Strategies for Dealing With Fear

One of the things that I love about physical training, especially in something as intense as Jeet Kune Do and other forms of Kickboxing, is that it provides deep avenues into philosophy that go beyond simply “accepting” statements of philosophers or ruminating on their words.

Combat training is philosophy in motion. It creates an opportunity to truly learn how to cope with life and how to accept difficult things. You are pushed into developing a relationship with how you approach things in life constantly.

Fear is an emotion we all face on a daily basis. This can be as extreme as the fear of some large event, it can be something as subtle as constant, nagging stresses experienced in the background of one’s life, or it can be felt as the pain of loss.

We all have various strategies for coping with fear–some conscious, some unconscious. My knee-jerk reaction to fear is avoidance.

I put stressful things off and ignore them until I am forced to deal with them. Whenever I become aware of an area that I’m avoiding due to fear, I fall back on some basic strategies that I’ve developed in my JKD training to help me overcome that fear. I want to share those strategies with you in this article.

Strategy #1: Preparation
A couple years ago I let myself get fairly out of shape.

I was so busy with life and, at the same time, trying to enjoy the life of a guy in his 20’s. When I woke up to how much I’d let myself fall out of shape, I decided I wanted to re-devote myself to serious training.

Teaching my own classes doesn’t provide as great of an opportunity to do my own training as I had always imagined.

When I’m teaching I’m so busy helping my students that it’s impossible for me to get the best quality training in for myself.

So I decided to join a nearby Boxing gym. I had joined various boxing and kickboxing gyms in the past, but my ego is such that it’s easy for me to lose interest if I don’t immediately stand out among the other guys there. I know. I can be a pretty egotistical bastard! I could have resigned myself to meditating for a lifetime to eradicate such an egotistical mindset. But I have too much else I want to accomplish in life to “fix” myself first. So I decided to do the next best thing: work around my ego.

I began a tough physical fitness program on my own and would go to the boxing gym during the day so that I could train mostly alone or with my boxing coach. I waited until I knew that I had developed the endurance and the skills to do pretty well in the ring with my fellow gym members. This worked out well, and I found myself really enjoying the level of competition that I was facing in the ring. I felt satisfied in my abilities to keep up and my ego was appeased enough to allow me to face harder and harder competition without too much risk to my self-esteem.

In daily life, the more prepared you are to handle the things that you’re the most afraid of, the easier it will be.

Strategy #2: Develop A Ritual For Letting Go Of Fear
Since our gym’s relocation to a spot in Pflugerville, Wells Branch area, I’ve had to switch gyms for my own training.

I decided to take up MMA and BJJ, and found an excellent gym that taught both. It’s about a 25 minute drive from where I live, but I can do daytime classes there and then it’s a straight shot over to my gym to teach JKD.

During my drive to their gym I find myself, almost subconsciously now, changing my mental gears to prepare for my training. It’s almost like I’m asking myself questions and then waiting until I can answer affirmatively.

The first question I ask is: Am I willing to let go of any expectations I have about rolling or sparring and to just accept whatever happens–including losing?

As I sit on that question I find myself eventually opening up and letting go to whatever happens. I find that place inside myself where winning just means that I learned something, or at least endured any beating I received, and that I have nothing to prove when I’m there.

Sometimes I have to go back to this in the middle of my sparring. If I’m fighting someone who hits like a mac truck I will consciously make the decision to relax and embrace the feeling of getting hit, allowing myself to take the experience in and see what effect it truly has.

Often (but definitely not always) when I really let go of the fear of getting hit I find that most of the pain is actually just the fear itself and the frustration of being jolted suddenly or of being stopped in my own attack. Similar to being shoved hard by someone. It’s only when I’m caught perhaps right on the bridge of my nose or on the solar plexus that I actually experience any real pain.

The second question I ask myself on my drive to the gym is: Am I ready to let go of focusing on myself and, instead, open my mind to watching what other people do and learning from them?

As an example, since I’m new to BJJ I constantly find myself being tossed around like a rag doll on the ground. I’m a fairly physically strong guy, and can sometimes use brute strength to be more competitive with the others. But my goal is to learn.

And whenever I watch those who are exceptionally skilled at BJJ I’m amazed at how relaxed they look and at how easily they just seem to “go with the flow” of their partner. So I try to follow suit to some degree, although I still use a considerable amount of muscle or else my partner so that my partner feels some challenge as well. But I’m not trying to win. I’m not necessarily even trying to pose a threat to my opponent.

Instead, I try to observe how he handles me and how he escapes my submission attempts or advances positions. When I find myself in a sort of stalemate, where neither one of us wants to make the first move because we’re both pretty aware of what that move will be and we’re on guard for the counter, I will usually go ahead and make that first move, just to see how he counters me and defends my own counter.

When it comes to applying this mentality to life, I’m reminded of something I hear about people who are successful in their businesses. Those who are most successful are quick to implement new ideas. They see failure as a learning opportunity and count their failures as their best teachers. So they’re quick to try new things, despite failure, in order to learn.

Strategy #3: Push Your Vulnerability
Jeet Kune Do isn’t a sport. It isn’t primarily concerned with competition. And to turn JKD training into Competition Training would be to lose its very essence. Yet, at the same time, I believe that competing in sport combat is immensely valuable.

I’ve competed in boxing and am now looking to compete in mma. Is it because I love competition? No. In some ways, it’s quite the opposite. Competition, to me, is the ultimate in vulnerability. I’m putting my skills on display for everyone to see. And, as a Jeet Kune Do instructor who hates to lose even a sparring match, it forces me to open up.

To be more authentic. To be willing to lay my ego on the line and accept the consequences, whatever they be. It’s easy to fall back on one’s credentials as an instructor and to simply talk the talk. But to be willing to step into an arena where the fear of loss is right there in front of you is a very difficult thing to do.

I would have no fear of losing a marathon, a basketball game, or a game of hockey. Because my identity is not wrapped up in those things. Hell, I would probably quit a marathon half way through due to sheer boredom.

But to lose to somebody in a fight is to truly hit me where it hurts. It’s an attack on the very essence of who I am and what I’m about. And it is for that very reason that I feel myself pulled to competing.

To challenging my own self-obsession and image. To accept both victory and defeat, and thereby not to be bound by either. In life, the fear of loss is great. Especially with so much that we have in our materialistic society.

We have things, reputations, and people–all of which we may or will someday lose. When you can truly face the reality of that loss, and accept it, you have found a new inner strength beyond everything else.

To me, this is the essence of martial arts philosophy. It’s beyond reading about it, or debating about it, or accepting inspiring, fortune cookie, statements from great minds. It’s about living it and applying it. Even more, it’s about discovering it for yourself.

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