I will qualify this blog post by saying that this is just my opinion and I am probably telling you all something you already know…but reminders are nice once in a while.
Anyway, while driving home tonight I was thinking about one of the slogans in the martial arts “industry”… that training helps you become ‘stress free’. I got to thinking about it and I realized that that really does not fit with the paradigm I have. Because, let me tell you something, my friends…if you are truly STRESS FREE…you are DEAD!
STRESS is a part of LIFE! Therefore if you are still a functioning, breathing bipedal, hominid of the human species…you are going to have stress in your life…period. A generic definition of stress is anything in our lives that causes conflict or tension. With that said, just as there are degrees of heat on the thermometer there are degrees of stress. Even at a single degree above absolute zero there is heat…thus even the most relaxed, easy going person has stress. To one degree or another ALL of us experience conflict or tension in our lives in some way, shape or form. So the issue is not about living stress free. Based on what I said before…’Stress free’ is an oxymoron. The issue, then, is about MANAGING our stress level. Furthermore, I would venture to say that it is about CREATIVELY managing our stress level.
Let’s look at this through the lens of self defense. When an attacker invades our personal space to do us physical harm with malicious intent we find ourselves in a situation demanding a response. Therefore, it is not what happens to us that matters…it is what we DO about it that is important because that determines the outcome. Through the martial arts we are taught a variety of things to DO to manage this conflict, tension or stress we are in, if this happens. With respect to our system of Kenpo, I think it can be said that the self defense techniques we teach are creative. Do we need to know 25 different ways to defend against a right punch? Maybe not, but you have to admit that all of the ways we teach present some interesting concepts that deal with that particular threat. That part is obvious. But we do not live in a society where we are in need of being able to defend our life at a moment’s notice on a daily basis. Therefore, training in the martial arts has to become more than just learning how to efficiently dispatch a physical threat; otherwise, why train?
Well, keeping the lens of self defense in focus I would like to take a look at some other things that present us with varying degrees of conflict or tension…stress. Some of these might be familiar…
Anger, depression, obesity, bullying, negative self talk, poor self esteem, addiction (in ALL its forms), marriage, parenting, school, career, family, guilt and shame of the past, poverty, hunger, homelessness, lack of or poor education, negative self image, getting older, life stages, spirituality, child abuse, violence towards women, greed, gluttony and the rest of the seven deadly sins…I mean the list could go on and on.
My point is this, in our culture, today, these are the predators we need to defend against. Notice how, in that list, there were some that are positive among the negative. Even the good things in our life bring a certain level of stress that needs to be managed.
So how is training in the martial arts going to help with these kinds of “attackers”. Well, there is no definitive response because that is unique to the practitioner. Let’s take obesity as an example, though. In America we are the most overfed but undernourished culture on the planet. There is a McDonald’s on every corner catering to our hurry up and get it done lifestyle. Well, anyone who has ever donned a gi and stepped onto the mat knows that the rigors of training demand a response. The student now has a choice to make. Make some lifestyle changes to accommodate the training or maintain the status quo. One choice leads to some very beneficial results and the other …well, nothing was done, so nothing happenes. The first choice was made with a proactive mentality in the effort to defend against an unhealthy lifestyle resulting in a shortened life span. The other was made reactively because the price required was more than was willing to be paid. The first student realized that the journey was going to be tough but the effort would be worth it in the end. The second realized it that the journey was going to be tough but didn’t want to work that hard in the first place. The first ends up in better physical shape and likely makes it to Black Belt. The second makes no appreciable physical gains and likely quits.
This is just one example and the constellation of circumstances, in reality, are far more complicated that the scenario I just put forth. The point is that tension, stress and conflict are everywhere in our life. It is not about freeing our self from stress but managing it in a way that brings us the maximum amount of happiness and success.
I could go on and on with examples ad nauseum. Even martial arts training, itself, is a stress! Whoa…didn’t see that one coming? Sure. There is the stress of coming to class, the stress of the workout, the stress of learning the material and oh my God, the stress of preparing for rank testing! Well, as I said…it is about creative management. A quote from Andy Rooney comes to mind…So many people want to live on top of the mountain, but all the joy and happiness comes from climbing to the top.
So, how are we going to manage our busy schedule to get the classes in and learn the material? How are we going to manage our fitness to accommodate the rigors of training? How are we going to manage our fear of performing in front of others when it is time to test? The answers to these questions are unique to the student, but, remember, the training puts you in a situation that demands a response…
…and the response determines the outcome.
See you in class…Mr. Burt