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How Structure and Discipline Work Hand in Hand in Martial Arts

The world champion boxer Evander Holyfield once said…

“The main thing about Bruce Lee is that, he was a little guy. And you know, his quickness, his aggressiveness, his explosive power, you have to be a great athlete to have all these. His body, his look – all these things have to do with discipline and structure. He was able to go against the biggest guy, regardless of who he was.”

Structure and discipline in the martial arts are two sides of the same coin, two things that work together to make it all happen. These are foundational principles, things that are necessarily part of the process.

Structure Leads to Discipline

How do we create discipline in the lives of students in the martial arts? The answer is through structure. That means building a framework for students to work through that offers support for students.

Structure in martial arts comes from:

  • Clear expectations
  • Firm boundaries
  • Strong communication
  • Fixed routines
  • Repetition
  • Physical engagement
  • Instructor integrity
  • Safety in activities

Great martial arts schools have these things in common, and it’s through the careful scaffolding of training that discipline becomes an inner drive that pushes students beyond just what they’re doing on the training floor. That’s not to say that schools have to yell or be nasty to grow successful students – just the opposite.

A solidly structured environment is all that’s needed to foster discipline. In fact, when a dojang environment (or any environment in fact) is well structured, there is no need for harsh punishments as there is little room for anyone to step out of place.

The Great Equalizers

Structure and discipline are the great equalizers in martial arts, allowing everyone to participate not only to the fullest of their ability, but also to challenge others who are perceived to be bigger, stronger or faster than they are. With proper structure and discipline, everyone has the potential to take on opponents that they never thought possible.

Women can learn to defend themselves against threats of bigger and stronger attackers. Children can find out that they do indeed have the power to stand up to others who are more powerful than they are physically. The little guy is not less powerful than the big guy – it only takes the right mould to transform their ability to take on the unknown and seemingly impossible.

Just as Bruce Lee was able to mould his body in amazing ways through structured training and discipline, so too does every person who walks into the door of a great martial arts school have the potential to transform themselves through structure and discipline.

The world is a wide and wild place to live. It doesn’t come with an instruction manual, nor does it come with very clear boundaries. What martial arts offers is a method through which individuals can make sense of how to navigate emotions, physicality, social interaction and self-control. That’s what makes the discipline that comes with martial arts so powerful. It’s not because of some magical essence of taekwondo or karate, rather it happens when good structure that leads to proper discipline are part of the training experience.


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