I have always been keenly interested in inner mastery. Much of this interest stems from my childhood. Growing up on the tough, mean streets on the South Side of Johannesburg in government housing (similar to the Projects in the USA) I had to dodge the neighbourhood gangs, and school yard bullies daily. Added to this, I grew up never knowing my father, and having to deal with a mother that was a raging abusive alcoholic. I always felt that my entire world was out of control as a child. It’s hard to explain at times, but I felt trapped like a prisoner inside my body, trapped in a really bad nightmare and I wanted to wake up. I felt a total discomfort in my own skin, and if I could have ripped my flesh right off I would have.
I think it is that sense of never being able to control ones environment that lead me to take up an interest in martial arts. Watching those old Kung Fu movies on the reel at my Uncles house, what captivated my attention was how the hero to be, starts off weak, frail, lacking any sense of control both over his own body, his mind and the environment he finds himself in. He then decides to do something about it, and goes off on a quest. Through training martial arts he not only masters his body, and his mind. This was very attractive to me as a young boy, especially in light of my upbringing.
Losing My Way
For a time there though I lost site of my quest for inner mastery through martial arts. In my neighbourhood how smart you were was irrelevant, how tough you were was. I fought so hard physically to gain control of a life that seemed to be utterly meaningless, that I ended up full of rage, anger, and resentment. After being kicked out of the house at 17 by my Mother in yet another drunken rage, I found myself on the streets, destitute, homeless, with less than $20 in my pocket. Sleeping on the park bench that night, the same park I had played in as a young child, I contemplated suicide. I wanted it all to just end.
I’m full of fire, full of anger, and full of hate.
I’m haunted by the dreams that keep me up late.
I’m full of love, full of happiness, and full of joy.
But I still am confused if I’m a man or just a boy.
—from the poem “My Native Warrior,”
by Mikela Jones (age 18)
Having no prospects, and not finishing high school, I did the only thing I could, I enrolled into the military. Not yet 18, the military was a massive wake up call, and I grew up fast. But it didn’t quell my anger, or my rage. Leaving the military and with no skills that anyone in the civilian world would employ, I spent the next several years as the head doorman outside some of Johannesburg roughest nightclubs. Here was a place where the martial skills I had honed was useful and prized. I had no issue using my fists, and did so for the slightest provocation. I had become the very thing I had so despised and feared as a child, a person who used violence to solve all of his problems. Even though I could now fight, and I was winning all the time, I wasn’t anymore in control. In fact the opposite was true, I was so out of control, and living a life on the edge, it was only moments before I slipped over to the abyss never to return.
Reclaiming My Embodied-Warrior
A few years ago I came to a realization. I was just as scared, just as angry, and just as pissed off as I had been as a kid. Martial arts may have given me a powerful mask that allowed me to conveniently hide what was truly going on inside, and the tools to apply violence — but I was still that scared little boy. I decided then and there, no matter how hard it would be, to do something about it. If I couldn’t get it right through martial arts, then I would find another way. Remembering back to the heroes from those old Kung Fu movies, and what I most admired about them, I set my sights on finding out how one can actually use martial arts to achieve that kind of personal mastery and inner clarity. What I found was that no one really had a formula. They knew it was important, but no one had a system on how to develop it. So I decided to create my own. I no longer wanted to simply just succeed at fighting, but rather, and more importantly to beat my inner opponent. In other words, I wanted to be able to take on the martial arts of everyday life more skilfully.
My personal system that I subsequently created allowed me to supercharge my life, and my business success. More importantly it allowed me to become happy. The irony was, when I was brave enough to let go of the desire to fight others, I was able to finally come home to my authentic self. Over the years, I have launched two successful modern martial art lifestyle brands, now in dozens of countries around the world. I went back to school, and in the midst of completing my PhD. I became an author, and wrote a couple of books about what I had learned.
This blog, is about sharing some of these insights I have gained over the years, many of the lessons I still struggle with each and everyday. Sometimes I get these lessons right, sometimes I feel myself being pulled back to the allure of the high of the fight. This blog is both about challenging myself, and hopefully you the reader, to embrace the practice of martial arts as more than just about physical prowess. I believe 100% that the experience of martial arts, arising from is primal nature, is possibly the most effective tool available to a human being to fine true purpose, true inner clarity, and to master themselves.
Sadly, in the modern martial arts world today, their seems to be an abandonment of philosophy, the Art, in favor of functionality, the Martial. I am concerned that so many people, especially young men, intoxicated by the experience of physical violence, will end up as a did — afraid, insecure, full of hatred, and violent impulses. Sadly, many may not be able to save themselves form the abyss until it is to late. There is a real danger to the psyche, when one can justify violence simply as sport. It was only when I no longer fought to beat others to make myself feel more powerful, to feel untouchable, to be respected, and feared by other men — that I was then able to find inner power, inner respect, inner peace and fearlessness. It was the hardest opponent I ever fought. This journey isn’t for everyone. You have to ask some real hard questions of yourself. You may not like what you find. You may have to give up, as I did, who people think or want you to be — a fighter. The real fight can never be won out there, only in here, inside each of us. There is always a choice, you can throw that punch to knock out the person in front of you with anger, or you can use that punch to overcome the anger inside. Only one leads to personal liberation!
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“The one who has conquered himself is a far greater hero than he who has defeated a thousand times a thousand men.”