As a modern human being, I can’t help but yearn for a lifestyle where I can remove myself from the haste of life so that I can turn inward to explore the depths of my mind and metaphysical environment.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to have trained with a Sensei, whose philosophy on training Martial Arts is centred around discarding one’s ego in order to progress with a free mind and spirit. We had not exchanged a single word about his training methods and what I am about to explain to you is through first-hand experience alone.
This training was one of the most gruelling and intense sessions that I have ever endured. It was a shock to both my body and my mind. I needed to squeeze out every ounce of inner strength to prevent myself from giving up. We alternated between high-intensity upper and lower body techniques with no rest periods to give our hearts and lungs time to recover.
We began with a lengthy run to warm our muscles up. This raised my heart rate and prepared my body for the onslaught that was about to come. Next up were wheelbarrows, a two-partner exercise where one person holds the other by the ankles and the other must keep themselves in a horizontal position by bracing their core and walking forward with their arms. We alternated and walked the entire length of the dojo many times over. My arms and core were burning, and I was already perspiring profusely.
Without any rest, we ran towards the stairs. At the top of the stairs, we kicked each other on the outer thighs as we do during leg conditioning. If you have done this before, you know that it hurts like hell, and you experience a momentary loss of control in those muscles. To my surprise, our next move was to hop down the single flight of stairs on one leg and then back up. Barely having the strength in my legs to stand up, I proceeded with the single leg hops which at this point was all driven by my mind.
Getting back into the dojo, Sensei decided that more wheelbarrows were in order. This was followed by walking squat kicks which we also performed many times over for the length of the dojo. Upon completion of the squat kicks, we each took turns through dead hangs on a pull-up bar. These were no ordinary dead hangs. I also needed to tighten my midsection so that my training partner could deal explosive punches for more conditioning. As I swung like a heavy bag at each punch, I closed my eyes and found the peace that I needed. I could no longer feel the intense pain that was previously coursing through my body. I reached a state of relaxed tension.
When the conditioning was complete, I walked a few steps and collapsed into a seiza (kneeling position). My body was completely spent, and I took the time to catch my breath. We finished the training session with some kata practice, and I limped home after thanking the Sensei for the training.
Thinking back, I did not give up. I did not power through the pain and the survival alarms that was coursing through by body. I did not reach a second wind or a release of adrenalin into my blood stream. It had nothing to do with my physical body. I simply submitted my mind and body to the experience reaching a calm place within myself. I found peace within the chaos, and this allowed me to propel myself deeper and deeper into the strenuous training.
I had reached heights that were well beyond my physical capabilities at the time. I had tapped into a well of strength deep within as I untethered myself from the physical and mental concerns of survival. This was a deeply spiritual experience, and it opened another spiritual pathway for me to explore.
The basic premise of this training is that, in order to truly be able to push yourself passed your physical limits, you need to untether yourself from your ego. The ego is that component of yourself that drives your self-esteem and allows you to attach a certain value to yourself. Very often, we set goals that are well within our physical and intellectual capabilities to feed into this ego and ensure that we maintain this positive outlook on ourselves.
Now imagine that you are able to let go of this conscious need to measure yourself worth against your capabilities. You would have essentially freed yourself from the psychological burden of inadequacy and allow yourself to merely exist. You would no longer need to attach merit to yourself based on the judgement of others and whether you have passed or failed at an activity. There would be no predefined goals or limits for you to operate and work within. Although it is likely that you would still operate and perform well within your capabilities even with the loss of ego, you would have opened yourself up to exceeding these limits as well.
A Survival Mechanism
Our brains are wired to preserve themselves and their bodies during times of hardship such as intense physical training. This survival mechanism prevents us from completely depleting and destroying our bodies in a physical sense. But what of a life and death situation where you are required to put everything into it so that you can overcome that threatening life situation. This is the kind of situation which calls of an indomitable inner strength and mindset. A tenacity of body and mind. Just like any muscle in the body, this needs to be trained and developed. The difference is that the training needs to be more rigorous than the strength training of the body.
You need to burden the body past its limits to reach the mind and tap into that inner strength. In order to pass the body’s limits, you need to overcome your greatest obstacle which is your ego. Only when you conquer that part of yourself, will you be able to break the shackles of your imposed physical limits and enter the so-called flow state.
What is inner strength?
Inner Strength in a very practical sense is your ability to not give up during times of adversity and hardship. It is your tenacity and ability to keep going even if the odds are stacked against you and there is no clear path to victory. It is doing what needs to be done even with limited resources and support of the end-goal. It is your driving force to overcome. That feeling that you must forge ahead even when you are exhausted and feel like you have nothing left to give.
How do we develop an indomitable inner strength?
You develop it the same way that you develop strength in your body and skill in your Martial Art. Through constant and regular practice.
Unfortunately, there is no one size fits all approach to this. We are unique in our physical, mental and spiritual attributes. The key to developing your own inner strength is through your own developmental journey and experience. You need to expel your own ego through your own process of introspection and push your physical limits during physical training to develop that inner strength.
You may also begin by implementing small changes into your routine. Something as small as taking a cold shower. These changes should feel uncomfortable at first but the longer you do it the easier it should become. By doing this, you not only condition your mind towards discomfort but you also become mentally stronger. You may find that you view the obstacles in life through a different lens. Suddenly, these obstacles may appear less significant to you than they previously were. You will have a clearer mind and come up with better solutions which will lead to an overall improvement in your quality of life.
There is more to Martial Arts than just the physical.
Martial Arts training is much more than developing the skill to fight and achieving its mental and physical health benefits.
It is about developing inner strength and the ability to push forward through and out of adversity.
This reminds me of the quote by Bruce Lee:
“Don’t pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.”
This integral part of letting go of your own ego and reservations about yourself to pursue inner strength will lead you down the path of humility, a resolute spirit and an enhanced understanding of yourself.
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