Let’s face it: learning a martial art in order to become proficient at self-defense is a limited goal. After all, we live in an age in which there is a relative abundance of police and military; most streets are safe to walk at most hours of the night–the ones that aren’t are usually easy to avoid. Self-defense is an important reason for training in a martial art, but it can’t be your only goal. Far better, instead, to join the police force, or the armed forces, if realistic and constant combat is what you’re after.
So why do we train? One of my instructor’s once told me that one of the greatest joys in life was knowing you are living it with dignity. When I heard that, my rationale for training became clear: by studying Aikido, I learn the skills I need not just to defend myself, but to ensure I walk through this world with dignity and some degree of calmness.
A recent event brought this issue to light for me. I do not normally delve into my personal life here, but in this case I am making an exception: last week, my wife suffered a miscarriage while 2 months pregnant. I have never experienced a loss in quite this way before, and I admit it has affected me greatly. I have felt like my emotional state has been a pinball bouncing between anger, denial, acceptance–the normal stages of grief.
Throughout this ordeal, which I admit is still ongoing, I realized that, as emotionally distressed as I might feel, I remained in control and calm, and I attribute this to my martial arts training. In martial arts, we learn quickly what we can and cannot control; we understand that to focus on things outside our sphere of influence is to court defeat. We learn that emotional highs and lows serve no good purpose; that it is far healthier to have an emotional landscape that ressembles gentle hills than one of steep mountains and valleys. I knew, through my training, that denying my own feelings was futile and counter-productive; but clinging to those emotions as an attempt to change what I know I cannot was not going to help. Instead, while I do not deny my emotions, I do not allow them to dictate my actions any more than necessary.
As a result of all this, I feel that I am able to handle this tragedy with some measure of calmenss and some measure of dignity. And if that is the only benefit one gets from martial arts, I can confidently say that it is a benefit worth acquiring.