Most people’s experience with martial arts is either cage fighting on television or their 7 year old taking Tae Kwon Do for a year and a half and quitting at green belt. This lack of experience with martial arts can make it hard for your coworkers to relate to your martial arts activities. Since they don’t know the roots of martial arts, they don’t have the context to start or carry a conversation. This means that your martial art is not necessarily a good base for starting conversations at work or for networking. While your coworkers are playing softball or golf (or just watching TV) you are probably the only one training in the dojo. Many times, you are better of talking about what your coworkers can relate to, like what was on TV last night.
I am proud of my martial arts and have brought it up in conversation at work with varied success. I am a pretty big guy at 6’3” 260 (I should be 220, but I am working on that) and I keep my hair cut very short. Some people might consider me intimidating. I found that the martial arts conversation can make some people nervous, so I am now careful with whom I discuss it. A coworker of mine used to be an amateur boxer, so he and I talk about my training and my competitions. One of the partners of the firm overheard how intense some of the sparring sessions could be and it caused a bit of tension. The sparring sessions I participate in can get intense and some people might consider them violent. It appeared that was the case in this situation. I do not want to be considered a violent person. I am a martial artist not a bar room brawler. I used humor to ease the tension of that situation and now I am greeted on Monday mornings with a humor filled “Did you beat anyone up this weekend?”
Injuries can also bring up uncomfortable conversations. An example of this is a meeting I was in with a very senior executive of a company I worked for. I had a BJJ class the night before and had really bad marks on my neck from a choke that I fought out of. I wore a collar to try and hide the marks but a co-worker saw the marks and very enthusiastically brought them to everyone’s attention in the meeting. As I explained how I got them, the executive was looking at me like I shot someone’s puppy. Again, I used humor and an attitude that I did nothing wrong that eased the tension and ended the distraction so I could get back to the meeting agenda.
Be proud of your martial arts. Just understand that not everyone will understand why you do martial arts and some people will be intimidated by it. Think about what people’s reaction might be, especially at work, before you talk about your activities, particularly if they might be construed as being violent and when you are injured, especially a facial injury, be prepared to discuss it and not leave the impression that you hang out in the wrong bars.