I am a martial artist, and a competitive fighter. I train almost every day.
In the rare times that I get asked to go for social events, like school outings, or friend’s parties, chances are I’ll say “no, I have training.” Many people think I have no life (they have a point), and that my training impinges on my personal freedom. It never bothered me, and I never thought much about it; I just carried on missing out on said events and going about my training. One day, in school, I was struck by the concept of freedom and emancipation. What does it mean to be truly free? Am I free? And has my martial arts training helped in making me any less or more free?
If you think about it, my life is constrained by my training schedule. This is a sport that emphasises discipline and practice – when you get to a certain level, every tiny bit of improvement can only be achieved through countless hours of practice. As a result, if you want to excel in this sport, chances are you have to sacrifice a “normal” social life, as well as other hobbies that might interfere with your training. (e.g. when I train for fights, I can’t have the luxury of playing ping pong or tennis cause my wrist is fragile. Or I can’t stay up and watch chick flicks cause I need my sleep.)
An example of my dedication to training would be when fights come up, and I’m in the gym 6 times a week, twice a day, approximately 3 hours each session.
However, the point is to share my revelation that my involvement in Martial Arts and dedication to training has made me more free. Freedom is more than having the autonomy to do what you want (e.g. play ping pong whenever you want to). It is a state of mind that allows you to make choices in life that are not influenced by social expectations. It is living your life without caring too much about what other people think of you. It is doing what you want to do. Training every day is a conscious choice, driven by a conscious goal – to get better; to be better.
In giving up the liberty to do what I want in order to focus on this sport, I am free from social obligations to accede to what other people demand of me and instead focus on myself and what I want.
Freedom is not exclusive to Martial Arts – dedicating yourself to anything that you love doing emancipates you, knowing that you do something for yourself, and not for anyone else, is liberating in itself. But to me Martial Arts is unique in its ability to allow individuals to express themselves and develop their own individual styles. People often look at it as practicing textbook techniques over and over again to perfection, but often the creative and spontaneous aspect of martial arts gets overlooked.
True, we are exposed to a lot of techniques that are considered “proper”, and “standard”, but martial arts also gives you the room to put things together your way and express your own fighting style however you want to, based on your own choices and preferences. One of things I love so much about Martial Arts, for example, is fighting and sparring, when you get completely immersed in the process of acting and reacting, that you truly become lost in the moment. That experience, I believe, is something extraordinary, and transcends the mundane day-to-day routines in modern society. Whatever punches, kicks, and combinations that result in this state occurs without much conscious thought, and becomes a true expression of your unique individual style.
Many times in this journey, I have felt trapped and resentful at my apparent lack of freedom. Take cutting weight for example. It is somewhat hellish not to be able to do something as basic as drink water (if you are a very desperate weight cut situation). Times like this, you envy other “normal” people’s freedom to drink whenever and whatever they want. Yet, right after a fight, when I try to take a break and do other stuff that I might not normally have the freedom to, it feels rather meaningless. All these “freedoms” like eating junk food don’t really make you free (murtabak or prata might be another story).
The times when I really feel liberated, is when I achieve something big – winning a fight after stressing over school and all the sacrifices I made. It is the pride that comes with making the decision to do something you really want to do, and committing to it. Knowing that you, yourself, played a big role in making this happen. Knowing that this is something that no one can take from you, and that whoever tries to belittle you won’t succeed. This journey has helped me develop the conviction to do what I want, and what I think is right, for myself. All of this of course, is in addition to ensuring that I uphold my basic responsibilities as a daughter, sister, and student. As I grow older, I can say that I’m not simply a passive product of the environment I was raised in, but someone who has shaped her own life in the way that she wants to.
Martial Arts has made me freer than I would be without it.