If you have ever trained in the martial arts, undoubtedly you recognize that there are far more benefits to training than simply learning to fight or acquiring self-defense skills. Many people enjoy the health benefits associated with martial arts training such as cardio improvement and weight loss. Other practitioners enjoy the camaraderie that comes along with belonging to a dojo or a proud lineage of a specific martial art. These are all benefits, but the list is not exhaustive. Today, the benefits of martial arts are becoming more apparent as we navigate the turbulent waters of life at our present stage in history.
Admittedly, I am a zealot when it comes to martial arts. Specifically, I am a perpetual student of Kyokushin Karate, and I also delve into the earlier disciplines that served as a foundation for this art, specifically Goju Ryu Karate. The way I was trained is anathema to what you would encounter in most modern schools. My instructors believed that lessons were best learned when they were felt. Training was severe, and those of us who would eventually earn our Black Belts under our beloved teacher would number in the tens, not hundreds, and definitely not thousands. Injuries were common, and routine training sessions were physically exhausting. Why would a person intentionally subject themselves to such harsh conditions? The challenge of overcoming hardship is a common answer, and it explains why some people choose to become elite soldiers in the military. Aside from the pride of accomplishing goals associated with a challenge, though, are benefits that far outweigh physical fitness and self improvement.
Today, we are facing hardship. We all are having to learn, and unlearn, modes of behavior that are commonplace to us. Terms such as social distancing and flattening the curve are now part of our lexicon. New modes of social interaction are quickly becoming the norm. These new social realities have been born because of an illness that is still meandering around the globe.
Hardship is a fact of life. No matter if times from a broad perspective are good or bad, we will all experience periods in our lives that are challenging, frightening, and painful. I watch my son daily struggle with the fact that he cannot physically see his friends from school due to something that he does not fully understand. I do not go out a lot, but the places that I do frequent are closed due to shelter in place orders that are meant to stem the tide of the virus to the greatest extent possible.
The hardships that I endured during the years of my training in Kyokushin prepared me for what I am going through now with all of you. By experiencing discomfort that seemed like it would not subside, my mind and body were forged into the person I am today. I recognize that what we are experiencing is painful. It is disconcerting. It is monotonous. There is an element of the unknown surrounding our daily existence. What is interesting about this though is that all of these feelings I experienced at one time or another during my journey through the ranks until I achieved my Black Belt, and I am not immune to them now. I just learned how to manage and overcome them.
We are also being forced to relearn what many from past generations recognized as a virtue, and that human characteristic is patience. We live in a society that places a heavy emphasis on instant gratification. Whatever you want, whether it is a cup of coffee or a four course meal, there is an outlet in the sphere of American commerce that can meet your desires at any moment. Over time, that has eroded the patience of the average American, and we are now witnessing the devastating effects of instant gratification. People are bored and have no idea how to entertain themselves at home with their families. Skills that have gone by the wayside such as cooking a meal are now having to be relearned in short order so that basic needs may be met. Children, attached to an electronic leash, now have no other outlets in which to quench their thirst for curiosity or physical activity. What once was a habit is now a cage.
Training in hard styles such as Kyokushin teach you how to deal with and circumnavigate discomfort, pain, and instant gratification. You will get hurt. You will experience discomfort. You will face your fears. You will not have your desires met based on your whims, because you will be taught humility, respect, and total obedience to those who have earned their rightful place in the art. It took me seven years to earn my Black Belt. I often thought there was something wrong with me. Looking back, I now realize that what my instructor was doing was forging me into what this art demands that I become. Most importantly, he was preparing me for what many of us are facing today.
I tend to be optimistic about the end result of what we are all experiencing right now. I am not focusing at all on political issues related to this, because at the end of the day that won’t matter. That ship has sailed. What I counsel my students to focus on are two things. First, focus on becoming the best version of you that is possible. That will entail change, effort, and facing your fears. Second, use this time to your advantage. Many of you are facing long periods at home. You may have lost your job, and if so, God Bless you. But this is also a time of opportunity. It is a time that you can truly define yourself, or perhaps discover yourself. It is a time in which that dream that has eluded you for years can come to fruition when all of this is over.
All of us have a choice to make in life, but the present circumstances have brought that choice to the forefront of our lives. You can be fearful, and ultimately let that fear defeat you. You may be fearful that you will lose your job, and subsequently your home. Newsflash, that can happen at any time. You may feel uncomfortable. Newsflash, anything that is worthwhile in life will most often be born out of discomfort and pain. Ask a majority of mothers if the pain they felt during childbirth was worth the joy they see in their children, and the answer is overwhelmingly affirmative. I can tell you that moving forward after this will be uncertain. Moving forward and chasing your dreams will hurt. It will require sacrifice. But that pain will be minuscule in comparison to cowering in the face of your fears and not realizing the person that you aspire to be.
I will leave you with this: avoid fixating on the news cycles that are omnipresent in our lives. You are making them rich with the precious moments of your life. In turn, they are poisoning you. This saga will end when it is destined to end, and how it is destined to end. Focus on you, your family, and what you can control.
You can choose to be productive, or you can choose to allow the present circumstances to drag you down. You can choose to be fearful, or you can choose to find joy in things that inhabit your daily life. You can choose to be lazy, or you can choose to chase your dreams and eventually die exhausted, yet fulfilled. Make your choice.