A Warrior in the Garden
Walking through fear for a life of peace.
A student said to his master, “You teach me fighting, but you talk about peace. How do you reconcile the two?” The master replied, “It is better to be a warrior in the garden, than a gardener in a war.”
I would like to share one of the most important benefits I have taken away from martial arts training. But before I do, I’d like to take you on a journey.
Imagine, if you can, preparing for a fight. The bout is in three months time and the very second you agree to it, it becomes the only thing you will to be able think about until it’s all over. The anxiety you’re going to experience will be overpowering. When you close your eyes you’ll dream of fighting, you’ll wake up sweating with your heart racing. Every minute you’re awake you’ll think about fighting. You’re going to give up social drinks and family get- togethers because you need to drop weight, which also means that at every meal you‘ll be thinking about fighting. Every second of every day is focused on the work that needs to be done. But will it be enough?
Managing the unknown is exhausting and yet one thing that is for certain is that fight day will come. Is your opponent better than you? Are they training harder than you? Now, the promoter wants you to to sell tickets, which also means people will be there urging you to win. The pressure is building. Will you let them down? Are you good enough?
Fight night arrives. Did you forget anything? When should you start warming up? You need to open your lungs, but not too much or you’ll be tired! But what if the fight before you finishes early and you’re not ready? Do you have the strength, power or will to win? As you walk to the ring you’ll have the overwhelming feeling that it’s all just a bad dream. What are you doing here? ARE YOU GOOD ENOUGH???
The bell rings for the first round and the chants from the crowd become muted. The fear is crippling! The first blow lands and everything else disappears. There is no before, and no after. There is only this moment. You’re running on instinct and adrenalin alone. Your mind is as clear as it has ever been, calm and present. Your body does what you’ve trained it to do – no more, no less. 10 minutes later and it’s all done. People go home, and when you wake up on Monday morning all of the every-day commitments are still there; bills, work, family, friends etc. Life just returns to normal.
That thing that had occupied your mind every moment of every day for the last three months has been and gone. You pushed yourself to the edge of what you could handle physically and emotionally and made it through! But during that whole time the thing you feared most lasted for just 10 minutes! During the fight itself your mind was as still and calm as it had felt throughout the whole experience and yet you battled fear, anxiety, self doubt and an all-out onslaught of emotional stress for 3 months in the build up. You could have let it consume you and pulled out of the competition at any point, but you stuck with it. You could have been enjoying an easy life of comfort but you sacrificed that to see the challenge through. The real battle wasn’t the one in the ring. That was only 10 minutes. You battled the doubt you had of yourself and won.
The point of all this is that a martial arts life is tough. I don’t say that to boast or imply there aren’t other challenges that are equally worthy of your time and effort. I say it to let you know we battle fear, doubt and anxiety in every training session. Can I make it through this class? Will the training be too hard? Will I let my class mates down?
We train with the same intensity and focus that we would if we were getting ready for a fight, because fighting represents every unknown fear or challenge we might face in our lives: upcoming job interviews, signing for our first mortgage, a big stunt… the birth of our children. How often do we build something up in our minds for months on end, losing sleep over it and letting it affect our work and relationships, with huge detrimental effects on our general health… then the time passes and hindsight allows us to reflect back and wonder why we let it get to us so much?
Fear of the unknown can be a huge source of anxiety for many of us. For some, the intensity of that feeling will be so great they will feel imprisoned by it. With their thoughts rigidly fixed on its perceived source, like a deer caught in the headlights, they might feel blind to any way out. But what if they could just relax their mind, broaden their focus and see the countless possibilities around them? Would that not be a powerful tool to be able to call on when needed?!
No matter how big or small those events can be, or how serious the situation we find ourselves in, being prepared physically and mentally will determine how we respond.
By pushing ourselves to our limits and exposing ourselves to those fears and self-doubt regularly we can cultivate a seed of confidence- a knowledge that we have been in this space before and come out the other side. A confidence that will allow us to relax and see the potential of a situation rather than feeling like the world is collapsing in around us. A confidence that we can ‘roll with the punches’ when the world has been trying to knock our heads off our shoulders and emerge on the other side with peace in our souls, no matter the outcome, knowing we gave it our best efforts.
If we can treat even the smallest of things in life as seriously as we would the challenge of a fight – one that is due our full respect, attention and best efforts – when a more significant life challenges presents itself, we can be present and flow calmly in the pressure. We can be quietly confident, like the warrior in a garden.