Martial Arts - Realm of The Deeply Insecure

By Damo Mitchell, March 21 2015

Let us always be brutally honest with ourselves as to why we started training in the martial arts in the first place. I have spent my life around various forms of martial arts classes and practitioners. When I was younger it was within the Japanese external systems and as I grew older it was within the Chinese systems. This means that over the years I have grown to know many people who started training in different forms of Gong Fu. Some of those people are still training whilst the vast majority have since stopped and moved onto other things. One thing that always fascinated me was the common thread that pulled all of those people into martial training which is both arduous and long winded. Why would somebody wish to dedicate so much time to painstakingly analysing every little facet of their movement through the medium of combat? Now with the exception of those who got into something like Taiji for health reason I have seen that the vast majority begun training because they were deeply insecure.

This insecurity may have come about for various reasons. In many cases a person was bullied or physically threatened in some way which is one of the most difficult things for the human psyche to ever come to terms with. In some cases people were insecure because they were physically frail and martial arts seemed like a good way to become strong. I have met some who were insecure because of the way in which they had been brought up by their parents and even those who felt insecure because they naturally lacked grace and poise. I feel that if the majority of us looked inside we would see that our training also came from a sense of deep insecurity which was or is leaving a gaping hole in our inner being.

If I look at myself as an example I can understand this situation very well. I began training at age four because I was sent to the classes by my parents. At this age I was blissfully unaware of the stresses of life and so no major insecurities had developed. Consequently I was not much interested in the arts and so I treated them as a casual hobby, somewhere I went in the evenings to play and throw my arms and legs in the air. This all changed as I got older and begun to realise that other people possibly posed a threat. I have always been slight in stature and as a child and young teen it made me a target for bullying. Here was the seed of insecurity which left its mark and drove me into a serious study of Karate and then the Chinese systems. This insecurity has carried me through years of continuous training and though I am close to dealing with my inner turmoil it is always a long journey; the mind is always reluctant to let go of the deepest injuries.

The problem with these kinds of psychological aspects is that they tend to dictate each and every thing that we do. Our inner state becomes the stand point from which we experience the outside world. It causes us to emotionally distort the way in which we act as our damaged psyche seeks to defend itself from further hurt. The spiritual traditions of the east have long understood this and so developed various systems of self cultivation which would unable a person to deal with their own being and so elevate themselves to a higher state, martial arts was one such tool, or at least it has the potential to be so if used correctly.

There is an inherent danger within the martial arts world and that is that the most insecure are the people who stay within the arts the longest. They are the ones whose inner nature sees the potential for change, even if they don’t consciously understand what this crazy drive is that borders on obsession. This means that, almost inevitably, they become the teachers of the arts, those with the most experience and the most years of dedicated effort put into the arts. By the very nature of what it means to be a teacher students will come to you and then look to you for guidance. On the surface they may be looking to you for martial technique but subconsciously they are also looking for something else, a way to deal with that same insecurity that most likely led their newfound teacher into the arts in the first place. This is a responsibility that all teachers need to recognise and take on board.

It was for these reasons that classically schools of martial arts, especially internal practices, would teach ethics alongside their arts. The view was basically that   a person could be measured by their actions and the state of their heart-mind, not by the strength of their punch. Sadly, over the years this message was lost and in my sad opinion, the ethics of martial arts are all but dead. Gong Fu has reached an all time low of morality and self cultivation. Take a journey onto any martial arts forum and see the countless pages of arguments to see how true this is.

 As practitioners (and certainly as teachers) we need to remember that it was a deep rooted insecurity which led us to these practices and almost everybody in this community is coming from the same place. At this point maybe your brain is going ‘rubbish, I am not insecure, what is he taking about?’ If this is the case I would suggest that maybe you are one of the lucky few who is perfectly balanced or perhaps you need to look a little deeper inside and be a bit more honest with yourself.

Why this is important is because if you constantly trash others and attack them either physically or verbally you are essentially damaging the other persons inner nature. Their insecurity is likely to become deeper no matter how hard they try to shake off what has been said or done. Each step towards weakening that persons inner nature is taking away from their development. Two people will enter into a conflict because one or both is trying to come to terms with their own insecurity. In order to validate their own stance and thus defend their fragile ego they will argue until one is the perceived victor and one the loser. The ‘winner’ has confirmed the distorted viewpoint of his own nature in his own mind whilst the ‘loser’ has been damaged even more deeply. This is the not an effective method of inner growth for either party. In modern times this is made even worse by the internet and martial arts forums. Here insecure people can shout at others and try to validate their position whilst gathering around them other insecure people to prop up their fragile ego’s. A gathering of wounded ego’s attacking each other through typed word should be avoided at all costs lest the inner-growth aspect of martial arts be lost forever.

This is why I never support martial arts competitions. In each case their must always be a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’. If, in a perfect world, competitions or challenge were between two people who mutually accepted that they were there to better their arts and themselves then competition could be  a good thing. After a couple of years taking place in martial arts tournaments I realised that this was sadly not the case. With each win my ego has validated my own standpoint whether I was in the right or the wrong and with each loss my sense of insecurity was etched more deeply into my being. With each competition I see I witness the same process going on whether the participants are aware of this or not. Martial arts should abhor this kind of practice. In life you should never compete, but at the same time, if you must fight you should not lose. Not losing and being competitive are not the same thing and I believe more martial artists should spend time contemplating the differences between these two. This is the heart of the study which we undertake.

I don’t write this as a rant or an attack but as a thought process which I have been through lately after reading a few martial arts forums and seeing the processes taking place there. A martial arts forum is not somewhere you will ever see me contributing in any great length simply because I find the dynamics of what is taking place in these communities counter productive to what I am seeking, inner development through the medium of martial arts study. I would urge sincere practitioners of a like mind to question themselves and their motives before getting involved in such places as the ethical side of study needs to come back lest martial arts become a pale shadow of what they once were. Let us work together to further ourselves and our arts, not fight over things which really bare no importance on the nature of our inner development. A sense of insecurity can become the greatest fuel for a lifetime journey of self cultivation and development or it can sadly lead us onto a path of egoistic distortion which helps nobody. That choice is ultimately ours alone.

Kimberly McNeil