Most people hear “martial arts” and think of over-powered characters like Black Widow performing crazy stunts in movies that always overwhelm their opponents in a matter of seconds. The truth about martial arts is a little more mundane; however, it’s still a fun way to spend a couple hours, and even a valuable character-building experience. Rising to the challenge of learning martial arts has the potential to change your way of thinking, and with it, change your life.

1. Self-Confidence

There are few things more empowering that achieving something you never thought you could. This feeling of elation is a key building block in strengthening your self-confidence. Martial arts can be a great tool in helping to build and strengthen your self-confidence by presenting challenges that force you to push your mind and body beyond your comfort zone. Learning martial arts takes your questions and self-doubt and, in time, turns them into questions about what you can’t do. The self-confidence you learn from martial arts then becomes the precursor to your ability to achieve dreams beyond what happens in the dojo.

2. Self-Defense

A commonly touted benefit of taking up a martial art is the ability to physically defend yourself or others in the event of an attack. The day may come when you find yourself in a dangerous, or even life-threatening, situation — after all, you read about it in the news all the time, so what happens when your number comes up? From rape to abuse to mass shootings, having an arsenal of martial arts training prepares your mind and body to react quickly and logically in these scenarios. The ultimate goal, however, of martial arts is actually to never have to use your martial arts training in real life. The best masters teach de-escalation techniques in tandem with self-defense techniques.

3. Self-Discipline

As human beings, we tend to be more than a little impulsive when emotions get involved. Learning martial arts can strengthen self-discipline and teach students mindfulness. It does this by instilling the notions of personal accountability and impulse-control. In its purest form, self-mastery takes place when we learn how to sacrifice what we want now for what we'll need later. It teaches us to think in the long-term instead of being caught up in the short-term. Martial arts promote this mindset by providing both rewards and consequences based on students' choices.

4. Ambition

As students improve in confidence and self-mastery, their ambition also grows. Ambition, quite simply, is the desire to achieve something that will require intense dedication and hard work. Most martial arts organize their students by skill level; some styles denote this via a system of colored belts. This tier system creates an environment that focuses the minds of its students on an individual aim or goal. Instead of shying away from hard work, students develop a can-do mindset that enables them to tackle it head on.

Martial arts aren’t limited to the Kung Fu that you see Jackie Chan doing in movies. They extend to weapon-based arts like Kendo, and hand gun (yes, guns are a type of martial art), and western martial art styles, like Brazilian Jiujitsu, and Historical European Martial Arts. Whichever you choose, find one that you enjoy and stick with it. A year may yield benefits, but in order to see real change, you need a lifetime of effort.