I may be an enigma to some. In fact, I know that most people who fixated on the world of the martial, find me somewhat of an anomaly. My philosophy confuses them. In their world, the only reason to practice modern forms of martial arts is to know first and foremost how to fight. Being able to do so either on the street, or in competition is the ultimate pinnacle of success for them. And to be honest, I am perfectly fine with that. Each of us, have to travel our own path. I just know for myself, especially in the past few years, I am no longer interested in beating external opponents anymore. The only fight I am interested in, is beating the opponent inside. It’s not that I have lost my passion for martial arts, but rather, I have lost the desire to fight others simply as a measure of outdoing them with physical skill.
YOU HAVE ALWAYS BEING FIGHTING YOURSELF
In a real sense, both our successes and failures in life come down to how effectively we deal with life’s inevitable conflicts. No where have I learned more about this, than in the ritualized combat against another person in sparring. What we learn about ourselves in sparring, has a tendency to cross over to life. It works the other way around too, when we are unable to deal with life’s conflicts skilfully, it will show up in the experiences of sparring others on the mat.
When you then realize that all these external opponents, where never who you were fighting to begin with, that the real fight, was always internal — you begin to view the mat, the training space differently. You no longer see opponents, but rather seekers just like yourself. The reality is, and this the paradox too, that you cannot learn to manage, or even potentially defeat your inner opponent, without the help of others. When I spar now, I recognize that my partner has probably the most important role in aiding me in my self-development. Rather than trying to beat him, I recognize that at times, I need to surrender to him.
For example, lets say I am facing you, but I way outclass you. I can in other words, beat you easily physically. In that very moment, I have two choices to make. I can either beat you, and show you that I am superior, or I can allow you the opportunity to play, and recede to a place I know I am uncomfortable at. In other words, I can purposely place myself in a position, or part of the game that is not my strength. Like it or not, the second I do that, not only am I aware of my physical deficiencies in that part of the game, but emotional and psychological content will begin to rise to the surface.
What rises, wont be comfortable, and I know I wont like it. It then becomes an internal battle, between choosing to allow what surfaces to fuel my next move, which if I do, will often will result in ego driven defense, using strength, speed, power and dominance — or, I can embrace those feelings and thoughts with openness and curiosity. Accepting my inner weaknesses, and working with the places inside that make me feel uncomfortable and that scare me — is at least for me, the true work of martial arts.
What am I saying here? You can either fight others for external victory and glory, for others to see, to get a medal, a trophy, or even money — or you can engage with people on the mat to grow by conquering your inner insecurities. But, in my experience you cannot have both. When you place victory externally, you can only do so, by allowing your inner turmoil to superimpose itself onto others. Once you decide to confront your inner baggage, fighting others for external recognition, no longer holds your attention. If I am at peace with myself, if I am confident with who I am, and accepting of both my goodness and my frailties — fighting others simply to beat them physically seems pointless.
FIGHTING DIDN’T DO ANYTHING FOR ME
I fought my whole life. For a long time there, I was fixated on ensuring everyone knew that I was the baddest Mother Fucker around. I achieved that. But in doing so, I avoided dealing with all the inner baggage that kept tripping me up in life. It was only when I had enough courage to look deep inside myself and ask some hard questions as to why violence that I conveniently packaged as sport, or training for self-preservation — applied against other people in the ring, on the mat or on the street — was how I was choosing to express my life on Earth. Fighting others never made me a better person. Sure fighting taught me that I could do the violence if needed, but that was such a narrow band of my existence. I found my skills in fighting never really showed up positively in my life, in my relationships with others, as I though it would.
My view is this. There is the obvious reasons martial arts exists. Firstly it is our primal nature, that grew out of our evolutionary need to survive. To survive then, is hardwired in our DNA. If it wasn’t so, there would be no way to justify its use in recreation. There would be no reason to have martial arts, if there was no need for survival. But physical survival is only one aspect of the martial art journey. Sure we need it, because if we were eliminated early, then we don’t get to have the full human experience. But martial arts training is also meant to teach each of us how to take on the martial arts of everyday life more skilfully. The experience of martial arts resembles life in so many ways. You have ups and downs, and as is often the case, the reason you may lose against an opponent, is not that physically you don’t have the right techniques, but rather how your inner opponent sabotages your success. I have seen some physical specimens on the mat, who on the face of it should be able to beat anyone in sparring, only to see them lose, because their inner game was lacking. Because of this, martial arts then offers an action oriented approach to learning, where together with participants we can recreate many of the inner obstacles we all often have to face in life, and which hold us back from succeeding there.
USING SPARRING ON THE MAT AS A CATALYST FOR PERSONAL TRANSFORMATION
Through the experience of sparring, not only can we become aware of how unskillfully we may deal with our emotional baggage, and mental turmoil, we have an opportunity to work creatively through it. As the Bhagavad Gita notes,“The self is the friend of a man who masters himself through the self, but for a man without self mastery, the self is like an enemy at war.” Your greatest enemy is never the person opposite you who is trying to beat you — what always remains your greatest enemy is yourself.
I recognize that we need that ‘war’ of martial arts training, even though it is ritualized, to both confront and mold that which has a tendency to hold us back from achieving success in our life or career. As Dostoyevsky noted, “Without war human beings stagnate in comfort and affluence and lose the capacity for great thoughts and feelings, they become cynical and subside into barbarism.” My reading of this statement by Dostoyevsky is not a literal one, but rather allegorical. What he is suggesting, at least how I interpret it, is that having a passive attitude to the problems that hold us back in life (or on the mat), will only stagnate our growth. To face the war inside of yourself, you need to go to battle with that opponent inside of you, and fight it with the intention to win. As Leonardo da Vinci acknowledges “You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself…the height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. …And this law is the expression of eternal justice. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.”
Today I train for the personal challenge. For the personal growth I know martial arts training can provide. I keep my skills sharp, because like it or not, there are bad people in the world, and it is imperative that I am able to protect myself, which then means I can protect my family. But beyond that, I no longer fight for external gratification.I don’t use other people as my punching bag. I have surrender to winning and losing as the impermanence that life is. We are all here for a very short time. Wherever we head off to when we die, I am certain that, how good a fighter you were, who you were able to physically beat while you were lucky enough to live on this amazing planet — will mean little. We are all insignificant speaks in the great expansive universe. I know we hardly contemplate this, as we remain busy with things, like materialistic wealth, that don’t really matter much in the end. You inner victories then, through your martial arts practice, is in the end, far more important than your outer dominance of others.