The F Word

No, not that one.  No swearing in the Dojo please.  I’m talking about FEAR.  It does work as an ‘F’ word however, as it can become your worst enemy.

I was once scuba diving in a cave.  Suddenly I lost track of which way was up.  All around me just water and cave, and the walls started spinning.  Vertigo, and I felt like throwing up.  A trained rescue diver, I know that fear will make people do crazy things: if you shoot up to the surface from 30 meters below, which is what instinct screams, you can get seriously hurt or worse.  All I could do was go back to my training and talk myself back from my panicked state.  Breathe.  Relax.  Bubbles go up. If you throw up, all that happens is that the fish get fed.  The walls are not moving or caving in.  That’s the mind playing tricks.  Fear let go of its grip.

Moderate to high stress can make a person unable to process the threat and respond effectively and rationally.  Physical abilities deteriorate.  I think about it now, those 30 seconds of panic could have cost me my life.

Here’s the thing, though, and I’ve said it before: the body knows what it’s doing. Adrenaline and fear-induced stress at a low level can be a very good thing.  The body feels infused with added power and strength. Senses become more acutely aware.  Physical abilities are enhanced and reaction time is decreased as the body shifts into action gear.  Learning how to recognize and deal with fear and then use it to your advantage is a critical part of a martial artist’s training.   If not, fear may become the greatest limitation.

Vali Majd from Roots Dojo has some fascinating insights on fear.  The two main things people fear are falling and asphyxia, he says, and all students will encounter these at some point.  From these two base fears you get a hoard of other anxieties, which change through life and are exacerbated in different situations, be it combat or otherwise.  The secret is to use that fear as a guide, and not let it control you.

To fine-tune fear dial takes training.  At Roots the overall approach to mental conditioning has one rule, says Majd.  Whatever we do, we don’t want to damage the student any further.  A skilled instructor will help a student recognize their fears, and depending on the nature and how they are symptomized, work through those.  Improper training will simply water the seeds of fear and allow them to grow.

Let’s take the fear of falling.  While there may be a bit of a blueprint in place for  training, the succession of drills needs to be somewhat personalized.  It may start with simply going to the ground on different breath patterns, then falling single handed, double handed, on different terrains, on other people and so on.  Slowly and skilfully.

Writing on fear, Emmanuel Manolakakis of Fight Club Toronto says: “Hardly do you achieve success in a hurry or under pressure…simply do yourself the favour of appreciating your little successes as this boosts your chances of achieving great things. Tell yourself there is no good in rushing, after all, the popular saying goes thus: anything worth doing is worth doing well.”

In closing, I will add a few fitting quotes: Don’t fear perfection- you’ll never reach it.  And true courage is knowing what not to fear.  Vali gets the last word.  “Growing up, it’s actually the fear of falling that moves us to learn how to stand.”

Roots Dojo.  Out.