One of the things that martial arts training should give you, over the years, is better self control. At least in theory. You see some higher ranked people and it’s clear that it doesn’t always work out that way, but that’s the plan, at least in theory.

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I’m a bit fan of Japanese martial arts expert Ellis Amdur who wrote the excellent book Hidden in Plain Sight about Aikido. That’s not the only book he’s written of course, and I really should try to read some of his others, but he’s done a lot of work in the fields of mental health and dealing with conflict resolution in a professional capacity. He made a recent short video, on the use of the word “triggered”, his point is that how we define or label something becomes your reality. If you define yourself as triggered by something, then you are saying that you have no control over the situation. You are, in effect, helpless. But if you redefine how something makes you feel, using a different word then you can define yourself as having agency, and that is the kind of training that martial arts can give you. I kind of agree, but not entirely*.

As Viktor E. Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” I think martial arts training should be a way to get used to stressful situations so you can more easily inhabit that space.

Of course, you need to be engaging in practices that take you out of your comfort zone to get these benefits. Most of the time being outside your comfort zone is not where you want to be but with repeated exposure to the discomfort of being pinned, attacked, thrown, etc, you can start to take these things less heavily, and you can learn to play within the spaces that appear once you stop panicking.

*I’d counter argue the point that Ellis is making – just because you say you are triggered by something that doesn’t necessarily imply action. Ellis equates the word trigger to imply a gun, and once a gun has been shot it can’t be un-fired. Well, maybe, but “triggered” could also just mean the state of readiness you are in to fire a gun – you still have that moment to take your finger off the trigger.

There’s a risk of being lost in semantics here, so let’s not lose sight of the whole thing – the point is, finding that moment of freedom and growth between stimulus and response and learning to live in it. Now that is one of the real benefits of martial arts.

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