In many ways modern martial arts is an extension of modern living, at least as we experience it in the West. Just like so many of us that focus on the external, and materialistic nature of our existence, so does this seem to be prevalent in the world of modern martial arts. Success sadly is often narrowly defined by the physical, the external, and whom someone can beat. What stays in our minds is the physical techniques, the outward manifestation that we observe in that victory. People then scramble off to learn these physical techniques in hopes that it too will lead to their own success. In a not to dissimilar way, many people focus on the accumulation of materialistic wealth as not only a measure for themselves, but in showing others, that they have succeeded. Success then, is often sadly measured externally, and as a showcase for others to see and admire.
The Outside is Not The Inside
But the outside is not the inside. Outwardly someone can seem to have it all, the cool moves, the championship belt — but inside they can be baron. In the same light we have all heard the stories of the miserable millionaire, who seems to have everything at least on the outside, yet feels unfulfilled, and depressed on the inside. It is no wonder then, when it comes to martial arts — that throughout the ages, and specifically in the East – martial arts teachers have always returned to the importance of the internal. They too realized that while someone may exude the physical gifts of waging war through martial skill, that this may be the only thing they are good at. Just because you are good at fighting, doesn’t mean by default that you are either happy or good at anything else.
In the martial arts world, people tend to make a big deal about the ability to fight. As if somehow what allows for it, are a myriad of inner traits that are desirable for others to have. We have, throughout history, always been fascinated by the warrior class for their fearlessness in battle. As someone who has fought extensively on the ‘street’ I can say that there is really only one inner obstacle that is required to navigate. Once you are able to overcome your ‘thoughts’ of fear, fighting for the most part isn’t that hard. Fear is always present, it never goes away — but it’s not that fear itself as an emotion is what holds one back, but rather, the mental interpretation or the meaning we ascribe to that fear.
The Fight Isn’t Happening in The Ring, But In Life!
But the fear of physical violence is only one aspect of the human condition. We are complex, relying on a multitude of inner traits to navigate the human experience. While navigating fear in a physical confrontation is one aspect, navigating everyday life is another. What this highlights is that winning the inner fight is far harder than winning the potential once in a lifetime physical fight. The daily opponent we face each and every day, from the moment we wake up, to then navigating the world we live in until till we go to bed at night is ever present. Those ancient Eastern martial art masters knew this all to well. They also knew that even warriors don’t fight physically every moment of everyday. We live, we wash dishes, there’s the mundane, the treading of difficult terrain in relationships, and the hum of background anxiety as we attempt to stay afloat in just trying to live.
I write this because sadly often times people enter the world of modern martial arts to simply get in shape, learn some self-defense skills or simply to fight. As with the materialistic focus of so many, so too as I noted earlier the focus by many in martial arts seems to be on external accomplishments. It has become the plastic surgery of martial arts, about what one looks like on the outside, or the focus on an external threat, while all the time neglecting the real fight which is happening on the inside.
Peace on The Mat, Peace in Life
While there are many lessons one can takeaway from martial arts in dealing with one’s inner opponent, by far the one that will have the most impact on your life off the mat, is to become more present. Martial arts training in this sense becomes paradoxical, as we begin to realize that the aim is not to use this platform to become more aggressive, but rather to be one with aggression itself.
Aggression, fear, anger, all of these are part and parcel of the human condition. They will never go away. You cannot take something away that has been hardwired within you over millennia of evolution. But what you can do, and what I have experienced first hand is to go into something like martial arts that has the capacity to make you more aggressive, and instead use it to find the still point within oneself.
It’s a magical place to be, in the midst of a sparring match for instance where punches, kicks and knees are flying towards your head, each with the capacity to hurt you, yet you remain calm. Your mind undisturbed by both the external blows moving towards you, and the internal chaos that rages inside you, you begin to change your relationship with yourself. You realize that no matter how you are thinking or feeling doesn’t need to have control over you, it doesn’t have to define the outcome of your experience.
This skill, and it is a skill that requires a tentative coach to you teach you, can be used anywhere in life. It’s a skill that you can use often, likely each moment of every day — unlike the martial skill that you may, or likely may never be called upon to use. To be focused, calm, and undisturbed inside in the midst of life’s chaos, relationships, difficult meetings, make or break negotiations — or simply not becoming caught up in your own inner fears — is a tool that truly emboldens you with the true warrior spirit, anywhere, anytime.