Martial arts isn’t always just a hobby or a sport. For many people martial arts constitutes a way of life and they live their life in line with the concepts they learn in the dojo. In this article, Claire discusses martial arts as a way of life.
Growing up, my parents didn’t have to remind me to do my homework. It’s a good job as like most parents, they both worked long hours to create a life of opportunity and possibility for my sisters and myself.
Before they retired, my dad was a quantity surveyor, working in construction, and my mum was a nurse. Our family roots were in working class England and Ireland yet my sisters and I were raised in Dubai, a tolerant and open-minded emirate in a young country that believed in itself and its future.
I could have grown up an exceptionally spoiled kid and perhaps, for a few years, I did fall into that, expecting life to always go my way. I was a child athlete and academic, excelling in all my subjects and winning swimming races and competitions. Life seemed great and was great.
Life still is great because that is how I choose to see it. Like Siddharta, my childhood fairytale lasted only for so long. A near deadly fall from a horse at 11 led me to take up Karate the following year.
Further adversities followed, from sexual and intimate partner violence to divorce, stress and being a humanitarian witness to war, refugees, prisons and torture.
With each knock back, adversity and belt testing, I had to dig deeper to find the strength and curiosity to keep going.
For a few years, I sought refuge in Yoga and later Yoga teaching before returning to my childhood practice of Karate on a 2- year mission to Gaza, where I connected with a group of Karate teachers working for peace from inside Israel. They taught me another way to peace-building from the inside out.
In my early 30s, colleagues and friends began to ask me,
How do you do it?
How do you keep it all together?
How do you consistently achieve things that seem like a dream to most of us?
How can WE do what YOU’RE doing?
I was faced with assumptions that I had been handed all my opportunities on a plate, and that I must be a natural athlete or someone special to have received a black belt in Karate. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth!
I certainly had a better start to life than most, thanks to my wanderlust and generous parents, but after that what I made of it was up to me. I’ve passed through 32 homes in my 37 years. I’ve had to leave several homes abruptly due to violence and I’ve had a near miss with a brain tumour.
I’ve quit jobs and often felt like giving up altogether. But my black belt mindset would never allow me to go that far.
A martial arts mindset and the understanding that anything worthwhile comes through years of hard training kept me safe from any spells of self-entitlement.
That I should be more, that should have more, that is should be easier.
My childhood dojo training taught me patience, perseverance and humility. My adult training teaches me to stay curious and to celebrate even the tiniest amounts of progress.
With each passing year, I learn to expect less and in return, receive so much more. I’m immensely grateful to the Karate teachers who have led me to this place. From Dubai and Doha to Jerusalem, Beirut and Tel Aviv.
As an Executive Coach, I now work with people and organisations who feel stuck. I help them face hard truths, untangle messy situations, and express what they want, why, and why they can’t get there. After, we create strategies to get them on track and where they need to go.
This is what I share with my clients:
It’s human to want to rush to be someone great.
It’s human to assume we can plan our way to success.
It’s human to want to quit when life gets tough.
It’s human to think that we should never fail.
The reality of life is that we will fail, perhaps many times, if we want to ever achieve anything of significant greatness. The road to success, however we define it, is about taking one step after the other, especially when we’ve lost our way.
Many of us will pass through phases of arrogance, suffering and ignorance before we awaken. I most certainly did. After we awaken, our suffering becomes a choice. We can either continue to play victim to our circumstances or we can choose to hang in and learn.
I believe that life teaches us what we need to learn in order to fulfil our destiny. It places teachers, guides and experiences in our pathway to test and refine our spirits. Then we must choose who and what we will be.
Martial Arts is not the only way to live a meaningful life. It certainly isn’t a way of life for everyone. Take many of my former Yoga students, for example. Their way of life is on and off their Yoga mats and that works just fine for them.
But there’s another kind of people out there. The kind who need to embody and express the struggle within, who require the lessons of direct confrontation and coexistence that many Martial Arts offer.
If Martial Arts is your way of life, I invite you to reflect for a moment. What lessons has it brought you? To which places has it taken you? And to which teachers and teachings are you most grateful?
Wild Zen: An Inner Roadmap to Humanity – Claire Higgins
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