Fear is a most pernicious thing. As an emotion, it is capable of submerging us so completely that we can no longer even recognize how it rules our every moment.

There are the primal fears, of course, such as concern over one's physical safety. But there are also fears associated with emotional trauma, which left unchecked, can rob us of the ability to be vulnerable and open with the people we care about and even worse, push them away. Other coping mechanisms can involve escapist routes, such as excessive drinking, substance abuse, video gaming, or over-work. These defensive coping mechanisms are all simply a means of psychological protection in a world we are afraid to explore, be it the world outside, or the one inside.

While walling ourselves away does keep us emotionally safe, it does so at a significant cost. It is simply not healthy. Like a shut-in who refuses to go outside for fear of encountering some possible physical threat, emotional shut-ins never truly reveal themselves to others, either by evading or armoring against all they encounter. And while the cost of never leaving one's home is readily apparent, the cost of never opening one's heart is less so but no less harmful.

I have observed in myself how my own personal fears have created negative patterns in my life. In trying to work with it, I have tried lessening fear's insistent influence through a variety of ways with varying degrees of success: certain substances that can effectively reboot your brain for a period of time, allowing to see the world in a more relaxed, unencumbered state. Talk therapy, which can be very helpful. And martial arts, which of all my experiences, has been the most effective for me in terms of its overall effect and durability as a discipline.

On its face, the pursuit of martial arts is the development of a physical skill for self-defense, which is certainly an important facet that addresses any physical insecurities that people may have. But it also has a significant impact on emotional health and resiliency as well. It is a path, which when traveled, can gradually clear certain shadows from the mind.

At its core, a true martial art will teach us how to be strong, relaxed, and present in the face of extremely adverse circumstances. Success in this endeavor requires the fusion of mental, spiritual and physical into a singular purpose and focus through dedicated training. And with each step in this type of training, you are training yourself how to be in an operational state of total presence in the face of incredibly stressful situations.

Fear cannot survive in the mind that is present.

And make no mistake, this does not mean you need to beat people up, in fact, it is probably preferable that during your training, you are bested. Often. This process of repeatedly losing, standing back up, and trying again, over and over, shows us that we have a resiliency and toughness that has some threshold that we have yet to find. You learn to be humble, but in a way that is very, very strong.

After some amount of this kind of intense training, it will carry over into all facets of your life, instilling an internal strength that allows you to be more relaxed and free when confronting challenges elsewhere.

This strength is what permits an open heart.

If you are new to this road, it may be difficult to find all the necessary ingredients if you don't know what you're looking for in an art or training environment. I think there are many characteristics here that help compose a good situation, which could probably use some more exploration. But here are a few to note:

  1. Seek a culture based on mutual respect with no tolerance for unhealthy egos and attitudes. If you find an environment with bullies, or one that is just an outlet for an teacher's ego, keep looking.
  2. Find a training system that requires you to spar, and spar hard (but safely). You're not going to get much from training forms all day. This also creates a tight community where each member trusts each other completely.
  3. Choose an art that emphasizes defense and technique over aggression and force. You will usually find better people there.

The essential ingredient, however, is you. It is your purpose and intention that ultimately dictates the journey and the experience that occurs for you. There will be ups and downs, perhaps some interesting turns. However, if your compass is true, you will never be lost.