People who begin training in the martial arts often choose this path because they have an idea they want to be warriors, but they're not exactly certain what being a warrior means. They have a sense that being a warrior is about living well, with courage and integrity and they're right. It has nothing to do with the number of punches thrown and everything to do with avoiding punches entirely. But being a warrior also means training like a warrior and sometimes that concept is a little harder to understand.
Martial arts instructors, especially those who own schools they'd like to fill with students, often "sell" their services as any other fitness professional or gym owner might. They say that be training in the martial arts, you can lose weight, get in shape and build self-confidence. They distinguish themselves from the local aerobics studio by also pointing out that by training in martial arts, you can learn to defend yourself. They don't always say very much about acting like a warrior.
Getting into better physical shape, learning self-defense skills are realistic. It's true that if you train in martial arts, you'll improve your stamina and you'll have more self-confidence. But at some point, you have to stop training for the extrinsic reasons (for example, the hope that you'll fit into that size six suit again). Instead, you have to start training because that's what warriors do. Warriors train in the warrior arts.
They don't train to get a black belt or a job promotion or because they heard it's a great place to meet guys. They train because they are warriors. The idea of training just to train is a bit odd in this goal-oriented society. Which is not to say that pursuing goals is wrong-headed. It's important to train even though you don't have a goal in mind. You train because that's what you need to do, not because it will help you reach your ultimate goal of a resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute.
Even martial artists need to apply the principle of "training to train" to other aspects of their everyday lives. In other words, you take a class in art history not because it gets you closer to your degree, but because as a well rounded individual, you want to know a little something about art history. You take continuing education classes even if you don't need them because as a professional, you want to stay abreast of what's happening in your field. You don't further your education just because your boss thinks you should or because your best friend is taking a class and wants some company. You train because that's what warriors do.
When you learn this principle, you learn to act even when your self discipline fails you, even when you're in a bad mood and decide you don't care if you never earn your black belt. You can easily give up on goals if they're all that motivate you. You can talk yourself out of them or promise to get back to them later. But a warrior trains regardless because s/he is a warrior.
To reinforce this principle, take action. If you aren't already involved in a sport or fitness activity, get started. Choose something you've always wanted to do. When you start, remind yourself that you're going to keep your mind open and learn what you can. You're not going to worry about how skilled you might one day become. You're just going to train.
If you're already involved in a sport or fitness activity, spend a few weeks deliberately putting your goals on hold. Feel the techniques and the movements. Review the basics. Train for the joy of training, not for some ultimate goal you want to reach. On days when your energy or interest flags, or when you've reached a plateau and seem to be making little progress, remind yourself that you're training because you're a warrior and for no other reason.
You can apply this exercise to other learning activities. For example, if you're taking a class, put your energy, intelligence and enthusiasm to the task of learning as much as you can from the class without worrying about the grade or the feedback that you receive. Go beyond the stated requirements for the class, not with the purpose of impressing the teacher, but for the purpose of building your skills. If you need to read a novel for a literature class you're taking, also read about the history of the time period in which the author lived or in which the story is set. Look up the author on the internet and find out more about him or her. You'll be gaining knowledge because you're a warrior, not just because you want to get a good grade.
Jennifer Lawler is the author of the new book, "Dojo Wisdom: 100 Simple Ways to Become A Stronger, Calmer, More Courageous Person" (Penguin Compass, 2003, $13). Lawler, the author of 19 books, is a martial artist and a martial arts expert who has appeared on national and local television and radio. For more info on her book and workshops, please visit: www.jenniferlawler.com or call 1-877-THE-DOJO or email: email@example.com