Fear in the Martial Arts
Before any new student begins training at the Simon Lau Centre, Master Lau encourages them to consider why they want to learn martial arts during an introductory seminar. It is clear from these sessions that people take up martial arts for many different reasons. For some it is about learning self-defense or street fighting, while others see it as a sport or work out.
While the various things associated with Martial Arts differ widely, the reasons behind taking them up are always the same. It is always to do with fear. Whether we choose to admit it or not the desire to learn to look after ourselves only comes out because, deep down, we feel vulnerable and threatened. Because there is fear behind people taking up a Martial Art. Combating and overcoming that fear of violence both within ourselves and in other people is the true aim and purpose of a traditional Martial Art. Master Lau makes it extremely clear that this must be the focus of our training at the Simon Lau Centre. We don’t aim to become a lethal weapon or a world champion because we only end up as a world champion living in fear. In terms of something that enriches our lives we haven’t achieved very much. To live free from fear of violence and intimidation is a prize far greater and more fulfilling than any trophy. For Master Lau supreme skill isn’t measured by the number of conflicts won but by an ability to use strategy to bend others without coming into conflict.
Given that fear of violence lies at the heart of everyone learning a Martial Art, it is strange how few activities associated with Martial Arts ever deal directly with it.
When no rules apply there simply aren’t enough techniques to cover every possible type of attack. Some would argue that that’s why you should learn as many as you can. The trouble is, the more techniques you learn the less chance you’ll have of remembering the right one during an attack. This is why there has to be more to a Martial Art than just a collection of techniques. The techniques of a traditional Martial Art are in reality tools to assist us in our aim of conquering our fear and will allow you to improve your self-confidence, and self-esteem to cultivate your assertive behavior in the face of both direct and indirect aggressive, giving you the ability to live life in a more fulfilling and spontaneous way.
Fear is one of the biggest and deepest subjects connected with martial arts training. In fact, fear is one of the biggest issues of anyone’s life. However, while we’ve all heard a number of horrific stories of violence, most of us do not experience much of it in our daily lives. Therefore, the source of our fear is, more often than not, our own minds. The trouble is, our society isn’t very good at dealing with it and we tend not to talk about it. Yet it exists in everyone and can cripple our lives if left uncontrolled.
Besides the life enhancing results from conquering fear, there are also a number of major Martial Arts benefits. Fear produces very stiff energy, making us perform techniques with jerky, panicky movements. Being stiff not only makes us slower, it also makes it much harder to overcome stronger opponents because we can no longer yield to force. On the mental side, fear makes us more likely to lose control and become violent. At this time our energy is also all over the place and firing out in all directions. This makes focusing our power impossible and gets us exhausted extremely quickly.
The other problem that fear causes in the Martial Arts is that it can produce a mental state which prevents us from learning. A common form of this is the student who comes to the class with something to prove. Often this is someone who has learned another style or the same style somewhere else. He wants the rest of the class to know this so badly because he feels threatened. Even if you have the best natured class in town, the fact that it’s a Martial Art class is enough for some people. As a result, he or she will try to impress the teacher and the rest of the class. Being afraid to let his fear show, training time becomes a time for proving that he is not afraid of whatever he is afraid of. During this time he or she is not learning or improving at all.
Sadly, fear is not just confined to students of the Martial Arts. It is also the underlying reason behind instructors that bully their students. Those insecure about their ability and knowledge have to resort to intimidation and humiliation in order to win the respect of their students. Things such as punishment press-ups and demonstrating techniques with unnecessary force serve only to bring more fear to the training hall.
So how then do we go about conquering this great demon fear? This knowledge of how to do so was extremely hard won by Master Lau and is not something he parts with easily. However, conquering fear is central to the good that Martial Arts have to offer the individual and society, because fear is the root of all violence. Combating fear is the way to a more peaceful individual and peaceful society and is what elevates the Martial Arts above other forms of exercise.
One word which is fundamental to dealing with fear is discipline. It is discipline which leads to one of Master Lau’s golden rules of training Martial Arts: Know your self- worth. We must be in no doubt as to what we can and can’t do. If we are in doubt then we must use our training time to discover the answer. Failure to do so will mean we can never have confidence. But it does take discipline – the discipline to train with realism and concentration and the discipline to be honest with ourselves. This is no easy task but the rewards are significant for both our lives and our Martial Art. For one thing, being honest about our self worth reveals to us the difference between what we want and what we need. Often we only pursue what we want but, if this isn’t what we need in order to improve, our training becomes frustrating because we aren’t improving. Without improvement and learning our confidence can never grow. If we know our self- worth and know our weaknesses we can train on what we need to improve. Achieve this and suddenly training is no longer self-punishment. We train with passion and commitment, because we know we are improving as opposed to just fantasizing what we are. We spend less time talking about training and more time training. As a result we improve faster and our confidence grows. Master Lau often says that self- discipline means becoming a disciple of yourself. It means not letting yourself down and understand what you are doing with your time. If you can achieve this you can start to respect yourself, trust yourself and you’re no longer afraid to trust life.
To go a bit deeper into the subject, this is because conquering fear is an inner conflict. Such conflicts are obstacles in the way of meaningful growth in life. They become clear to us when we experience an inner crisis because that’s when we realize the threat they pose to our personal fulfillment and happiness. Just like other external life-damaging situations like poor health, a demeaning career or a destructive relationship, these inner obstacles can’t be resolved through compromise. However, the very moment you recognize an inner conflict is the right time to plan a challenge. Other inner conflicts are bad habits, blocks to learning, destructive desires, undisciplined or unfocused motivation and personality damage from childhood. All of them result in low self-esteem or self-loathing. Only through discipline and commitment can we meet the emotional cost required to overcome these conflicts. This is where we meet the real fear. The fear that we will let ourselves down, The fear of failure and the fear of being inadequate. Deep down we fear these things far more than pain when it comes to losing a fight.
Learning to overcome fear is what elevates the Martial Arts above the other forms of exercise. Fear reduces us to a child-like state of paralysis and indecision. To have what it takes to overcome fear we need discipline, respect, integrity, and a sense of responsibility for our actions, both those actions taken and not taken. It is what truly separates the men from the boys.