Martial Realism

This past week my class had a sparring session. These sessions take their toll– we spend the rest of the week dealing with the damage we’ve inflicted on each other. Personally, I had a bit of a headache from all the blows I didn’t quite block or dodge, and I sprained something in my hand in a bad punch, and a few other minor complaints. But the week of training reaffirmed my belief about the nature of martial arts in today’s world.

I personally fought two three minute rounds. I spent three and a half hours in a more-violent-than-usual environment, watching my classmate spar each other. That is a tiny fraction of my week, and an infinitely tinier fraction of my life. Someone who doesn’t train as I do might have an even smaller fraction of violence in their life. I think this ratio, violent life versus the rest of life, shows where our training priorities as martial artists should lie.

There are many martial artists that I have met who allow their training to interfere with their perspective on life. They spend so much time thinking about what happens in that tiny violent fraction that, first in their perception and then sometimes in their reality, that violent fraction swells. Violence fills their subjective reality, even if their objective reality is peaceful.

The day after we sparred, we got called away from the school to work on a silly performance thing (talk about a distasteful fraction of my life ;-p). But in the performance we were working with little 8-10 year olds. These kids were high-energy, full of curiosity about foreigners and eager to show off their elementary English and kungfu. Really, they were awesome. But with my head aching and my hand tender, and my annoyance at having to do the performance at all, I was immensely impatient with the little boys and girls. I couldn’t enjoy their exuberance at all.

But those kids represent reality. The 99.99% of my time that is not violent is about carrying on, connecting with people and together enjoying and celebrating life. So the most important part of my martial training is the discipline, emotional control, and inner balance that lets me put pain behind me and live a full life. And these skills apply to all kinds of situations– emotional pain, accidents, sickness, death–things that real life is full of far more than real life is full of violent physical confrontation.

Of course, some people face real violence on a day-to-day basis, something I truly know nothing about. But for those who, like me, train ourselves despite having been blessed with a peaceful life, we need to remember where the real treasure of the rich practice of martial arts truly lies.

Emapthy: expressing concern

Beyond listening and being sure that what we heard is what the other person meant by paraphrasing, the next step in empathy is to show concern.  Showing or expressing our concern is a very visible way of showing that we care about the other person and their feelings.

We can do this by expressing our concern with words and offering to take action if they would like us to do so.  We may say to a person who is sick – “I am sorry that you do not feel well. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”  Our children can learn about expressing concern by practicing this and role playing it with their parents.  

For instance we may ask them what could you say if one of your schoolmates was being bullied at school?  When I asked this at our school many of the kids wanted to fix the problem with some sort of solution.  “just ignore it”  “walk away” were common responses.  But for the other person to know that we care we may want to say, “ I am sorry those boys were picking on you.  Would you like to play with me? or Would you like to hang out with me and my friends.  Maybe they will leave you alone then?  Or Would you like to speak to a teacher about what happened.

As we go into this year lets all of us see if we can express empathy for others.  Doing so will contribute to the peace of ourselves, family, community and the world.

Courtesy – first impressions

When I think about the individuals who have made a great impression on me it is always the ones that really engage me when we are speaking or who when we first met, looked me in the eye and and were there when we were speaking.  Have you ever noticed that the persons we are drawn too are courteous individuals who make us feel comfortable to speak to – the ones who are truly interested in our story.

Continue reading “Courtesy – first impressions”

Tolerance: Be the example

The best way always to teach a characteristic is to be the example daily.  When your child is looking and listening to you what do they hear and see?  You can ask yourself,  If my child only had my behavior and speech to copy, am I setting the example I would like to see them grow up to be?   Yes it is a big job.  But that is what parenting is all about.  It is like a big test everyday.  Building tolerance is one of the things we can do to have an effect on creating peace in our family, community and ultimately the world.

Mattie Stepanek

Today I wrote a brief biography on a peacemaker, Mattie Stepanek.  I love his thoughts and poetry. In my web site ‘Learn Peace‘ he is listed with the likes of Ghandi, Thich Nhat Hahn, and others.  His simple wisdom allows us to pause and consider if we too can be a ‘peacemaker’.