Life is a real pain in the ass, it will kick you between the legs, the second you lose your focus. Lets be real, it will kick you in the teeth, even when you are awake, watching, and focused. Finding the still point in life’s chaos is difficult. Paradoxically the place that I train for stillness, is in the most un-still, chaotic, unpredictable experience in my life — by fighting.
Now when I say fighting, I don’t mean looking for a fight on the street. Rather, ritualised combat in my gym. You see, each week, I get together with 4 X EFC Champ Costa Ioannou, and allow him, voluntarily I might add, to hit me. I am allowed to hit him back too, which makes it all the more fun.
Sparring Used To Be About The External Fight
For a long time, sparring for me, was a way to sharpen and hone my fight skills. I used that sharpness on the mean unforgiving streets of Johannesburg, outside some of cities roughest nightclubs as the Head Doorman. I used that sharpness in over two decades of sparring competitive fighters, all over the world. All of the MMA fighters in South Africa, that came from my old Street Tough Gym, found themselves staring up from the canvas at the ceiling on many a night – once they finally came too. I was a bad ass physically, but mentally, emotionally and spiritually I was a desert.
Martial Arts for a very long time, seemed like something I did as part of my other personality. Once I got out of the ring, non of what I did there seemed to help me in my everyday life. It wasn’t until I realised that I had never been fighting anyone except myself that things began to change. I changed my relationship intentionally with sparring. Rather than it being a way to defeating others in front of me — it became about defeating my own inner demons. Inner perfection, if at all attainable, was as Antoine de Saint-Exuper suggests”…achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”
Confronting The Inner Opponent
Slowly over time, I began to confront my inner opponent more and more. What drove it, what was it afraid of, and why was it so mean? Chipping away at this gigantic megalith, slowly a light began to appear. As time went on, my mind and body, became more still. When stillness was not present, through mindful attention of my inner narrative, without judgement, stillness blossomed from the fire. Life is inherently aggressive, from in your face, to passive. It seems odd that choosing something like sparring, which at its core holds the seed of aggression — could be the very thing that dowses the flames of aggression. But it did for me!
My realisation is that, through sparring, it is not so much what happens to us on the outside that causes our suffering, but rather how we attach to it. The Buddha said this too, he learned it by contemplating this existential truth under the Bodhi tree — I learned it by getting punched in the face. It is interesting to note how the Samurai of Japan, were equally fascinated by Zen. While it may be a stretch to call myself a warrior, my experience in that realm, has much in common with the those teachings.
When I get on the mat now, sparring is therapy. It allows all that stuff I don’t like about myself to come up, but instead of expressing it, I am able to be with it, with no judgement for 12-rounds. It’s mindfulness in action. Mindfulness has shown to create many types of attitudes that contribute to a satisfied life. Mindfulness enables you a greater capacity to deal with adverse events in your life. It has been noted to help a person be less concerned about success and self-esteem. It has been show to help with stress, depression and anxiety. I get all of this out of sparring, which to me is extreme moving meditation.
Each time I am on the mat sparring now, I seek to be fully present, to both what is happening inside and out, without judgement. This is my number one goal, and its about finding stillness. I don’t always get it right, but I work hard too. The outcome, for the first time in my career as a martial artists, the experience on the mat, has supercharged my life off it. In fact, approaching martial arts this way, has allowed me to achieve success in my life, and in my career — I could have only ever dreamed off. If I had carried on simply to win the external fights, non of this would ever have emerged.
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
– T.S. Eliot