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Many of our transitions into training as therapists arise from our own personal challenges. Andy Smith, who is now a qualified hypnotherapist and is continuing his training in psychotherapy, shares his personal journey to this point and lends a fascinating, educational and inspiring account of the parallels between martial arts and therapy.

Andy’s entries will provide a series of articles shared over the next ten weeks and were written whilst simultaneously studying with the NCHP and working to achieve his 2nd Dan black belt grading.

This first entry by Andy provides a background to his journey.


The beginning…

I began training in martial arts 13 years ago with Sensei Martin Smith, 9th Dan in 2007. Martin is not only a vastly experienced and qualified exponent of the martial arts but also a PhD, university lecturer and psychotherapist himself.  My martial arts training provided me with a further dimension of understanding to my studies with the National College of Hypnosis and Psychotherapy. There are many parallels between therapy and the martial arts, my training has allowed me to identify these and reflect on them.

Exercise and Low Mood/Depression

I took up martial arts following a very a difficult time in my life in which my world was turned upside down and that left me with a very real void. For me personally, this void was filled with sadness, self-doubt, a complete depletion of self-esteem and a loss of joy or positivity in anything, all the things that would have formerly created an incredible amount of happiness, were at the time rendered meaningless. I slumped into an incredibly low mood… or depression, I’m not sure which; or whether it’s even simply a question of semantics as to which one it was. But it wasn’t good, in fact it was bad.

One of the worst elements of this time was feeling powerless and at the mercy of any and all external forces without really having a say in the matter. This continued for about 18 months, until eventually I decided I needed to do something……

The Path into Martial Arts and the Path into Therapy

For me, at that time, the idea of therapy was out of the question. I didn’t understand it as a process and I was fairly sure that I was going mad… I didn’t need anybody to tell me this. So, I decided that the quickest way for me to gain any semblance of the control I felt I needed was to be able to fight back against any physical threat….eventually I decided to take up martial arts. Due to my fragility at that time I chose not to attend a class but to have private one-to-one lessons with Martin, whose eclectic system appealed to me greatly. Within ten minutes of the first lesson I knew that I had set foot along a new path and a new journey.

Over the months and years of training, martial arts have allowed me to define myself in a positive way, with a set of tools (physical and mental) that help me to regulate and overcome challenges. I trained at home in a glorified shed at the back of the house, in the winter it is freezing cold and in the summer it’s incredibly hot but the place became my sanctuary. I remember finding myself in the gym on December evenings with a thermometer reading -2°c and spending 30 minutes practising my left hook (which incidentally now is deadly). The focus and the physical effort meant I was completely in the moment. For me at that time it was a revelation. At the end of each session I would feel calm and at ease, (incidentally the only other time I’ve experienced anything like this is during and after hypnotic trance). I now understand that this may well have occurred due to the neuro-biological effects of exercise in relation to low mood (which is something that will always influence my practice as a therapist) but back then it just seemed like a miracle.

My interest in psychotherapy was originally piqued by my instructor, Martin. He himself was a psychotherapist with a PhD, and as we talked over theories and concepts of martial arts, the theories and concepts of psychotherapy were also introduced to me. The various stances that I would learn through martial arts became anchors to me, a physical signal leading to an emotional change.

Persistence and Self-Confidence

At this point I had just turned 30, the martial arts had started to cultivate two things within me, the first was understanding the value of persistence. Rome wasn’t built in a day and nor would I become a proficient martial artist in a few weeks. The second was the renewal of some self-confidence, not bravado or other such superficial displays, but a quiet, steady level of self-belief.  As a result, I decided to begin studying Psychology at A Level, I did this by correspondence course. My aim was to go to university and do a psychology degree. For 2 years I went to work, got home, trained for 90 minutes and then studied for 2 hours. I did this for 6 nights a week, every week for 2 years. I also stopped going out drinking and saved enough money to allow me to be able to afford my degree. After 2 years I gained my place at university and did my degree, then a masters, and finally a PGCE and became a teacher. Throughout this time, I encountered many low points, but my interest in psychology, psychotherapy and martial arts never wavered. They kept me going. Now as I begin a new journey in training to be a hypno-psychotherapist I find myself being able to draw many similarities between the challenges, debates, and issues surrounding the world of psychotherapy that are comparable to martial arts. I am able to see how martial arts has contributed to my personal development in a way that will undoubtedly help towards my journey to becoming a competent therapist.