How do I get calm?

Recently I was able to visit some kung fu family on the other side of the country.  While we were all sitting around and visiting, a question from a younger belt was raised.  “How do I get calm?”  Such a great question, and he got some really good advice from more experienced students.

I personally identify with the sentiment behind the question.  And I have reflected on the answers given over that last week.  Staying calm and focused in the middle of an intense experience is very difficult, yet vital to the leveling up of the individuals abilities.  I feel like this is one of the goals I have spent more energy on attaining than almost any other in my training thus far.  I am not sure I have really attained it yet either.

It is so much more than just “not panicking” … although that is a good first step.  It’s about being able to reach a state where you are free from the restraints of fear, frustration, self judgement, and insecurity.  Each one of those elements require addressing individually in order to reach the goal.

Insecurity is the feeling of not being confident that you are good enough. Confidence from practice helps with the insecurity a little. Progression is key to this kind of practice based confidence.  Solo practice can only bring so much confidence, at some point you have to progress to more difficult circumstances, someone has to challenge you more. Something even deeper that helps even more is the removal of expectations.  The enemy here is pride.  This is a personal journey.  I find that when I can enter a competitive scenario with no expectations of myself to win then I am free of the distraction of the little voice in my head that is berating me about my performance and placing pressure on me to “not lose”.  This allows me to focus and relax even more.  But I also notice that my mind likes to focus on my failures instead of my successes.  Redefining my expectation of what I think I should be capable of is very important.  It’s ok.  It’s ok that you are where you are in your training.  The color of the belt around your waist doesn’t matter.  The number of degrees on it doesn’t matter either.  Neither does how many years you have been training.  Just be what you are and accept it.  It is what it is, and you are what you are.  Acceptance of yourself as you are without expectation or judgement is a vital part of maturity both martially and individually.

Freeing yourself of the enemy of fear is almost impossible, but freeing yourself of the restraints of fear is doable.  This is called stress inoculation, but in order to do it successfully you need a family who you can trust to challenge you to the point that you can begin to acclimate to the pressure of high intensity training.  As is so often true, trust is needed to combat fear.  It starts with determining that you are going to trust the person you are training with to not hurt you, even though it feels like they could.  This means you have to have people you can trust with this.  If they are not trustworthy in this regard, then don’t.  I find that it is helpful sometimes to ask myself the question, “what am I afraid of?”  More times than not, I am not really afraid of hurting myself, but instead I am afraid of failing, or looking foolish.  These things need to be recognized.  Surround yourself with people who encourage you.  Who make you feel safe.  If you don’t try you won’t ever succeed, and no success comes without failure and looking foolish sometimes. Just keep working at it.

Frustration often comes from failure.  It’s ok to fail in training… it’s expected and necessary.  A few things you need to keep in mind.  Everyone is different, they learn at different rates and have different backgrounds and skill sets to build on.  They might pass you up.  Less experienced people may outperform you.  It’s ok.  You just do you.  Perseverance and acceptance are the keys to overcoming frustration.  If you don’t quit, then you will get it eventually.  If this was easy they wouldn’t call it kung fu.  If it was easy it would likely not give fulfillment and satisfaction in the accomplishment of it.

Sometimes you just need to take a deep breath, accept you will fail, understand that it’s ok – at any level of skill or experience.  Embrace your training family, instead of expecting something unrealistic of yourself, let them help you.  Trust them and trust yourself.  Silence that ego and self-judging voice in your head.

Train hard, so you can fight easy.


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About Shifu Read

Primary instructor of the school. Training in martial arts since he was 5. He started in kickboxing, then moved to XingYi at 18. At 32 he began training in BaGua. At 36 he began training in TaiJi. At 40, he began in BJJ. He loves to share his knowledge with his students and help them along in their own martial journey.
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