I am a career martial artist. I am not just a hobbyist. Maybe because of this, because I have lived, slept and dreamed martial arts since I was 6-years old — my reflections on it, may be very different to most. Martial arts not only has been my preoccupation, the center of my life, but equally supported my family through making a living off something I love. I owe martial arts so much. I am not sure, had I not been so keen on martial arts, and finding a way to make it my bread and butter, how my life would have turned out for me (not so good I am certain). While I have a great education behind me now, and I have expanded my ‘expertise’ beyond the world of martial arts, for a very long time, martial arts is all I had. And I am very grateful for it.
Time Is Short
But I think, when you do something as a craftsman would, your appreciation for it, what you see it as, and what its potential is, is very different to a person who dabbles in it, only to move onto the next thing when their motivation (or mood) changes. For some time I have thought about the purpose of it all. If I defend myself using what I had learned (which I have) I am still somewhere down the line going to die. Even if I never use what I had learned to protect myself, I am going to die. This isn’t as fatalistic as it may immediately seem, but I am pointing to something that is a truth that we all inherently know. There are only two things we absolutely share in common with every single person on this planet, we are born, and we die.
With this in mind, I find it interesting in the modern martial arts world, where often the exclusive focus has turned towards the martial. In other words, what are the best tools and strategies to know, and embody to win a fight. The question that never gets asked is, why do you want to learn to defend yourself to begin with? You going to die at some point anyway!
I think the answer to this question is that you want to live. The reason you want to live, is because deep down, you know that you have a very short time on this planet, but more importantly with those you love. Inherent in all of us is the deep desire to be more than what we are now. You can’t be more of course, if your life, your existence is snuffed out earlier than you would have hoped. In other words, sure, no one wants to get physically hurt, or see those they love get hurt — so knowing a way to not allow this is important — but I also think seeking survival has a lot more to do with than just knowing how to defend oneself.
We Want Time To Discover Our Strength
Think of people who are in shape, and like to show it off. Why do we admire these people? Because we know it took work. They, through that experience exhibit character traits like motivation, grit, tenacity etc, that we admire (and wish we had too. Hence we pay other people to help us achieve what they have). Why do men idealize other men’s fighting prowess? I don’t think the fighting is as important, as what is represented by it. In other words, to do what that person does, we know (or we believe that to be) that they are fearless, single minded in achieving their goals, tenacious, have heart, etc.
When you look at it from this perspective then, it’s really odd, that men in martial arts, seem to focus more on the physical stuff, than the inner stuff — even though thats what they really want in the first place. As a said recently to Tony Blauer when he asked me, if I get any resistance from people to developing the inner management skills through martial arts — my answer was yes, and ironically it comes from martial artist themselves (especially those who teach it).
Why is this?
Because I think we have all been sold a lie, and many believe it. We have been sold a lie that frames success in an idealized, often sterilised way. In other words, we have been presented by stereotypes, images of what constitutes something as successful. A person pulls up in their Ferrari, and clearly they are successful in the materialistic world. A person has a beautiful body, and clearly they have succeeded at the physical world of appearance. Someone has a PhD, and they clearly have succeeded in the intellectual world. And so on! In each case, there is often an inference, that that one single observable success, means that person is successful everywhere else.
But the truth is, the true inner character traits we so admire in other people, and want to embody ourselves, doesn’t have to, and won’t likely show up in the most obvious ways. To be truthful, the more stereotypical the image of what one believes is suggestive of these character traits the less likely that person has it (or if they do, its domain specific). I know tons of great, bad ass fighters, who when placed in a fight, are able to summon immense grit, tenacity, and aggressive energy to win that fight. Yet, outside of the cage, their life is a mess. They drink to much, do drugs, and have to take PED’s just to get through the weeks training. To conclude that just because they are a bad ass in the cage, means they are a bad ass in life, is a fallacy. A 110 pound woman, a Mother, who rushes back into a burning building to save her child’s life, shows far more fearlessness, than someone who steps into a cage to fight another human as sport. Seeing her a day before however, you may have simply ignored her.
Success is More Than Just What You See
I stopped a while back looking at what my industry suggests as the epitome of success in my chosen world of martial arts.I did what they did, I fought, got really good at it, and while I could kick as in the ring, I struggled to kick my own ass in life, when I really needed to get my inner shit right. While everyone idealized my fighting prowess, I knew deep down, that punching other people, and winning was the only winning I was doing.
These days, I spend time looking at how martial arts has changed me, and allowed me to grow in less obvious ways. Here I mean in life, in my relationships, in simply being human. These true lessons are not as obvious as my jab, but are far more important. When my martial art experience began to make me less aggressive, more focused off the mat, calmer in my interactions with other people in life, more compassionate, and patient with those I loved and cared about — then, I knew that spending all that time at this craft was worth it.
I no longer simply teach people to fight, but to engender a sense of purpose, growth, and liberation from mediocrity. The people I teach may not be the best fighters, but I actually don’t care. What I do care about, is how well they are able to take on the fight of everyday life. In the end, that’s what living is all about, to live. You may or may never have to use the martial skills I teach you, but you sure as hell are going to have to find more productive ways to take on the martial arts of everyday life more skillfully.
What’s more important then?
If you going to take all this time out to train a skill, like martial arts, that most people will never use anyway — then why not find a more important reason to keep doing it? That’s what I am doing. Learning to fight in the end, is a very small part, of what a true martial artists journey has to offer. While everyone else is just learning how to fight, work on the less obvious stuff when training. Things like being more present, focused, aware, less aggressive towards self and others, more accepting of your edges and so on. In the end, you may or may never use the fighting stuff you learned, but what you learn from the inner work on the mat, you will find that you apply in every aspect of your life.