A lot of traditions, both martial and contemplative, say that there comes a time in your practice when you’re surrounded by doubt. It manifests as never being completely sure that you’re seeing the entire picture. It’s not exactly a matter of distrust, but a sense that we can question everything – down to the most fundamental components of what we do.
We start to get to this concept most clearly as martial arts practitioners when we dig into the work of “getting comfortable being uncomfortable”. We slowly become less afraid that we haven’t figured it all out. Once we’ve gotten the medicine for what ails us, we move beyond the cure so we don’t have to stay medicated all the time. We recognize our need to get rid of the thing that we rely on so it doesn’t become just another crutch.
This works well with our practice because it goes to the heart of what it means to seek mastery. We keep moving into a healthy discomfort by asking ourselves powerful questions. So good training encourages us never to feel like we’ve completely arrived, because there’s always something to work on.
The things that we gravitate towards often tend fit into what we’re already doing. In jiu-jitsu, we go to the techniques we know best. In conversations, we shut down at predictable times. These behaviors work nicely into how we already are, into the worldview that we currently hold. So when we get into the habit of the practice of moving towards discomfort rather than always away from it, we have a chance to uncover that thing that’s just outside our normal approach.
It has some good practical applications. We come to know that we can’t run from the armlock because we’re afraid of it. We can’t run from a bigger partner just because we don’t like them, because we’re afraid they’re going to smash us. We can’t avoid the rear mount just because we know it’s a bad position and no one is supposed to be there. This not a question of insecurity – it’s a healthy look at what could actually happen, but then instead of fleeing the scene we go directly to our weak points.
Such on-purpose discomfort and uncertainty builds in us a familiarity with the practice of not hiding from our problems. We’re not looking to undermine our progess, but that feeling of being a little bit unsettled – it provokes us to stay active and in the work.
In our approach to the martial arts, we put a lot of emphasis on process and on the long arc. And we believe that consistent application of proper technique and thinking leads to more confidence and better decisions. But it’s coupled with this sense of never being completely sure that you have it all figured out.
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