“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.”
Except for a couple of scraps in high school and college, I never got in a real fight as a kid. In fact, not only did I not have to fight for anything literally, figuratively speaking, I was almost never uncomfortable during my childhood.
My parents wanted me to have the finest things in life that money could buy—new clothes, nice dinners, family vacations, and the best education. I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from or how I was going to pay for college. For that, I’m extremely fortunate and eternally grateful.
However, not having to struggle is a mixed blessing. The anguish that can accompany real trauma can take years or even a lifetime to grapple with. But conversely, not having to grapple with the sting of loss, defeat, or pain can leave one woefully unprepared for perhaps life’s most inevitable fact—at some point, in some manner, you are going to get your ass kicked.
One could contend that in many ways, our current society is a lot like my childhood was—comfortable, coddled, and content. Except that in reality, the content part of our culture is a myth. Food, entertainment, and material possessions don’t make for genuine contentment. In fact, quite the contrary: collectively we may be comfortable, but we are far from happy.
Comfort breeds apathy and complacency and in the face of life’s stresses, a state of complacency also creates the potential for a dangerous cycle of addiction and despair. Case in point; we Americans comprise 5% of the world’s population, but we take 80% of the world’s supply of opiods. We are also among the world leaders in suicide, overdose, and obesity. That’s a lot of pain avoidance.
In the fight or flight response to many of the traumas of our day (stress, addiction, and lack of purpose) the masses of our populace are choosing flight. In large part, that’s because we’ve become soft. We’ve lost the will to fight because we’ve forgotten how to fight. To wage these battles, we must become true warriors and learn to fight again.
A martial art will teach you how.
What It Means to Fight
Many incorrectly assume that learning to fight simply means learning the external arts: the punches, chokes, and throws. But a martial art is much deeper than what you see in a movie or in the octagon. Behind the fancy kicks and thrilling knockouts are the pillars of respect, discipline, and humility—the real weapons needed to wage war.
Learning to literally fight and the path of a martial artist is a metaphor for becoming, as Bruce Lee said, an “artist of life.” Training in the martial arts is less about preparing to face an opponent in the ring and more about learning to face your biggest obstacle—yourself.
It’s not necessarily politically correct these days to talk about fighting or hitting. Certainly, we all have a moral obligation to stand firm that it’s never ok to raise your fists (or feet) in anger.
It’s never ok to hit anyone who is vulnerable or defenseless. Self-defense is about self-protection in the face of adversity, not about provoking or assaulting. But make no mistake, defending yourself also means learning how to hit and perhaps more importantly, how to take a hit.
To face and defend yourself properly means channeling aggression (your own and others) through the art of preparation, practice and discipline. The martial arts will also help you hone the most vital aspect of fighting, and that is your mind set.
Best selling author and former Navy Seal David Goggins calls this skill set forming a “calloused mind.” Facing the physical discomfort of running a marathon or triathlon, rock climbing, and the martial arts are all ways to help you expand your mental boundaries and “callous” your mind.
But the martial arts will also teach you to do so with grace and balletic proficiency. After all, as a martial artist, you’re not just learning self-defense, you’re learning an art. Of course, a practice in the martial arts can also provide you with practical the tools to literally save your life.
Take the Hit
Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan till they get punched in the mouth.” In my experience, this is a hard but absolute truth. I had a plan before I got laid off in my first career. I had a plan before I got divorced. I had a plan before life altering injury. Honestly though, I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything because our setbacks define our character and give our lives meaning.
As I was in the process of getting divorced, I literally got the crap beat out of me in a Muay Thai testing phase. During a sparring round, I got kicked in the midsection with one of the hardest roundhouse kicks I’ve ever encountered. I doubled over in agony after a clean body shot to the liver.
After the test, I sat in my best friend’s kitchen with bags of ice draped across my body, writhing in pain at the very same time my heart was shattered in a thousand pieces from my gut wrenching divorce. Then a calming feeling came over me—I had survived a literal beating and passed my martial arts test. In that moment, I realized that I would survive my divorce and pass that test as well.
Everyone Has to Fight
The fact is, at times we all end up on our backs in life. Our choice is how we will respond. The ego responds with either flight (avoidance and running from our problems) or a fake fight (power, arrogance, and false bravado). The warrior responds with true humility and respect—for oneself and one’s adversary. A warrior gets back up better for the experience of having been knocked down.
Dealing with life’s beatdowns head on builds resilience and defines what it is to be human. If we are going to win the big battles in life, we must learn to fight and we must be willing to face our own individual conflicts. In choosing a path as a martial artist, you will not just learn to swim amidst life’s stormy waters; you will learn to swim with the current.