I’ve recently been recovering from a sinus infection. I’m taking a serious treatment of antibiotics to carpet bomb any potential bronchitis or other respiratory infection that has sprung up.
I’ve been recovering since December, but this is the third time the symptoms have slowed me down and the first time I’ve taken any prescription medication. Every day off the mat has been a painful separation from my goals and the collective breath of my training community, but it’s been an important lesson in survival. I have new respect for taking breaks and by not taking enough, thinking I would accomplish more, I’m doing much less because I got sick. Repeatedly.
The martial arts mindset is a perspective that we can borrow from to apply to daily life, as enemies become obstacles, and barriers become rewards. Conquering yourself, the one in the mirror, is paramount and called for above all else in any fight.
Survival requires no less self-control than fighting anyone else. If you can find it within yourself while you survive, you can use it again.
“To conquer an enemy you must first conquer yourself; or to put it more deeply, if you would conquer an enemy God must first have conquered you.” The Christian Advocate, Vol 88 (pg. 512) Circa 1913.
The Christian Advocate is a little old school, even for Christians, but like most things in martial arts, this is hardly a new school concept.
The Dhammapada is a little older:
“Though one may conquer a thousand times a thousand men in battle, yet he indeed is the noblest victor who conquers himself.” The Dhammapada, Chapter 8, The Thousands, v.103.
Part of conquering yourself is what allows the individual to choose their actions in a situation, rather than to react out of fear or someone else’s prompting. It takes discipline to perceive a feint and refrain from overreacting.
Whether in front of yourself or an opponent, discipline asks for the same things, to choose, rather than react, to make the decision and to see the decision, not just the problem.
“Confront them with annihilation, and they will then survive; plunge them into a deadly situation, and they will then live. When people fall into danger, they are then able to strive for victory.” Art of War, Chapter 11, Sun Tzu
Survival, just like routine practice, is a process by which the survivor is benefitted. Being forced to survive breeds the tenacity necessary to eventually succeed.
A fighter in its last stand is a wounded animal, a force with nothing to lose and no further fear of risk, a person for whom all the options have been eliminated. In the mind of a fighter, survival is so potent a drive that even Sun Tzu acknowledges the wisdom of respecting a struggling enemy.
“When you surround an army, leave an outlet free. Do not press a desperate foe too hard.” The Art of War, part 7.36
On the mats, the philosophies of Sun Tzu’s army warfare strategies find fresh opportunities in the philosophy of hand to hand combat. For some Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners, survival is the foundation for an effective fighting style.
In Jiu-Jitsu University, by six-time Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Champion Saulo Ribeiro, the entire first chapter of the book is dedicated to the philosophy and technique of survival. In a conversation with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Grandmaster Helio Gracie, Saulo writes:
“He did not hold me in awe… He said, ‘Son, you’re strong, you’re tough, you’re a world champion, but I don’t think you can beat me.’ … I realized how deftly he had put all the responsibility on me to defeat him. This is key to Helio; he never says he will beat you, only that you will not beat him… It is not enough to be able to defeat all your challengers. To be able to to tell any man that he cannot defeat you is to wield true power.” Jiu Jitsu University (p.18)
The survival foundation for martial arts certainly is not the only valid approach to success, or victory, or both. The old proverbial wisdom, “The best defence is a good offense,” has taken many forms over the years.
Sun Tzu wrote, “Keep him under strain and wear him down.”
George Washington put it in his own words in a letter to John Trumbull, “…offensive operations, often times, is the surest, if not the only (in some cases) means of defence.”
This perspective has a long list of supporters. However, the resources to sustain an offence aren’t always available.
A good example of these differing perspectives was the historic matchup between orthodox boxer Floyd Mayweather and lightning fast puncher-southpaw Manny Pacquiao.
Without deliberating into the outcome or rules of boxing too much, the defensive strategy won out. The nigh untouchable Floyd improved his professional record that fateful night to 48-0, but Manny Pacquiao was far from being finished in that fight.
As a singular example, it proves the importance of survival and defence quite readily.
In contradiction with this example, George Washington clearly found success with his tactics as well, however, he may have employed more than just maintaining pressure on the British. What George Washington shows is a fighting force with no alternatives left, the colonists were already fighting the British with one foot on their front doorstep while the British could lose and keep their homes across the Atlantic quite comfortably.
In either case, boxing or the American Revolution, the survivalist’s strength is being proven.
“In ancient times, those skilled in warfare made themselves invincible and then waited for the enemy to become vulnerable. Being invincible depends on oneself, but the enemy’s vulnerability depends on himself.” The Art of War, part 4.1
Being invincible goes beyond surviving, however, if you can’t survive, you aren’t invincible either.
“Therefore, those skilled in warfare establish positions that make them invincible and do not miss opportunities to attack the enemy.” The Art of War, part 4.11
In the day-to-day of working towards one’s goals, get-rich-quick schemes and overnight fitness programmes offer quick relief from that struggle just to keep progress alive.
Most business start-ups fail. Most restaurants close their doors in the first year. It’s not uncommon for a new business to cost money in its first quarters before it starts turning a profit.
Whether its business, the first week of being a white belt at a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school, or breaking an addiction, finding a way to get to the next day or even the next paycheck is a fear that keeps most people from ever trying.
It’s no secret that starting something is often the most difficult part of a process, but imagining survival should be every bit as inspirational as envisioning the more fulfilling phases.
In addition to the survival rhetoric I just put forward I would like to add one more George Washington-inspired twist, in the words of Jeremy Riddle, “Guard your momentum in life by killing anything that threatens it.”
Keep the pressure on life. Eventually, surviving will expand your gas tank, extend your wingspan, flood your oasis or what have you.
“Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” New American Standard Bible, 1 Corinthians 9:25-27
Keeping your dreams alive is the real fight, one that won’t be won overnight and regarding faith, that is often the point.
The NIV and NLT translations didn’t give me the boxing reference I wanted, so I went with the American translation there ;D Feel free to comment about that or anything here below.