The Martial Artists' Mindset - by Chris Kirby
"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment"
More important than any physical technique you may learn during your time here is the development of a very specfic kind of mindset. It has been said that training is nothing without the will to act, and this is true. There have been many instances of long-time martial artists being forced into situations where the use of their long-polished skills would have been appropriate, and they either did nothing, or were ineffective. There actually has been a fair amount of study as to why this happens, mainly it has to do with mental conditioning. The way most people view karate (even the ones who should know better) is just as an after school activity or a social event, even physical fitness. It is meant to be none of these. You may enjoy the opportunity for socializing provided by training in karate, but that is not what I am aiming to provide to you. It is just a convenient side-effect.
"Polite" can work against us
What I really want anyone who trains with me to take away from their training is a specific way of thinking. Society teaches us a role of passivity, really so we can all get along and collaborate. This is generally good, as it allows humanity to work together and build things that it would not have otherwise been able to do. The problem is that we are taught to be passive all the time, and this behavior can even present itself when we are in danger and being passive is the worst thing we could do. This calls into question the way we view authority and the people around us whom we allow to have it, like our teachers, select adults, baby sitters, etc.
Not understanding the way you view authority eventually will put you in danger. The reason I say this is because as a young person, it is likely you view all adults as having some kind of authority over you. This thinking is dangerous. You must learn to decide which people, and even which adults, you will allow to have authority over you, because following the commands of some people will put you in danger, as they may have evil intentions against you. It is also important to understand the concept of something I call Licensed Authority. Licensed Authority is the authority you grant someone so they can accomplish a task for you, such as teaching a class. If you give them licensed authority, you are agreeing to submit to their way so the class can be taught and you can learn from it. You have given your teacher licensed authority so they may fulfill their role of carrying out the class and performing all the tasks that are necessary to do that.
What you need to be aware of, is that you have given that teacher the authority only to do the things necessary for the job they are supposed to be doing. This may be things like silencing noise making students in a socially appropriate way, deciding if you meet the criteria to advance to the next level, expecting you to behave appropriately. What you have not given them is the authority to do things that are outside the scope of what is necessary for them to do their job. Imagine a school teacher using his or her authority to force a student to go off alone with them and engage in sexual activity, or to steal things, or to do anything outside the scope of what is necessary for them to accomplish their assigned job, which is teaching a class. If such a point were to occur, it would be (most immediately) on you, to realize that this person has stepped outside the boundaries of the authority that you have given them, and is now abusing their power. It is time for you to disobey. The whole attitude we are taught since birth of "play nice" and "get along" just left town. It is time to make a scene. It is time to revoke the power that you have given them. This will involve saying no, which is the first step and hopefully the last, as you hope they respect your wishes. If you have to escalate it you will have to embarass them. If that doesn't work you will have to hurt them. You will have to keep escalating until you can escape.
Enforcing your boundaries
Karate is for the times when that person will not respect your wishes to be left alone. It is for the times when that person tries to take power over you that you are not willing to give them. It is to enforce your personal boundaries using violence, as your ability to commit violence has now become the only thing standing between you and that person who seeks to take power over you which they do not have your permission to have. This leads to a very interesting discussion about the place of violence in our society and the stigma associated with it.
Violence has become a not-to-be-discussed topic in some circles of people. It's as if they believe that it is unconditionally wrong and even talking about it is to be seen as a violent person. Because of their beliefs about it, I can understand why they wish to avoid talking about it. But what if they're wrong? Or at least only partially correct?
I will not have to provide an argument to support any statement I make about how violence is awful. It is awful. Committing violence without a proper reason is wrong. It hurts the creature that recieves it, and in the case of humans, hurts the conscience of the person who serves it. Everyone loses, it seems there is not much to be gained through violence. Well, there really isn't anything to be gained through violence. But there are things to be saved by violence. What can be saved by violence could be your life, the health of your body (by avoiding physical injury or disease), a loved one, an innocent person. I could go on.
Acceptable use of violence
Our society does not consider using violence to keep people from stealing from you as acceptable. Well, at least the legal system does not, and that's what matters. What is acceptable is using violence to ward off an attacker that would physically hurt you. This attack could be an attempt at beating you, raping/molesting you, killing you, or putting you in a situation where they will have an easier time doing any of those or similar things.
The use of physical force (violence) to prevent someone from stealing your things is generally not acceptable by our courts, and I personally recommend not going there under such a circumstance because I believe there is no tangible object you can ever own that is worth risking your life over. You fight for your own safety, or that of a loved one. Those are things worth risking your life over. Not your stuff. I only say these things here because after you leave the playground and you enter the adult world, you're no longer risking only a couple bruises and scrapes from a fight, you are risking your life, because it's not uncommon for people at the adult level to pull out weapons and kill each other in what should have been only a fist fight. I want these lessons to stick well into your adult years.
As far as using violence appropriately, you must have a good sense of the universal laws of right and wrong. The fewer wrong actions you pardon in yourself, the fewer wrong actions you will pardon in someone else. This will give you power to speak up for yourself, fight for yourself, and not keep pardoning people repeatedly after they keep making the same offense against you over and over. It will help you realize when a person you have given authority to is abusing that authority for their own selfish gain and needs to have their authority revoked, by you. If they fail to cease their efforts to trap you, or beat you, or sexually assault you (rape/molestation/etc.), and you have no convenient, safer escape, violence is something you must now use against them to create an exit for yourself, as they have left you no other way to communicate to them that you are not interested in giving them what they want.
It is also important to understand something about criminals. You already know a few people who are, by their nature, criminals. Ask yourself "Who are they?". I am not talking about someone who slipped up one night and drove drunk and got arrested. I am talking about the kind of person who wants to take something from you and doesn't mind doing it without your consent. They are willing to submit you to their will by threatening you, beating you, putting drugs in your drink to render you unconscious and unable to defend yourself, humiliating you, and controlling your self esteem (because you gave them the authority to do so). A person who is truly a criminal, in the moment, is not someone you can control by embarassing them, or telling them that they're "being wrong" according to some moral belief system you were taught. They only understand what hurts them. As such, it is very important for you to be able to hurt such a person. I didn't say you need to be able to go ten rounds with them and submit them in a cage fight, you may not be the dominant fighter, and that doesn't matter. But you do need to be able to hurt them enough so that they see you as too inconvenient a target to mess with and they pick someone else to attack.
I like to teach my students that good karate means flipping switches. We are flipping psychological switches that control our mindset and our will power. This is developed primarily through the practice of kata (forms), and sparring (mock fighting), because of the conditioning and alignment of both the mind and body, but it is also developed through having a true understanding of what is right and what is wrong, so that way you fight with justification. That is the most powerful tool you can have, so you'd better know when you are justified. The switch flipping is the analogy I used to paint the picture of having such great control of your mind, body, and spirit, that you can be lazily walking down the street on a sunny afternoon, after you hiked ten miles and are really sore and hurt to move, and someone tries to hit you with a baseball bat and stands a good chance of doing so. There is a very certain mindset that you need to put yourself in immediately for you to save yourself, because the mindset you had a moment ago where you were feeling sorry for your sore muscles and didn't want any trouble just isn't going to get you anything other than killed. You have to flip the switch, now. It does not mean going crazy and hyperventilating. Flipping the switch puts you in a mindset of patience, emotional control, and action. You have to forget about your body, you have to forget about your aversion to exerting yourself, and you have to do something effective to save yourself so your loved ones can see you again. You have to be able to commit the violence necessary to be effective, inspite of your aversion to it. Without this, any amount of karate training you think you have is totally useless. Mindset is everything. This is why I won't promote students who only learn from the online videos. I would be cheating them out of the martial artists' mindset, something I can only pass on through direct, face-to-face interaction.
I have tried in this article to summarize the martial artists' mindset, talking about licensed authority and flipping switches. The very best martial artists develop a way of seeing pain (tiredness, boredom, hurt, fear, etc...) as a tool for mental conditioning they can use to forge themselves.
It is not my goal to drive any one away with this article. Training at the beginning levels is quite light and mentally easy. At intermediate levels we do try to stress you out, and most will quit because they don't want to push through it. At advanced levels (brown belt and black belt) you will see opportunity in the kinds of training exercises we provide, even as most shy away from it because of the physical and mental discomfort it invokes upon you, but through the stress, you will grow.
We answer questions in person too so drop on by or call!