Embracing the Fighter's Spirit
In my years of training, coaching, and observing, I have found that all of us can learn from these modern-day gladiators, as there are many lessons to take away from the world of martial arts.
What do you have in common with a fighter?
Mental toughness, honesty, hard work, virtuosity, patience, and persistence are just some of the things that help the greatest martial artists persevere through their darkest hours, coming out of the toughest challenges with a winning spirit. The doses of challenges we get in training are what give us that extra burst of ambition in our most demanding moments, on and off the training floor. This is likely one of the reasons that one of the go-to reading assignments in business schools around the world is The Art of War. Written by the martial artists, general, and philosopher Miyamoto Musashi, it supports the notion that even if you don’t train martial arts, implementing some of the same martial arts philosophies can be a game-changer.
Whether or not you ever want to train to perform martial arts in the ring is not as relevant as the life skills one takes away from the practice. Many of the skills and tactics fighters possess can be harnessed and interpreted off the floor. I believe that every human has a fighting spirit. We are all fighters, and we can all make use of the fighter inside to enhance virtually every part of our life.
Here are my six distinguishing character traits of fighters and how they can enhance anyone's life.
Becoming Mentally Unbreakable
One of the greatest gifts that all martial artists inherit from daily training is the strengthening of the mind, body, and spirit. Training will forge a warrior spirit within you that is unbreakable.
There are ways to mimic the mental fortitude of a fighter even if you don't train like one; the best way to do it is by applying controlled stress. In life, we will encounter failures, setbacks, obstacles, and a great variety of challenges. Martial arts teaches you how to deal with those obstacles by enduring doses of controlled stress through drilling, sparring, and progressive difficulties of physical and mental pursuits.
In your own life, you can replicate this through any consistent practice- martial arts, a daily workout routine, cold morning showers, or 5:00am hikes. The key, though, when challenging yourself, is to do it consistently and gradually, having a designated time for your personal challenges to be met and worked on. This way, like the fighters and martial artists I work with, you make 'healthy' challenge a part of your life. Once you establish a routine of systemized stress, your body and mind will adapt in a way that will help you move past barriers. After all, all evolution is dependent on a controlled set of stressors.
If time is the obstacle, find quick ways to sharpen yourself daily. It can be as simple as a three minute cold shower or a series of daily pull-ups and push-ups. Establish a healthy self-induced challenge to get your body and mind thriving under stress and develop the fighting adaptation to all matters of your life.
Putting Your Emotions To Work
Putting emotions aside and remaining focused on the task in front is a critical component of fighting. In the ring, it's a skill you work hard to harness, knowing that once you do, clarity and tactical mastery will be your reward.
In life, emotions keep us grounded, helping maintain a sense of reality in our lives. Love, joy, and sorrow are all emotions that make us human, and they are also the driving force of many fighters.
The key, then, is to know how to harness emotion. Rather than wiping it from your daily life, making a practice out of using emotion as a driving force is where emotions can serve as a point of profound clarity, self-reflection, and a reference for growth.
Of course, having emotional control is easier said than done, but there are practices one can incorporate. Putting in daily practices of meditation and breath-work can help you control your mind and body at times when they feel uncontrollable. Fighters have long used breathing drills to ward off pain, control physical output, and stay mentally sharp. A simple yet very effective method is the 1 to 10 breath-work count; take in your first breath for a count of one, breathe out for one, and continue that same practice for 2, 3, 4 and all the way up to ten. At the end, you will count to ten on a single breath inward, and then do the same for the exhale. The practice should take no longer than five minutes, but you will feel more in control of your mind and body afterwards.
Another way to work on your emotional stability is to establish an outlet that is personal to you. Taking everything out of the picture and simply learning to work through a mental or physical pursuit that lets you internalize. Some do this with a solo walk or swim, while others rock climb or listen to music and read. Fighters make a great practice out of being alone with themselves, as they use the time to check their emotions, learning self-reliance and emotional control.
Doing More, Even When You Don't Have To
Going the extra distance in life is the clear difference between being mediocre and extraordinary. This is true for anything and anyone; fighter, founder of a company, an artist, or a parent.
Martial artists, specifically fighters, are conditioned from the very early stages of training to drill the basics over and over. They work on and refine those skills until they become second nature. Drilling is the same as sharpening your tools in any vital area of your life- it teaches you to go the extra distance. For fighters, drilling can be executing a technique thousands of times before feeling content or satisfied. In our personal lives, drilling can take on many forms, but it is always rooted in doing more than necessary to perfect a skill, project, or goal.
Staying Humble and Hungry
In martial arts, we come across fighters of many different levels and backgrounds. Some are athletically gifted, while others are not gifted at all. Regardless, both earn their way through the ranks with hard work. The key to all of their success is that once they reach a high level of technical skill and notoriety, the very best fighters nod to their success gently and continue to work hard and push forward.
Few fighters rest on their accomplishments and abilities. Instead, they are always working for the next fight, visualizing their next opponent. Staying humble and hungry can be tough when you experience success. We keep our fighters pushing forward by scheduling new bouts and visualizing new goals. In your own life, visualization and goal setting is crucial to your on-going success. It can be very difficult to keep pushing forward after you get to a certain level, and while being content is a great character trait, being content too soon can be detrimental to your growth. Like a fighter, step back from the spotlight of your most recent accomplishment and evaluate how you see your future unfolding. If you feel like there is more to be done and accomplished, visualize the future and move towards it.
Trusting yourself is a crucial component of going further and achieving more. It is also the critical factor that defines a confident, successful fighter.
Trust is tricky, and self-trust is often an even more significant challenge. Everyone goes through victories and suffers defeats, but the defeats tend to stay with us, causing doubt and insecurity in areas where we may have once felt unshakable. Fighters win and lose very publicly and, if not addressed, those losses can easily break their will and confidence. That is why fighters make a practice of casting their past aside and looking towards the future. The secret to this is the practice of visualization. Fighters visualize success. Then they visualize every step (punch by punch) that it will take to get there. It's a tactic that keeps them focused and also brings confidence back to their game. It teaches them to do something essential; the ability to trust themselves.
If you have suffered a defeat that has cast self-doubt in your life, don’t try and re-live the past or change it. Instead, visualize the next challenge, using the previous one to learn from. Picturing your end result will help you persevere.
We always say that our arts are 'honest' arts because our practical application of sparring and training requires execution of skill. You can't claim a blackbelt or say you are a professional fighter if you fail to display that level of skill and understanding in practice.
Staying honest in life is a critical component of keeping yourself and your skills in check, and also, the key to moving forward into new goals and uncharted territories.
Since few life pursuits incorporate sparring (at least in the physical sense), the best way to keep yourself honest is to get back into the trenches once in a while. Sweep the floors in your business, visit a team of employees during a brainstorming meeting and join the effort, go back to the starting line once in a while. It may mean going to a job sight, visiting a client, or engaging in fun challenges when with family and friends that will help keep your mind sharp. For many of us, it's getting back to doing something you used to enjoy and feel challenged by what you've stopped doing altogether.
In the end…
Fighters have a short career in the span of their lives, yet they go on to apply the characteristics they've learned in the ring to many other successes. If you can harness the fighting spirit to help you go further, you'll be undeniably more fulfilled and content with yourself and the obstacles and accomplishments that will come along the way.