Many of us have challenging, stressful jobs. There seems to be less and less free time these days. We get pulled in 10 directions at once, we have responsibilities in and out of work and we get stressed out. There are lots of ways to get stress relief both heathy and not so healthy. I have used both. When I was younger, I used food and alcohol for stress relief. All it got me was weight gain and low energy. I also tried healthier methods. I went to the gym, I tried playing golf and tennis. I even tried meditation and yoga. All of those things, healthy and unhealthy, offered some level of stress relief but it was not enough. It was not until I came back to martial arts as an adult, specifically sparring that I found effective stress relief.
Fighting in a controlled environment is the best stress relief I have ever found. Non-martial artists don’t understand the concept. When trying to explain why I enjoy sparring, many people assume that beating my opponent is the stress relieving factor. It is not. There have been times that I have had a training session in which I did not win one match, but felt recharged and refreshed on the way out. I remember taking a BJJ class after work and leaving physically exhausted but with a spring in my step. Even my hour + ride home did not bother me. The act of putting yourself against another, challenging not only the opponent but yourself, that is the release of stress. In life we have to depend on other people and that dependence causes uncertainty which can result in stress. When we enter the ring, we are the only one we can depend on and our opponent can only rely on themselves. This pure one on one competition can purify the mind and reset our attitudes.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
In my mind sparring is a zero sum game. There is a winner and a loser. I do not believe in the everybody wins mentality infecting America. This is not about trophies or accolades. It is only about the battle, the experience in the ring. When I am the loser, I make sure that I have learned something, even if the only thing I learn is that I need to train more. The success is not in the winning, it is in the training. A former boss of mine was a runner. He had the fitness philosophy, life is like a baseball pennant race, 4 out of 7 is a win. If he gets 4 workouts done per week (7 days), he won that week. I have adapted that to my training. I have won if I get 4 workouts done a week. (but I do like it when I beat my opponents!)
As a 47 year old financial services executive, I don’t have peers to train with. Most of the people my age in the martial arts lifestyle are school owners or at least full time instructors. My peers are out running, playing tennis, playing golf or watching television. This lack of peers is further constricted because many instructors my age listen to their ego and fear of loss, so those people don’t want to spar with me. Most of the people I spar with are under 30 and train all the time. This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that I am always forced to be at the top of my game. On the downside I have very little in common with a 25 year old, so they are not good candidates for a training partner. It would be easier if I had a training partner, but I am not going to let my solitary path to stop me. If you want something, you have to go get it, no matter the situation.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” Buddha
Goals are important in training and the goals need to be specific and targeted. We can’t do everything. We can’t work 60 hours a week and train 40 hours a week. We need to target our training to specific goals. My goal is to be better in the ring. A couple of years ago I progressed well and succeeded in competition but due to challenging work situations, I fell off the fitness wagon. Late last year I took a step back and really focused on me and my training. As I lost weight and got back into shape, I felt better mentally, not just physically. However, it was just this past week that I realized the effect my training, specifically sparring has had on my state of mind. I had a couple of really hard days last week and I trained after work both days. One of those days in my training was cut short and I was called upon to lead the end of the class and I left the class disappointed with my stress intact. On the other day I was able to end the class with sparring, including a match with my son who is very fast and who keeps me on my toes. I left that class with no stress left. As I have mentioned in other articles, being asked to teach is an honor. However, when I go to train with the expectation to train, having to cut my training short is a let-down.
If you are stressed out from work, even if you are a martial arts instructor, it is time to step back and train. Train in a place where you can actually train and won’t be called upon to teach. You need to recharge too. You need to sharpen your skills or you will get stagnant. Find the activity that brings you the most stress relief and train it. For me it is fighting. I know people who find comfort in the meditative qualities of kata and those that like the aggressive intensity of weapons training. Whatever it is, do it. Make time for yourself, train for yourself, and recharge. You will find yourself more relaxed and able to conquer larger challenges both inside and outside the ring.