The Challenge of Self Mastery

The practice of the martial arts can be quite demanding on physical, psychological, and emotional levels.  These demands manifest themselves as challenges, and can be very powerful learning tools for self-discovery, and ultimately self-mastery.  These challenges allow us to face our most dangerous opponent face-to-face ; our own Self, and our own perceived fears.  Facing ‘fear’ head on demands that we confront ourselves in critical ways.  The fear that manifests when we perceive a threat to our own survival is a powerful challenge, but one we can grow stronger from. The feeling of emotional and psychological paralysis, of not acting quickly enough or effectively, is one of the greatest obstacles for a martial artist. This enveloping fear can paralyze us; or it can manifest as a total loss of control, resulting in panic and irrational reactions. Either of these emotionally based responses could mean failure; or even death if faced with an immediate threat to our survival. We must allow ourselves a high level of  internal trust, confidence, and the ability to not think about or even fear death or failure in the face of conflict and aggression. Freedom from the conscious ‘fear’ reaction releases very powerful potentials, but for those to become actualized, we must ACT AS TRAINED.

There is a story about a great master of the Japanese Tea Ceremony (‘Chanoyu’); a man of no combat skills or martial training, but very accomplished in the meditative and spiritual arts.  One day, he accidentally offended a high-ranking samurai, and was challenged to a dual.  He went to a Zen master to seek advice. The Zen master advised him that he had little chance of surviving, since the samurai was a skillful and experienced swordsman. He did tell him that he could ensure an honorable death by treating the combat as he would the formal ritual of the Tea Ceremony. He should focus his mind, paying no attention to the conscious, emotionally -based thoughts of life or death. He should grasp his sword as he would hold a tea ladle; and with the same precision and focus with which he would pour the boiling water onto the tea, and with no thought of the consequences, he should step forward with the full intention of striking the opponent down in one blow. The Tea Master prepared himself, abandoning all fear of death, when the appointed time for the dual arrived.  The samurai, encountering the focus, sheer calmness, and complete fearlessness of his opponent, was so awe-struck and shaken that he begged forgiveness and called off the dual.

The freedom of mind, and the pure focus of one not controlled by fear and conscious thoughts of life or death,  may not only immediately gain dominance of a potentially dangerous and lethal situation, but will allow one to gain Self Mastery.

           ” Men honor what lies within the sphere of their knowledge, but do not realize how dependent they are on what lies beyond it….”
                        – Chuang-Tze, ancient Taoist Sage and martial artist

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