Honoring Many Paths in Martial Arts

There’s a saying, that there are many routes to the top of the mountain, but once you are at the top the view is the same for everyone. There is for sure many routes. The view being the same, is a discussion for another article. What I am always surprised by however, is how many people in the modern martial arts world think that their route is the justified and only one. Here I am speaking mainly about the motivation for someone to participate in a modern martial arts experience.

There is a prevailing undercurrent of people who for instance feel unless you are competing for example in say BJJ or MMA then you are not the real deal. Since when did anyone get to decide my freedom to choose why and how I want to engage with an experience in this world? Neither you or me, have sovereignty over someones freedom to choose their own path. And just because the path may be a different one to yours, doesn’t make mine, or anyone else’s less right.

“As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” – Henry David Thoreau

Paths Do Have Dangers

Now of course, every path that leads anywhere has potential dangers. One path may be peppered with crevasses, another sinking sand. Just because those obstacles are present, doesn’t mean that one should avoid that path, but knowing the pitfalls, can save your life. So it is for any particular path you decide to take as your journey into martial arts. No matter if it’s competitively driven, reality based self defense focused, or more leaning towards mastery of the self — each have dangers one must be aware of.

It’s no surprise then to anyone who knows me, that my personal focus in martial arts these days is mastery of the self. That is the path to the top of the mountain of martial arts I have chosen. I know the pitfalls too. One has to be careful of not becoming too self absorbed, too high and mighty. Crucially, there is a tendency for many people that I have observed in the past who have walked the path of self mastery in martial arts to neglect, even relinquish functionality. When the primary goal is no longer simply to be the best in fighting, fighting itself has a tendency to take a back seat.

But I also know, from my own personal experience, it is the very act of putting oneself in the fight (symbolically of course such as in hard sparring) that offers up all the necessary ingredients for real life transforming experiences to take place. What Jung would call the transcendent function, a dialogue takes place between the unconscious and conscious, which then has the potential to produce a wholly new perspective. And if you are trying, like me to work through and change destructive qualities within yourself, that’s what you need. So every week I spar, and live roll, if I feel like it or not.

Don’t Call Yourself a Martial Artist if You Don’t Honor Other People’s Journeys

In my view, you are not a martial artist at all, if you have the audacity to tell someone else why he or she should be training. The only time this is relevant, if say for example someone wants to compete, but then, never pitches for training, or refuses to take it seriously like it should be. These of course are obvious. But beyond that, why someone trains martial arts is totally up to them, as long as they are not deluding themselves. Again, if someone wants to learn how to deal with the realities of the fight, but refuses to spar, then that’s fine, but they will never learn how to handle an aggressive opponent. Telling them that, isn’t destroying their personal journey, but rather, speaking a truth about a danger they should know about. Again, pretty obvious stuff.

I write this, because I see this attitude all the time in the modern martial arts world. Just because I am not interested in competitive martial arts, doesn’t mean my students or even my trainers for that matter can’t compete. I have never stood in someone else’s way. I am even happy to train them for it, even thought it’s not my thing (and I have). All I do require is to ensure they are doing it for the right reasons, and the experience won’t cause more harm than good (and here I mean psychological, emotional etc). And secondly, if they going to do it, that they prepare as they should for that kind of event. In other words, I expect commitment.

I once had a guy who had trained BJJ with me for sometime. He left me, citing that, he needed a more competitive coach, because thats what he wanted to do, compete. I never once stood in his way, and I would have trained him too. All I did do, was make him think about his motivation to do so, which I felt had more to do with self loathing, and personal insecurities. In my experience purely going to compete, without also attending to those inner issues would make things worse for him — but if he wanted to compete, it would have still been fine with me. It is after all his journey, not mine, and as a coach, I would continue to try and ensure he got rid of that unhealthy baggage on the way up the mountain. Today this guy is a black belt, and never once, and I mean once, did he ever compete after leaving me. Somehow I doubt my analysis of him was incorrect then. What was the real reason for him leaving? Outside what I pointed out earlier, it had a lot to do with me not giving him his next belt. Why wasn’t I going to? Because as I told him then, when you learn to stop smashing all these lower belts, and trying to show off what a bad ass you are (i.e., learn some humility) then that next belt isn’t going to happen. Can you see a pattern here?

Another one of my students, Costa Ioannou wanted to compete too. I worked with him on all the dangers he would face on the competitive path. He competed, I supported him, and he became a 4 X EFC champion. So when people spread gossip about me not letting people compete, they should get their facts straight first.

Here is the thing though. If you want me to honor your journey, you need to honor mine too. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. And why is my journey any less important than yours? If you think it has to be that way, one or the other — then the problem doesn’t lie with me, but you. If I want to focus on self mastery through my martial arts experience that’s my choice. So is it your choice to decide on your own personal focus, be that competitive, etc. Neither one of us is right or wrong — but both of us need the humility to understand the specific dangers on either of those paths.

“People can hate on you for doing what it is that makes you happy, but ultimately, it has to belong to you. It shouldn’t matter what anyone else thinks. Life is not easy. The road to happiness is not a path well trotted. You have to find your own path to enlightenment.” – Jamie Campbell Bower

Those who think their path is clear, is the only route, and think there is zero dangers to concern themselves with, are the ones that should likely check their chosen path a little more closer, and the motivation for doing so. Your inner bullshit doesn’t go away by trying to convince everyone that your path is the only one, and everyone else is wrong.

“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Buddha


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