When I was a boy I was drawn to martial arts mainly because of images in the media. I saw Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee beating up bad guys. I saw the Karate Kid win the tournament. This was inspiring, but even more spoke to my insecurities with a promise to become someone more powerful, more in control, safer.
Having spoken with many martial artists – I think this is a common point of entry. Ask someone who has been training in martial arts for a long time why they started to train, and why they continued to train, and you are likely to get two different responses.
Evolution as a Martial Artist
As a young man, I found myself attracted to the commando tough-guy types. The guys who claimed to train the CIA and the Navy SEALS etc. I would seek out seminars and products from these guys.
Again, the underlying feeling was that I wanted to feel tougher, more powerful.
But there’s a problem with this approach. When you have deep seated insecurities, covering over them with bravado or tough act, you still have insecurities.
I eventually was drawn to teachers who were kind, fatherly, skilled yet friendly. Teachers who didn’t have giant photos of themselves wearing gold embroidered outfits at the front door of their dojo. These are the people I could really learn from.
Enter the Ego
Without getting overly philosophical, the main issue here is the ego. The ego in this sense is a survival mechanism. It is a psychological construct that makes you crave safety, control, and approval so that your identified self can survive.
The ego is a big bundle of insecurities that often masks itself by all kinds of crappy behavior – like acting tough, getting angry easy, putting down others, building up false images of yourself, lying, Internet flame wars. Some psychologists appropriately call these behaviors defense mechanisms.
Moving Beyond Ego Satisfaction
As I progressed in the martial arts, I found myself less attracted to physical strength, macho bravado stuff, and top secret commando killing techniques. I gravitated towards teachers who skilled yet extremely humble.
Write this down: humility is the opposite of low self esteem.
I really enjoy the recent Ip Man movies with Donnie Yen. To me, this representation of the master who taught Bruce Lee shows an ideal self mastery:
- Always humble
- Kind to students, and other masters
- Difficult to anger
- Even under difficult situations smiles easily
- When forced to fight tries not to harm others
Physical skill is admirable, but self control is is an even rarer trait.
Overcoming Ego through Martial Arts
It’s time to examine your role models and your training.
For me, the more I train and the better I get the less likely I am to ever need to fight. This is the paradox of martial arts training.
Predators, animal and human, are instinctively attracted to psychological weakness. Insecurity shows in your body language. In my experience, people who act like “tough guys” tend to get into a lot of confrontations unnecessarily.
An interesting study conducted by Model Mugging showed that women who took the course were less like to ever have a mugging attempted. Why is this? I could argue that an increase in awareness helped them avoid dangerous situations. I also think it’s true that their confidence shines through in their body language making them a less attractive target.
Growing in martial arts means becoming more aware, more self aware, less attracted to the superficial. Look for practices that help you become aware of and work with the ego, with insecurities.