Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Dealing With Fear

You might find this photo useful if you fear spiders


ealing with fear. It’s obviously of great importance in martial arts training. For thousands of years, martial artists have lived with fear as though it were a second skin. Shedding that skin is part of the training on the road to “mastery over the self”.

Various methods are used…from rearing up and diving into the fray with all the bluster you can manage, whatever happens be damned…to the “empty mind” approach where fear gains no foothold in a mind that offers nothing to climb onto.

Another possible source of fear


There are Buddhist methods (particularly Zen Buddhism), Taoist methods, methods akin to Yoga, etc. – all developed from real life experiences. Whether based on religion, science or simply as an art form, possessing any technique that offers freedom from fear is a luxury.

A very basic technique to start off with is the use of visualization.

1.  Choose one consistent phobia as your opponent. Common suggestions – a spider; a snake; heights; darkness; a tight, narrow space that might bring on a feeling of claustrophobia; water; etc. The list goes on.

Or…think of an anxious moment at work or at school; a person who makes you uncomfortable or with whom you’re in conflict; a person in the past who has negatively affected your life; something or someone you are afraid to face 4 minutes from now…an hour from now…tomorrow; etc.

2.  This may sound a bit over-the-top: if you have a photo of the source of your fear – or something that may be suggestive of that fear – place it in front of you.

All the great meditative traditions can help


3.  Now do the usual – please sit somewhere comfortable with the photo in front of you. Close your eyes. Inhale very slowly through the nose and exhale very slowly out through the mouth using the abdominal breathing that I’ve talked about before. Please ignore the photo. There will be time enough. Instead, concentrate on creating a deep and relaxed foundation inside of you.

Practitioners of Japanese Iaido and Kendo always prepare like this before training – in fact, it’s the most important part of the training! Kendo practitioners as well do this before a championship match.

Historically, there were 2 reasons for this – to learn to face a live blade with a mind empty of fear…and to establish a union consisting of your mind, body and your own sword. You – and the sword – become one.

There is no Kung Fu movie magic behind this: we do this when we break concrete blocks with our hands, accept full contact blows to the body with sticks…or when we fight 2 or more opponents at the same time.

Training mind and body to face a live blade


4.  Once you’re calm and centered, and your breath is deep and totally under your control…open your eyes and stare at the picture. Establish a connection with the photo through your breathing. Your breath travels through the photo and back to you. The photo and you become one.

5.  Now imagine staring through the photo. When we break a concrete block, we think through the block, aiming at the floor beneath. (Martial artists also train this staring through to develop a look that penetrates an opponent’s psyche). At the same time, continue with your breathing cycle.

6.  Train in this way day after day. You’ll soon see results. The time it takes for you to mentally stare through the photo will quicken; the photo after a while will take on the attributes of an accessory, an add-on to the resolve of your mind.  Soon, every time you practise, the photo will dissolve - in front of your eyes and in your mind!

A mind empty of fear


7.  Next comes some sparring time with your phobia. Imagine some really awful things with your photo. Going back to the image of a spider, imagine the spider crawling up the back of your hand and up your arm. If you’ve trained extensively, the spider will dissolve half way up the arm, each and every time.

8.  And finally, brush up, a little at a time, against the real menace itself – the dark, heights, the situation you’ve meditated on, etc. Go out, pick up a spider and let the spider cross the palm of your hand, while you train. The spider becomes your sparring partner.

Notice as well that the little spider is probably more afraid of you than you of it. Walking around on all eights on your big hand is not the place where the spider wants to be. By now, the spider is dealing with its own phobia!


  1. "on all eights" -- haha!

  2. Hi Mieux,

    Yes. Look at the whole situation from the spider's perspective!


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