3 Steps to Better Emotional Control Through Martial Arts
People are scared. Collectively, the world is experiencing more fear and anxiety than they have in a generation. Yet most people do not possess the emotional tools to navigate this current world climate.
Competing in a full-contact martial art can be a terrifying and exhilarating experience. There is an ever-present risk of extreme personal injury (and though less likely, still possible at the amateur level). Being prepared emotionally to step into the ring was a process that I developed through years of competition. This isn’t news to anyone that’s competed in martial arts, but for everyone else; I hope to shed some light on the process of fear management and better control of your emotions.
Understand Your Circumstances
The first step is to assess what could be at stake. Understand your absolute worst-case scenario. In a martial arts competition, there is always a very small but still possible chance of death. Hiding from the reality of a situation just because it seems “extreme” contributes to avoiding the processing of all those deeper emotions attached to that very-unlikely-but-still-possible outcome.
Take Time to Acknowledge the Fear
When I had a competition coming up, it would be my waking thought and the last thing on my mind before I slept. We have a beautiful and annoying threat recognition part of our brain that is constantly scanning our past present and future for danger. If you let this system run wild, it will have you in a consistent state of fight or flight. I needed to mindfully acknowledge my fear to get that system to ramp down. The words mindful and agency are related here. Each day I would set aside 10 minutes to mindfully process my emotions. This gave me agency in that process, ultimately lending me a sense of control over my circumstances. In our current situation, the ever-changing policies and unfolding global and local scenarios feed a compulsion to check for updates. Give yourself 10 minutes each day to check the news if you need to, then sit and process your feelings on the current circumstances. Then…Put it to rest.
Game Plan and Actionables
If during preparation for a competition, I felt I was not doing everything that I could to prepare, it would be signaled by a healthy dose of anxiety. As soon as I had confirmation on a date, I would sit down and plan out my preparation from start to finish. Knowing that I had planned for every eventuality gave me a sense of comfort as well as purpose. Know what you can do to protect yourself and those that you love. Put together a game plan. It’s important to know that you are taking every precaution. Not to mention, being proactive about problematic situations can help alleviate feelings of anxiety and stress.
Remember It’s a Skill
With the combination of accepting worse case scenarios, not hiding from negative emotions (but giving them time, space and attention so that they can be processed), and finally figuring out my actionables, I eventually improved my ability to process and compartmentalize my emotions. It’s important to remember that handling your emotions is a skill. Like any other skill, it needs to be practiced and refined regularly. With time, getting a handle on your emotions will become reflexive.
I encourage everyone to practice martial arts. It’s opened the door to learning many skills that have enriched my life and fortified my spirit. I apply the skills and lessons learned on a daily basis. I’ll leave you with the words of the greatest swords master to ever live.
“If you know the way broadly you will see it in everything.”