel confident in knowing that I can safely do so.

This remains the primary reason most people begin training, and it’s important to never lose sight of that. However, the confidence martial arts provides alongside technical proficiency truly shines through your daily activities. Since beginning BJJ, I’ve noticed an increased ability to handle public speaking, have difficult conversations with others, introduce myself to strangers, and put myself in situations where I may feel somewhat vulnerable. 

This didn’t come naturally or right away, but over time it has become increasingly easier. I am not afraid of making mistakes or being judged by others because I understand how irrational these thoughts are.  I’m not totally devoid of nerves (nor do I necessarily crave putting myself out there all the time), but I no longer fear or avoid it.


Last but certainly not least, martial arts has taught me the true value of honesty.  Growing up, I was fortunate to have good parents who taught me right from wrong, and that you must always tell the truth.  ”

The difficult part about truth, however, comes in when you begin analyzing yourself.  In BJJ, however, the mats don’t lie.  You cannot lie to yourself or others about your performance nor can you pretend to be something that you’re not.  If you wish to one day become a black belt or improve your skills, you must be honest with yourself. Face the realities of where you currently fall short. 

This aids you in the rest of your life, where you can frequently ask yourself if you’re showing up as the best husband, wife, father, mother, brother, sister, son, daughter, friend, employee (anything!) that you can. Then, if you’re falling short, you can do something about it.

Honesty doesn’t mean you have to beat yourself down or treat yourself exceptionally hard, but it does mean you have to be objective.  This requires separating your feelings from reality: did you finish the arm bar or not, and then why?

Choose your finish

The five benefits listed in this article are just a sampling of the many, many ways martial arts can change your life for the better. I am positive that they will continue to mold me into a better person over the next five, 10, 20 years and beyond, and for that, I’m excited to continue dedicating myself the art. 

If you’re considering starting a martial art, or have fallen out but thinking about returning, I cannot encourage you enough to get in there.  There will be nothing but a net positive gain, and you will reap benefits for years to come. Remember, it’s never about how you start, but it’s always about how you finish. The beautiful part about martial arts – you get to choose how you finish.  


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