Martial Arts And The Freedom To Choose

As long as we have choice, we have hope.

One of the most powerful lessons martial arts teach us is that very difficult, seemingly insurmountable problems can be solved by applying the right combination of posture, balance, angles, and leverage. What at first feels like a hopeless challenge becomes less and less so the more we learn and practice. Over time, positions we were once helplessly stuck in no longer cause us concern or discomfort because, as our skills improve, so does our power to choose how and when we escape or reverse a bad position.

With this ability to choose comes confidence and optimism. The more we practice, the more we learn that, as long as we have not yet been submitted or knocked out, we still have some degree of freedom to choose our own fate and the fate of our opponent. Skill and experience gives us hope because, as long as we are free to move in some direction, even if it was not the direction we once wanted or hoped to move in, we know that the fight is not yet over.

The experience of being stuck or overwhelmed can feel almost claustrophobic at first. It is enough to make many people want to quit, but the ones who stick around, the ones who see past their own discomfort and keep coming back in spite of it or even because it, soon discover that fear and pain are temporary, and are far outweighed by the joy, satisfaction, and physical, emotional, and psychological freedom that comes with the progress that continued practice offers. Success, we come to find out, is not necessarily reserved for the best of us, but for the ones who keep showing up and who remember that no matter how bad it gets today, there is always a solution to the problems we face, even if we do not know it or know how to apply it yet.


Holistic Budo: As it is in budo, so too it is in life. As it is in life, so too it is in budo.

Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Taikyoku Mind & Body and Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

All photos by Robert Van Valkenburgh unless otherwise noted.

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