Stoicism and Martial Arts: More Common Than You Think

This is a post by Jason Maine, a founder of fullcontactway.com, where he helps his readers with martial arts training. Jason’s personal experience and interest in every aspect of training brought him into a conclusion that there are close links between Stoicism and martial arts.

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Martial arts are built with their own set of principles and philosophies. Beyond the physical aspects, the arts touch on respect, wisdom, and other similar values. So, it makes sense that the likes of stoicism go hand-in-hand with the fighting arts.

Stoicism as a practical philosophy emphasizes action and behavior over contemplation. We cannot control external events. Instead, we only control our own actions and responses to those events.

Many martial arts practitioners have adapted this into their training. Take a look at some of the ways stoicism aligns with martial arts teachings.

Physical Hardship

If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment,” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

Martial arts push your body to levels it’s never seen before. They may seem impossible to reach at times. However, the arts forge remarkable self-confidence and an unshakable warrior spirit. It sheds self-doubt, especially with physical adversity.

This lines up well with stoicism. Stoics tap into their perseverance, much like with martial arts, to conquer a complication. Much of this is done by viewing that hardship is only as intense as you imagine. Once you understand that and fully identify the obstacle in your way, only then will you overcome it.

Discipline

When we blather about trivial things, we ourselves become trivial, for our attention gets taken up with trivialities. You become what you give your attention to,” – Epictetus, The Art of Living: The Classical Manual on Virtue, Happiness and Effectiveness.

Discipline is addressed countless of ways in martial arts and stoicism. In the arts, training teaches that the results you want can only be accomplished through your actions alone. You must work for what you want, apply yourself fully. This develops incredible determination even if it means eliminating other things in life that can hold you back.

In Stoicism, you rid yourself of any hedonistic behavior. Virtue and positive actions for yourself and others are placed in high regard. It instills a staunch discipline that follows you throughout life.

Visualization

For the only safe harbor in this life’s tossing, troubled sea is to refuse to be bothered about what the future will bring and to stand ready and confident, squaring the breast to take without skulking or flinching whatever fortune hurls at us,Seneca, Letters from a Stoic.

The act of visualization can help improve one’s skills in martial arts. Picture yourself winning an important bout and affirm that you know how to perform and master the required moves. It hones much-needed self-confidence.

One of the best uses of visualization is one that gets you into a positive frame of mind. Stoicism focuses largely on negative visualization to accomplish this. Otherwise known as premeditation malorum, you think of what can and will go wrong in any given situation.

Doing this helps prepare you for any upcoming obstacles, and it reduces any fear or apprehension about the unknown future. With visualization, you become self-assured and ready for anything.

Patience

True happiness is to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future …. The greatest blessings of mankind are within us and within our reach. A wise man is content with his lot, whatever it may be, without wishing for what he has not,” – Seneca

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times” – Bruce Lee

Patience is about allowing things to play out in their own time and understanding that there’s no reason for something to consume you to the point that you’re rushing to get to it. Martial arts force you to slow down to master a technique. You learn through hard work and time. Nothing happens overnight.

Stoics have learned to remain calm under any situations in order to focus on what’s in front of them, not what exists in the far future. This helps them develop a greater level of patience as they aren’t overly eager to go for more than what they have. They are content.

Expecting the Worst

Begin each day by telling yourself: Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil,” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

“Fall down 7 times, get up 8 times.” – Japanese maxim

In martial arts, you’re trained to anticipate and react to an opponent. You’re set up to take a hit or throw, knowing you’ll experience pain. This type of training helps you become adept at expecting the worst outcome while also learning to avoid it.

Stoicism is much in the same. Just like with negative visualization, you’re trained to come to terms with the obstacles life will build up in front of you. When you anticipate the worst, you’re accepting things outside of your control. You’re building up the mental perseverance to deal with it when it comes.

Respect

For it is in your power to retire into yourself whenever you choose,” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations.

Practitioners of martial arts have respect instilled in them as much as discipline. You respect your instructors, your fellow students, and the history of whatever art you’re learning. Most importantly, however, is the respect you feel for yourself.

When you push past personal boundaries, you gain self-respect through the confidence you feel in your own abilities to learn new things and fight on through hard times. It’s much of the same in stoicism where self-respect is valued above respect for others.

When you have good self-respect, you honor your own behavior and actions. As such, there’s no need to concern yourself with the opinions of others if those opinions are ever negative.

Controlling Your Emotions

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters,” – Epictetus

One of the largest aspects of martial arts and stoicism is keeping one’s emotions in check. It’s more along the lines of not allowing your emotions to control you.

In martial arts, one can learn greater self-control by being placed in situations where you’ll be angry or fearful. You’ll be taught a better way to react in order to diffuse a situation rather than make it worse.

With stoicism, you learn that reactions based on emotions can only end badly. As stated before, events that occur around us are out of our control. Stoicism helps positively direct what you feel, negative or good, so that you can find a way to improve yourself or the situation at hand.

Conclusion

With the similarities found in some principles of martial arts and stoicism, the two complement each other well. Even so, not many martial arts practitioners are known to utilize stoicism in their training. It can truly open a person up to understanding themselves better; in turn, it can lead to a more fulfilled life.

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Jason Maine is the founder of FullContactWay, a blog dedicated to provide best martial arts advice and information. Jason helps his readers with martial arts training by sharing personal tips and thorough research. He is interested in psychological and philosophical aspects of martial arts. Check out fullcontactway.com to get more about Jason’s work. You can find him on Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter.