What exactly does that mean,to conquer your fears? Well, in practical terms, all martial arts are rooted in fighting or some sort of combat. In training and implementation, there is a fear of getting hit, fear of hitting the ground, fear of defeat and fear of consequences. The goal of training is to help alleviate those fears so that we can take action (hopefully positive action)
Of course, martial arts training has evolved far past fisticuffs or preparation for the battlefield. Most of us don’t have a lifestyle that puts us in a constant threat of physical conflict. But, even with this evolution, there are still, in my view, some important lessons to be taken from these roots.
I’ll start with the example of the fear of falling or hitting the ground. This is a very rational fear. Slip and fall is one of the leading causes of death for those under 65 in the USA not to mention having your body careening towards the ground, matted or not, isn’t pleasant and rightfully disconcerting. So, in martial arts, this is one of the first things we address.
From a utility standpoint the best thing you can do to “defend yourself” is to learn how to defend your self from the ground itself. Additionally, the techniques of martial arts just can’t be learnt with out the ability fall down and get back up….many times.
What does this have to do with fear? Well, when most people start out with martial arts classes they are afraid to fall, they are afraid to hit the ground. So what happens? Not only do they avoid the necessary techniques, they “tense up” as a reaction to their fear.
Fear leads to tension and tension leads to pain.
When a student is afraid to be taken down and hit the floor they tense up, maybe even freeze, and this worsens the impact. The wrong points of the body will hit the ground and the body will not be rightly prepared to disperse the impact. The fall will hurt, maybe even injure the student.
Well, lesson learned right? Next time the student will do it right to avoid the pain. Wrong. As humans, we are constantly trying to avoid pain, but sometimes when this avoidance is manifested as fear we do it the wrong way. Now, when said student is taken again, they will be more afraid, they will tense up more and the hurt will increase.
The cycle can be viscous.
We need to be able to coach the student no how to fall in a way that this cycle is not created. And, if necessary, we may need to break this cycle. In martial arts, we teach the students to fall from a point so close to the ground that they are not afraid. The student starts lying down on the floor and practices slapping the mats, then they sit up, then they crouch, then they kneel, then they stand, so on and so forth.
As you can see, through the progression, we are gradually bringing the student farther and farther from floor stopping just on the trailing edge of their comfort zone and the leading edge of their fear.
The student learns how to fall, properly, from a point where they are not afraid. They see that it does not harm them and we can progress, we can move forward. Now the student can train with confidence and learn new techniques.
We often say that one needs to get out of their comfort zone in order for the “cool stuff” to happen. This is absolutely true, but we need to get out in the right way. For some jumping into the ice cold water can be a positive impetus for change, but for some it is not. Those need to gradually stretch and grow their “zone”.
Some of our fears are rational, but some are not. Often, fear is really a false expectation that we still believe to be real. It can be a fear of a new martial arts technique, fear of moving a heavier kettlebell, fear of fighting, fear of losing. With perspective, we see that those are little things and can be overcome.
The fears that are harder to overcome are often more abstract: fear of something new or unknown, fear of movement or change, fear of stability, fear of what others may think.
We often say that humans are evolved to react in one of two ways: Fight or Flight. This is the biological response to an extreme stimulus, like fear. However, I think there is a third, more common, response: Freeze. Rationally, we know that taking action will be positive but we don’t act. This lack of action comes down to fear, to false expectations, We fear the outcome, because nothing is 100% certain, so we freeze.
It’s best not to move, lest we move and we fall. However, we can move. We just need to take smaller steps. The size of those steps are different for all of us, but they can be taken–even these abstract fears can be seen and broken down into little things with the right perspective. Sometimes that perspective takes times, takes experience and takes others.
And we know, that these little things can be conquered.