Lessons learned from fighting
This was the time of the Iran hostage crisis. I was often picked on and beat up because I was mistaken for an Iranian. Even those who knew I was of Indian descent still used the opportunity to bully, beat and call me out. I did not then know how to deal with those taunts and bullies. I tried to ignore them, they still attacked me. I tried to avoid them, and they found me. I tried to run from them, and they cornered me. Even when I was with friends, I would be picked on and attacked. My friends never came to my defense or aid.
I resolved then to never be taken advantage of and not to count on others to come to my aid. I was angry, hurt and looking to even the score.
I knew a friend, Neal, in chemistry class who took ”karate“ classes. He was no bigger than me and he did not get bullied. I asked my parents if I could start taking lessons.
They said, ”No it’ll make you crazy,”
So I nagged and asked and finally, I introduced my parents to Neal. They saw that he was not crazy. He was just a nerdy kid like me.
The next step was meeting with Kwanjangnim (Grandmaster). He was an eight dan black belt at the time, in the prime of his life. I still remember the conversation my dad had with Master Choi. He was was very convincing and we signed up that day.
I remember getting my uniform, belt and patch. Master Choi gave me my very first private lesson.
Lessons learned from not fighting
And I was on my way to learning how to fight. I remember coming home after class exhausted. it was amazing to me that I did not get into anymore fights at school or on the bus.
The times someone did say or do something to start a fight, I just stopped, faced him and asked him if he really thought that was a good idea. We would stare at each other for what seemed like minutes, and then he would blink, look away and his friend would drag him away.
Over the years there were many other times of confrontation in which fighting was a possibility. Some I walked away from reluctantly, others gratefully.
None of them would have been better had I fought.
Several of my students have related to me similar stories. What I find fascinating is that each story begins with the confrontation, and ends with a smile. The common denominator is the lack of a fight or flight response. It was just another thing in life that was dealt with. Another decision, another way to move forward. Some students did fight but even when they did, it was without regret.
“I just reacted and did what you taught”, one student said.
He asked, “Did I do the right thing?”
How would you answer him? I asked if he was okay afterwards. I asked how long did it last?
”It was over just as soon as it began. He didn’t want to continue when I stood up to him.“
In the time before training, fighting was thrust on me as if there was no other choice.
After training, it felt more like a choice. On the rare occasions I chose to fight, it felt calmer and easier. Fear was still there, however, it did not feel as scary as facing those bullies so long ago.
Ask yourself, how does it feel now when you have that choice? Do you feel it is a fight or flight response? Or do you feel you have a choice?
I strongly believe martial arts training gives us not only the tools for self defense, but also the opportunity to see physical confrontation as simply a way to interact with the world. Think about all the times you talked to someone new and strange! It was just a way to talk, greet each other, and then to part.
Fighting, sparring, breaking all seem different ways to do kicks and punches. Once we can see the common denominator to all of them it becomes easier to do any one of them. We need only one way to do something, not numerous ways.
In the beginning of training, there are so many ways to kick, punch, block, stances, directions. It seems so hard to figure out which one to use! As we continue training our bodies become stronger, more able to take on the stress. We get less tired and what was hard becomes easier. So what was it? Was the technique hard or easy? I suggest thst it was neither, it was just what you felt at that moment. The change is what is important.
As we continue further in training, sparring, breaking wood, standing on broken glass, sparring become the same as computer coding, reading text books, inducing anaesthesia, performing surgery, or simply shaking your friends hand.
We all have a storyline, a past, that colors how we meet the present. How we take the present moment will change our future. Even though we cannot change past events, we can still learn from them and see them in a different way by the way we choose to meet the present moment.
So these lessons learned from fighting and not fighting have shaped our collective pasts, fuel what we do in the moment, and shape the future. Your destiny and goals are all in your control.