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art of fighting without fightingThe Art of Fighting without Fighting

Finding the Warrior within Yourself

Why do you train in Martial Arts?”  A friend asked me the other day.

I hadn’t really thought about it.  I paused and sensing my hesitation, he jumped in with another question.

He seemed perplexed as he asked, “I don’t understand, it doesn’t make any sense, you follow a spiritual path of nonviolence, you are a vegetarian, you don’t drink, you meditate.  Why do you train to hurt another individual?”

I shrugged and threw out a quick answer that I train in the Arte Suave, or smooth art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu predicated on controlling versus hurting an opponent.

Having seen me through my injuries and discussions of chokes and armlocks he didn’t seem to buy this answer.

In truth I hadn’t thought about this question.  Being in a martial art was second nature to me. I had been in some form of a martial art for most of my life. My father was a wrestler and a coach so I was wrestling practically before I could walk and competing by the time I was eight years old.  I trained in Tae Kwon Do, a form of Chinese boxing called Wing Chun and now I train in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

In pondering the question, my thoughts raced.  I had always been troubled by the concept of a Warrior Monk.  These real life Zen Monks, or Sohei, from feudal Japan who rationalized a spiritual and warrior path as a means to forward both political and personal gains.  The root of martial arts, or at least Kung Fu comes from a Buddhist monk by the name of Bodhidharma who developed a series of exercises for the sedentary monks in the temple.  My mind wrestled with this concept, one of the core tenets of Buddhist thought is ahisma, or nonviolence for all living beings.  This was the root of the nonviolent movement promoted by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.  My mind grasped onto this thought of ahisma and the respect and humility for all living beings.  The thought that we are all connected.  We are all brothers and sisters vibrating harmoniously in the breath of life.  This is my belief, we are all the same.  So then, why train?

To get to the root that all living beings are connected and one, it is essential to remove everything within one’s mind, one’s ego to get to a state of nothing.  At a state of nothing we are then connected to everything.  From nothing we become everything.  Our mind becomes a barrier to this state.  It creates doubt, inflated worth, individual thought and ego.  Our mind attaches to the past and desires of the future.  It is fueled by fear to hold us status quo, trapped in our worldly attachments, trapped in this body.  Our mind creates a false belief that we are this physical vessal we carry around in this life.  We hold onto this individual identity from this physical persona and create beliefs that we are more important, or superior to other creatures, to other individuals.

When I step on the mat to compete in martial arts I have to relinquish all of these fears.  I no longer have the permission or belief that I am superior, or better.  In different to some of the language I hear from the MMA fighters of today, traditional martial artists were always taught first to be humble, to respect your opponent above yourself, to respect life above all.  There is a saying in martial arts, there is always someone stronger, faster, better.  In training, I am stripped of everything, I cannot bring the past with me, I cannot day dream of a future that is not here, I am alone with nothing but a Gi around a stripped down physical body.  Metaphorically, this is life.  First treat life with respect and humility.  Value life above all else.  The founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba, talked about his meaning of the Budo the code of martial arts, traditional defined as the path of the warrior, describing BU as LOVE. Love in that all life is precious and martial arts is used to protect life.  Life is LOVE.

When I am alone on the mat, I have no other choice but to stay in the present moment.  A lapse in concentration and I am finished.  There is no greater metaphor for life.  All we have is now.  There is no tomorrow.  The past doesn’t exist, it is gone.  We can create anything we want in this moment, the moment of now.  Martial Arts remind me of this critical teaching like a firehouse to my face.  The mat teaches me this lesson without bias, without morality or right or wrong.  I am present and in the now or I am finished, disconnected from the source, and lost.

I do not train to fight an opponent, I train to fight myself.  I fight the fears that sit inside and tell me I can’t or tell me I am small.  I fight the voice that asks ‘Who am I?’  Who am I to make a difference?  Who am I on this planet?  I train to fight the fears that I am not good enough, or lovable, or successful, whatever this means.  I train to better myself everyday.  This is my fight.  I fight each day to better the last, to push myself beyond the voices and beyond my comfort zone to that of a place that silences the noise bringing me in harmony with the wind, with the trees, with all living beings, with my opponent.  There is no time for fear in this place as the only thought is now.  I know that I am responsible for getting to this place, there is no other place to look as I am alone on the mat as in life.  I am responsible for being the ONE.   I know that I must train, I must give effort to reach beyond the ordinary to find this edge.  I train to live on the edge, to know I am capable of anything I create.  I train to better myself and those around me.  I train to find harmony in life, to find love.

This is why I train.

There is a famous story of one of the greatest samaruai of all time, Miyamoto Musashi, who defeated an opponent without fighting by convincing him to row to an island for a fight only to leave him on shore.  Bruce Lee repeated this story in Enter the Dragon when the tough guy on the boat asked him what his style was.  Bruce replied, ‘The art of fighting without fighting.’  The tough guy asked him to show him something.  Bruce convinced him to go to shore so they would have more room only to leave him by himself on a small raft behind the boat.

Martial Arts is not to harm an opponent. It is my canvas to find humility, respect and the PRESENT. It is my vehicle to better myself in all of life, to have love and compassion. This is the art of fighting without fighting. This is the way to find the warrior within oneself.  Respect, humility, presence, and living on the edge. Life is love.

Call to Action:

  • Find your canvas in life, the canvas that puts you on the edge, that finds humility within yourself, that teaches you to respect all of life.
  • Be this passion. Do not put it on the shelf and wait. Live it, breathe it, be it.  Let this passion become part of your being expressed through all of your actions in life. Thoughts and actions should become one.
  • Better yourself everyday.  There is no where else to look but in the mirror.  Put aside these fears and voice of smallness and become the leader that you are.  There is no where to look but within yourself.
  • Be LOVE.

Thomas D. Craig

Author of A Cup of Buddha

Writer. Seeker. Adventurer. Warrior