Real Martial Art Begins Outside the Dojo

That’s right.

And by “outside the dojo” I don’t mean fighting in the street to test your skills.

I find numerous debates and Youtube comments on “Which style is more effective?” futile and counter-productive. For the purpose of martial arts is not just prepare you for fighting, but prepare you for life.

Make you focused, determined, and driven. Build up your character. Unleash your human potential. Give the courage to fight for your dreams.

Let’s say you train taekwon-do and recite the tenets of taekwon-do before each class. And forget about them once the class ends. One of the tenets is integrity, for instance, which means to “walk your talk”. So the class ends, and you return to your “normal” life breaking commitments.

Or you practice aikido, “the art of peace”, and learn to never cause violence to anyone. And then you commit emotional or mental violence to the people around.

I can take a radical stance by claiming that martial arts turn an “animal-human being” into a “human-human being”. Contrary to the common misperception, all martial arts build peace both within and outside, rather than incite violence.

And if that’s the case, what’s the point of training if you become an “animal” again after leaving the training hall?

Jigoro Kano put it very nicely by saying there are three levels of judo.

The quintessential story comes down to this apex: the real test of you as a martial artist is outside the dojo. 

KUNG FU PANDA

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Fight, Flee, Fake, or the ABC of Problem-Solving

According to Dr. Gregory House a problem can be approached in three ways. No More Mr. Nice Guy – the 13th episode of the fourth season of House M.D. – gives a vivid overview of the options available:

Three cavemen see a stranger running towards them with a spear. One fights, one flees, one smiles and invites him over for fondue. That last guy didn’t last long enough to procreate.

So whenever we encounter a problem a challenge, we can deal with it in three possible ways:

  1. Accept the challenge and try to solve it.
  2. Walk away from it.
  3. Pretend there is no problem at all.

In fact, options 2 and 3 are quite similar. Faking everything is fine while it’s not is a form of escaping. So the options can be nailed down to two choices. Let’s call them roughly ‘fight’ and ‘flee’.

Fleeing Will Never Work In the Long Term

Avoiding a problem can work in a short term. Walking away is easy and effortless at a first glance. Yet in the long term such strategy is counter-productive. This is the ‘dead-end’ choice as it excludes development.

Another issue here is that according to one of the universal principles a problem is repetitive unless it is solved. This means you may avoid it once, twice or even more times. Yet it will re-appear in your life forcing you to adopt another strategy. The trap here, however, is that the longer we procrastinate, the less energy we will have to actually find and implement a solution.

I believe the root cause of the fleeing strategy is fear. Unfortunately, fear poisons the lives of millions throughout the world. Fear can take numerous forms – fear to act, fear to speak, fear to change, fear of the unknown, fear of  loosing a comfort zone, and so on and so forth.

Sometimes fear is just an instant that will pass away once a dangerous or harmful situation is over. Sometimes fear can completely paralyze your will. In other cases it never really  goes away – like a growling dog that is chased away with a stick but keeps coming back. All in all, it is an extremely unhelpful, stressful and energy-consuming state.

But the good news is that most of the things we fear never happen.

Fighting or Facing a Problem Is the Only Constructive Response

In contrast to the fleeing strategy, this ones brings positive results both in short and long-term perspectives. If you face a problem immediately, there is a high chance you’ll get an immediate positive result. Even if otherwise that will be a relief too. On a longer term we will grow self-confidence and self-evidence when dealing with a situation immediately rather than procrastinating.

The premises of the fighting strategy is courage as the opposite of fear. It takes courage to face a problem. It take courage not to surrender. It takes courage to walk along your own path when the world expects something else. And it takes courage to fight your fears.

A common misconception is that courage is the absence of fear. Courage is not the absence, but overcoming fear. This means brave and courageous people are afraid too. But what makes them different from cowards is the ability to face their fear instead of surrendering. Courage is ultimately the ability to act irregardless of the fear.

Which Choice Is Yours?

As human beings we all have the freedom of will. We have the choice to live or die, hate or love, be happy or sad, flee or fight, pursue a dream or give up on it, hold on to our fears or practice courage.

Which one is yours? 🙂

Brick Walls. What To Do?

In his inspiring last lecture Randy Pausch said that “brick walls are there for a reason”. They are there “to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.”

Indeed, when observed, successful people are all characterized by perseverance – the ability to steadily persist in a course of action spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement. Yet what if a brick wall is so thick that you risk smashing your hand trying to break it?

Reinhold Niebuhr’ Serenity Prayer is worth mentioning here. It starts as follows:

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

To paraphrase, perhaps some things are not meant to be changed. While most brick walls are there test our will of power, others may serve as sign-posts of “things-to-be”. This has nothing to do within giving up. Giving up is yielding to challenges when you do have energy to face and overcome them. Accepting the things you cannot change is admitting humbly that man is not omnipotent, while the Universe is.

Sometimes the line between the two approaches may seem to thin. To put it in other words, if we don’t like something, we can either change it or, if we can’t change it, change our attitude. So we all need brick walls on the way. And we all have them. It’s ultimately about our own choices and about how badly we want something. Still, even if it God’s will to keep a brick wall in its place, we can still attempt to break it, which in itself can be a rewarding and learning experience.

To end with a quote from McMurphy brilliantly played by Jack Nicholson in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”: “But I tried, didn’t I? Goddamnit, at least I did that.”

I’m Not an Idiot – I’m a Dreamer!

A few days ago I watched a beautiful movie called “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. The main idea is very deep. It’s about a tragedy of human life when everything goes wrong, and we retreat to our comfort zone (even if it’s only in our heads), from where we are so afraid to get out and back into the world. But this is also a movie about dreamers.

Walter Mitty is a man of great potential, brave heart and talent. He is simply scared to give himself a chance to put his great ideas into life, and drowns in his bright yet crazy fantasies. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a film about the first and most important step, about an event that pushes us to overcome ourselves and perform heroic deeds.

The-Secret-Life-Walter-Mitty-03-1

I think many can draw a parallel between Walter Mitty’s life and his or her own.

If every second of your life is filled with sense and action, this film and post are not for you. Rather, it addresses those who think their lives lack brightness and who are stuck in everyday routine and chores. Walter Mitty sets a vivid example of how to turn “from a caterpillar into a butterfly”.

Action is indispensable. Only action brings true knowledge and moves you towards your goals and dreams. However, the very first step is to have a Dream.

They say one can tell a lot about a person by observing his friends. Others say you can understand someone by looking into the books he or she reads. Likewise you would learn a great deal about someone if you could know his dreams.

Take a few seconds to to address a simple question:

What is my biggest dream? Or, what are my biggest dreams?

If you can answer these instantly, congratulations! You have a direction, at least in your mind, where you want to go. A true Dream has noting to do with day-dreaming. Day-dreaming is an idle wasting of time that could be used for action. A real dream is like a vision where you want to stand after taking the road.

I believe once we know what ours dreams are, with hard-work, perseverance, discipline and patience, we are doomed to reach our destinations. And even if not, the lessons learned on the way will be an invaluable experience. After all, everything happens for the best.

So what if there is no answer to the question above? Then start dreaming! Who said a “small person” can’t have big dreams in his heart? Even an average office employee, not only a Superman, wants to perform sometimes maybe an insane yet heroic deed, believe in his or her strength and courage. Walter Mitty proves that is absolutely possible.

Quest Vs. Comfort

Everybody seeks comfort and security in his life. This is part of human nature, and can be partially explained by the survival instinct inherited from the animal kingdom.

The truth is, however, staying in comfort zone for a long time is dangerous.

Why is that? How can something rooted in our nature be dangerous to our own selves?

The answer is avoiding challenges in your life cuts you off from opportunities for growth and improvement. Like body needs regular training, soul needs regular challenges to stay fit. A weak soul cannot be happy.

A stabilized, normalized and settled down life is not bad in itself. It is bad when it becomes a life-long habit though.

A job that is not a dream one but pays the bills? Fine. A partner you put up with out of fear to stay alone? OK. A lifestyle full of TV and online games without bright emotions? No problem either. The issue here is that all these “OKs” finally lead you to live the life of someone else.

I am not saying we must constantly go extreme and do something crazy with our lives. The point is we need some kind of inner fire that must be always kept running.

For example, doing some interesting projects at your workplace. Trying to help homeless, disabled, or anyone in need. Going for a marathon run even if you mind protests loudly. Learning a new language. Starting a new sport. Reading the “Capital” series by Karl Marx. Acquiring a new skill.

The opportunities are indeed endless.

This kind of inner fire, or quest, or challenge is absolutely necessary not only to learn new things, develop yourself and transform. The problem is that if you don’t start this, sooner or later life will force you to do so, but in a way which will not be so pleasant compared to if you would initiate the change yourself. I like to formulate this principle as “Create a problem yourself so that you don’t get problems from the outside”.

To sum up, I believe both strive for comfort and challenge is indispensable. There is no contradiction in this statement, as man has a dialectical nature (like anything else in this world).

Comfort is necessary to stay peaceful and relaxed. Challenge is necessary to feel alive. As Richard Bach nicely put it in “Running from Safety: An Adventure of the Spirit”:

It must happen to us all…We pack up what we’ve learned so far and leave the familiar behind. No fun, that shearing separation, but somewhere within, we must dimly know that saying goodbye to safety brings the only security we’ll ever know.