Monday, August 19, 2013

I'm Afraid Not

Yesterday my 11 year old son, George, asked me "What are you afraid of?"  Interesting question.  He told me he was afraid of snakes, spiders, ghosts, bears and some others things that 11 year olds typically think about.  Me?  Well, as a martial artist, I am taught not to be afraid of, well, ANYTHING, right?

Our training helps us experience and cope with stress, unexpectedness, pain, fatigue, and other contributors to fear.  We develop confidence, which can alleviate fear of meeting new people, fear of not being accepted and having self-doubt.  We also learn goal-setting and achievement, which helps us in managing some of the intangible fears such as a fear of failure or fear of the future.  As teachers, we learn how to deliver good classes, which overcomes our fear of speaking in public and of leading others.  We deal with fear all the time and using the dojo as our laboratory we can constantly polish our responses.

Study of human conflict reveals that most of it come from fear on the part of aggressors which leads to violence.  Surprisingly, it is most often the attacker who is the MOST AFRAID.  Inability to cope with fear and stress triggers an uncontrollable emotional response that often results in violence toward others or toward oneself.  The kind of training we get in the dojo helps us manage our stress and fear and overcome the desire to react in violent ways in our daily lives.  

I became a martial artist partly because I needed to explore my fear of death, the fact of which led me away from Christianity to seek something personally more useful.  The zen teachings of early sword masters promised tranquility and the ability to transcend these fears (I firstly read "Hagakure" by Yamamoto Tsunetomo as a starting source material).

Overall, our martial arts experience is not designed to help us live a life without fear, but rather to live a life without ever being held hostage by fear.  We recognize fear/stress exist and always will, and apply our training to help us cope with it and do what we need to do regardless of the presence of fear.  This is expressed in zen as "manifesting right action in the right moment."

Sometimes people ask me if I have ever used my martial arts training.  I always answer "I use it EVERY SINGLE DAY".  Then they usually say, "no, but I mean REALLY  use it?" With all seriousness, what other real use could martial arts have except overcoming fear and freeing us to live the life we want to live??

Because of my training, I have been able to have the life I wanted to have.  I have beaten the odds against me every step of the way and continue to do so.  I have not been afraid to challenge my limits and exceed them.  I have not been afraid to engage people and learn from them.  I have not been afraid to explore new territory outside my comfort zones and develop the new skills and knowledge required to adapt my career as needed.  I have not been afraid to commit myself to having the kinds of loving relationships that would sustain me throughout my life.  I have not been afraid to forgive those who wronged me so I can let go and move on without emotional baggage.  I have not been afraid to accept the reality of WHAT IS, nor to embrace the possibility of WHAT CAN BE.

At the end of it all, I am afraid of something bad happening to my family, close friends, or my dogs - that they would get sick or be injured.  I don't particularly have any fear of dying myself and I think I have had a good life already.  I don't wish for death, but instead I feel well satisfied in my accomplishments so far.  If I died today, there would not be much left unsaid or undone in my life.  If I don't, there will be plenty to do to keep me busy.  I vow not to be so afraid of dying that I become afraid of living.  The ultimate goal of martial arts is to have as full and rich a life experience as is humanly possible.  This requires overcoming fear.

I'm afraid not?  No, I 'M NOT AFRAID.


1 comment:

Keith Nielsen said...

Great post mate.

Some strong parallels (as there often are for people who pursue MA), where mine in hind-sight was driven out of a need to gain some control over events that seemed to be out of my control. Then as you learn more along the Martial path you start to accept that everything is always going to be out of your control, except how you react.
In this universe, you really have no control but yourself, and that can be enough.