Martial artist, coach, and award-winning war correspondent, Shawn Rhodes shares what he’s learned from his years on the mat.
If you’ve trained in a martial art, then you’re familiar with bloodstains on white uniforms. No one is ever sure at first where it’s coming from, so when we spot the red stains someone politely asks:
“Is that your blood?”
I’ve been fascinated with warriors and the martial artists since I was a little boy. I not only loved their ability to fight, but also their confidence and charisma. They could talk to the beautiful woman, face ten attackers at once and say something witty all before breakfast.
I didn’t want to just be able to do what they did, I wanted to be who they were:
The fighter. The lover. The hero. The guy who didn’t let disappointment stop him.
When I came of age, I dedicated my life to discovering the mindset that allowed warriors to charge up Mt. Suribachi or spend decades in the dojo training for a fight that may never come.
In Japan, my Aikido classes would start with bare- knuckle pushups on blocks of wood, then striking a thick board with our shins and finish up with prayer under an icy waterfall (and in my gym I hear people complain about old equipment and sore muscles).
Why would bankers, teachers, and new dads subject themselves to that kind of abuse?
If you’ve ever seen the effortless way an Aikido master disarms multiple opponents and throws them across a room, you’ll understand.
Martial artists train so hard because they know if they ever have to their skills in the street, they want the fight to be short and end with them standing over their opponent.
In the U.S. Marines, we slogged through the swamp in Parris Island, S.C., belly-crawling over mounds of fire ants. Two years later when I was fighting alongside the same Marines in Iraq, I noticed in 120-degree weather with no food or sleep, these Marines were joking and laughing (The air conditioner went out in my office for a few hours once, and we didn’t stop complaining for weeks).
As Marines, we had spent years suffering through training exercises so combat would come easy.
I wasn’t the first to discover that it’s better to bleed in practice and not in battle. Around the time Jesus was sharing his wisdom with illiterate fishermen in Galilee, a 1st Century A.D. historian named Josephus said this about the Roman Army:
“As if born for the sole purpose of wielding arms, they never take a break from training, never wait for a situation requiring arms. Certain victory always attends them because their opponents are never equal to them.”
Think of the biggest thing holding you back right now from what you want to be, do, or have in your life. If you could train hard enough to make the most exhausting physical experience seem easy, what other ‘impossible’ challenges could you tackle? How many ‘disappointments’ would lose their power over you?
Would you lose weight?
Be a better father?
Be a better husband?
If you put focus and intensity into every detail of everyday life, you would avoid stress during surprise deadlines.
If you were present and loving with your family, there would be no need to mend broken relationships with estranged kids or parents.
What if you consciously lived your entire life this way? What if you lived like a warrior – like these days were your only chances to train for the biggest (and last) challenge you’d ever face? The warriors I lived and fought beside wanted to turn in a well-lived life when they were called to the other side of the river Styx.
If you lived life like that, would you love more?
Would you share more of your time with your kids?
Would you be more open and honest with your partner?
Would you face that last challenge as a fiery ball of passion or simply snuff out like a candle?
You can guess which choice warriors prefer. Their training allowed them to be passionate and vibrant even in the worst situations. Their discipline allowed them to do whatever it took to accomplish their goals. However, I discovered it was the way warriors approached their everyday lives that allowed them to be leaders, heroes and authentic human beings.
Warriors live so if they lose their lives on the battlefield, they’ll take their opponent down with them and go out with no regrets.
If you live like this, you’ll get blood on your uniform. It’s a guarantee. Whether it be in the form of disappointments, failures or the red stains of injuries, this way of life will challenge you to be better than you were yesterday. With each wound, you’ll have the knowledge that you’re stronger because of it. When the world pushes against you, you’ll finally have the courage to push back.
Live your life like a warrior does, and the next time someone asks, “Is that your blood?”
You can answer: “Yeah. Some of it.”
Like The Good Men Project on Facebook
- Want the best of The Good Men Project posts sent to you by email? Join our mailing list here.
–Photo: L’oeil etranger/Flickr