AuBoyTwo interesting articles popped up in my news feed towards the end of last week, and kind of stuck in my head. The first was a study on obese people, comparing some brain imaging with that of non-obese people. It was a small study, and therefor of only limited value, but pointing in good directions for further research. I liked it because it echoed things that I believed anyway.

Weight is a non-issue for me. Combat sports allow for success at a range of body types. It is an issue for me that some people are inactive. I liked this study because it gave a simple reason for this. Some people only see exercise as punishment. They don’t feel any reward. They don’t connect the thought of joyful physical activity with the image they hold of themselves. Worse, when they think of performing an athletic activity, they can only feel shame or embarrassment.

So they can play another round of whatever game, or watch one more episode, and feel good…or they can get off of the couch and exercise. But if they get off of the couch, all they are going to feel is shame and embarrassment. They cannot image any good result. I can understand that. No one feels that way naturally. It’s a learned behaviour, the result of a lifetime of shaming, both overt and subtle.

Which is why I have zero tolerance for people who think shaming overweight people into exercising or dieting is the right thing to do. To someone who is already overloaded with shame, adding another dose is just going to make things worse. Even if that person someone builds up some energy and momentum and decides to diet and exercise, they still aren’t learning to connect pleasure with good eating and exercise. They just experience it as another form of punishment. Punishment is not life. We seek reward. Eventually they will have to feel rewarded, and if they only know the physical reward of the couch, then that is where they will go.

Now we add in this second article from Breaking Muscle, on the Eight Most Hated Exercises…Wait. People hate exercise? Even fit people hate exercise? Man. People are stupid. I just had to shake my head reading this one. I mean, I understand it. I used to live that life. Lifting weights and doing things that feel horrible and sometimes even terrifying, just to try for that extra few pounds of weight gain, or another inch of muscle somewhere.

That’s a foreign world to me now, though. The workouts we do at Valkyrie are certainly physically challenging, but I don’t think any one of our students could really say they hate any of them. Our workouts are designed to be playful more than anything. When we hit the park for our Saturday workouts, little kids run up and try to imitate what we do. Why wouldn’t they? We’re just playing. There are kids that would imitate the exercises in the Breaking Muscle article, but probably not more than once. Where would the fun be?

We just play when we work our, but our results are undeniable. I can guarantee that new students will be buying larger shirts in a year. Everyone packs on muscle. Everyone becomes the kind of person that does cartwheels for fun.

And I think that’s the real secret of our school, and one that others can imitate. Swordplay is a gateway drug. It’s a trick. People who won’t get off of the couch to exercise will get up to swing a sword. There is no punishment or shame associated with that…it’s too foreign of an experience to have the usual bad connotations. It’s a thing they can do just for fun. It’s not a massive effort or commitment. Just a fun thing to try out.

And once they get to class…yes, we workout hard. But everyone falls. Everyone fails. And we all laugh together when it happens, because we are bonding over our shared difficulties. We applaud successes but we see that every person that succeeds at a difficult movement is leading the way for the rest of us. If they can do it, we can as well. For the new student, it’s a different world. We show them not that exercise rewards with a six-pack, but that exercise rewards with pleasure. We teach people to enjoy the movement of their bodies.

Which is why, I think, we have had such great success in transforming people from keyboard jockeys to movers. It’s a martial art that we practice, and we do keep our eyes focused on the martial, but joy is central to what we do. None of us would be doing this is we didn’t love every aspect of it, and we’ve developed a knack for teaching that love. Everyone was a kid that ran through the woods once, or wanted to. We fought dragons and made swords out of sticks, and never, ever wanted to stop playing.

And now that we are adults, we need to realize that once we have done our jobs for the day, we can play all we want.