#25 - Compassion and Intensity in Martial Arts
Updated: Aug 29
It’s been fascinating for me to return full force to teaching martial arts for the largest martial arts company in the world. There are trainings where I get to meet and grease the groove with practitioners from multiple different backgrounds. Sometimes these are with the company itself, and sometimes outside the company. It seems that I approach my practice with more intensity than many that these people have trained with. This surprised me, but through that discovery I am growing as an instructor.
While I make adjustments in terms of the quantity and quality of the training based on age, and the lessons are simpler for younger students than adults, I didn’t change the style of teaching as much as I could. I still was very focused on the structure of a guard stance, each kick, and the differences with each punch based on the target they are striking. I teach them that with any practice one must approach it 100% to learn one’s potential, otherwise one will only reach a fraction of one’s potential. But I could still make a warm up more of a game than a rigorous exercise and dynamic stretching routine.
It’s important to disguise the repetition of a technique to keep it fun and fresh. Otherwise someone could get burnt out and quit, and we say here “winners never quit, and quitters never win.” How can you succeed if you don’t commit? This lesson repeats itself in everything in life, even if it can be hard to remember in the moment. That is a hard lesson to internalize as a child, but if practice can be adjusted to become fresh and new (occasionally focused on a different aspect of the technique) then the necessary repetition is easier to commit to.
Still, just because “quitters never win,” that does not mean that it is just through a half-hearted attempt one succeeds. It takes practice, and continued effort to succeed in anything in life. One must have a compassionate view toward oneself or else one can easily get discouraged through the process of improvement. Sometimes a stern task master of a micro-voice can become dominant in one’s internal self and evolve in a toxic manner. In that form, that aspect of my self can change from that gentle but consistent pressure of a coach to improve to be more torturous. This can lead anyone to give up in those moments, instead of trying to do one’s best.
In fact, I’ve learned that repeatedly throughout my life. I don’t believe I had a natural talent at anything I did. The only advantage I had was a bulldog mentality to keep at it until I was reasonable. This goes from being tone deaf to martial arts to soccer to theater. When I changed my practice in martial arts I had to start over every time. As such, it has taken me much longer to get to a black belt. Not only that, but because I didn’t make my practice consistent I forgot my kata and find that my mother quotes some plays of Shakespeare better than me. This could also have to due with my repeated head injuries. Throughout all of this continued practice and changes in life I needed to work hard and try my best, but still have patience as I learn something new or difficult.
The habits and practices mostly stayed through the years, once they did set in. Rotation is natural, elbows in for a guard is habit, and I always strike with my middle knuckle in a punch. In Krav Maga, we are taught that the way to stop aggressive behavior is to overwhelm it with more aggression. This is not surprising considering the military and law enforcement members who utilize the training. It is also not inaccurate. Still, this has to be balanced with a knowledge of the dangers of legal consequence from defending oneself. Common sense before self defense, and use your words first, feet second, and hands third. It’s always better to avoid a violent conflict if possible rather than have every plan of action perish upon first contact with the enemy.
I’m reading about the impact of living in high danger and high stress environments such as war or an abusive family environment, and can see how immersion in this lifestyle can have deleterious effects on ones’ consciousness. Hallucinations, extreme depression, flashbacks, excessive rage can endanger pets, family, or other loved ones. An interesting thing I discovered was how TBI (traumatic brain injury) and PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) appear to have similar symptoms in the scientific literature. I wonder if repeated training in this manner can lead to that high stress and trauma, albeit in a simulated and reduced manner.
I have to take extra time to calm my thoughts and direct my consciousness toward lovingkindness and gratitude. I perform the same guidance for my students, and make sure to approach our practice from a mindset of overcoming our limits and reaching our goals in life. While we learn that be must react with intensity when we are accosted by a dangerous stranger, we do not treat our fellow students or our friends that same way.
In our program we learn that Together Everyone Achieves More. With that and the importance quality of kindness, one can build teammates and allies who will support you in a time of need. Further, it inspires the same behavior in others in the surrounding environment. Our mirror neurons reflect the behavior we are faced with. The world reflects that which you put out into it, as the phrase goes. By allowing our unified, compassionate inner being to express loving-kindness into the society we find ourselves in we can make our communities in school, government, and the dojo a more supportive environment to grow toward our best selves within.
To this end sparring is a different practice from fighting in the ring or on the streets. One aims for pads if striking the head. Combinations are prescribed to give the defender more of a chance to see the strike coming and practice the blocks. It is gradually that we move toward a more free practice at higher ranks to allow for more creativity in self-defense practice. But the structure of a punch or kick, and the practice of flowing from one strike to another must be refined first.
I find that the focus on character development of our teaching supports the need I have to balance internal training with external. Unfortunately, I also find with such a limited time that we need to spend more time on the external to get the practical elements of martial arts down and keep ourselves safe on the streets. Thankfully, we make sure to have some time set aside to talk about everything from a positive mental image, to self-discipline, to kindness, to courage, and many other traits.