I'm taking a break from formally practising martial arts for a while, although I'll still be practising in my spare time. It's a time to reflect on what I've learned in over thirty years of involvement, in one form or another, with the martial arts. The most valuable things I've taken from this time are nothing to do with learning to fight, but what I've learned about people.
I see violence being used to create fear, and I know that fear will lead to anger and hatred, provoking more violence. I learned this at an early stage of my training, and many still don't seem to know this, including many of the world's governments. There appears to be a widely held belief that fear will encourage respect, and I have never known this to be true. I repeat, fear leads to hatred and anger.
What if we fear something or someone? How do we conquer our fear? I've found that the most effective way to conquer fear is through understanding. If we are unable to understand the person or thing we fear, then we must learn to accept those things we don't necessarily understand.
Recently, I've noticed that I've been talking about someone, who was once a close friend, in a way which suggests I'm carrying a great deal of anger, hatred and resentment towards them. I told myself that it wasn't a true reflection of how I was feeling but, on closer inspection, those feelings are there. This is someone I have to see, due to a shared interest, on a weekly basis.
Sometimes, we may feel that giving up our hatred and anger makes us appear weak or vulnerable. The truth is that it makes us strong. What I have to do, and plan to do from this point forward, is to let go of the hatred and anger I feel towards my former friend. To do this, I have to lose the fear that they may hurt me again, should I let my guard down. I have to be strong.
What of the fighting side of martial arts? What have I learned? In short, I'm good enough. Technically, I might never be the most gifted martial artist, but it really doesn't matter. I've long said that we must practise, practise, practise and then, if we ever need to use what we have learned, we should forget that we have learned a martial art. Those who understand my point will know that I'm not questioning the value of what I've learned.
When I've been confronted, when the threat of violence has come my way, I've usually been able to stop it becoming physical. If the situation has become violent, those movements which were so stiff, uncoordinated and so difficult for me to grasp in the class have been performed with little or no conscious thought, in exactly the right time and place to prevent injury to myself and, when absolutely necessary, to cause injury to others.
I take no pride in the above. I don't see it as a show of skill. The real skill, to me, is stopping an encounter becoming violent in the first place. Going beyond that point means I am simply performing actions which have been practised to the point where they are instinctive. Will I be feared by my opponent? Maybe. Will I be respected by them? That's less likely. Will I be hated by them? That's almost a certainty, and I think there's enough hatred in this world.
People have asked me how I learned these things from martial arts. From my point of view, I wonder how they haven't learned these things. Maybe I just realised that it's relatively easy for me to hurt people, but also that it's the last thing I want to do.