Recent research for my “The Way of the Warrior” series has led me to, among many things, intensify my training routine and dedicate myself more and more to my workouts.
In reading more deeply about the history of warriors—from rise to fall—I’ve realized that, although there are many things that contributed to their failures, the biggest one in almost every single instance was when they stopped fighting.
What? So you’re saying that war is actually good?
Well, yes and no; I’m a pacifist and anyone who knows me will say the same. I’ve never been in a fight (outside of a dojo) and would love for that to remain the case for the rest of my life. War isn’t good; for the most part.
But another way to look at it is that with every bad, there’s some good to be had. Wars are usually fought for political interests. They’re fought because diplomats, nobles, people at the very top of two countries, clans, or what have you can’t come to terms and agree on something. A side effect of wars, however, can’t be neglected. And that side effect is what comes out of the preparation and even out of the fighting itself: it’s the brotherhood, the discipline, the bonds formed between warriors. By training for war, all of them eventually come to accept that death is inevitable (they are preparing to head out to a battlefield after all) and a side effect of that is a much much fuller life.
When training, it’s often a good idea to replicate the circumstances of the battle as it’ll be. That means that a small distraction can be lethal. By training with focus in those circumstances, warriors become focused on the moment, nothing else is in their minds. They get to a state often called mindfulness (which is shown by research to increase overall empathy, memory and resilience), and as just about every practitioner of mindfulness will tell you, the more moments of mindfulness you have, the easier it gets to achieve others and the longest you can stay in that state.
I believe that there’s a reason why samurais and vikings created such wonderful works or art—from poetry and calligraphy to paintings and images—and that’s because they practiced mindfulness. Not despite, but because of their rigorous training regimes and honor codes. They were as successful as they were, for as long as they were (samurais were the leading class in Japan for several centuries and vikings were the last Europeans to be converted to christianity, to name two) not only because they knew how to fight, not only because they were more skilled or more audacious than their enemies, but because they had art to preserve. Because their training regime had led them to increase the focus they can lay on each of their tasks. Because they were fighting for something bigger than themselves.
Well, what does this have to do with sharpness of mind?
I’m a big proponent of martial arts, of physical training and of pushing our bodies to their limit. For the longest time I simply liked the feeling of lying down after having ran more than I thought possible the day before. Of adding one more set just for the sake of it and having my muscles sore for two days after that (I know, I know, that’s not something you should do regularly). Now, though, I can understand why I liked that feeling so much. By pushing ourselves, we get to that “flow” state (there’s a post coming up on that by the way!) that’s so often talked about. By pushing ourselves to such an extent, we get to lay down at the end of the day and feel grateful for the day we had.
And on the next day? It gets even easier to sit down and not let any distractions get on our way of going above and beyond at work. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go for a run.