When you step onto the mat, any mat, and begin your training in a martial art, what is the first thing on your mind? Perhaps it is to improve your level of physical fitness, or to instill within yourself a renewed capability for discipline. Certainly, these two objectives are the most common when embarking on a martial arts journey. Yet there is another aspect of training that we don’t really discuss too often, yet nonetheless is equally important: your emotional development.
When I began training, I was told that one should attempt to smooth out the emotional roller coaster ride that we, as human beings, are prone to experience. The idea was never to completely remove any sense of emotion from yourself; instead, it was to ensure that your emotional responses were moderated–dignified, if you will. At first I was uncomfortable with this idea. To be sure, the idea of not ever feeling intense anger or sadness was appealing, but the idea of never feeling intense happiness was less so. After a while though, I began to see the logic behind this goal. The more moderate your emotional response is to a given situation, the better you are able to respond to that situation. It is not that you stop feeling, it is that you stop losing control to those feelings.
The importance of this emotional stability has recently been demonstrated to me again this week. This week, a family that has grown very close to my own family moves to another state. The children in this family are extremely close to my daughter, and the mom and my wife are more sisters than friends. Although there was time to prepare for this event, still the experience of it has left our household in an intense emotional state. My wife, for example, has only in recent years really found true friends, as opposed to invidividuals who are around only when it is convenient. For my daughter, this is the first time that a friend of hers has moved away–and who can forget the painfulness of that experience?
I am not exempt from feeling sad that these good friends of ours will no longer be close by. But because of my martial training, I am comfortable with letting those emotional responses flow through me rather than control me. This puts me in a better position to lend support and comfort to my wife and daughter, who need it, without giving in to some macho sense of emotional suppression. As my daughter cried on my shoulder yesterday afternoon, I was able to be there for her without distancing myself from the situation. I was able to empathize with her situation, respect it and, hopefully, guide her a little bit towards dealing with the situation in a way that made her feel better.
Too often, there is a over-abundance of macho bravado that permeates the martial arts world. We mistakenly think that we need to be tough in order to be successful. But I think that this mindset is a misunderstanding of what most martial arts teach. Emotional stability through denial or suppression is temporary at best, and helps only yourself. Emotional stability through empathy is far more lasting, and not only puts you in a place to help yourself, but to help those around you as well.
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