Practice what you preach is how the saying goes, but how often do we actually do as we say? In martial training, it’s easy to put into practice all the tenants of being an honorable student (respect, hard work, discipline, etc…) while we’re actually in the dojo. However, I would say it’s probably even more important that we support that belief system through diligent training (shugyo) outside its walls. How much do you actually spend in your school versus how much you interact with the world around you? Ask any personal trainer what the most important aspects of any exercise regimen and most likely they will rank diet and rest/recovery over the actual working out part. This is because most people’s workouts only occupy a fraction of their time compared with their average day or week.
At the core of any martial art is the basic element of self-defense, also known as dealing with conflict. Therefore, every confrontation we face, no matter how large or small and particularly those that occur outside of the dojo, presents us with the opportunity in which to put into practice our training and to ultimately become better people.
Years ago, I worked in the child care industry in a group home environment that treated at-risk youth and troubled teenagers. Every day I went to work I found myself steeped in a potentially hostile environment. I don’t particularly care for confrontation, but I’ve learned not to shy away from it either. Life is much easier when we embrace the confrontation, learn whatever lesson it has to offer, and then move on. Conflict always reared its head while working as a coach counselor, and I quickly found that avoiding a bad situation prolonged the inevitable because it would continue to repeat itself until we finally did something about it. Many of the situations I had to address while working with at-risk youth may have been more about their issues than mine. However, we were not just guards enforcing rules. We were also supposed to act as mentors and role models, so we did shape the culture of the homes. Therefore, the students’ problems were essentially our problems.
Many years ago, I was involved in a situation where one of our kids became physically and verbally abusive to staff (me and my co-worker), as well as some of the other kids in our house. The situation escalated to the point where my partner and I had no other options but to physically restrain the student. Whenever you have to restrain an individual, you must also consider whether or not there are sympathizers to the person in question. Fortunately for us, the other students were just as upset with the disruptive individual as we were and stepped aside so that we could address the situation. It’s always challenging for staff and students alike to go through this experience because depending on how staff treats the student, there is the potential for irreparable damage to the previously established relationships of all parties. As a person in authority, you cannot allow your emotions to get the best of you, which ultimately manifests as rough treatment of the other individual, taking the other person’s dignity, or causing shame to that person in some way. This is similar to working with a martial arts training partner who loses their cool and winds up trying to destroy or embarrasses you. Nobody likes being a part of that scenario and most likely that relationship is damaged beyond repair. You risk losing a lot of respect if you go down that path and it’s really hard to earn it back. In the situation with the out-of-control student, I did find myself absorbing quite a few punches to the head, but thanks to many years of wrestling and training in Aikido, I was mentally prepared for the conflict and was able to detach myself emotionally from the action. The only way I really suffered was when I crashed after the adrenaline dump. Honestly, I could hardly think straight immediately following the incident.
Interestingly enough, upon resolution of the incident and for the remainder of our three day shift, there was an uncanny sense of unity within our house. Neither I, nor my partner could’ve predicted the outcome, but that wasn’t really on our minds. We were primarily concerned with the consequences of inaction had we not entered the conflict. We had great concern for our safety and that of the other students, but mostly we wanted to ensure the wellbeing of the disruptive child. I believe the reason for everyone’s cooperation and courtesy during the days following the incident was a direct result of the students witnessing mine and my partner’s correct hearts. The point of this story isn’t to highlight heroics or boast of bravery but to illustrate that martial training is not just something that occurs in the school or dojo. We can, and should be, tapping into it every day we wake up. Through our daily lives we can perpetually be working on the martial concepts of timing, spacing, leverage, and taking the initiative. We may just need to reshape the way we see those concepts.