“Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.” – George Bernard Shaw
Self cultivation is something most people want, but forget, because we get caught up with what society wants us to be. To me, it’s about growing and improving yourself as a person. In the process, you figure out who and what you want to be, and you work to build that person. There are many areas to work on, but I focus on these four:
To be physically healthy, I exercise, eat a balanced diet, and avoid things that are harmful to my body. To be mentally healthy, I challenge my brain to think logically, critically, and analytically. Exercise creativity and train discipline. Gain knowledge by learning. Gain wisdom through experience. Being emotionally healthy is different for everyone. The keys are: having outlets for expressing emotions, understanding them, and not letting them control you. Being spiritually healthy is not necessarily religious. It’s about how to live. Being at peace. Being grateful, ethical, and moral. Setting guidelines in order to be a better person. For some people, it’s about being closer to their God. For others, it’s about trying to reach Enlightenment. For others, it’s about figuring out the meaning of life. Maybe they are all the same thing. I don’t think you can be spiritually healthy without being healthy in the other three areas.
One of my teachers said “Martial arts is self cultivation.” This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who is studying the arts. However, many people tend to label martial arts as just a physical activity with mental discipline. This is barely scratching the surface.
Martial arts requires much more than the mental discipline to push yourself to be in good physical shape, pass the next test, or train for the next competition. You have to understand what technique you are using, how and when you use it, why you do it a certain way, and if there are other ways to use it. Once you understand the techniques, you can use your creativity and discover different ways to apply them. Martial arts would not have so many different styles if practitioners were not creative. It’s an art that will hopefully evolve for many generations.
Martial arts provides an outlet to express emotions. Hitting and kicking pads can feel pretty good when you need to release energy, whether positive or negative. Performing sequences is another outlet to not only express emotions, but also to evoke them from the audience. This can be seen when a practitioner manifests spirit and sense of enemy in his or her form.
How can martial arts provide you with guidelines on how to live? Traditionally, a master would not accept a student unless he or she demonstrated Martial Morality. But they are not just characteristics that you can gain one day and keep. It takes constant effort to maintain. We’re not perfect, so there will be times when we don’t have them at all. Hopefully, those days are few and far in between. There is more to being spiritually healthy through martial arts than simply having Martial Morality, but those are lessons you learn on your own. Reaching Enlightenment and figuring out the meaning of life require a lot of deep meditation and understanding who you are.