Saturday, May 31, 2014

Emotional Resilience & Mental Toughness

"Nana korobi ya oki" (Fall seven times, rise eight).
In the nearly three decades that I have been a student of the Warrior’s Path, I have had the opportunity to explore various disciplines of Warrior training: as a combat veteran of the United States Army, as a member of law enforcement’s elite special operations teams, and –at a core level – as a life time martial arts student, practitioner, and teacher.

Warrior training has many tangible and obvious value adding benefits that relate to self-defense, physical health/fitness, mental acuity, etc.  However, these are what may be described as the “surface level” benefits of the discipline.  While the training must be focused on these obvious aspects, much of the deeper value is hidden from the uninitiated eye.  

The reality is that most student's of Warrior training, even most soldiers, will never actually see "combat".  Most law enforcement special operations team members will never be in direct action operations.  And most martial arts practitioners will never have to call upon their skills to defend themselves.  As a real-world illustration of this point, our dojo, the Midwest Academy, is located in the greater metropolitan area of Chicago, Illinois.  2012 FBI Crime statistics show that the city alone logged 12,272 aggravated assaults (instances of people trying to kill someone) and 500 homicides (instances where people succeeded in killing someone).  Despite these staggering statistics which earned Chicago the moniker of “murder capital of the nation”, when expressed as a percentage of the total population of the Chicago area, the homicide rate is about 7.1%.  That reinforces the idea that the significant majority of the population, over 90%, will never be directly affected by violence.  Since most people intuitively know that to be true, the obvious question becomes why one would expend the time and effort required of Warrior training.

Are there significant tangible value adding benefits that an individual develops through Warrior training other than personal protection? I certainly believe so.  In fact, the privilege of assisting others in developing these less obvious benefits of Warrior training was a critical influencing factor leading to the inception of the Academy.

This article briefly touches on what, I believe, are two of the most valuable personal attributes that Warrior training develops in those who integrate the training into their lives.  Those attributes can be described collectively as emotional resilience and mental toughness

Inferences to the tenacity developed by fostering emotional resilience and mental toughness can be traced to Judeo-Christian writings in the Old Testament of the Bible which states, “For the just man falleth seven times, and rises again” (Proverbs 24:16, King James Bible); to the teachings of Bodhidharma, founder of Buddhism, who taught followers to, “Fall seven times, rise eight times” (Bodhidharma); and are even described in the modern warrior ethos of our US Special Operations Forces when they commit that, “If knocked down, I will get back up, every time” (Navy SEAL ethos).  The point here is that we, as humans, learned a long time ago that emotional resilience and mental toughness were high value attributes to have/develop; and we know that they still are today.

While the Warrior’s Path requires us to be committed to the development of solutions to life and death problems, the “test” for most on the Path does not appear on the battlefield, but rather presents itself through the various challenges and hardships of life – the loss of one’s health, the loss of one's job, the illness of a loved one, the constraints of time, money, energy and the effects on one’s goals and life direction are but a few examples.  Less emotionally resilient individuals, quite often, fall into cycles of anger, hopelessness, and despair when facing these challenges.  Many individuals lose momentum and give up hope for a better future, dreams of success, and direction for a better life; instead they live a quality of life that is in proportion with their commitment to “getting back up”.  While getting knocked down is less than enjoyable, "staying down" is commensurate with living in fear, with failure as a companion, and drowning in a sense of defeat. Staying down does not require courage or faith; getting back up requires both. In short, while staying down is unpleasant, for the individual who has not developed emotional resilience and mental toughness, it is easier than getting back up and getting back to the challenge with a "can-do" attitude!

Emotional resilience and mental toughness, developed through Warrior training, allow an individual to “embrace the suck”; to get up, to lean back into the challenge with either a more refined strategy for success, or with the sheer force of determination to push through, or – more often – a combination of both.  The attributes of emotional resilience and mental toughness are not intellectual.  They are visceral.  They are a glint in the eye, a feeling in the gut.  An individual cannot “pump up their psyche” in an sustainable way.  Emotional resilience and mental toughness are attributes that are similar to strength, flexibility, or endurance – qualities built slowly and purposely over the course of time.  Good Warrior training programs have a level of emotional and mental challenge designed to push the practitioner outside of his/her comfort zone; to challenge them to push through discouragement, fatigue, boredom, etc.  The deliberate adversity designed into Warrior training is the “work load” though which the “muscles” of emotional resilience and mental toughness are developed.  It is the grounds upon which the trainee/student learns to exercise their courage and faith - the prerequisites for forging emotional resilience and mental toughness. 

The actual formula for developing these attributes is quite simple.  Get started (in a high quality program).  Lean into the challenge. Embrace the suck. If/when knocked down, get back up, every time.  And take quitting off the table of options.

 "Nana korobi ya oki" (Fall seven times, rise eight).

Sunday, May 4, 2014

No Contract Training

No Contract Training is just one of the unique characteristics of the Midwest Academy experience.  Many people who visit a martial arts school or gym to get information or to try out a training session spend much of their time being bombarded by a “sales pitch” from the business’ staff.

While it is na├»ve to miss the fact that martial arts schools and gyms need to make a profit in order to keep operating, you also shouldn’t ignore that the reason most schools and gyms encourage a student to sign up for programs such as 3, 6, 12, & 24 months, for example, is because they know that the average student/trainee will lose interest in a just few weeks’ time.  The training contract is there to ensure future cash-flow for the business (this is the same business model that most health clubs operate on).

At the Midwest Academy, we have a different approach to student selection and retention.  We screen and assess our prospective students during their initial conversations and visits with us; we admit those who pass screening as probationary students (probationary students train tuition-free as our guests) for a short period of time until such time as an assigned mentor recommends them for regular student status (recommendations for regular student status are made on a combination of attitude, attendance, and demonstrated skill progress). At that time they are given the option to take on regular student status at the Academy.  In our experience, this selection process eliminates the need for training contracts by ensuring a best-fit approach between students and the Academy.   

No contract training means that students with poor attitudes (which we rarely encounter due to our selection process) or students failing to perform (again, another rarity since all Academy students are highly self-motivated) can be removed from the Academy Student Roster at any time for cause.  Additionally, a student can opt to stop training at any time of their choosing (students who drop on request may return, however, they must reapply through the Academy’s screening process).

By operating the Midwest Academy in this manner, we maintain our focus exclusively on the quality of training that we provide as opposed to writing student training contracts, tracking contract renewals, etc…less time in the office and more time on the training floor is value adding for Academy students.  Our confidence in the Academy is confirmed by the near zero lack-of-interest-related-attrition rate at the Academy (that means almost no one has ever quit because they just aren’t into training anymore) – Academy students can leave if ever their interest wanes, but they don’t because their interest doesn’t.  And you won’t want to quit due to boredom, stagnation, or a general lack of direction in your training either at the Midwest Academy!

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