5 Reasons to FULLY Commit to Your Martial Art

Kyuzo Mifune

Kyuzo Mifune Was Fully Committed to Judo

After a long day of teaching, the old master settled into his chair in the corner of the dojo. He felt the weight of a lifetime of training, his joints stiff and a myriad of niggling injuries letting themselves be known as he allowed himself to relax. His uniform was tattered in places and his belt barely clung to his waist, having been tied thousands of times. His face was serene as he watched the younger students throw themselves into the art, full of enthusiasm. A smile crept across his face as he saw one student perform a particularly effective technique and for a moment, he indulged himself in thoughts of his younger days.

In today’s MMA influenced world, a number of new martial artists dabble in different types of arts, picking up a collection of skills that combine to create excellent fighters, capable in lots of areas. The committed martial artist, who has spent their lives in a particular style is quite a rare thing.

Commitment can be a frightening thing. I speak not of commitment to other people, but to a personal path, perhaps a career, a musical instrument, or in the case of this article, a martial art. The benefits of training are numerous, but what of commitment? Devoting oneself to a singular thing means spending the majority of your time with it, studying, practicing, reading and teaching. That time could be spent exploring other things, having fun, socializing, traveling or whatever takes one’s interest. The opportunity cost of commitment is high, but the benefit of committing to a singular path can also be significant.

5. Long Term Friendship

When one moves from style to style, they are likely to make a lot of friends, which is great! Although the point of a martial art is not to make friends, its one of the best side-effects of training and teaching. When someone commits fully to a singular martial art, they end up connecting with others who do the same. With a shared path, sincere friendship blossoms and friends can watch each other develop over time and provide support along the way.

My most sincere friendships have come about because of my personal commitment to a martial art and although I have met a great number of amazing martial artists in my career, it is those who share my path that I connect with most of all. Those friendships I will take with me wherever I go, and they are something that I am greatly thankful for.

4. Transfer of Knowledge & Tradition

When one commits to a martial art, they end up learning a great deal about it. That much is obvious, but often, that dedication leads to teaching roles and the sharing of knowledge. Were it not for the committed martial artists, fully devoted to learning as much as they can about a single thing, the mastery of those arts would be lost and with that loss, the opportunity for new students to benefit.

The martial arts are an ancient, ancient thing. When I think about how long people have been developing martial arts, and how long people have been practicing, I’m amazed. More knowledge has been lost than we can probably fathom, and the more we can preserve for future generations, the more they will benefit. A lot of that depends on the committed martial artist.

3. Influence on Others

Were it not for the few who really push themselves within certain martial arts, progress within that style would be a great deal slower. Sometimes that progress breaks down boundaries between social groups or ethnicities, sometimes it inspires others to want to improve themselves also, or achieve something of significance in their lives, and sometimes, it’s merely that the art itself is pushed into new realms of efficiency and effectiveness. Those benefits can then be shared with others and that influence can only come about when one is fully committed.

As a secondary benefit, one’s teaching becomes better and better when they spend a lot of time doing it. That teaching really helps to influence other students, making their learning easier and more enjoyable.

2. High Proficiency

Bruce Lee famously said that he feared not the man who had practiced a thousand kicks, but the man who had practiced one kick thousands of times. Dedication to a singular art (perhaps throwing or locking systems) means true proficiency in that art. That level of proficiency is an immensely powerful thing. Those who have felt Aikido masters take balance know this, those who have been struck by Karate masters know this, those who have been thrown by Judo masters know this. Perfection of an art is impossible, but only the dedicated ever come close.

1. Depth of Understanding & Appreciation

Perhaps the greatest reason to commit fully to a singular art is the appreciation one develops for that art over the course of their lifetime. Most pursuits have a great deal of depth to them. True appreciation for an art can only take place after learning the basics, delving into the mechanics of technique, solving problems and ascending to higher levels of understanding. The beginner can never understand or appreciate an art in the same way a master does. It requires training and a length of time studying to understand nuance, to notice detail and to appreciate what is actually occurring.

Although I would never say that commitment is the only way to go, it is certainly an attractive path, especially when you’re honest with yourself about your interest. After a time, one’s self defense skills are accounted for, one’s competitive itch may have been scratched, one’s fitness honed. What then? Shallow reasons for training only take someone so far. It is the dedicated practitioner who reaps the deep benefit of a lifetime of training, for both personal and social reasons.

It is my hope that every martial artist can feel firstly that their training has meant personal progression, but has also had some kind of impact on those around them, that they have in some way, either small or big, left the world a better place for their efforts. This, I think, often happens when one commits fully to their martial art.

“A man who has attained master of an art reveals it in his every action”

~ Samurai Maxim

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Why To Create a Personal Martial Manifesto

Where Does Your Path Lead

Where Does Your Path Lead

Although he wasn’t the fastest, or strongest, or most talented of players, he certainly seemed to have the most fun. Session after session, he’d show up, smiling and ready to begin. Sometimes he wouldn’t be able to finish and would rest while the others kept training. Other times he’d sit for the entire class, not quite able to participate. After bowing out, he’d always thank the other students for their time, before heading home to record what he’d learned that day.

He was blind.

When I was a beginner, I loved to fall. There was nothing more exciting within Jiu Jitsu classes than learning how to perform diving rolls, flying through the air and coming back to my feet, smoothly and quickly. Once I started learning more advanced falling, from height, over chairs and around others, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself smiling during those segments of class. Part of me still wants to be a stunt man, and maybe I’ll get to scratch that itch at some point in my life.

As with all things, in time, that changed. These days, I am drawn to the difficulty of live training, the effectiveness and application of technique, the affect that attitude can have on outcome as well as a number of other things. I still love to fall, of course, but my appreciation for the art I practice has deepened a great deal. It’ll change again, likely soon, and I’ll become a different practitioner, and for that reason, I chose recently to begin work on a personal martial manifesto.

A manifesto is a piece of writing designed to convey your thoughts and intentions related to something that matters to you. A martial manifesto explains your attitude toward training, what you want to achieve, what you’re doing to get there and why you think there is validity in your training. It serves not only as a retrospective, but also a signpost, and as an exercise, can help you to develop more complex thought about what you spend your time doing. It doesn’t have to be very long, or very well written. But what it does have to be is honest. You must be as sincere as humanely possible. All real development requires reality.

Self-awareness is one of the most important skills a human being can possess. The ability to put some distance between your mind and your actions, judge those actions as objectively as possible, then return to your life will help you to make wiser decisions, avoid problems, use your time better and be happier with what you have. A martial manifesto helps you to assess your training, for better or worse, and make decisions on what you’re doing. When you look at your training with an honest eye, what do you see?

It could be that you’re driven by competition. It could be that you’re driven by personal development. It could be that you’re driven by the need for self-defense. It could be that you’re driven by making friends. Everyone has different reasons, and they will change over time. Can a blind Judo player win a world championship? Perhaps. Can they show up to a class with the intention of enjoying an activity, participate as much as possible, and get exactly what they’re looking for? Absolutely. No one can tell that person they’re doing it wrong. And no one can tell you that your reasons for training are wrong, that what you enjoy about class is wrong or that you should feel differently.

Your manifesto becomes a testament to your reasons, your unique set of circumstances that cause you to step through the doors of a dojo twice per week. I would argue that you owe it to yourself to think about those reasons. Understanding them just might give you even more reason to enjoy your training.

“Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.”

~ Isaac Asimov

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Let Someone Else Decide

Let Someone Else Decide

Let Someone Else Decide

A smile crept across his lips. The perfect place to sleep! It was near a restaurant, had a heat vent, and seemed sheltered from the rain. It was far enough away from the strip that he wouldn’t get bothered or beaten up. He would be able to hunker down, get comfortable and finally recover. Glorious.

It’d been three days since he last had a real meal, a real sleep or hadn’t felt afraid. Here, he could relax a little bit. He looked up to the night sky and issued a small prayer of thanks, then started to dig through his shopping cart for the blanket he’d found the day before.

As he closed his eyes, the warmth from the vent washing over his unbathed body, his smile persisted. Happy, he fell asleep.

Only a few days ago, I said goodbye to my Jiu Jitsu club, leaving it in the capable hands of a couple senior students. For a while before the change, I wondered what I would do with my time afterward. Improving the club and teaching my students was a huge focus of mine, and my departure means I’ll have more energy for other things. The only question is, what? There were a number of things on my mind, but it would seem the Universe has made my decision for me.

A Question of Direction

Often, we stress about the desires within our lives and the directions we’re moving in. Where do you want to live? What do you want your career to be like? Who do you want your friends to be? What kind of a person do you want to date? What are you even doing with your life? Sometimes, you make those decisions easily, pursue them, perhaps even achieve them, then move onto your next desire.

But what if you’re not sure? What if the questions still linger? What if doubt creeps into your psyche while you’re making life changing decisions? What if you’re not sure what exactly you want? What then?

Letting Go

At that moment, perhaps you can let someone else decide for you. There are always lessons to be learned (from anything), and giving up the sense of control you have can be freeing. Give yourself to your circumstances and see what comes of it.

So for the foreseeable future, I will be investigating Yoga. Today I won an unlimited membership to a local yoga studio, which I’ve been a member of a couple times in the past. Whilst I had originally thought I might pursue something a bit more martial with my new-found time, why shouldn’t I take a look at something that’s been placed into my lap so conveniently?

As much as I espouse taking control of your life and chasing your dreams, letting go of one’s attachments usually has a very positive affect on life. At the end of the day, our dreams and desires for our lives are very much attachments. We carry them around with us and if we’re unable to achieve them, they niggle at us, tell us we’re not doing all we should. But paying attention to what’s around you, and interacting with that, with just that, and making the most of it – this is wisdom. It’s about being thankful for what’s available, not what you desire.

Choose What’s Available

I used to tell my martial arts students that they never get to choose the technique they perform in a combative situation. It’s always chosen by the situation, by the attack that comes their way, by the energy they are given. That’s not to say they shouldn’t try to do the absolute most they can with their opportunities. They, of course, should execute the appropriate response to the best of their ability, but what they cannot do, is predict, anticipate and prepare for something completely unexpected. One can only react.

As it is in martial art, it is in life. Some things we can prepare for, some we can’t. Being unsure of your path is one such instance. However, When you take stock of your current situation, whatever it may be, and react to the best of your ability, you’re more likely to succeed, more likely to be thankful for what you have, and more likely to be happy. And really, isn’t that the point?

So let go of your thoughts, your attachments, open your eyes and see what’s on the menu.

“Your big opportunity may be right where you are now.”

~ Napoleon Hill

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Channeling Archetypes

A Classic Archetype

A Classic Archetype

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

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Iaido: Living Under the Sword

Sunlight dashed across the field as the day came into being. The two warriors sitting quietly slowly opened their eyes, flexed their fingers, and then drew their focus upon each other. It was completely silent, not even a small breeze to rustle the fall leaves on the ground, or softly whistle in the ear of either Samurai. They were alone and had agreed upon a period of meditation before sunrise, and their duel.

They slowly walked toward each other, then drew their katana. Standing ready, they inched their feet forward until just out of range, then dropped into stance. Their bodies relaxed, their minds still, they began to wait, each knowing they would have only a millisecond to react, strike and win. With eyes like hawks, they immersed themselves in the moment.

One Samurai noticed a drop in concentration from the other and pushed forward to strike. He pulled his sword back and drove to carve his opponent from neck to navel. But it was a baiting strategy. His opponent darted beneath his arms, quick as a flash and drove the handle of his sword toward the face. He followed it with a cut across the neck, and the duel was over.

Sensei Ardestani

Sensei Ardestani

This past Sunday, I was lucky enough to attend an Iaido seminar taught by Farshad Ardestani, who is currently a Sandan (3rd Degree Black Belt) in the Musō Jikiden Eishin-ryū style of Iaido.

Although all of the students at the seminar had a chance to murder pool noodles with swords, which is just as much fun as it sounds, as well as practice a number of cuts, it was the philosophical lessons that I took the most from. With only three hours to practice, it would be quite difficult to develop any real skill, but the words used to describe this particular martial art will stick with me for some time.

Sensei Ardestani explained one aspect of Iaido as “living under the sword.” The reason is quite simple; when someone raises their sword to strike, if you evade, by backing away or dodging to the side, then you give them the opportunity to strike once more. However, if they move to strike, there is one place you are guaranteed to be safe, and that is beneath the sword, or more specifically, beneath the arms that hold it. In this space, there is no room to bring the sword down to hit you. The techniques we looked at used this concept, by either deflecting a sword strike, or redirecting it such that the defendant ends up in a position away from harm and able to strike back.

We were also told of the way in which many traditional Budo (Japanese Martial Arts), are not so much about self-defense, but self-development. Iaido requires you to be focused, completely, for long periods of time. There is so much one could say about this topic, about the different ways that practicing Iaido can benefit your life, but on this particular day it was the expression “live under the sword” that resonated with me.

When we have a problem in life, our instinct is often to run away. We dodge by ignoring the problem, by escaping from it, by backing away and thinking that we can out-smart it, or try again another time, or get some help from someone else. But, perhaps avoiding problems isn’t so smart. Perhaps it is better to “live beneath the sword” when it comes to confronting our problems. When something arises in your life that could hurt you in some way, perhaps moving close, close enough to smell its breath, to stare it in the eyes, to listen to its heartbeat is a better way to go. From this range, you are distanced from its blade and can knock it off balance, strike back, then move on.

Living under the sword does not mean to go looking for trouble, or to engage with problems with force or anger. It simply means to acknowledge the presence of a threat, and move to the best possible space to deal with it. It requires courage – you have to move toward that which will harm you! It requires precision, as an inch or two in the wrong direction could leave you dead, and it requires speed, as you must move before you’re hit. Practicing engaging with problems in this way will have its own reward, in a number of ways, beyond simple avoidance of discomfort.

As per usual, exposure to an alternate martial art has given me pause for thought. It is in these moments that I am truly grateful for the opportunities that come my way within the world of the martial arts. It is in these moments that I realize how similar most martial arts really are, not just in technique but in philosophy. I can see the true application of Iaido and walk away from this seminar with a great appreciation for the benefit of this particular traditional art and some inspiration to seek out more lessons.

“Under the sword lifted high, There is hell making you tremble. But go ahead, And you have the land of bliss.”

~ Miyamoto Mushashi

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Why Getting Hit Ain’t So Bad

Occasionally, Getting Hit Ain't So Bad

Occasionally, Getting Hit Ain’t So Bad

With a sharp inhalation of breath, he reeled from the punch. Turning away from his opponent, his knees began to falter, then drop away completely. His arms, only a few milliseconds ago deft and accurate, were suddenly powerless, following his shoulders as they began their descent, just after his hips.

He hit the ground with a slump, swinging forward then backward and ending up flat on his spine, unconscious and utterly defeated. His opponent looked away and lifted both hands into the sky, victorious.

There are many ways that we get “hit” in training and in life. Often, it’s as tangible as the story above. You’re training, trying to improve, doing the best you can, and someone just rocks you. Either with throw, kick or punch, they win, you lose. End of story. In life, it can be a lost job, a lost love, a mistake, a criticism, the failure of a test, being ignored – anything that hurts, really. Emotional hits aren’t often as obvious as the physical, but they cut just as deep and sometimes take far longer to recover from. Whether the last time you got hit was physical or emotional, the best thing you can do is learn from it, become stronger (in some way) and move onward.

I recall not too long ago, sitting in my apartment, having been “hit” by the sudden and unexpected loss of my job. I’ll never know what the true reasons for that loss were, but at the time, I was thinking that I had obviously done something wrong, that I’d approached things in the wrong way, that I’d misread the situation. However – that’s perhaps only true in a small way. There are always multiple sides to every story, and to try and think we can understand them all is a little arrogant. Sometimes it’s that the guy you’re fighting is better. Sometimes it’s because they’re bigger. Sometimes it’s because it’s not a fair fight. Whatever the reasons are, you get hit, you go down, and you try to get back up.

Now, what counts is what you learn from the hit. The nice thing about getting hit, in whatever way it happens, is that you’re fully aware of how much it sucks. You can’t say it didn’t happen. You can’t shy away from the failure, from the reality of your pain. It’s there. It’s now. It’s happening to you right now. That, my friend, is a powerful thing. Because when you can’t ignore something, you have to deal with it. Getting hit is like an alarm clock going off, bringing you back to reality, back to the present moment, in which you are getting hit.

And at that point, you have a choice. You can either learn from the experience, figure out why it happened, and take steps toward not letting it happen again, or you can ignore it, recover slightly, then get hit again, likely in the exact same fashion, perhaps even by the same person. What are you going to do about it? Do you want it to happen again? How can you move forward such that this lesson is now learned? That is your choice, and getting hit puts it right in front of you and yells at you; “choose!”

It’s especially impossible to try and control everything in your life. There’s no way to insulate yourself from loss or pain. There’s no way to guarantee a smooth ride and an easy finish. Sometimes, you get hit. That’s just the way it is. But what you can do is react to the hits that come your way. You can change such that the next time something similar happens, you can dodge the hit, you can block it, you can use it; anything except getting hit again.

And because getting hit gives you that opportunity, it’s not so bad, right?

“This is your pain. This is your burning hand. It’s right here. Look at it.”

~ Tyler Durden

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The Process of Progress

The Process of Progress

The Process of Progress

Her foot flew through the air, toward a small hand-held target, held three feet above her head. A loud “thwack” echoed throughout the Dojang. She landed lightly, a smile creeping across her lips. Her instructor, who was holding the target smiled back at her; an almost perfect jumping crescent kick.

It had taken her some time to build the skill to perform the kick. A few months ago, this beginner student had walked into the school, looking for a place to get stronger, more agile, more confident. She’d noticed someone performing the kick in her first class and had dedicated herself to achieving it since that day. It was slow at first, she’d finally made progress.

Human beings are impatient. I’m not sure if it’s a result of living lives filled with convenience, or whether it’s some kind of deep-set evolutionary need to do things as quickly as possible, but either way, when we want something, we usually want it yesterday. In most cases, it’s this need for instant gratification that stops people from reaching their goals – they don’t have the patience to get through the rough parts. In fact, most of the time, if someone ceases to notice their own constant improvement, they’re more likely to give up attempting to achieve their goals. While that is in no way a rule, it’s unfortunately the case for a lot of people.

But constant improvement is never possible. There will always be plateaus, frustrating periods where nothing seems to happen. It is in these moments that people get discouraged, and they perhaps decide to take a break, or they put less effort in while they’re working. It often doesn’t take too long before that person hasn’t actively tried in weeks. Those weeks turn to months, and that goal, or that idea turns from something you could imagine into something related to a past interest, a forgotten hobby.

The process of progress is never about constant improvement. It’s about realization of improvement at key points in time. It’s the moment where you can do a kick that you couldn’t before, when you can move into a yoga pose that was previously impossible, when you start winning a few more matches than you lose each session, when you get an email from someone important, or when you suddenly notice that you feel better than you ever have before.

It’s something that weight lifters will often face. After building large amounts of strength in a relatively short period of time when they begin, it’s never too long before they reach a plateau, and don’t improve for a while. But if they stick to their training regimes, they’re still building strength, their bodies are still growing and they are improving; it’s just not as noticeable anymore.

In the Martial Arts, I often go through cycles where I feel as though I’m really, just not very good. The reality is that I’ve gotten no worse than I was, but I haven’t noticed an improvement for a while. It means that the positive reinforcement is in the works; it’s coming but it’s not here just yet. In those moments, the best thing you can do is keep training, keep looking for ways to improve, for the next habit you can build or break that will help push you in the right direction.

The process of progress occurs largely without us seeing it. Unlike video games, there are no experience bars in life. You can’t tell exactly how much effort you have to put in, or exactly how long it’s going to take you to improve. All you know is that if you keep trying, you will, eventually, improve. It may take you three days, it may take you three years. The process is occurring, but you can’t see it.

One key to improving yourself, in any way you’d like, is to try and forget about positive reinforcement. Focus on the process, not the progress, and the progress will take care of itself. Sooner or later, you’ll have one of those moments, where you can connect the dots, where you notice the improvement; where it all makes sense.

Then you begin again.

“All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem.”

~ Martin Luther King, Jr

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Find Awareness, Find Direction

Find Awareness

Find Awareness

I watched him as he slowly turned around and walked deliberately into the bathroom. I moved toward the front door in case he came running out with a sword again. But he only emerged with his mug. He filled it with water, smiled at me, held the water up as if to toast me, and drank it slowly.

“Well?” I said.

“That’s it.”

“That’s what? You didn’t do a thing.”

“Ah, but I did. You just don’t have the eyes to appreciate my feat. I was feeling a slight toxicity in my kidneys; in a few days, it might have begun to affect my entire body. So before any symptoms could arise, I located the problem and flushed out my kidneys.”

This passage, taken from Dan Millman’s The Way of the Peaceful Warrior illustrates something that really helps one’s development in both the martial arts and in life; that you must have awareness of your surroundings to maximize your enjoyment. Those surroundings can be the area in which you find yourself or your body. Finding awareness of these spaces allows you to make decisions that improve your situation, either by preventing something from getting worse, or focusing on something that’s positive.

In a fight, your awareness will likely determine how successful you are. There are many things to consider, but a short list would be your opponent’s position relative to you, your current mental state, if there are any other people involved, if there are any weapons, what injuries you’re carrying, what kind of attacks are coming your way and what the area you’re standing in looks like. Really though, the variables are infinite. Only by processing the data you’re given can you choose appropriate attacks. It is for this reason that I often tell my students that they do not get to choose the technique, but the technique is chosen for them by the actions of their assailant, and what makes the most sense.

Awareness requires an attentive ear (and every other sense). Only by listening can you hear what’s going on. Only by hearing what’s going on can you make informed decisions. Only by making informed decisions can you give yourself the best foot forward.

As one goes about their daily life, there are so many communications coming our way that it can be very difficult to stop and listen to the space we inhabit. For example, when you’re busy keeping up with work, and your friends, your family, catching up on your shows, staying informed and spending time on your hobbies, you leave yourself very little time to listen to what the world is telling you. I don’t mean to imply you must meditate for hours at a time to become aware, but I would suggest that you often take a moment to think about your place in the universe and how you feel about it. Or try and “tune-in” to what’s actually going on around you. Get out of selfish thought and see your situation with a more critical eye.

This can be as simple as realizing you’re hungry and finding something to eat. Or it could be paying attention to an injury and taking some time to heal. It could also be more complicated, like realizing that your career is not what you think it is and that you require a life change. By listening to these messages and then taking action, it’s possible to affect real change that improves your life. By ignoring these messages, you will stagnate or worse, degrade.

Whenever you make a positive improvement, your awareness has done its job. You listened, took action, and cultivated a result. So, the more awareness you can find in your day to day life and in your training, the more direction you can find also. While awareness does not necessarily lead to correct decision, it certainly allows you to extrapolate some possibilities and then decide on a course of action that will move you forward, one way or another.

So my suggestion would be to stop every now and then and listen. What state is your mind in? What state is your body in? What do you need? What do you want? Pay mind to your feelings, to the messages that are coming from within, rather than from external sources. And at the same time, pay mind to what is outside your body, outside your thought. What are you being told? They will help you to figure out what is right for you, not for anyone else, but for you. And perhaps one day, your awareness will be so great that you’re fully able to sense the imbalances in your body and adjust before they ever affect your life.

“Buddha means awareness, the awareness of body and mind that prevents evil from arising in either.”

~ Bodhidharma

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Feed The Right Wolf

Feed The Right Wolf

Feed The Right Wolf

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

This legend, for me, also applies to the duality in training. The first wolf seems focused on external validation, on events and achievements and comparison to others. The second wolf focuses on intrinsic reward, on self development and the betterment of the group. There are many reasons for training in the Martial Arts, but at a very core level, we are always making a choice in terms of how we see our involvement. At any moment, do you believe that your martial wolf is one of status, of achieving defeat over others, or do you believe the beast you interact with exudes a warmer kind of love, that builds you up and makes you smile.

When your concentration is on defeating opponents, when your anger drives you, when you need to be the best, you’re feeding that first wolf. When you instead focus on being the best that you can be, on giving yourself time and on trying to bring the best out in others around you, the second wolf is made stronger.

Sitting down to write this post, I sincerely thought I would be telling you to think about that second wolf, on why it’s so important to bring your gaze inward, and work on acceptance, rather than ascendency. But, my truth is that you need both to be a good martial artist, that you need both to succeed in life.

Both of these animals have their place in the order of things, and without a sense of balance, you will stumble. A soft soul, preoccupied with peace is often taken advantage of, walked upon, made to be a victim as stronger forces sweep it away. A cold and hard approach can forget the more gentile aspects of existence. Instead of either exclusively, be flexible, adaptable, ready to call on the right wolf at the right time. You must be at peace with both of these animals, with your yin and your yang, your masculine and your feminine aspects.

If you feed one wolf too much, as the old Cherokee says, it will win the fight. The other will die. But you need both. Keep them both fed, keep them both in fighting shape, and you stand to benefit from their best characteristics.

“Attraction and repulsion, reason and energy, love and hate, are necessary to human existence.”

~ William Blake

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What’s Your Super Power?

What's Your Super Power?

What’s Your Super Power?

It’s rough being normal. You’re just like everyone else. Your flaws are just a little too familiar to be interesting, your interests are pretty standard flair for someone of your age, and likely, you’re not doing as much with your life as you think you could be doing. What makes it worse is that so many people think they’re really important. Maybe they run a big company, or have ten children, or have written a best selling book, or are just plain arrogant. So the normal person goes through life, and feels as though they should probably be a little better than they actually are. I mean, if all these other people are so important, then surely, I should be that important too, right?

But here’s the thing. You’re better than you think you are. You’re not normal in the slightest, only in as much as everyone is bloody amazing. Truth is, you’re a hero.You’re an inspiration. You’re everything someone else wants to be, and more. I’ll say it again; you’re better than you think you are.

Human beings have used stories to inspire each other for thousands of years, and the chances are good that we’ll continue to do so for as long as we’re alive. Stories provide a vehicle to demonstrate values and share positivity, to show meaning and teach lessons. Humans love a good story and we love to make things sound grandiose. Hence, the superhero. They provide for us an exaggerated version of our own powers, our own greatest strengths, our own characteristics. It is in those characteristics that you’ll find just how amazing you really are. Superheroes couldn’t exist, if we didn’t identify with them, if we didn’t feel that there’s a bit of us in each of them.

Batman shows discipline. So do you.

Superman shows responsibility. So do you.

Spiderman shows tenacity. So do you.

Wolverine always gets up. So do you.

Superheroes are never all that interesting because of their powers. They’re interesting because of what their powers allow them to show to the world, because of what their powers bring out of them – their natural characteristics, exaggerated to make a point about human beings – of just what we’re capable of being, of what we are.

And really, we’re amazing. You have a super-power. You have something special. A winning characteristic, that, were you a character in a comic book or a movie, would be the critical element in your story, would be the lynchpin of your triumph, would make others look up and say “I want to be like that.”

The question is not what super hero you’d like to emulate. The question is what kind of a super power you already possess – what is your characteristic? What is your greatest strength? What is your super power?

Go use it.

“Most of the shadows of this life are caused by standing in one’s own sunshine.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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