Taking the Road Less Traveled (Part 2): Fear, Panic, Anxiety, and the Calming Effect of the Martial Arts

I remember sitting on my knees on the mats to the far left, Mark Sensei was beside me asking me what was stopping me from successfully executing ukemi (safely falling).  I had been at it for weeks by that point.  Fear stiffened my body, either preventing a decent roll, or stopping me altogether.  I had to keep going no matter what, but man oh man, was it difficult to push myself into this art.

I answered Mark Sensei with two words, “My thoughts.”  The wild nor’easter of fear gripping my mind was the only thing stopping me.  Anxiety, fear, and panic are realities I deal with daily.  Over the course of almost 28 years of recovery these things have lessened somewhat, but not nearly enough by November 2015 (from the previous post this is when I started Ninpo).  The child of an addict almost always grows up with a skewed sense of reality.  Not knowing what was coming next in the form of abuse left me in a constant state of anxiety.

By the time I was an adult, seeing life through panic colored glasses was my modus operandi.

The martial artist lives within a constant tension that comes from practicing violence for the sake of peace.  If I believe in the spirit of Budō (click here for a definition), learning to overcome oneself is the ultimate goal of practicing a martial art.  Nearly every level of technique and practice I’ve encountered fear is involved.  For the uke (receiver of the technique) to be a good training partner,  there must be a certain amount of willingness to receive pain.  When faced with a hard fall, one where my ukemi needs to be on point, my metaphorical knees tend to knock together. At this point I MUST overcome to be true to myself in my efforts to grow as a person.  I have failed at this a few times and I’ve spent hours unnecessarily beating myself up.  But, when I succeed and overcome my panic, the feeling of triumph is incredibly satisfying.

This is where the rubber meets the road in the grown up mind of an abused child.

It’s not easy to be thrown to the mats repeatedly by those bigger and stronger and get up and ask for more.  It’s not easy to face the tension of moving fast in a line up of ukemi practice knowing I could crash into someone else if I move incorrectly.  It’s not easy to receive hits and blocks that leave marks every week, so similar to marks left by adults who should have known better. Believing in myself enough to push through fear, panic, and anxiety and do what’s asked of me and then succeeding brings the confidence needed to calm the mind with truth.  The truth is, I can do these things because I’ve already succeeded.  The phrase “practice makes perfect” isn’t just about muscle memory, it’s about knowing that whatever one’s practicing can be done.

Practicing violence so I can be at peace seems like an impossible paradigm, but it works so well to calm the mind and spirit. I’m glad I stuck it out and eventually tested well for my ukemi belt test.  I’m so glad I’ve stayed the course and learned how to be knocked down and get up again.  I’m so thankful to those who’ve helped me so much along the way, who believed in me enough to help me keep coming back again and again.

Most of all, I am thankful to God for getting me through door to begin with.

 

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