Does the idea of martial arts being a path to some kind of inner peace seem a kind of contradiction in terms to you? After all surely its just beating people up right? Well first of all lets just think for a few moments about what we believe inner peace to actually mean. Well, it suggests some kind of internal calm. Towards what though. Does this mean a perpetual calmness, or does it refer to an ability to find calm, maybe from a starting point of potential chaos.
So lets start at the starting point. Well each persons experience of the life experience is entirely a personal one. We find in life those who share a common ground with us, and also those who are just way off our page, who we just dont get, though essentially we all have our own individual view upon all that we find ourselves looking at. An analogy that i have always liked is 10 chairs in a room all pointed toward a chandelier. Same chandelier right? though sit in any other chair except your own and the light reflects differently, so you are now seeing the view differently, and with new information. Well anything in your life is the same. If we all thought the same way conversation would be pointless. You would already know the others reply without needing to ask for it. So thats the beauty of it all. Talents, gifts, viewpoints, though also issues self doughts, we are all unique, shaped by our very stories themselves, good and bad, like the drifting iceberg, shaped by the very wind and sea around it.
Though we also have common ground, that which connects us. Our very humanity itself. The ability to love, be compassionate, to feel loyalty, to be touched by our very lives, and the lives of others. We should celebrate our differences and our connections, as this is what makes us, us. Though perhaps always with one purpose. To grow, to learn, to have a story that when the end is near, we are proud is our story.
So back to the inner peace bit. Well one of the gifts of our humanity that connects us all is the kaleidoscope of emotions thet we go through, sometimes in a single day. Here i have a question. Is emotion something that we are or something that we feel. If you are steering a ship through a storm, are we the storm, or are we in a storm? Is it possible to be physically thrown around and battered by a hurricane, yet internally, the tea cups are still on the shelves, and not a thing is out of place? Well this is something that the Japanese martial arts set out to answer.
Last night i took my Wednesday night class thorough the basic syllabus of streetfighting techniques. Some of those techniques were written to hit the nose, the groin, to damage the knee of your attacker. Though by the end of the class everyone had a great lesson. Felt uplifted by the challenge, the endorphins were pumping after the hours physicality. Confidence was high and all were clearly uplifted. Yet not a nose was hit, no groins were struck and no knees damaged. There was no violence in that room last night, only considered controlled skill developing study of combat scenarios. so what makes one punch in the street a violent one, and one in a controlled dojo one of self development. The intention behind it. No one punches anyone with anger in a self development dojo, though thousands of punches are thrown every month. So were the class working with violence, or wwere they learning to be martial artists?
So back to the inner peace bit. One thing that connects us is how powerfully overwhelming our emotions can be. Think about people rubber necking after a motorway accident. Its the worst thing to do and causes more accidents, though our emotional reaction to chaos can draw us in. When really we should be keeping our eyes on the road ahead, though powerful emotion can cause us to freeze in time when actually action is required for our own good. Well this is where training comes in. I saw some you tube footage of somebody fall in the street the other day and most people froze and raised there hands to their faces, though one person ran over and immediately helped. Did this person react quicker because they dont feel the emotion of those who froze? Our was it in fact emotion, more to the point compassion, that caused this person to want to react immediately in the first place? Maybe they were a trained paramedic. Or care worker. Or maybe a martial arts student. You see to be challenged helps us to learn to deal with challenge, despite our emotional response. You see ive found that those who genuinely wish to help others do so because they are caring emotional people. Though training and experience tells them that they are no good to themselves, or others if they fall apart in emotional situations. To not act when action is required is a bad reaction. Though lets first be compassionate with ourselves here. This is a process that experience tells me we never completely crack. Like going to the gym i find that to stay sharp you need to go regularly. Therefore challenge is the same. To grow our confidence we must challenge our self dought, and when we overcome, self belief comes forward.
So back to the inner peace and martial arts bit. The right dojo will challenge you, Because thats what you need to be able. Test your calmness under pressure. I have one student in particular who is new though already has a mindset of calmness under pressure, though he knows nothing about street combat. Yet. So the mindset is something that this student has developed elsewhere through the journey of his life, and it transfers in to martial study, which deals with potential, life effecting or threatening scenario. So then, does that mean that a martial arts developed, calmness under fire mindset, transfers out of the dojo, and can be applied elsewhere. Though dont be confused. We are not talking about not feeling emotion, or numbing our selves in any way. If you are sailing through a storm, all the training in the world cant make the storm go away. What training can do though is teach the captain to keep their hands on the wheel, to study the maps, the horizon, to look for direction from the stars, to navigate a safe path through the chaos. We still feel the reality of the waves above the bough, though we dont drown in our own emotional chaos. The mind can be placed in to a calmer place.
So Japanese martial arts study does not make you a more violent person. Though it will give you the tools to deal with a violent person, with decisive action, though because of compassion and love for your own life, not because of a hatred, or destructive aggression toward it or others. Though beyond this, when you learn to stand in a black belt grading, sweat dripping from everywhere, its not violence that drives you forward, its self determination, shaped through all of the previous gradings/tests/lessons/life experiences. To achieve despite the adversity, to develop BECAUSE of the the adversity and friction. You can learn to dance with your very own self dought, almost to make it a friend of your. A nemesis that becomes your dance partner. This is the calmness and inner peace that the martial arts that i know refers too. A good martial art doesent add chaos to your life, it helps you to deal with the chaos that life inevitably brings. We can all be chilled on a beach in the sun with a cocktail in hand. Though can we learn to find stillness in a storm, with a sinking boat, and 40 foot waves. Thats the task. Because if theirs one thing that ive leaned in my 40 years so far. Life has many seasons. Filled with all that those seasons can throw at us. And if we are lucky, we will be around to see them all. There is even beauty in a raincloud if you look. So good luck. And navigate well. Read the maps. Look to the stars. And most of all, experience the story that is your life.