Does anger sustain your martial arts practice?
For years of my life I was the dude featured in the photo above. Each time I went to the gym I was driven by anger at my father, at the abuse I endured, at the world, at whoever wanted to mess with me. This rage helped me push myself to new physical heights, but at what cost?
The cost was that I actually spent years cultivating not ways to be happy but ways to be angry. I needed it for my training, I believed. The “man box” and modern representations of masculinity certainly reinforced this belief. Supplement companies featured guys lifting weights while screaming and about to blow their neck veins. Most training websites contained “motivational” photos and quotes that, when unpacked, were essentially about how to use anger to “obliterate” your legs during squat day or “destroy” your opponent in a fight. Training was war. The martial arts were viewed as war. War demands violence and violence often demands that you remain pissed off at an enemy, even if that enemy is yourself.
The result is that I became damn good at finding things to be angry about. Angry about fat, angry about my cardio, angry at the results that couldn’t come fast enough and may never come at all. I didn’t realize at the time that I was practicing anger, and certainly didn’t understand that practicing anger in one regard of life allows it to bleed into others.
The training sessions I most enjoyed weren’t those times when I was filled with rage but had a tremendous workout as a result. And as that mentality was part of so many sessions it leads me to wonder: Why did I spend so much time in this finite life participating in something I rarely enjoyed? Was this part of the self-perpetuating cycle of anger?
I most enjoyed training when it was about learning and playing and allowing those qualities (rather than anger) to be the foundation for what pushed me physically.
This is not a tired listicle of how to stop something or how to start cultivating happiness. It won’t grow into a memoir. It’s simply a call to all martial artists to reflect on their reasons for training. What drives you to continue? Is it the historic beauty of martial movement? The confidence gained? The freedom from fear? What does your martial arts practice teach you to cultivate? If you find yourself needing to be angry to train, how can you move beyond the mad in ways that will benefit your life beyond the mat?
This article originally appeared on Cameron Conaway. Reprinted with permission.
–Photo: Flickr CC/Kyle Lane