A crowd of 700 students stood quietly in front of him, listening intently. Moments ago, he had been waiting nervously for his segment to begin, and now it was here. Students had come from all over the country, and he had been told just this morning that he would have to fill in for someone who couldn’t make it. The pressure had seemed insurmountable, but here he was, teaching, joking and succeeding, with 700 students hanging on his words.
Thinking of all the great teachers he’d learned from, he thought not of what could go wrong, but of what could go right. Teaching from a more confident place than he’d ever been, he surprised himself with his words and action. In those minutes, he succeeding in everything he’d hoped for and the students watching left the mat smiling and motivated.
One of the nice things about martial arts is that there’s always somewhere to go, something new to learn and something to improve upon. I like to think of it as there always being an “upgrade” just out of reach, and through diligence, thoughtfulness and consistency, it gets close enough to grab and make your own. Then you begin to look for the next step, where you go from there and once again, it’s just out of reach, until you put the work in and make it happen.
But occasionally, you’re called upon to be better than you think you are. In my example above, it was a teaching opportunity, but it can also be at a competition, a demonstration, a belt test or something more dangerous, more real, like a mugging. Although it’s not guaranteed, those instances provide one with greater motivation and power than is normally possible. The situation pushes someone to another level entirely.
Although one might have thought they weren’t capable of doing something spectacular, they often are, and at the point in time, where they are doing that spectacular thing, I like to think they are channeling an archetype. Archetypes are widely understood, evoke certain feelings, expectations and involve a certain set of behaviors that demonstrate a principle or an idea. So for the martial arts point of view, the archetype allows someone to “dial in” to a greater idea of performance or ability, for a short period of time, and allow that archetype to lift them up.
This happens all the time. When someone is brave, they are channeling an archetype. When someone makes a sacrifice, they are channeling an archetype. When someone decides to ignore the pain and keep running, they are channeling an archetype. It’s not that the power to take these actions doesn’t exist within those people and they need help to achieve it, it’s just that the archetype allows them to visualize the benefit of their desired action and act it out.
One of the reasons I really like stories is that so many of the characters we end up loving embody the greater aspects of the human being. I see this almost constantly on the martial arts mat, when someone grits their teeth and gets on with it, when they get hurt and get up anyway, when they are obviously tired but keep going. It’s almost as if there are these smaller scale battles that we, as regular people, have to fight, but they’re similar to the ones our heroes face. Where they must be courageous, so must we, although we don’t have to fight off hordes of Orcs, and instead must face something we perhaps think will be challenging and perhaps dangerous. Like a belt test, or a new challenge.
It may be just me and my particular approach to the world that makes me think in these terms, but the idea of striving to be something bigger and better is common in a great deal of people. Archetypes allow me to see the type of person I wish to embody, and although it is entirely impossible to actually become one, every time I’m able to channel that archetype and be bigger or better than normal, I’m one step closer to that next level.
“As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being.”
~ Carl Jung