By Evan Bishop
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength”. – Marcus Aurelius
There is a lot that we can learn from stoic philosophers. Great teachers such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus have passed down many lessons for how to live a happy, successful and fulfilled life.
In particular, stoic philosophy can be extremely valuable to martial artists because of the recurring themes of facing and overcoming adversity that are espoused by stoicism.
The quote at the beginning of the text from the legendary Marcus Aurelius applies quite well to the competition lifestyle of many martial artists.
You’re In Charge of You
Competition of any sort can be stressful. A lot of us are naturally competitive, so even a small bet among friends may get our blood pumping, even if there isn’t much on the line.
Up the ante and put yourself in a competitive event where the stakes are high, and you’re bound to react differently – with the same type of stress, only amplified.
Things change when you’re fighting someone for real, and it’s nothing compared to the hardest round with the toughest teammate at the academy.
In a mini-documentary presented by Vital (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhigq9olkGg starts at 2:12), Nicolas Meregali talks about how, on competition day, his biggest challenge is to deal with the angel and devil sitting on his shoulders. He goes on to say how the devil speaks to him in a much louder voice, and he considers silencing the negative self-talk he experiences a victory in itself before he even steps on the mats to compete.
It’s easy to begin to worry about other competitors, as well as environmental and situational factors that are either irrelevant or simply beyond our control come competition day.
But it’s important to remember what Marcus Aurelius states in the first part of his quote: “you have power over your mind, not outside results.”
In the same way that you should want to conserve energy as much as possible during a fight so that you can use it wisely when needed, you should also want to conserve your mental energy before a fight by only thinking about yourself and what you can do to prepare.
The strength comes from within, and that strength starts with you putting on blinders to ignore the irrelevant, distracting and damaging worries that will try to creep into your head the closer you get to competition time.
Stay Ready, Stay Stoic
The stoics believed that misfortunes were not only an inevitability of life, but that they should also be welcomed as opportunities for personal growth.
Martial arts is the same way. It doesn’t make sense to try to avoid stressful moments – they’re going to happen whether you want them to or not. If you’re not ok with dealing with stress, pressure and discomfort, are you really in the right sport?
Being a stoic fighter doesn’t mean always winning – it means dealing with stressful situations head-on, greeting adversity with open arms. Develop your mental-game and focus on what is under your control, and watch how stressful situations all of a sudden become much less stressful.
At that, stoicism is also a great tool for dealing with losses. Although they are inevitable, many competitors still have difficulties dealing with the loss of confidence that oftentimes accompanies losing a fight.
What’s under your control now that the fight is over? Ask yourself, how would a stoic deal with this situation?
Looking inward is the best way to improve, develop and grow.
This is the stoic and the martial arts way of life.
Evan Bishop is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brown belt, instructor and competitor based between Montreal and Ottawa. Check out his blog about sports/exercise psychology, pedagogy and learning at www.evanbishopwriting.com, and follow him on Twitter @evan_writing.